Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Respond to negative criticism by fogging

Criticism is hard to take, and most people, leaders included, find themselves getting defensive when employees, co-workers, or even senior leaders censure them.  Unfortunately, as natural as a defensive response may be, it will still negatively affect your credibility and how you are perceived by others in the workplace.  Do it often enough and you may get an undeserved reputation as someone who cannot listen and positively act on feedback.  No matter what the circumstances, it’s worth mastering the very useful and versatile communication tool called “fogging.”  Fogging simply means to “stay cool”.  Imagine that one day, out on a walk, a thick fog descends and leaves you unsure of which way to turn.  You may be frustrated or angry, but there’s nothing that you can do to the fog to relieve your frustration.  Striking out at the fog, throwing stones at it, or even cursing it would leave the fog completely unaffected.  The language technique of fogging simply means training yourself to stay calm, “stay cool” in the face of criticism, and agree with whatever may be fair and useful in it.  Merely respond to the criticism with one of these phrases:

That could be true …

You’re probably right …

Sometimes I think so myself …

I agree …

That’s true …

You’re right …

You have a point there …

Implied in fogging (but never actually said) is “So what?”  The beauty of this language tool: by refusing to be provoked and upset by the criticism, you remove its destructive power.  By acknowledging the other person’s point of view, you don’t come across as defensive.  It`s true that fogging requires some self-control, but if you can master the technique, it can be devastatingly effective.  Write and tell me about your experience with fogging.

Are you cut out for supervision?

Have you been considering a move into a formal leadership role in your organization?  If you’re like most people, moving into a supervisory role will require that you significantly change the way you think.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it will be business as usual – in fact, you’ll have to consciously stop doing some things (that are easy and quick for  you) and start doing others (that will be more challenging and probably cause you some angst).  You’ll find this transition from  non-management to management easier if you are mentally “ready” to take on this demanding, yet immensely satisfying, job.  Take this 10-question self-assessment to find out how “ready” you are!

Are you cut out for supervision?

Let me know how you do!

Follow-through is essential, in sports and in leadership

This was the football (soccer) match that would decide who would make it to the quarterfinals at Morocco’s Coupe de Tron.  Two popular teams, Maghreb Fez and FAR Rabat fought it out to the bitter end, eventually having to go to penalty kicks to settle the score.  FAR goalkeeper Khalid Askri thought he’d won it for his team, but he celebrated just a tad bit too early!  See his monumental error for yourself.

Askri made a critical error … he didn’t follow through.  He executed well, but he didn’t stay on top of his actions to ensure that he reached his expected destination.  Not that different from the workplace, is it?  How many times have you observed people start something, get most of it done, but then neglect to follow it through to its final conclusion?  What actions can you take to ensure that your people are following things through to their final outcome, and not just checking them off a to-do list?

Acknowledge what older more experienced employees bring to the table

Years ago, in one of my early management roles, I supervised an employee named Martha.  Martha was memorable because she’d been in the department and organization for a very long time AND she carried a huge chip on her shoulder.  I was a new supervisor and in one of our early interactions, I suggested an alternate approach to one of our processes. She immediately jumped in with: “Tried that bright idea five years ago. Didn’t work then, won’t work now!”  Now you no doubt have come across one or two of your own versions of Martha in the workplace.  Loosely defined, these are employees who have a great deal of experience, and who have been with an organization for quite a while. They’ve seen supervisors and managers come and go; many times they’ve trained those very people only to see them move on to greener pastures. If they have chips on their shoulders, it’s likely because their experience has been under-utilized and under-appreciated. Yet, it’s these experienced employees that can be a valuable resource to you and your department IF you can find a way to capitalize on their strengths.

Here’s one idea.  Acknowledge their experience. They need to hear it from you.  They’ve heard the education vs. experience storyline before and they often see themselves as getting the raw end of that deal!  The truth is that experience is education, and if you, as a leader, cannot appreciate the value of experience, then you’re setting yourself up for ongoing failure with your more experienced employees. But it isn’t good enough to just know this; you have to tell them. Verbalize this sentiment: tell them you recognize and value the experience they bring, and that you’d like the benefit of their knowledge as you continue. Don’t be afraid to repeat it.

What are you doing to tap into the knowledge and experience of your older more experienced employees?

Help your people get better at managing their workloads

Balance and productivity strategist Patricia Katz helps leaders reduce the impact of overload in their lives and workplaces.  As my professional colleague and friend, she agreed to guest-author today, and by doing so, she allowed me to reduce MY overload.  Thanks Pat!

As a conscious, committed, caring leader, the chances are pretty good that you’ve noticed how overwhelmed people become by life’s ongoing demands. You see how exhaustion affects them and recognize the problems it causes in your organization.  The worst thing you can do in a situation like this is to focus just on speed and efficiency. Simply pushing harder is never a long-term solution. In fact, it makes things worse

Here are three positive strategies you can use to help those you lead get a better handle on their loads.

