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Building Better Communication Through Actionable Books
Strong teams are built on trust and a deep understanding of other’s values, aspirations and motivation, supported by a mutual appreciation of each other. But how can hard working professionals with little time come to understand and develop that trust and appreciation that's so important to their long term success? How does a team take time to connect? Most of us aren’t ready to sit in a circle, sing kumbaya, and share our feelings.
At Actionable Books, we've been developing the concept of Collaborative Communication which offers a highly effective method of fast-tracking cultural development and team trust growth.
Collaborative Communication, as a team development methodology, is about getting all members of a team (including its manager) to learn a new concept together. As a collaborative unit, the team works to understand what a concept, process, or best practice means and how it might apply to its unique circumstances. At ActionableBooks.com, we've created a tool called Actionable Workshops that provides busy team leaders with access to forty-four pre-packaged modules that make it easy for these conversations to come to life in a team’s office. Here's an example of how it might play out:
Let's say the manager wants to talk about time management. So she grabs a workshop inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by the late Stephen Covey. Over the course of the first 20 minutes of an hour long session, the manager would explain a few concepts from the book, making sure that everyone understands them clearly (We call this "tactical learning."). Then, during the remaining 40 minutes of the session, the team (including the manager) works through exercises that help them figure out how to apply those time management concepts to their own lives and business. Those 40 minutes become a catalyst for deeper thinking, planning and - most importantly - conversation.
Team members walk away from each workshop session with practical knowledge that they can each apply to their professional lives, as well as a deeper understanding of the people around them. When run on a frequent basis (Every 4-6 weeks has proven to provide maximum impact.), these sessions act as an anchoring point for team growth.
The obvious benefit of this approach is that the team learns something new every month, without having to read an entire book. The perhaps not-so-obvious benefit - one that far outweighs the tactical learning - is that, for an hour a month, the team gets to communicate with each other, discuss their professional life without referring to immediate issues, fires that need to be put out, or specific client cases. More importantly, the conversation is not a manager vs team mentality that many employee performance reviews take. Instead, the manager and her team are collaborating, working through the concept together; discussing the potential application to the business and to the team. Working together to apply an idea, the team connects with something deeper, i.e. issues, feelings and aspirations that are lurking just below the surface.
We're so busy in our lives, flying from fire to fire, that we rarely take time to reflect on what's important to us in the long term. Even more rarely do we engage in conversation like this with our peers. Over the last four years at Actionable Books, we've found that teams who do have these types of conversations, on a regular basis, consistently realize higher productivity, lower turnover and a general increase in morale. It makes sense, doesn't it? If you could come to work knowing that your colleagues understand and respect you, and that you all share a desire to see each other succeed, wouldn't you be willing to work harder? Wouldn't you think twice before moving to another company?
People want to be engaged in their work. They want to feel that what they do matters and that they have the support of the people around them in pursuing their own aspirations. As a leader, you have the ability - and the obligation - to create an environment that supports those desires. And you can use Actionable Books to help you achieve these goals.
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Chris Taylor is the Founder and President of ActionableBooks.com; providing high performing leaders with tools to quickly and inexpensively develop themselves, their teams and their work relationships. To learn more and for a free trial of Actionable Workshops visit www.actionablebooks.com/workshops.
The recent tempest in a pasta pot that erupted after the owner of a Montreal restaurant was told by the “language police” to translate into French the word “pasta” on his menu to comply with French language requirements in Quebec got me thinking about the language offences committed by people in their business communication. In spite of the absurdity of this “Pastagate” incident, as pointed out by French language journalists, maybe we do need a language police force to keep in check and improve business communication skills.
If you ever had doubts about the power of language and the impact of your words, take a look at the amount of time wasted and the profits lost due to poorly written emails, reports and so on. Research shows that the 58% of Canadian workers who spend two to four hours per workday reading written communication, believe the following to be the costs of poor writing in those communications:
• 70 % identified loss in productivity
• 85% identified wasted time
• 63% described errors
Estimates suggest that writing deficiencies cost companies $3.1 billion annually. That’s a lot of money! So you might want to consider avoiding going to ‘language jail’ and improve your own business communication. After all, if someone reads a poorly written email or report that you or your company has generated, it will have a lasting impact on the perception of your work, on productivity and on profit. So here are three tips to help you.
