Remove bias from discussions

How you frame a discussion can have a huge impact on how your team views and responds to situations. To avoid swaying their viewpoints, use these approaches:

  • Listen first. Ask others to describe the situation before you chime in.
  • Choose neutral words. If you say “crisis” or “opportunity,” for example, that’s how everyone will see further information and formulate their responses.
  • Create two views. Describe important situations in more than one way. For example, have your team view what is happening as both a crisis and an opportunity. That will lead them to propose a wider variety of solutions than if they see only one angle.
  • Test the frame. After your team has described a situation, encourage people to challenge whether that viewpoint is valid.
  • Steer conversations. If the discussions veer off track, refer people back to the frame you have set for dealing with the situation.
  • Adjust along the way. Beware if your discussion sounds like a familiar rehash of what you always do. The frame may be reinforcing business as usual, instead of opening the team to new options

— Adapted from “Frame Carefully to Improve Discussion Quality,” Art Petty, Management Excellence, http://artpetty.com.

Update those passé phrases

Just a few stodgy phrases can damage the effectiveness of any letter, email or memo you create. The following is a list of the worst offenders:

  • “Yours truly” and “Sincerely yours.” Whomever you are writing to, you most likely are not really “theirs.” Avoid antiquated language in favor of a simple “Sincerely.”
  • “Respectfully.” Many writers sign off with that closing—particularly when they have delivered bad news—in hopes of softening the blow. But that’s a hollow gesture that won’t make your reader feel any happier.
  • “Please be advised …” Are you really “advising,” or are you merely “telling” or “informing”? Unless you are truly offering advice, skip the “please”- framed request and simply state the facts.
  • “I am forwarding …” That’s another example of an outdated phrase. Unless you are actually forwarding an email message or attachment, use “I am sending.”
  • “Please do not hesitate to contact me …” Cut out the cliché and write “Please call or email me …”
  • “Enclosed please find …” Unless you are on a scavenger hunt, you needn’t nvite your correspondents to “find” anything. Instead, write “I have enclosed …”

— Adapted from “The 10 Deadliest Words and Phrases in Business,” Gary Blake, http://www.writingworkshop.com.

What’s wrong with your to-do list

A to-do list is essential for effective time management, but a poorly written one is nothing more than a reminder of what you haven’t done. If your to-do list isn’t working for you, check whether any of these is the problem:

  • It isn’t with you. If you can’t access your to-do list, it’s useless. Whether you choose a digital or paper format, you must be able to add items, update priorities and remind yourself what to do next throughout the day.
  • It’s too long. You need two lists: one complete list of tasks and one just for today. Your daily to-do list should have only three to five top priorities. If you have time to do more, you can always refer to your master list. Limiting your daily lists forces you to think about what is most important and what you can realistically accomplish.
  • It’s too broad. Each item on your to-do list should be a specific task. That allows you to accurately estimate the time required and prevents the tendency to put off items that seem too daunting. Break down a project such as “Prepare speech” into its components, such as “Research speech topic,” “Write speech draft,” “Revise speech,” “Create slides” and “Rehearse speech.”
  • It’s incomplete. Often people leave off the “little things” that add up to a significant amount of work. Handling those small tasks in batches allows you to allocate time for them and have a more realistic picture of what you do each day.
  • It’s unorganized. In addition to flagging top priorities, include time estimates for the tasks. Then if a meeting ends early, you can easily see what you can complete in that extra 20 minutes.
  • It’s unedited. Before you begin any task on your list, ask yourself “Am I the best person for that task?” Delegate first, rather than waiting until you realize that you are swamped with unfinished work.

Grammar lesson: bad vs. badly

Even the most careful writers stumble when it comes to using the words bad” and “badly.” Which of the following sentences are correct?

  1. Our stock performed badly last year.
  2. Tim delegates badly.
  3. We felt badly about our stock’s performance last year.
  4. When I visited her in the hospital, she looked badly.

Answer: Only the first two are correct. Because “badly” is an adverb, it describes the manner in which an action is performed. In the first two sentences, “performing” and “delegating” are action verbs, so it’s appropriate to use an adverb to describe how they are done.

In the last two sentences, “feeling” and “looking” are not actions but states of being. The correct word in those cases is “bad,” which is an adjective that describes the pronouns “we” and “I.”

