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Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

It is a common practice to build rapport before entering into a deeper conversation (Coupland, 2003). Often referred to as “small talk,” it is an opportunity for the parties to get to know each other on a personal level before getting down to a substantive discussion.  It seems that many people engage in this practice automatically as a cultural norm and to get over the initial anxiety of beginning a new conversation.

In a negotiation or other business dialogue, it is a highly advisable practice to begin with some small talk.  It helps establish rapport and a personal connection with the individuals at the table.  There is a significant potential upside that can be gained when s deliberate focus is applied to this early stage of a conversation.  People may be more open to seeking an agreement when working with someone they like and trust (Fisher & Ury, 1991).  We should use the time spent in building rapport to create the most amount of confidence and likeability.

People begin developing cognition-based trust and impressions about our character and motives within the first moments of an encounter (as cited in McKnight, Cummings & Chervany, 1998).  The use of small talk can be used to help foster good impressions in dialog participants (Bickmore & Cassell, 2005). Once these first impressions become established, a perception bias forms which is more difficult to alter in the future.

There are several excellent books on how to create great relationships with other people.  One of my favorites is Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It is an excellent read and covers how to establish a positive rapport with other people.

A few key tips that have served me well over the years:

  • Be ready for the meeting beyond just the business terms. Understand who you are meeting with and read their LinkedIn profile.  Look for shared commonalities in their background, earlier work experience, and interests.  Furthermore, learn a little about their firm and industry.
  • Understand and adapt to the cultural norms of the other party. Not all cultures appreciate extended periods of direct eye contact or the shaking of hands.
  • Be punctual, courteous to others, and hospitable. For example, offering a beverage is usually advisable and some cultures expect an exchange of gifts of appreciation.  Be aware and sensitive to the cultural norms.
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion and mimic their formality if possible. People generally like to be around others that they see as similar to themselves.  It is important that dress code is followed and proper for the situation and profession.
  • Have a genuine smile and be enthusiastic. Ask them questions about their profession, company, and safe personal interests. Be genuinely interested in what they are sharing. Keep the personal interest dialogue in the safe zone such as outdoor recreational activities, volunteering organizations, and travel.  This is not the time to delve into politics or religion.
  • Keep them talking as much as possible about themselves. People love to talk about themselves, and when you engage in active listening out of genuine interest, it will translate into likeability, trust, and authenticity.

It is imperative that all emotions, interests, and enthusiasm displayed are genuine.  A person cannot fake interest very long before it is picked up by the other party.  A feigned lack of authentic interest may cause personal disengagement, distrust, and possibly resentment.

Being authentic and genuinely interested in other people’s thoughts and experiences builds a foundation for a strong working relationship.  It must be of genuine interest and not trying to manipulate their emotions as that will work against you.  This is not to say that emotional manipulation does not have a role to play in certain types of negotiations.  It does, but that occurs at a later stage and only under particular circumstances.

I have found that it is much easier to reach an agreement with someone you like and trust than someone you dislike or distrust.

Using the small talk time wisely, I have learned about other people and companies.  It has made a meaningful difference in reaching mutually beneficial agreements and forming strong and lasting working relationships with diverse groups of people.

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Getting Your Point Across in a Text Message

Getting Your Point Across in a Text Message

It is well documented that nonverbal communication transmits a significant amount of contextual information during personal communications. When using a written form of communication those clues are absent. The result is an increase in the chance of a misunderstanding because of the missing information. Emails have a reputation for being misconstrued and read in a negative context even when it is not intended. Email is no longer the preferable digital communication method for many people. Texting and instant messaging have supplanted the favored communication channel for many younger people. So we had a hard time understanding context when an email is used, now the problem is made more complicated as the message lengths become shorter.

Ashley Carmen wrote an interesting piece on The Verge talking about how people do not interpret emoji icons in the same way. I had taken for granted that the emoji image was standardized across devices. This is not the case as different platforms display the same emoji symbol differently. Adding these little images to text messages is a frequent occurrence. Reading her article made me wonder if the inconsistent emoji images had clouded the meaning of some of my messages. The short answer is clearly a yes. I asked a couple of people who I spoke with today about whether emoji icons had made them question the meaning of a received message. Both people confirmed they had experiences where they questioned the underlying message because of an emoji icon. Okay, a n=3 here, but I agree with the researchers’ position.

This serves as a good reminder to make sure that we are very clear in the writing of our text and email messages.

Treating text messaging as a quick communication method that does not need the scrutiny of a more formal communication such as an email is counterproductive. All communications regardless of their platform must be understandable by the receiver. There is nothing wrong with utilizing emoji images given its context is proper, but we should be aware that it may hinder the effectiveness of the message. Taking a moment to check the clarity of the message before sending it is always prudent advice. Ask yourself if this image or icon is adding clarity, authentic emotion, or introducing some vagueness that is not needed. The last thing any of us needs is to spend time explaining what our message meant when someone becomes offended due to a different representation of an emoji happy face.

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Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Having a strong work-life role as part of our overall identity is healthy and normal for high-performing people.  However, it is easily taken too far.  People may become so emotionally connected to the business that it consumes their identity until “the company” represents a huge part of the individual.  On the other hand, having a weak work-life component of our identity leads to career stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement.

