Author Archives: Catherine Ahern

Does back-to-school season make anyone else nostalgic?

back to school

The transition to fall has me itching to go back to school. Maybe I’m a nerd, but I really enjoyed most of the educational process: listening to lectures from subject-matter experts, debating and discussing topics with classmates, gaining knowledge and understanding of complex topics, learning new skills, making new friends. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

As much as I’d love to be a professional student, however, I’m not exactly in the position to go back full-time. If you’re like me and need to scratch that learning-itch but don’t have the time or resources to enroll in a full-time program, consider attending one of our training camps. They’re just two-days long but jam-packed with interesting, relevant material and discussion. And I can personally attest that they’re both valuable and fun. Basically, they’ve got all the best parts of school—experts sharing their wisdom, group discussions, opportunities to network and meet new friends, and so on—minus the parts that none of us miss, like homework and high-stakes exams.

We’ve got a number of communication-related training camps lined up this fall:

    • Chicago: Sept. 18-19.
    • Baltimore: Oct. 16-17.
    • Charlotte, N.C.: Nov. 8-9.
    • Austin, Texas: Nov. 12-13.
    • Milwaukee: Nov. 15-16.

Register today!

[Image Source: Naosuke II]

10 things you shouldn’t say to your boss

10 things not to say to your boss

Last month we shared “10 things you shouldn’t say to co-workers.” Many of those can be applied to conversations with your boss as well, but here are 10 additional phrases to avoid when speaking with your supervisor:

  1. “That’s impossible.” When your boss gives an assignment to you or a goal to your team, don’t dismiss it as unattainable. Ideally you should find a way to meet your supervisor’s expectations, but if something truly is not feasible, suggest an alternative. Example: “I like your plan for moving up the newsletter’s schedule, but I’m not sure how we can make that happen this month with the other assignments we have. Is it OK if I postpone the XYZ deadline for a week to make the newsletter a priority?”
  1. “But we’ve always done it this way.” Just because you’re comfortable with a particular way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s the best way for your team or organization. Be open to change.  Sure, there will probably be an adjustment period with some confusion and kinks, but once you’ve learned the new system, it should be worth it.
  1. “That’s not my job.” Your boss knows your team members, their responsibilities and their skills. Trust that if the boss gives you an assignment, there’s a good reason for it. Maybe your co-worker has another high-priority assignment, or maybe your boss thinks your skill set is better suited to the task. Impress your supervisor with your can-do attitude. If you’re feeling swamped with assignments, address the issue this way instead: “I can do that, but I also have this assignment … How would you like me to prioritize everything?”
  1. “I can’t stand _____” or “I refuse to work with _____.” Be willing to work with everyone on your team. Otherwise, the boss may see the problem as your bad attitude, not the other employee. When a co-worker acts in a way that makes it difficult to work together, speak with the person directly. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, ask your boss for advice. Example: “I’ve found that Carolyn has a hard time meeting deadlines, which makes it difficult for me to do my job when we work together. What do you suggest I do?” Note: If the issue is very sensitive—such as if the person is sexually harassing you or making racist comments—go to your boss about the problem immediately. Don’t wait until you’re assigned to work closely together.
  1. “Oops … I should have asked, but I didn’t want to bother you.” Don’t risk making a costly or time-consuming mistake just because you’re too intimidated to speak up and ask questions. If you don’t have enough information to complete an assignment well, ask follow-up questions until you feel confident that you understand what’s expected of you. Your boss would much rather you take a bit more time on the front end of an assignment than spend extra time cleaning up a mess afterward.
  1. “I figured you knew …” Nobody likes to be blindsided, so don’t put your supervisor in that position. Give your boss an opportunity to solve problems before taking them to his or her boss or to HR.
  1. “I’m taking off these days for vacation.” By all means, you should use your vacation days. But don’t assume that you can take off whenever you want; request time off. Your plans may coincide with another co-worker’s or with a major deadline, and in either case your boss may have to decline your request. Never commit to travel plans without receiving your boss’s OK first.
  1. “Why haven’t you accepted my friend request on Facebook?” It’s great to have a friendly relationship with your boss, but don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re buddies. Keep your professional and personal lives separate, and don’t seek to connect to your supervisor on social media platforms like Facebook (LinkedIn is an exception). Do you really want your boss to see everything that goes up on your Wall anyway? If your boss ignored your friend request, consider it a blessing and don’t mention it.
  1. “I don’t get paid enough for this.” That kind of statement makes you sound like an entitled whiner, which won’t impress your boss and certainly won’t make you a stronger candidate for future promotions or raises. If you’re feeling underpaid, undervalued or dumped on, schedule a meeting with your supervisor to talk about the issue calmly and respectfully. Have specific examples prepared to support your point.
  1. “If you don’t____, then I’ll quit.” When your boss can’t (or won’t) give you what you ask for—whether it’s a promotion, a raise, an enviable assignment or anything else—he or she knows that there’s a chance you might seek another job. Stating that outright will only lead to awkwardness between you and your supervisor and may embarrass you later if you change your mind or are unable to find a new job.