However, when the verb “to feel” is used to mean one’s sense of touch, the adverb “badly” is correct because it describes an action. Example: Someone who damaged the nerve endings in his fingers would “feel badly,” because in that context, feeling is an action and not a state of being.

Bottom line:When you’re tempted to use “badly,” be sure you are describing
an action.
— Adapted from “Bad or Badly?” http://www.getitwriteonline.com.

Words are Powerful; Use With Care, Media Expert Notes 

This is a guest post by Steve Kayser is an award-winning writer, editor, publisher, former radio host and founder of Kayser Media.

It’s easy to take words for granted; most of us use them as effortlessly as we breathe. But words hold power that we often overlook at our own peril, says media expert Steve Kayser.

“Language is the code that translates ideas so they can be shared. They give us an advantage in the natural world, which has enabled us to evolve as human beings,” says Kayser, author of “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard,” (www.stevekayser.com).

“But in our personal and public lives, we are inundated with empty words; words that are used incorrectly; words that are drained of all meaning; and so fail to accurately convey the intended message; and words that carry unwarranted connotations and stigma.”

Words can change lives, destroy relationships and alter the course of entire civilizations, Kayser notes.

He shares examples of what to avoid, what to embrace and what to reconsider when trying to make your language more effective.

•  Avoid John Kerry’s “crystal clear” nugget. Earlier this year, amid the ongoing foreign policy crises in the Middle East, secretary of state John Kerry, who has a linguistic reputation for long-winded political jargon, seemed to contradict himself in a single breath. “I want to make this crystal clear,” he said. “The president is desirous of trying to see how we can make our best efforts in order to find a way to facilitate.”

It’s this kind of language that makes people cynical about our elected officials – when a politician’s mouth is moving and producing sounds, but he’s not saying anything. Or, if they are saying something, they use words that are overused and unnecessary. Businesses, too, can be notorious for this using corporate gobbledygook to obfuscate all meaning, Kayser says. “What people want is authenticity in language, to say what you mean and mean what you say.”

•  Emulate Mark Twain, the “straight shooter,” who employed wit, charm and incisive commentary in communications. No, most people cannot pick up where Twain, arguably America’s greatest writer, left off. But language and the way in which it’s used can be highly contagious. If you want to inspire authenticity and engage employees and friends alike with genuine communication, consider styling your speech more along the lines of Twain, rather than a dry business manual:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” Twain wrote. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

•  If you’re in business, there are advantages to embracing the jargon. “Can we blue sky this synergy later?” “Cascade this to your people and see what the pushback is.” … Business lingo could fill a dictionary, and in many cases, requires one! Unlike political babble, business jargon has its purpose, according to a new study from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Business speak is code for “upper management material,” showing that the speaker is in a company’s inner circle and is a “big picture” person, the study reveals.

“Some of the language you come across in the business world can seem absurd to outsiders; some of these phrases, however, may actually reveal ambition in an employee,” Kayser says.

“The beauty of language is that it’s a common tool for everyone to use, yet it can be tailored to an individual. My primary suggestion is to do that in a way that authentically reveals your meaning.”

Steve Kayser is an award-winning writer, editor, publisher, former radio host and founder of Kayser Media. He has had the great fortune to interview and collaborate with some of the best minds in the business world, and his eclectic approach to public relations and marketing has been widely documented. He recently published “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard,” (www.stevekayser.com). 

Words that hurt morale

Avoid these words that have the power to demotivate and demoralize employees: blame, catastrophe, command, crisis, demand, disaster, fault, hopeless, impossible, incompetent, mess and stupid.

Those words convey a sense of command and control, as in “You must listen to my orders and do as I say.” Those are words that imply strict instruction and that hold zero hope for drawing unity, inspiration or cooperation from your team.

— Adapted from Getting Your Way Every Day, Alex Axelrod, American Management Association, http://www.amanet.org/books.

Well-timed feedback

When is the best time to tell employees that their performance doesn’t meet your expectations? As soon as you notice problems. If you wait until a more “opportune” moment to share negative feedback, their performance will only continue to slide.

Worse, staffers may think: “We’ve been messing up and the boss didn’t even tell us? It must not be that important.”

Another problem: employee resentment or embarrassment. No one wants to hear about poor performance after the fact.

— Adapted from Growing Great Employees, Erika Andersen, Portfolio, http://www.penguin.com.