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.

Personalize recognition

When it comes to recognition, money isn’t everything. Employees often want other shows of your appreciation—and many respond well to rewards that just might surprise you.

Find out how your employees want to be recognized by distributing a survey, asking them to mark the items that appeal to them. Then tailor rewards around their responses.

“Reward me by …”

  • Offering me positive feedback at a meeting.
  • Asking me to take on a tough problem or challenge.
  • Inviting me to a dinner party or barbecue at the boss’s home.
  • Giving me the chance to work flexible hours or work at home.
  • Letting me buy new tools or equipment for work.
  • Asking my opinion.
  • Sharing my successes with the rest of the organization.
  • Letting me learn a new system, operate new equipment and increase my skills and knowledge.

— Adapted from Teamwork and Teamplay, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan and Glenn Parker, Jossey Bass, http://www.josseybass.com.

Answer questions the right way

Be careful how you answer questions from customers or coworkers. An answer that seems fine to you may be offensive to the other person.

Use these tips to answer questions more effectively and to reduce the chances of misunderstandings or hurt feelings:

  • Avoid using “Of course” as a synonym for “Yes.” Answers that are obvious to you may be less obvious to the other person. For that reason, the questioner may interpret the answer “Of course” as an insult. Example: A coworker asks whether she should obtain a manager’s approval before ordering office supplies. You answer “Of course.” She may interpret your answer as hostile or dismissive.
  • Offer more than a one-word answer. When answering a question, elaborate or explain the general principle as well. Example: “When ordering supplies for the office, we need a manager’s approval for orders that exceed $100.” By answering more thoroughly, you can lighten your workload. People will ask you fewer repetitive questions.

— Adapted from “How to Answer Questions,” Calvin Sun, http://www.calvinsun.com.

How to win without arguing

Want to convince others to accept your point of view over their own? Don’t engage in a shouting match. Instead of raising their defenses by attacking their
points of view, throw them off guard by agreeing with their viewpoint.

Example: A co-worker tells you that you let him down because you didn’t meet an internal deadline that you consider relatively unimportant. You could create a logical argument to convince your co-worker of that, but the co-worker is unlikely to abandon his position. So don’t argue.

Instead, say: “Yes, I understand what you mean. We did agree to finish that part of the report by Tuesday. I can appreciate what you are feeling right now.”
Why that works: You didn’t argue—you validated the other person’s point of view. At that point, your co-worker is likely to relax because you are not
being confrontational.

Next, offer a suggestion that meets both your and your co-worker’s needs. Example: “We both have the key facts and figures. Do you think we can skip the interim report and just sit down together to discuss what we know and what we need to include in the final report?”

Add these key words to fully win the other person to your point of view: “If you can’t do that, I understand.” Most likely, you will gain what you want. At the worst, you will open a productive discussion that results in a compromise that satisfies you both.

— Adapted from “First Agreement—Then (and Only Then) Persuasion,” Bob Burg, http://www.burg.com.

Avoid sounding too excited

Don’t allow your enthusiasm for a subject to undermine your authority when you speak about it. You will be more persuasive when you avoid these faults:

  • Speaking too fast. Listeners don’t trust people who talk exceptionally fast. Speak at a moderate pace to hold your listeners’ attention.
  • Being too animated. Hand gestures and inflection are important to convey your enthusiasm. However, if you look like you are trying too hard to make an impression, that will distract from your message.
  • Not taking a break. It’s easy to become caught up in offering an explanation and forget to stop for air. People are more receptive to speakers who pause naturally for breath and approach their presentations as conversations.

— Adapted from “Pause & Pitch: The Surprising Keys to Persuasive Speaking,” Rebecca Mazin, http://www.allbusiness.com.

Grammar lesson: Among vs. between

Between applies to a group of two. Example: “Let’s keep this between you and me.”

Among applies to a group of three or more. “He felt he was among friends.”

Know when to call it quits

Recognize the signs that a group brainstorming session has reached the point when further discussions would waste time. Look for the following indications that you should end the meeting:

  • The group reaches its predetermined goal. Establish a time limit or target number of ideas so participants remain motivated throughout the experience. End the session after meeting the goal, or add time if the group is still generating good ideas.
  • The rate of new ideas being generated slows to a crawl. Once the initial excitement of the experience winds down and most people stop actively participating, it’s time to pull the plug on the session.
  • The quality of ideas takes a dive. Take a break or end the session when too many ideas become repetitive or drift off target.

— Adapted from “Brainstorming Ideas—10 Signs You’re Done Brainstorming,” Mike Brown, Brainzooming, http://brainzooming.com.