When we permit our personal identities to be compromised by allowing the corporation to supplant our true selves, we are letting our family, team, and company down.  Our objectiveness and priority system is unbalanced, and that compromises our judgement.  This situation leads to burnout, frustration, and an ever escalating level of damaged relationships.

FYI: This post is not what I intended to write.  However, it is some honest thoughts, and I feel it might be worth sharing.  I hope you find some value in it.

This is avoidable by aligning our priorities and actions with our core values. This requires us to understand what matters the most to us as a person.  Frequently, it is our family. I have learned the importance of regularly looking at my obligations and roles through the lens of my core values. This approach allows for the separation of the corporation from the person. I am not advocating for the separate identities for work-life and home-life.  This would create an entirely different set of problems. I am a complete person that has multiple obligations and roles in life.  When integrated together through core values, I am a unified and authentic person. I would recommend that we look at where our efforts/resources are being directed while asking a couple of questions.

  • Do I understand the needs and expectations of my stakeholders? Even if I am sure, I will ask them again. This understanding must be comprehensive and include both internal and external such as family, friends, colleagues, business and community.
  • Are my actions and resource allocation (time, energy, mind share, and financial among other items) aligned with those needs and expectations?
  • Do I agree with the current alignment between my core values, conduct, the external expectations placed on me, my internal expectations for myself, and my allocation of resources? If not, what beliefs, actions, or assignments need to be modified to gain the required alignment?
  • If I feel my resource’s allocations, actions, and beliefs are aligned with my core values, do the desires of my stakeholder’s need to be modified? If so, what methods may I use to help them in recalibrating their expectations?
  • How often should I recheck my alignment with my stakeholders and core values?

The allocation of resources and assessment of our behavior moves as our life situations change. The aim is to keep the true priorities that are derived from our core values first in our personal and professional lives. When we have an agreement between our core values, behaviors, and stakeholders, we are free to experience higher levels of fulfillment, clearer judgement, and ultimately the success we seek.

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Increase a Message’s Personal Significance to Improve its Recall

Increase a Message’s Personal Significance to Improve its Recall

I am a firm believer that a person’s personal perception is their reality regardless of the underlying facts. Because of the perception issues, the primary speaker should alter their approach to accommodate the audience members and not expect the audience to adjust to the speaker’s preferred way of communicating. When we do this, too much is left open to chance and poor understanding. The speaker can say whatever they want, but is the communication being received in the way that is wanted or needed? We may even believe that we are clear and compelling with our statements, but all that information is being processed through the receiving person’s perceptions and beliefs.

Knowing how few details are retained by communication participants allows us to adapt the content in ways to increase the likelihood the messages correctly understood and retained in more detail.

I am not an expert in effective communication practices, but I think about these issues as part of my preparation. I start by asking myself a few basic questions and writing down the answers. I can look at these answers and tweak the approach to improve my results.

What are the key messages or information I want the group or person to understand and retain?

I keep this list as short as possible.  I prefer only one or two items as it helps with clarity, and too many concepts dilute the significance of the most important message.

How are these messages personally relevant to each participant?

Before I go into the meeting details, I want each person to understand why the content matters to them.  I explain how the information relates to their individual goals, desires or needs. This takes time and forces me to understand the situations of my fellow participants. If I cannot help them understand how the material is personally significant for them, then I should expect poor understanding, little recall, and nearly no follow-through. When the avenues of personal significance are divergent for the group members, I meet in advance with individual members to discuss how the content is of particular importance for them.  With this already done, I spend only a short amount of time in the meeting as a refresher on the relevance for each person.

How will I know that each person understands what I plan on saying?

Having a good meeting etiquette and an organizational process is a given for most leaders. This includes having a command of the information they plan on sharing, practicing the delivery, and possessing positive body language.  If these elements are missing, most likely, the messages being delivered will lead to misunderstandings among the participants. I use methods of active listening and interactive dialog throughout the discussion.  I want to hear my fellow participants paraphrase and expound on what I am saying in their words.  I ask questions about what the information means to them, does it impact them or their team, and what they feel should be the next steps.  After the meeting, minutes are sent out with the agreed-on action items and due dates.

A few days later, I visit the participants to make sure they have no additional questions. I ask them to give me the gist of the meeting, their key takeaways and review any action items. I would spend a few more minutes asking them what the information means to them and the business. Lastly, I ask for feedback on the meeting. I take the feedback to heart, thank them, and incorporate the feedback in future meetings.

Closing thoughts…

Like I said, this is not the end-all-be-all of improving information recall or retention techniques that leaders may employ. It is a leadership concept designed to promote information recall, message understanding, and follow through by tailoring the content to increase the personal significance that each participant assigns to it.

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Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

We all make mistakes and screw up from time-to-time.  As imperfect humans, we must accept that there will be inevitable errors. Instead of going into a panic mode after-the-fact, some focus should be spent on minimizing the opportunities for errors and developing a generic recovery strategy.

