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Tag Archives: communication with employees

Don’t inadvertently send mixed messages!

MixedMessageLast fall, my column for Profit Magazine on the five-step method for crystal-clear communication focused on how to give directions to employees in a way that they understood and acted – the first time. In today’s post, I decided to talk about why employees might not understand and act in the first place, specifically about the confusion that arises from mixed messages.

A mixed message is a cavernous disconnect between what you say and what you do, and quite frankly, it confuses your people. And when your people are confused, your credibility drops like a rock. An example is the manager who says “Don’t be afraid to tell me when something goes wrong” but then has a minor meltdown when an employee does exactly that. The poor confused employee doesn’t know whether it’s okay to tell his supervisor when something goes wrong, or whether he should keep quiet. And the manager loses credibility in the eyes of the employee. Mixed messages happen amongst peers as well. Have you ever met the co-worker who says “I’m open to feedback” but then gets silent and morose for the rest of the day when you offer her some advice? Does she really want feedback, or are you better off keeping your advice to yourself? Mixed messages are confusing! Continue reading

The five-step method for crystal-clear communication

My newest column for hit cyberspace this morning, and this edition focuses on a complaint I hear from many a leader – Why is it that I give what I think are crystal-clear instructions to an employee, only to discover later that they didn’t quite get it? As common as this issue is, the good news is that the solution is actually fairly easy. In How to Give Instructions Your Employees Will Actually Follow, I address this frequent problem of staff not always hearing what you are saying, and lay out five specific steps to give directions in a way so that your employees understand and act – the first time.

ProfitGuide101615Well, what have been your experiences when it comes to staff not always understanding and acting on your message? What are you doing to ensure clear communication – to make sure that you are heard, clearly, the first time? Do share please.

P.S. In case you didn’t know, I am a regular member of’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, and their list of columnists reads like the Who’s Who of Canadian business, so I am proud to be in such distinguished company.

Use the company grapevine to your advantage

My latest column in The Globe & Mail‘s Leadership Lab series is out today!

Make the company grapevine work for you

Today’s focus is on the company grapevine (also known as the rumour mill and bush telegraph) which causes so much grief to so many managers and supervisors. My premise – don’t fight the grapevine, use it to your advantage! The company rumour mill is unavoidable, so smart leaders make it work for them!


I am very honoured that my columns for The Globe‘s Report on Business continue to garner so much interest. My hope is that I bring up a subject that resonates with many. And my objective is to get conversations started – that’s how we all become even better leaders than we already are! So as always, I eagerly await your reactions and perspectives. It’s a short read and I hope that you find it relevant and thought-provoking. Add your viewpoint to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, drop me an email or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).

And please help me get the word out and get the message to as many as possible … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love their thoughts as well! Opposing viewpoints always welcome!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

Active listening can be accomplished by taking notes

writingEarlier this week I offered up a technique to become a more active listener – paraphrasing.  And I promised I’d share one more idea today.  So here it is – take notes.  Yes, that’s right, taking notes will lead to more active listening.  I know that may sound counterintuitive – after all, taking notes would draw your attention away from listening, wouldn’t it?  Not so.  As long as you’re not transcribing, word-for-word, your conversation, you should be fine.  The point of taking notes is to jot down key words and phrases to jog your memory later, not to record the conversation in detail.  And once again, as it was for paraphrasing, taking notes itself doesn’t make you a better listener; it’s because your brain is engaged (because you’re taking notes) that you have a reason to stay present and checked-inContinue reading

Paraphrasing leads to active listening

Listening To GossipThe skill of active listening is of great advantage in the workplace.  Sure, when you listen well it gives you access to information, data that you can use to make better decisions, but the benefits go beyond just this obvious advantage.  Active listening is also a huge motivator – when you listen to what your employees have to say, it affirms them and thus builds and nurtures great working relationships.  Which is why I often blog about what specific techniques leaders can use to become more active listeners.  Last May I wrote about asking questions as a way to improve listening.  Today and later this week, I have two more ideas.  Today’s technique – paraphrase.

Paraphrasing is when you repeat back, in your own words, what you heard the other person say.  So for example: Continue reading

Piss-off factors – how smart managers do stupid things

My latest column in The Globe & Mail‘s Leadership Lab series is out today!

“Why do smart managers do stupid things?”

In this column, I talk about Piss-Off Factors (or POFs), things that short-sighted managers do to destroy employee morale. POFs are something that I have blogged about often, primarily because they occur repeatedly. And interestingly enough, they are rarely intentional (which is why they are SO stupid)!

G&M110414 Continue reading

Use this phrase for more effective communication

Two irrefutable truths about effective communication:

  1. Effective communication involves both speaking and listening, preferably equably between two parties.
  2. When it’s your turn to speak, it’s also your responsibility to ensure that the message is heard and received by the other person.

Red Flashing LightLet’s look at #2 more closely.  Despite the fact that it happens often, ensuring that the message is heard and received by someone else does NOT involve speaking louder and faster!  Instead, it’s about setting the stage so that your listener is willing to hear what you have to say, and to be open-minded enough to consider your point of view.  In previous blog posts, I’ve written about not making people defensive and focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want, both approaches to increase the likelihood that the other person will hear and act on what you have to say.

Another tactic to improve another person’s listening ability is to prepare him/her – give him/her notice about what’s coming up – by using the phrase “Let me tell you why that is important.”  This is akin to putting a flashing light in the middle of a conversation.  Perhaps the person you are speaking to has drifted away and isn’t listening carefully.  By using this phrase, you are letting him/her know that they need to check back in and pay attention. Continue reading

Setting goals? To build confidence, go smaller and sooner

GoalsSetting goals is an important first-step towards achieving objectives and when done appropriately and regularly, it can be a source of great motivation for teams and individuals.  I often hear leaders refer to “stretch targets” – goals that require and effort or “stretch” to realize.  But the key to goal-setting that results in success really lies in attaining a balance – a balance between “too much” and “not enough”.  If the goals are too big or too distant or not reflective of the business reality, they will actually undermine confidence and eventually become de-motivators.  On the other hand, if the goals are too easy, or simply the status quo, they will not serve to encourage higher performance or productivity.

So what’s the solution?  Continue reading

Active listening can be accomplished by asking questions

Listening To GossipActive listening is a learned skill, one that gets better with use and practice.  And being a good active listener comes with rewards – not only does it give you more information on which to base your decisions and actions, but perhaps more importantly, it helps you get the best from your employees.  When you listen, actively listen, to what your employees have to say, not only does it affirm them, but it builds and solidifies your relationships with your staff.  In past blog posts, I’ve written about what gets in the way of active listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in” and Be aware of mental and physical barriers that can get in the way) but today I want to talk about the opposite – what can you do to become a more active listener?

One idea – ask questions.  Continue reading

What does it take to “connect” with your employees?

Last week I was working in Honolulu HI (yea I know, tough :)) and as I took a walk one evening, I came across this homeless man taking a quick nap on the sidewalk.


I realize the picture isn’t completely in focus, but if you can’t read it, his sign says “Why Lie, Need Beer.  Mahalo.  God bless.”  After I laughed out loud, I stopped for a few minutes to observe other people’s reactions.  In the five minutes that I stood there, unseen in the shadows, I saw 17 people stop and read his sign, and (this was the one that surprised me) 14 give him their spare change.  Continue reading