What other phrases do you avoid saying to your boss?

[Image Source: Jacob Bøtter]

3 ways to ensure that people actually read your tweets, posts and shares

get people to read your posts, tweets and shares

Like many people who are plugged in to multiple social media platforms, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of information sharing. Those platforms can be an invaluable source of insight and new ideas, but there’s so much out there that users have to be selective regarding what they actually click through to read. Here are three tips to improve the chances that your followers will pay attention to what you share:

  1. Keep it relevant. First and foremost, share only content that is interesting and applicable to your customers and followers, if you’re using a social media platform for your organization. Even on your personal accounts, don’t share things that are uninteresting to others (what you had for breakfast, for example) or that could harm your reputation (rants about your co-workers, for example).
  1. Limit the number of posts. Even if all of the content you share is relevant, however, it’s still possible to overshare. One of my co-workers stopped reading the posts of a LinkedIn connection, not because they weren’t good, but because he shared upwards of 50 posts every day. Often in these cases of overposting, the problem is that the person has multiple social media platforms linked. I suspect that my co-worker’s connection had his tweets forwarded to his LinkedIn account. Tweeting 50 times a day, while still a lot, is significantly more acceptable than sharing 50 posts on LinkedIn or Facebook. If you inundate your followers with posts, they will tune you out, either by ignoring you, by unfollowing or unliking you, or by blocking you from their walls. Instead: Think about the platform you’re using, and choose the appropriate number of posts for that site. As a general rule, limit yourself to no more than 10 shares per day on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn—and that’s assuming that they’re all very relevant to your followers (and not all self-promotion). You can share far more on sites like Twitter and Pinterest, as long as you keep the content interesting.
  1. Preface your posts. I’ve noticed recently that I’m much more likely to click through and read something if the person who posted it explains why he or she is sharing it. We’ve talked about the importance of “Why” multiple times here, so that should have been obvious. The problem is that it’s really easy to be lazy about it. You click the “Share” buttons and the tweet or post is already created for you. Why bother adding your own comment? Adding your own thought—whether it’s an accolade like “I’ve never thought about networking from this perspective. Brilliant!” or a call to action like “What do you think: Is this entrepreneur forward-thinking or completely out of line?”—reminds your followers that you’re a human being with real thoughts, not a robot sharing random posts.

Want to connect? We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

What makes you click through—or skip over—something shared through a social media platform?

[Image Source: F. Delventhal]

10 things you shouldn’t say to co-workers

10 things not to say to co-workers

If you value your professional reputation and your workplace friendships, avoid saying these 10 phrases at the office:

