Successful Supervisor 68 Assume Best Intent

March 10, 2018

Assuming best intent is a simple concept that can save a lot of grief and acrimony in any organization. Human beings have a curious way of jumping to conclusions when something done by another person does not track with expectations.

We jump to assign blame and think of all the evil things that might be behind the action. In doing so, we fail to take into account a myriad of alternate scenarios that might explain the paradox as something more benign.

We have all experienced this phenomenon, and there is a simple antidote. Assume the best intent rather than the worst.

As a supervisor, you can teach the people on your team to assume the best intent if there is any doubt. This action will enhance the trust level between people and prevent unnecessary squabbles.

A place to view this phenomenon most easily is in e-mail communication, especially with workers from different shifts. One person will dash off a note and make a statement like, “Did you go home without cleaning up the machine?”

The person reading the note will say to himself, “Ed is clueless. He obviously is out to try to embarrass me with this note. I don’t care if he is having a bad day or not, he has no business accusing me of being lazy. I did clean the machine correctly before going home.”

So, what started out as an inquiry note from Ed, turns into the fuel for an e-grenade battle. The response coming back to Ed assumes the worst intent, so it is far off base in Ed’s mind. Ed writes back a blistering note, and we are off to the races.

Several days later, after numerous notes and escalating distribution lists some manager steps in and asks these two feuding juveniles to stop the food fight. All of this acrimony and conflict could have been avoided if the recipient of Ed’s first note assumed the best intent rather than the worst.

He would have stayed over the next shift change to talk it over with Ed saying, “Your note was confusing to me. I’m sure that I left the machine ready to run, but maybe someone else ran some product after I went home and messed things up again.” Then Ed could apologize for seeming to imply the other worker was too lazy to clean up on a shift change.

This technique is helpful for all forms of communication, not just the online environment. If we teach people to assume the best intent whenever there is a disconnect, it prevents people from going off on each other inappropriately. It creates a significant reduction in conflict, and since conflict often gets amplified in the pressure cooker of the work environment, this little remedy can save a lot of hurtful turmoil.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 59 – Improve Online Communications

January 7, 2018

Supervisors are increasingly called upon to communicate with crews online rather than face to face. This may be due to people working in other locations or working on different shifts. Communicating effectively online is a very different process from communicating face to face.

I wrote an entire book on this topic, entitled “Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online.” In this brief article, I want to share a dozen tips for improving online communications.

Overarching consideration: Use the right mode of communication – often email or texting are not the right ways to communicate a particular message.

1. Do not treat online notes like a conversation. In normal conversation we use the feedback of body language to modify our message, pace, tone, and emphasis in order to stay out of trouble. In e-mail or in texting, we do not have this real-time feedback.

2. Keep messages short. A good email or text should take only 15-30 seconds to read (texts as little as 2-3 seconds) and absorb. Less is more in online communication. Try to have the entire message fit onto the first screen. When a messages goes “over the horizon,” the reader does not know how long it is, which creates a psychological block.

3. Establish the right tone upfront. Online messages have a momentum. If you start on the wrong foot, you will have a difficult time connecting. The “Subject” line and the first three words of a note establish the tone.

4. Remember the permanent nature of e-mails. Using email to praise helps people remember the kind words. Using email to be critical is usually a bad idea because people will re-read the note many times.

5. Keep your objective in mind. Establish a clear objective of how you want the reader to react to your note. For sensitive notes, write the objective down. When proofreading your note, check to see if your intended reaction is likely to happen. If not, reword the note.

6. Do not write notes when you are not yourself. This sounds simple, but it is really much more difficult than meets the eye. Learn the techniques to avoid this problem.

7. Avoid “online grenade” battles. Do not take the bait. Simply do not respond to edgy note in kind. Change the venue to be more effective.

8. Be careful with use of pronouns in email. Pronouns establish the tone. The most dangerous pronoun in an online note is “you.”

9. Avoid using “absolutes.” Avoid words such as: never, always, impossible, or cannot. Soften the absolutes if you want to be more credible online.