  1. Get real about timelines and expectations. Too much planning goes on in a fact-free environment. Deadlines for new projects and initiatives are announced without input from those who actually know what it’s going to take to deliver. Consult those on the frontlines who will be charged with actually executing these plans before you set expectations and deadlines that drive them to the brink. Continue reading

Long-distance leadership? Plan on at least one informal phone call a week

Keeping the lines of communication open and flowing in face-to-face situations can sometimes be challenging enough, but what if you have employees who are “remote”?  If you have physical distance between you and your employees – such as staff who work in different office buildings, or work from home offices, or spend most of their time in their vehicles – then the challenges of communication multiply and compound.  Plus, remote or virtual employees often complain that they feel isolated from their bosses and the rest of the organization.

There are several things that you can do to overcome this physical distance problem, and I told you about “setting office hours” in a blog post earlier this year.  Here’s another idea.  Make it a point to informally talk (on the phone) to each of your virtual employees at least once a week.  Because this is supposed to be informal, I don’t recommend that you schedule a specific time with them.  But … there’s nothing to stop you from scheduling it into YOUR calendar so that you don’t forget.  This call is just to keep a connection.  Find out what’s going on, what are they working on, whether they need support, you get the idea.  It doesn’t need to be long, but doing this one simple activity will go a long way towards reducing the feeling of isolation that so many remote employees complain about.

For those of you who have long-distance employee relationships (or if you ARE the “remote employee”), what else works to provide enhanced support and feedback?

When making decisions, watch out for the “anchoring” trap

How would you answer these two questions?

Is the population of Turkey greater than 35 million?

What’s your best estimate of Turkey’s population?

In a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, authors John Hammond, Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa reported on their extensive research conducted over several years, in which they posed these two questions to many groups of people.  However, in half the cases, they used the number 100 million instead of 35 million.  Without fail, the number cited in the first question influenced the answer to the second question.  The answers to – what’s your best estimate of Turkey’s population – increased by many millions when the 100 million number was used initially.  This simple experiment illustrates anchoring – a common and sometimes harmful trap in decision making.  When considering a problem, the mind gives disproportionate weight to the first information it receives.  Initial impressions, estimates or data anchor subsequent thoughts or judgments.

As a leader, you are charged with making many important evaluations and choices.  Have you ever been susceptible to anchoring? Probably more than you realize.  So what can you do to reduce the negative impact of anchoring on your decision making?  Well, the first step is awareness.  Be alert to the possibility of anchors.  Think about the problem on your own before consulting with others to avoid becoming anchored by their ideas.  Try to view the problem from a different perspective rather than staying with the first line of reasoning that occurs to you.  Perhaps more importantly, avoid anchoring your consultants, employees and others from whom you ask for advice.  Don’t reveal too much about your own ideas, estimates or tentative decisions early on, otherwise your own preconceptions may simply come back to you.  Have you observed anchoring in your workplace?

By the way, in case you were wondering, a 2008 census pegged Turkey’s population at almost 74 million.

Persuasive Communication – Live audio event on September 16

When you speak, do people stop and listen? Do they nod their heads in agreement, and then roll up their sleeves to help you accomplish goals and get things done? Can you influence others to come around to your point of view, particularly when their minds are already made up? If you answered yes to these three questions, then congratulations, you’ve accomplished something that most people struggle with!  But … if your contributions in the workplace aren’t getting the attention they deserve and you find that others don’t often come around to your point of view, then you ABSOLUTELY MUST join me at my next live audio event on September 16.  In one fast-paced content-rich hour I’ll give you proven methods and specific language tools to build rapport and bring others on board.  These aren’t academic theories, these are practical useful techniques that you can put to work right away.

Click here to register now.

In one power-packed hour, right from the comfort of your office, I’ll give you specific, practical, and useful tools to improve your track record in getting your ideas recognized, accepted and implemented! You’ll learn:

  • The triple threat of persuasiveness – the three characteristics that individually are potent, but combined are compellingly influential
  • Convincing and persuasive language that you can use to get a job, sell your ideas and bring others over to your point of view
  • Pre-suppositions – what they are, and how they work in bringing others on board
  • The FAB model – a simple (yet sturdy) persuasion technique from the world of advertising
  • The power of the hot button in “making the sale”

Join me on September 16, 2010 at 11 AM MDT. Early bird pricing in effect ONLY until this Thursday September 9!

Click here to register, or for more information.

Overcome workplace negativity by being inclusive when you communicate

Earlier this year, I wrote about why negativity is so widespread in some organizations, based primarily on my experiences in my leadership development practice.  I must have touched a raw nerve because that post triggered a flood of emails from folks asking for advice on HOW to deal with all this negativity.  So I promised that I would offer specific tips on the HOW every so often here on my blog.  I’ve already told you about how feeding the grapevine is one way to overcome negativity, but being inclusive when you communicate is another.

Being inclusive when you communicate means giving people the same information at the same time, and not certain people first and others later.  Now most leaders don’t go against this intentionally, it’s just one of those things that happens …  But when you give different information to different people at different points in time, it just gives more fodder for the gossip mill, and inadvertently you contribute to the negativity.  So being inclusive when you communicate is more a matter of just being aware of what you say and when you say it.  Consciously seek to be more inclusive and you’ll see a positive impact on the negativity!

Have you seen any great examples in action?  Do share.