Preparing a generic and adaptable plan in advance allows the focus to be on the resolution and recovery processes instead of the distractions that arise from confusion, dodging blame, or a thinly veiled attempt at a C.Y.A. maneuver.

I tend not to make small or frequent blunders.  I save all the goodwill I generate from being a consistent performer for the bigger mistakes that I make from time-to-time.  Recovering from these errors provides me an opportunity to improve my leadership skills, learn valuable life lessons, and strengthen relationships through a sincere rebuilding effort.

When a serious misstep occurs, I follow a few key guidelines that reduce the damage while maximizing the chances for possible relationship gains.

Take Full Responsibility

  • Admit and Apologize: This takes the gas out of anyone attacking or seeking to play up the failure through a nefarious blame game. Most people consider it unfair to attack someone who has taken full responsibility and given a deep personal apology.
  • We must show authentic levels of remorse without giving excuses for the outcome or our conduct.
  • Accept the consequences of our actions with grace and maturity

Establish Open Lines of Communications

  • Complete an effective postmortem of the situation and your conduct. Bring in stakeholders and the concerned parties for private individual feedback sessions. Once complete, share the results. Open and honest communication is critical. Do not compound the problem by trying to keep things in the dark as it never works out in the end.

Correct the Mistake

  • Some errors cannot be rectified, but many can be made improved. This may take some creative thinking, but search out how best to make it right.  Remember, making it right must be from the perspective of the wronged party.  What is “right and fair” to you, may feel like a further wrong from their perspective.
  • If proper for the circumstance, compensate the affected parties.

Work to Reestablish Trust

  • Seek outside help and perspective from mentors and an executive coach to help deepen your understanding of the impact on others and how to address the personal underlying issues.
  • Create a mitigating plan that lowers the risk of a future occurrence. This even goes when the mistake is personal such a public confrontation. The plan should be shared as well. Keep people informed and close.  It helps greatly with rebuilding trust.
  • Be open to more feedback sessions as people may need to express their feeling multiple times before they are able to accept and forgive.

Even significant mistakes do not have to be the end of the world or a career. Obviously, this excludes things such as criminal conduct and huge moral lapses in judgment.  Most times when people have a lapse in judgment or make a mistake, it is recoverable.  How we choose to address these events and its impact on others is critical to our growth and long-term success.

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Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Reduce Off-Hours Communication to Improve Work-Life Balance

Technology has brought about many changes in our world.  All-new industries were given birth or faded into history because of the information technology revolution.  However, the information technology revolution was not a panacea and did not resolve all the world’s problems.  It allowed businesses to become more efficient, improve operations and increase their competitive advantages (Porter & Millar, 1985).  However, the rise of mobile communications, email, text messaging, and web platforms has increased the intrusion of business-related matters into personal and family time (McShane & Glinow, 2014, p. 8).  It is becoming more commonplace for workers never to log off from work as the evening hours have become a new de-facto night shift (Butts, Becker, & Boswell, 2015, p. 763).  Furthermore, this new always-on work environment has altered the relationship between management and employees.

Employees may feel obligated to respond to peers and management regardless of the hour.  Management knowingly or unknowingly may be sending messages that establish these expectations with employees.  Additionally, management may mistakenly believe that employees will leave off-hour communications in their inbox until the following workday.

Management teams should discourage off-hours communications.  When this is impossible because of time zone differences or travel requirement, the utilization of a delayed send function is encouraged. At a minimum, all off-hour messages should clearly indicate whether the message needs a response before the next workday.  Again, the preference is not to send messages off-hours or use a delay send function since many employees will still check messages off-hours.

By taking these small steps, employers can help their teams improve work-life balance and lower employee stress levels without sacrificing productivity.  They might even find that employees are more efficient when they experience lower levels of stress.

References

Butts, M. M., Becker, W. J., & Boswell, W. R. (2015, June). Hot buttons and time sinks: The effects of electronic communication during nonwork time on emotions and work-nonwork conflict. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3), 763-788. doi:10.5465/amj.2014.0170

McShane, S. L., & Glinow, M. V. (2014). Organizational behavior (Third ed.) [Kindle].

Porter, M. E., & Millar, V. E. (1985, July 01). How information gives you competitive advantage. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1985/07/how-information-gives-you-competitive-advantag

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Whose responsibility is it to Motivate?

Whose responsibility is it to Motivate?

It is well understood in the academic literature that motivation is an internal force (McShane & Von Glinow, 2014).  Motivation is an internal drive, and many motivators are common among all people (McShane & Von Glinow, 2014).  Therefore, it is the leaders’ job to understand the underlining theories of motivation so that management may help unlock the innate motivations that are latent in every person.  It is unreasonable to hold managers accountable for “motivating” their employees.  We should hold responsible for understanding what motivators exist within our employees and ensuring those triggers are embedded within the design of the respective employees’ job functions and corporate culture.  This is a small verbal tweak, but when thinking about it, is it possible to motivate someone else if motivation is an internal drive?  As leaders, it is our responsibility to help create and foster the environments by which other people’s internal motivations are released and enhanced.

References

McShane, S. L., & Glinow, M. V. (2014). Organizational behavior (Third ed.)