Tag Archives: office communication

Inspire when saying “No”

When you say “No” to someone who passionately shares an idea, you deflate the person’s enthusiasm at best. At worst, you deliver a spirit-crushing blow.

Instead, formulate answers that are interactive rather than dismissive. Respond by constructively investigating the idea. Examples:

  • Respond with a “Let’s explore” answer if the idea shows promise. Listen and discuss the idea further. Maybe the timing isn’t right or the idea needs more development, but you offer the person an opportunity to contribute. Besides, with some modifications, the idea could work.
  • Create a “What if” answer that alters the original idea into a better idea with the same result. That response recognizes the merit of the idea and encourages future input.

— Adapted from “Leadership: How to Say ‘No’ While Also Inspiring People,” Steve Denning, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com.

How to receive bad news

Keep these guidelines in mind, and you will avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger” when an employee delivers bad news:

  • Make information-gathering your goal. If you develop a reputation for blowing up at the first murmur of bad news, others will hesitate to come to you when plans go awry. Stay calm and gather the facts – who, what, when, where and why.
  • Focus on damage control. As quickly as possible, define the extent of the problem. Then create a plan to control it as you convene a task force to focus on long-term solutions.
  • Keep information flowing. Inform interested employees of the steps you have initiated and how they can help. Then report the situation to your own supervisors. If you have contained the problem, report the details. If you need assistance, outline what you have accomplished so far and ask for what you need.

Help two employees end a feud

Two of your employees don’t like each other, and their enmity is starting to affect their co-workers’ morale. It is time for you to take control of the situation. But where should you start? Follow these steps:

1. Bring the feuding co-workers together

Let them know how their behavior is affecting the workplace, and remind them that you are obligated to address any behavior that interferes with productivity and team spirit.

Remind them both that you value their contributions, and ask them to commit to working out their differences and restoring their working relationship.

2. Review their options

Tell them that you trust them to choose the best way to handle the situation. They can commit to working it out on their own, involve you in finding a solution or choose a disinterested mediator to help them mend their relationship.

Explain that those are their only options—if they are interested in continuing
in their current jobs.

3. Perform a skills check

If they insist on working things out between themselves, make sure that they are
equipped to do so. Look for both the motivation and communication skills necessary to resolve a conflict, and establish a plan to evaluate their progress so you don’t lose control of the process.

— Adapted from “Workplace Issues: Employees Who Dislike Each Other,” Mary
Rau-Foster, Foster Seminars, http://www.fosterseminars.com.

Effectively manage a ‘Complicator’

Complicators are employees who find flaws in every plan. They’ll nitpick the most trivial details, holding up decision making and preventing progress. They are quick to criticize others’ ideas and work, and they will search until they find some sort of problem that will block a change.

Coworkers see them as critics and micromanagers and often hate working with them because Complicators almost always stall progress.

How to manage Complicators: Present a change as a logical path to take—rather than apologizing for it—and ask them to weigh in on the change and offer solutions to any problems.

Example: “Given the increase in our customers’ preference to access their accounts online, we need to overhaul the website and make it more user-friendly. By close of business on Wednesday, please send me a list of obstacles you think we’ll face and offer your solutions. During Friday’s meeting, we’ll focus on problem solving and creating a plan for moving forward rather than focusing on the challenges ahead.”

That way, you offer Complicators an opportunity to vent and share frustrations, but you make them responsible for coming up with solutions to those complaints. In addition, by explaining that you will focus on solutions—not problems—during the meeting, you don’t subject the rest of the team to Complicators’ negativity.

— Adapted from “Improve Workplace Communication by Dealing With Difficult Employees,” Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com.

Turn mistakes into lessons

The way you respond to someone’s error often determines whether the person learns from the mistake … or repeats it again and again. To keep mistakes from inhibiting people’s development:

  • Show enthusiasm for the lessons each mistake can teach. Example: “This is a great chance to learn!” Don’t frown, flash anger or look to blame.
  • Level with the person about how serious the mistake was and how much damage it caused. Don’t discount it or wave it off as “nothing” or “no big deal.”
  • Demand accountability, not an apology. Tell those who err that you want them to take responsibility for the mistake and assess what went wrong.
  • Assure the person that you accept the error as long as it doesn’t happen again. Example: “This doesn’t affect how much faith I have in you, and I expect that you know now how to avoid this in the future.”


Respond to people’s weak suggestions

During a problem-solving session, a coworker offers a suggestion that seems neither realistic nor particularly useful. Take these steps to respond:

  • Validate the suggestion by paraphrasing it back to your coworker. “So you are suggesting that we fly everyone to Vegas for a strategy session. Is that correct?”
  • State your concern. “One issue I see with that plan is that taking the whole group on a business trip right now will increase expenses at a time when we can least afford it.” State your concern decisively but without derision. Others in the group may either validate your concern or show you how it could be overcome.
  • Return to the problem-solving process. Specify a time frame for continuing the discussion, and set aside time to reflect on the progress the group is making. “Let’s continue bouncing new ideas around for another 15 minutes. Then let’s stop to see if we’ve come up with any ideas that are worth pursuing.” Make sure the group agrees to your plan before you proceed.

— Adapted from “Overcoming Resistance: The Role of the Meeting Facilitator,” Michael Goldman.

How to answer negative questions

When someone asks you a question in a negative tone, avoid the urge to respond in the same manner. Instead, include the question as part of your answer and neutralize the questioner’s negativity. Examples:

  •   “Why can’t you finish the report by noon?” Answer: “The noon deadline is as important to me as it is to you. To meet it, I need the sales data before 10 a.m.”
  • “Why didn’t you use a spreadsheet?”Answer: “That’s a valid question. I based my decision on the complexity of the task you gave me.”
  • “Why wouldn’t you want to work in sales?”Answer: “I’m pleased that you’ve considered me for a position in sales. Whether that would be a good experience for me depends on the company’s reorganization plan.”
  • “Why aren’t you studying for the certification?” Answer: “I appreciate your interest in my studies. But studying for the exam and fulfilling my work requirements at the same time would strain me severely at the moment.”