10. Avoid sarcasm. Humor at the expense of another person will come back to haunt you.

11. Learn techniques to keep your email inbox clean (down to zero notes each day) so you are highly responsive when needed. Adopting proper distribution rules in your organization will cut email traffic by more than 30% instantly.

12. Understand the rules for writing challenging notes so you always get the result you want rather than create a need for damage control. Proofread all notes carefully. Think through how the other person might react from his or her perspective rather than you own.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work in an environment unhampered by the problems of poor online communication. This takes some education and a customized set of rules for your unique environment, but the effort is well worth it.

• Employees are not consumed with trying to sort out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Your coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Supervisors know how to use electronic communications to build rather than destroy trust.

For supervisors, once you learn the essentials of e-body language, a whole new world of communication emerges. You will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and have a better sense of how your messages are interpreted by others. You will understand the secret code that is written “between the lines” of all messages and enhance the quality of online communications in your sphere of influence.

Training in this skill area does not require months of struggling with hidden gremlins. While supervisors often push back on productivity improvement or OD training, they welcome this topic enthusiastically because it improves their quality of work life instantly. Four hours of training and a set of rules can change a lifetime of bad habits.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 36 – Improving Virtual Communication

July 23, 2017

For the past couple decades, I have been fascinated by the topic of virtual communications. This topic was the subject matter for my second book, Understanding E-body Language: Building Trust Online.

For many supervisors, the need to communicate clearly in virtual situations is becoming more important. Unfortunately, very few supervisors have been trained on how to communicate well virtually. This article will provide some tips to help fill the void.

In most cases supervisors are local managers, and these people are not charged with managing teams in different parts of the world. For those supervisors who do deal with subordinates in remote locations, I recommend the work of my friend Nancy Settle Murphy and her wonderful searchable blog Guided Insights. She has a wealth of information on how to be an effective manager of remote teams.

This article is for supervisors who work with people locally, but do a lot of communicating with subordinates via some form of computer. I will use email as the example, because that is a common form of virtual communication, but the principles will apply to texting or any other non-verbal communication method.

1. Use the right mode of communication

For many applications, a digital note may be the expedient way to communicate, but it may well not be the best way. Consider whether having a face-to-face discussion or a phone call might be the more efficient route in the long run.

Having your cell phone or iPad in your hand is not a reason to use the wrong mode of communication for important topics.

2. E-mail is not a conversation

We often think of email as a type of conversation where one person makes a point and the other person responds. Thinking of e-mail communication like it is a conversation is very dangerous because the two modes are completely different.

When we converse with someone face to face, we modify the pace, tone, cadence, and even the content based on the visible reaction we are seeing in the other person. If we detect misunderstanding based on a quizzical facial expression, we know to back off and try a different approach.

In electronic communication, there is no ability to modify the message as you are giving it, and you get no feedback as the person is absorbing your points.

Therefore, if you start to diverge in terms of understanding, there is no way to correct the problem in real time. The disconnection simply grows as the reader plows on to the next point.

3. Get the right tone at the start

In any message, even a tweet, you need to set the tone at the very start so the other person understands your frame of reference. If not, the message can be read in a way that is totally opposite to your intention. With longer email messages, this is a critical element.

4. Keep the content brief

Twitter helps us in that regard, but the side effect is that sometimes the true intent can be lost in the extreme brevity. With social networking and email, less is often more, because people do not take the time to wade through mountains of text to get the meat.

5. Avoid Absolutes

If I write that you are “always late for meetings,” it is not likely an accurate statement. “You never call me,” is usually proven to be incorrect.

Even if an absolute word is technically correct, it has an accusatory tone that sets up a negative vibe in the mind of the reader who will try to prove the writer is incorrect.

6. Don’t play one upmanship

Escalating emails in an organizational context are familiar long strings of increasing rancor and expanding distribution. I call these diatribes “e-grenade battles.”

The antidote here is to refrain from taking the bait. Simply do not reply in kind to a message that gets under your skin. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to clear up any misunderstanding.