  1. “Oh my goodness, did you hear what _____ did? or “Did you see what _____ is wearing?” Don’t earn the reputation of office gossip. If the person whom you’re gossiping about hears what you’ve said, it could lead to an awkward confrontation. But even if it doesn’t, your other co-workers will learn not to trust you. Instead, make a conscious decision to stop gossiping. Avoid spending time with other office gossips, and make sure that the comments you make about your co-workers are positive ones.
  1. “I heard that they’re about to start laying people off.” Like gossiping about people, spreading rumors about your organization isn’t going to do anything for your professional reputation. It will damage morale, making the workplace less pleasant for everyone—including you. If your boss finds out that you’ve been spreading those kinds of rumors, he or she will be upset. If you are concerned about your organization’s future, approach your boss calmly and privately to ask about the situation.
  1. “Don’t ask me! I’m just the _____.” If a co-worker asks you a question that’s outside of your expertise, that response gives two negative impressions. First, it indicates that you’re not interested in being helpful, like the uncooperative “That’s not my job!” response, which you also should avoid. Second, it undermines your importance within your organization. It tells the person that you’re not confident or motivated. Instead, if you don’t know the answer to something, say “Hmm, that’s a great question. Let’s ask _____. I think he/she will know, and now I’m curious too.”
  1. “This is probably obvious, but …” or “This might sound dumb, but …” If you have an idea to share at a meeting or one-on-one with a colleague, project confidence. You know your idea has merit, so act like it. Practice speaking without qualifying your ideas.
  1. “You always …” or “You never …” Avoid absolutes when talking to your co-workers, especially when the conversation is about their shortcomings. Absolutes are rarely true, so they make you look petty and exaggerative. Plus, they’ll put the person on the defensive, which won’t help solve the problem. Instead, speak calmly about a specific instance. Example: Replace “You never get your assignments to me on time!” with “Because you didn’t get your part of the report to me on time yesterday, I was forced to stay late last night. I won’t do that again.”
  1. “You look tired.” You might be saying it out of genuine concern, but your co-worker will interpret it as “You look bad,” and no one wants to hear that from a colleague. Instead, show your concern by asking “Is everything OK?”
  1. “You look hot.” Maybe you just want to give a compliment, but that kind of comment can lead to a very uncomfortable co-worker and possibly sexual harassment accusations. Also avoid “sexy” and “babe. “If you want to compliment a co-worker’s appearance, you can’t go wrong with “You look nice today.”
  1. “I’m so hung over.” File that one under “TMI” with stories about bodily functions and intimate details of your personal life. Sharing those kinds of things will damage your professional reputation and make co-workers uncomfortable.
  1. “I can’t believe this @*%&” I suppose it depends on the culture of your workplace, and there are some where cursing is not unusual, but as a rule of thumb, it’s typically considered unprofessional. And cursing at a co-worker is never acceptable.
  1. “So a _____ and a _____ walk into a bar …” Off-color jokes about ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation are never OK in the workplace. They could offend any co-worker—even those who aren’t members of the group in question—and will likely make those who are members of the group feel excluded, threatened or discriminated against. If you want to make a joke, choose a safe, inoffensive topic. Self-effacing humor is usually a good bet.

What other phrases do you avoid saying to your co-workers?

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to check out “10 things you shouldn’t say to your boss” too!

[Image Source: John Polley Brand Communications]

Another reason to give a reason

This summer while on vacation, I had the pleasure of reading Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which I can’t recommend highly enough. In the opening chapter, “The Weapons of Influence,” Cialdini discussed an interesting psychology experiment that reminded me of a recent post Amy Beth wrote about her vacation. She talked about the importance of explaining why people should comply with your requests, but Cialdini’s explanation helped me understand the value of that practice even better.

The experiment went like this: Experimenters approached people waiting in line for a copy machine. In the first round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” Ninety-four percent of people granted their request when it was coupled with an explanation (“I’m in a rush”).

In the second round, they eliminated the reason and simply asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” In those cases, only 60% of people let them cut in line, a significant drop.

In the third and final round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have copies?” They reinserted the trigger word “Because,” but instead of following it with a legitimate reason, they said something pointless and obvious. Of course they have copies; why else would they want to use the copy machine? Logic would tell us that this method wouldn’t be any more effective that the second request, but surprisingly, 93% of people said “Yes.”

The experiment indicates that we have an automatic response to the word “Because.” We assume that it will be followed by a genuine reason, and—apparently—we often go along with requests just because it’s there.

I don’t condone manipulating people with nonsensical or worthless reasons, but I agree with Amy Beth that following up a request or suggestion to customers, employees or co-workers with authentic reasons is a great practice.

Elevator sign that reads "Thank you for your patience. Elevator door closure has been delayed to accommodate our patients and visitors with special needs."

A few days after I returned from my vacation, I visited my mom at a local hospital, where she was recovering from a successful knee surgery. As I rode in the elevator and read the above sign, I thought “Hey, they must have read Cialdini’s book too!” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but regardless, I suspect that their explanation for why their elevator doors close so slowly probably is very effective for calming anxious hospital visitors who wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to patience.

In what situations have you found that offering a reason has been effective?

[Image Source: Catherine Ahern]