How to avoid the business “language police”
1. Practice these quick steps to help you write effectively:
-Plan first what you want to write, i.e. determine your goal/objective for the communication
-Know your audience; then write specifically for that audience
-Edit, edit some more and proofread carefully for errors
-Have someone you trust read your work before sending it out, especially if it contains sensitive information
2. Explore the Language Lab’s blog archives for a wealth of tips on how to write effectively:
3. Take an online business communication course; we’re here to help you clarify your business communication needs and to improve upon them.
For more information about the Language Lab’s online learning courses, contact email@example.com.
If you don’t, you might end up eating your words! The best way to illustrate what I mean by this comment is to describe what began as a simple business transaction but ended up as an awful, unforgettable experience. Recently, I was at a client meeting with a person who was clearly in a terrible mood. And it was evident right from the start. At one point during the meeting, she simply lost her cool. In the course of losing her cool, not only was her tone of voice inappropriate, her language was abusive, shouting obscenities at me. To add to this abuse, she informed me that she would not pay me for my work.
Needless to say, I was shocked! In all my years of business, I’d never experienced anything like this before— this verbal abuse. And I trust it will never happen again. I determined to forgo payment and never have anything more to do with her.
But later that day, I received a call from her assistant - not with an apology from my former client, but with an assurance that the bill would be paid. Letting me know how truly sorry she felt about what happened, she explained that this outburst was definitely out of character for her boss.
It’s apparent, of course, that it was the support staff who did the eating of the words. And yes, it’s true; my former client never did apologize. At the same time though, this ill-behaved woman realized she was wrong.
Her bad behavior convinced me that if her or her company’s name came up in conversation I would never recommend either. If she thought before she spoke, it would certainly have been a different matter. As you are no doubt aware, this story is proof that choosing one’s words carefully is never more important than during a business transaction. We all have bad days and we are all capable of speaking before we think twice, but we don’t want to end up eating our words. So here are three tips that serve as an excellent guide to ensure you think before you speak:
Think before you speak
1. Know thyself: Examine the instances where you have either spoken thoughtlessly or been tempted to do so. It is likely that they occur in similar kinds of situations. (For example, meetings with an impatient boss, a demanding client or difficult employees.) Once you recognize the kinds of situations that “push your buttons,” you will be more prepared when they arise, and will have strategies to avoid falling into the trap of not thinking before you speak.
2. Cultivate positive speaking: People often talk about the power of positive thought. It’s equally true that choosing positive words in your business communications may make what has the potential to be an unpleasant confrontational situation, remain a civilized, professional one. For example, if you are about to say, “I can’t possibly deliver ‘x’ by Friday?” stop yourself, and rephrase it to say something along the lines of, “I’d like to get ‘x’ to you Monday rather than give you work that is too rushed. Is that possible?” Take an internal mental moment to rephrase the negative as a positive. And if you do, you’ll realize it’s not usually too difficult to look at most situations as “a glass half full” rather than “a glass half empty.”
3. Keep your goal front of mind: In any given business situation or meeting, ask yourself what it is you hope to achieve. All of the words you choose should flow from that idea. Knowing what the end goal is, discard unnecessary, excess communications, verbal or written. Focus all of your attention on expressing ideas that are essential to achieving your goal. It is frequently true that less is more. So in any business situation, say only what really needs to be said. Strive to make your words positive, relevant and appropriate. If you do, you will not only have more success in achieving your goal, you will find people respond to you in kind.
Oh, and yes, of course you can also use that tried and true technique that your mother probably told you: “Count to ten before you speak!”
For more ideas about how to think before you speak, see The Power of Words: Words that Sell, Profanity and the Power of Language: When Words Offend, When the Boss Says You Don’t Write Well: What do you Do?
Have you ever landed in hot water for speaking without thinking? If you have any tips regarding what you learned from it, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of Very Quiet from Flickr.
If you want some real insight into the art of negotiation, watch the Seinfeld video with Kramer negotiating a deal about beltless tranchcoats with Jerry’s father, Morty. Not only will the video make you laugh, you’ll receive a painless lesson in negotiating tactics. It certainly makes it clear that when communication is poor during negotiations, the results will be less than satisfactory.
Whether it’s about who takes out the garbage or about meeting the boss to ask for a pay increase, we’re all involved in some form of negotiating, almost every day of our lives. And masterful negotiation depends on well-honed communication skills. Ideally, both parties will then come away from the negotiation feeling satisfied– contrary to Kramer’s and Jerry’s father’s predicament in the infamous “25% negotiation.”
