Tag Archives: office communication

When to step in

Strike a balance between micromanaging and having too much of a laissez-faire attitude toward employees’ performance. Apply the “Rule of 3” to know when to take action.

After three instances of performance problems, step in to coach or discipline the employee. Of course, in the case of egregious problems you need to act right away. The Rule of 3 applies to the types of performance issues that many managers allow to fester.

On the other hand, when an employee has showed mastery of a task three times, you should delegate more responsibility or set new goals that will build on the skills demonstrated.

— Adapted from Bring Out the Best in Every Employee, Don Brown and Bill Hawkins, McGraw-Hill, http://mhprofessional.com.

4 ways to focus on the speaker

To listen well you must resist the urge to pipe in your thoughts and experiences about the topic before the speaker finishes making his or her points. Practice following—rather than leading—the conversation with these four strategies:

  1. Encourage. Silent nods and other gestures of support indicate that you want to hear more.
  2. Inquire. Phrase questions so the speaker continues talking about the topic.
  3. Elaborate. Express your comments based on the speaker’s perspective.
  4. Redirect. Whenever possible, turn the conversation back to the speaker and away from you.

— Adapted from “Dr. Ray Guarendi on Following a Conversation,” Brainzooming, http://brainzooming.com.

4 statements you should never tell staff

You are the boss, and employees are taking note of everything you say. Avoid causing morale, productivity, attitude and engagement problems by never uttering these four phrases:

  1. “I’m the boss.” You are, but that should never be your justification for making a decision—especially an unpopular one. If employees feel they have no say because “You’re the boss,” they’ll disconnect from the work.
  2. “That customer is driving me nuts.” If you speak badly of customers, employees will too. Emphasize that every customer is important to your business—even the most challenging ones.
  3. “You are the only one having issues.” That is likely untrue; other employees just haven’t gained the courage to talk to you yet. Also, you’ll make employees feel alone and helpless. Instead, work to alleviate all employees’ pain and stress.
  4. “Don’t argue with me.” Employees should question your ideas, point out flaws and make recommendations for improvement.

— Adapted from “17 Things the Boss Should Never Say,” Dave Kerpen, http://www.linkedin.com/in/davekerpen.

What to say when … a discussion has stalled

Your team members have discussed a subject to death without reaching consensus. Break the deadlock by “polling” team members. Polling allows team members to cast a nonbinding vote based on the information they have so far.

Say: “We’ve been going over these same few points for more than 45 minutes. Let’s take a quick vote and see what everyone would do if we had to make the decision right now. If we agree, we’ll move on to the next agenda item. If not, we’ll keep talking.”

If members resume their bickering, say: “Yes, you made that point earlier. But if we had to come up with a solution today, how would you cast your vote?”

Standardize verbs when giving technical instructions

When you write instructions for computer and software use, establish the following guidelines to describe keyboard actions. Write:

  • Press when a keyboard key interaction is required to perform a particular function. Example: Press Y to continue. Note: Do not use depress, strike, hit or type to describe those interactions.
  • Use for navigation purposes with an arrow key or when pressing multiple keys at the same time will initiate a command. Example: Use the arrow keys to move up and down in the document.
  • Type when a user should enter information that appears on the screen. Example: Type your user ID.
  • Click when the user manipulates the computer mouse to make a selection. Example: Click the File menu.
  • Select when marking or highlighting text in a document; when adding checks to checkboxes; or when picking an item from a list. Example: Select the desired text, and then click Enter.

— Adapted from The AMA Handbook of Business Writing, Kevin Wilson and Jennifer Wauson, AMACOM, http://www.amacombooks.org.

Make a ‘Thank you’ meaningful

Even if you are polite enough to say “Thank you” throughout the workday, you can turn those two words into powerful recognition for your employees. Spend a few minutes this month showing staff members how much you truly appreciate them. Say “Thank you” with actions like these:

  • Put it in writing. Send your staff member a letter on professional-looking stationery. You don’t need to write much, just a few lines saying specifically why you are glad that this person works with you. Mention details such as the actions, skills or attributes that the person brings to the workplace.
  • Reinforce the behaviors you value. Note progress that the person has made over the past few months or well-established actions that you value. Example: “Rita, your positive attitude always raises the team’s morale. I recall just last week when …”
  • Make the delivery special. Hand the note to the person with a few brief remarks, such as “I want to tell you how much we value your contributions.” Or mail the letter to the employee’s home, where the recipient can savor the praise with his or her family.
  • Ratchet up the praise. Instead of thanking the staff member yourself, ask your boss or another executive to deliver the words with a call or note. Knowing that you have told others about the person’s good work will make it more meaningful.


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.