7. Read before sending

Depending on the gravity of the message, you should reread it at least twice before sending. With social networking this is also true.

Make sure you attempt to put yourself in the place of the reader. Think how the information might be misinterpreted, and make sure you spell things correctly, at least most of the time.

8. Recognize you cannot take them back

Most digital messages are permanent data. They do not atrophy with time like verbal communication does. You can apologize all you want, but the other person can demonstrate that you said this or that.

Make sure you write what you mean to communicate. Emails never go away.

9. Understand you lose control of the distribution

Once you push the send button, it is all over. You cannot get the message back or delete it. It is out there for the intended recipient and potentially any other person in the world to view.

That includes your harshest critics or worst enemies! We all learned that lesson in the last election. Email can become an Achilles Heel, because it can always be recovered somehow.

There are numerous other ways to improve digital communication, but if you keep these nine concepts firmly in your mind, you will have a much more fruitful interface with other people online in the long run.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


9 Ways to Improve Online Communication

October 28, 2012

Are you becoming a digital junkie? Between e-mail, texting, or social networking, the nature of communication is becoming ever more digital and less verbal. With the brevity and acronyms used in Twitter messages, we may be heading back toward some form of cave drawings to communicate. At least if we are going to be communicating online all the time, we should all do it as skillfully at it as possible.

The rules for communicating efficiently and effectively online are not complex; unfortunately many people do not remember to use the rules on a daily basis. Here are nine specific points that can improve your communication online:

1. Understand online text is different from conversation – When we use the old fashioned method of communicating (with the mouth and ears) we have the opportunity to modify everything we say, the pace, the tone, the content, the inflection, everything, based on the visual feedback we are getting real time from the other person. Instantaneous feedback is not in play with digital communication, so the potential to make corrections and stay out of trouble is just not there.

2. Use the right mode of communication – For many applications, a digital note may be the expedient way to communicate, but it may well not be the best way. Consider whether having a face-to-face discussion or a phone call might be the more efficient route in the long run. Having your cell phone or ipad in your hand is not a reason to use the wrong mode of communication for important notes.

3. Get the right tone at the start – In any message, even a tweet, you need to set the tone at the very start so the other person understands your frame of reference. If not, the message can be read in a way that is totally opposite to your intention. With longer e-mail messages, this is a critical element.

4. Don’t play one upmanship – Escalating e-mails in an organizational context are familiar long strings of increasing rancor and expanding distribution. I call these diatribes “e-grenade battles.” The antidote here is to refrain from taking the bait. Simply do not reply in kind to a message that gets under your skin. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to clear up any misunderstanding.

5. Keep the content brief – Twitter helps us in that regard, but the side effect is that sometimes the true intent can be lost in the extreme brevity. With social networking and e-mail, less is more, because people do not take the time to wade through mountains of text to get the meat.

6. Avoid Absolutes – If I write that you are “always late for meetings,” it is not likely an accurate statement. “You never call me,” is usually proven to be incorrect. Even if an absolute word is technically correct, it is an accusatory term that sets up a negative vibe in the mind of the reader who will try to prove the writer is incorrect.

7. Read before sending – Depending on the gravity of the message, you should reread it at least twice before sending. With social networking this is also true. Make sure you attempt to put yourself in the place of the reader. Think how the information might be misinterpreted, and make sure you spell things correctly, at least most of the time.

8. Recognize you cannot get them back – Most digital messages are permanent data. They do not atrophy with time like verbal communication does. You can apologize all you want, but the other person can demonstrate that you said this or that. Make sure you write what you mean to communicate. Emails never go away.

9. Understand you lose control of the distribution – Once you push the send button, it is all over. You cannot get the message back or delete it. It is out there for the intended recipient and potentially any other person in the world to view. That includes your harshest critics or worst enemies!

There are numerous other ways to improve digital communication, but if you keep these nine concepts firmly in your mind, you will have a much more fruitful interface with other people online in the long run.