But as we all know, negotiating in business isn’t an easy thing to do. It often involves conflict, or possibly asking for something you fear you may not get. And fear can really get in the way of successful negotiation. So, what can you do to improve your negotiating skills? Consider this; the three main stages to any successful negotiation, as you’ll see, below.
The Language Lab’s Top Three Tips to Successful Negotiation
Prepare: You first need to understand exactly what the negotiation is about. What is being asked for? What are the expectations of both parties? What are you looking for and what can you offer? When you can answer these questions without stumbling, your preparation is complete.
Listen: The temptation in a negotiation is to jump in with your arguments, bombarding the other party with your needs. You want to allow the other person(s) time to speak. And you must truly listen. Take your time; be dignified. Think of the negotiation as a conversation, not an argument. If you are a good listener, you’ll find that more questions may arise. Asking those questions of the other party will likely give you a more complete idea of what he or she thinks. Moreover, it can only help improve further negotiations with that person.
Understand: Once a solution has been reached, make sure you understand exactly what that outcome means. Not only do you need to understand, both parties must be clear. Paraphrasing the outcome of the negotiation, i.e. restating your understanding, in your own words, is helpful. Sharing a summary of notes taken during the discussion is also an effective strategy. Of course, you want to be sure you get the final results of the negotiation in writing, particularly if it involves an offer or financial transaction.
Negotiating can be intimidating, but if you approach it with patience, good will and good grace, it needn’t be adversarial. You may not always get what you want. Then again, you may get 25 % of what you want; who knows! However, the more you approach negotiating in a spirit of clear and considered communication, the better you will feel about the process. Not only that, the better you will be at negotiating.
Do you have any tales to share from the negotiating trenches? Email me at email@example.com or comment on the blog.
Image courtesy of dno1967b's Flickr account.
If, like many Americans and other global investors, you’ve been anxious about the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling, remember: it could be worse. Every cloud does have a silver lining. Even though it’s darkest before the dawn, tomorrow always brings another day.
So, in case you haven’t already realized, here’s a big spoiler alert: I’m writing about trite, overused phrases that become clichés — and how you can avoid them.
Avoid clichés, whether old (birds of a feather flock together; misery loves company) or new (fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, spoiler alert), at all costs (Forgive my idiom.). They’re pat phrases that become so overused they lose their impact. Not only are they a lazy way of communicating, they also induce lazy, uncritical responses. Yet, few of us are ever incited to take action because of a cliché! And in business, clichés will detract from whatever points you hope to get across to your reader.
As recent as the beginning of this year, when you could not turn to any news source without hearing about that terrifying precipice of impending financial disaster, a.k.a. the “fiscal cliff,” Lake Superior State University issued a list of words that should be banished for 2013. (Among them were fiscal cliff and spoiler alert.) But why stop with 2013? Why not make it your all-time resolution to ban clichés? You will stand out (Yes, I was tempted to write that oft used cliché, “from the pack”), and your written and spoken communication will reflect clarity and originality. To help keep clichés out of your work, here are a few tips to help you.
Cliché avoidance tips:
-Consider what the cliché you’re thinking of using actually means. (One source is The Phrase Finder). Instead, seek clear, plain language alternatives. And use both a dictionary and a thesaurus to help you find appropriate replacement synonyms.
-Familiarize yourself with the worst cliché culprits. One way is to look at Forbes’ 89 Business Clichés That Will Get Any MBA Promoted And Make Them Totally Useless (And take heed of Forbes’ warning: “Of course, if you really become a samurai master of using all 89 of these clichés, you probably have no hope of moving up to upper management, because your mind and vocabulary will be filled with complete and utter nonsense.”)
-Reject the cliché du jour. When you hear or see a phrase regularly turning up in the media, you may be witnessing a cliché in the making. Be cautious about using it. Similarly, when politicians repeatedly use an invented phrase, consider using alternative language. Be sure to analyze the meaning behind the cliché; then see if there isn’t a more direct way of expressing the idea. (For example, instead of “fiscal cliff” you might say “potential economic crisis.”)
Clichés are closely linked to jargon; but they are different. Jargon tends to be used as a form of exclusivity among a certain group to keep others out. Clichés, notwithstanding, become so widespread and so overused they simply lose their value. So when you’re writing or preparing a presentation, make sure you don’t flog a dead horse. While there’s life, there’s hope. And my hope for you this New Year and every year, is that you communicate without using clichés.
Which clichés would you like to see banned? Let me know firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on my blog.
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