E-Mail Announcements Are Not Enough

June 20, 2010

The number one complaint in most organizations is lack of good communication from management. Too many managers believe that putting out an announcement in an e-mail is adequate communication. Unfortunately it is not – not by a long margin.  Information needs to be communicated in numerous forums and in various ways to accommodate the learning styles of all people and reinforce the message. An e-mail announcement is  good thing to do because it is in writing and has a specific date for revision purposes. Beyond that, it is a mistake to think proper communication has happened by posting an e-mail. 

The hit rate of people actually understanding and absorbing the words in an e-mail is often below 50%.  Some estimates are as low as 10% in terms of getting people to absorb complex or detailed information. Reason: people tend to skim e-mail communication or not even open it due to the sheer volume of information flying by on the computer every hour (note, we used to say every day). So, when managers say, “I cannot understand why people are confused, I put out an e-mail explaining the process,” they reveal that their own clueless meter is running on empty.

In the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman points out that the trend is for people to insist on multiple exposures to information before they start to believe it. This is a result of the low level of trust in business worldwide fueled by confusing signals coming from management in the past. Smart managers communicate important information in 3-5 different ways, yet numerous managers continue to believe one e-mail is good communication. 

My good friend and communications expert, Tim Hayes, calls this phenomenon the “single cannon shot mentality,” or the idea that you can win a war with a single shot. Tim says,  “Communications professionals know better.  We know human nature.  We know that people just aren’t that perceptive.  Or alert.  Or interested.  Or smart.  You don’t win a war with a single cannon blast.  It takes lots of cannon, air cover, artillery and infantry.  It takes repetition.  Establishing the most relevant and persuasive messaging based on careful research and insightful writing, then sending it out to the most appropriate audiences over and over.  Consistency and constancy win this race”  ( T. Hayes, BLOG entry dated 9/28/2009). 

Below I identify some of the communications options available in addition to a standard e-mail announcement. Note, these are only a dozen of the possibilities. Creative leaders will think of unique ways of communicating that fit the individual situation. 

1. Short Informational Videos – These quick-hit communication bullets are super for amplifying a written announcement. For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8ycThI1Gcg   

2. Podcasts – These audio files allow the manager to give information in a more user friendly format that people actually pay attention to. For example:  www.leadergrow.com/Podcast-Upgraded-for-Article.mp3

3. Website references – Augmenting an e-mail with a website entry explaining the key points in another format gives the ability to highlight information in a corporate context. For example: http://www.leadergrow.com/TRUST9e.png  

4. Use graphics rather than words or use Attached files – A simple diagram can be an effective augment to an e-mail describing complex issues. If a diagram is not in the e-mail itself, an attachment is often an effective way to amplify the message in ways people can print out and remember better than a lot of text. For example:

5. Webinars – Interactive online conferences are becoming more prevalent for sharing information in a virtual world. They work well because they are real-time and can have a very broad participation.

 6. Voice Mail Meaasges – these can be quick and simple, but they allow another chance to amplify a message if done with care and infrequently. 

7. Conference Calls and video conferencing – Conference calls have been used for decades and are effective at getting dialog on the issues from a diverse and geographically decentralized population.  Adding video to conference calls is now available to the masses with services such as SKYPE. 

8. Hard copy memos – You might use a kind of post-card memo that contains the important considerations in an announcement. It is something that can be put on a person’s bulletin board for future reference. For Example:

9. Town Hall Meetings or other Physical Presentation Modes – These face-to face meetings allow for interaction on questions for clarification. 

10. Cascade communication in small groups. This format requires a kind of “press kit” to be prepared so all levels of management are giving the same information. Often these small group meetings allow for feedback up the chain on potential concerns. 

11. One-on-one discussions – In extremely complex or sensitive areas it may be best to meet personally with each individual in the group and explain the significance of an announcement. 

12. Feedback Surveys – This method gets tangible data on how well people have absorbed the message. Surveys should be quick, user friendly, and anonymous for the most accurate information. 

Good communication involves not only sharing information; it is about obtaining understanding and buyin. Using multiple forms of communication can help managers reach more people with a more complete package of information that will create a lasting and positive impression.