Words that speak

A few weeks ago, we looked at how much we reveal about ourselves through our unspoken messages. But that is not to say words aren’t important. They are. They’re really important. A poor choice of words can instantly switch people off and lose you their goodwill – or gain it. Your words can instantly irritate or create cooperation, help or hinder, confuse or clarify. You can choose words that are forceful or accommodating, impartial or emotive, clear or vague, courteous or challenging, depending on your purpose.
Whatever your purpose, you probably want to choose clear, positive and powerful words.
· Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk colours the way you think and the way you think shapes the way you act.
  • Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk influences the way others see you.
  •  Clear positive and powerful because they make what you say understandable, unambiguous and persuasive.
  • Clear positive and powerful because they can set a constructive tone to a conversation.
Choosing clear words isn’t as easy as it might sound. The 500 most commonly used English words have an average of 28 meanings each, which in part accounts for people understanding something quite different from what we mean. At any rate, clear words don’t include double-speak and they generally don’t include jargon (unless you’re talking to an expert, in which case, jargon can be very clear and precise).
Clear words are usually descriptive and specific; so rather than say you’ll send something, you can say you’ll post it, air mail it, courier it or scan and email it. You might want to say when you plan to do this, too. Or in a service situation, you might instruct staff not to ‘be polite to customers’ but to ‘make customers feel like special guests in our home’.
Positive words: here’s what we don’t want to hear:
  • You’ll have to fill out the form and send it back.
  • I can’t do that until Monday.
  • Don’t do that.
Negative gets people’s backs up. Positive brings a smile to their face:
  • You’ll want to fill out the form and send it back so that I can … for you.
  • I can do that on Monday for you.
  • Try it this way.
Much better, right?
Powerful words are strong. We know a strong word when we hear it and we know a weak word, too.
  • I may be able to do that.
  • It might work.
  • I’ll try to get to that soon.
  • I’ll see what I can do.
We lose all faith in speakers of weak words and we know they don’t even begin to mean what they say. Powerful words sink in and give you credibility.
So clear, positive and powerful words are the way to go. They’ll get you a lot more of what you want.
And here’s some icing for your cake: Choose words that the other person uses.
Using similar types of words and expressions that the person you’re speaking with uses makes your words hit home even more . These might be formal or informal, correct or colloquial. Use technical terms or long words when that’s what your conversational partner uses, or everyday terms or short words when these are more in harmony.
This works because people have a characteristic way of speaking, called an idiolect. They arrange words in certain ways and use certain styles of words and expressions. Harmonising your words with theirs puts you in synch because and makes it easier for people to understand you. Your message gets through loud and clear.
Choosing the right word and the right combination of words is essential, so choose your words with care.

Staying motivated yourself

It’s hard to ask your team to be motivated when you’re not. Whether it’s to do a task you dislike or start a conversation you’re not looking forward to, or you just need ‘energising’, leader-managers need to be able to motivate themselves in order to set the pace for others.

You need three things to be motivated:

  1. the desire to reach a worthwhile goal
  2. the commitment to put in the effort
  3. the self-confidence to take action.

Desire
Large or small, you need a clear goal to hold in your mind’s eye. How will you, and perhaps others too, benefit when you achieve it? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you locate your desire when you’re lacking motivation:

  • What positive outcome results from accomplishing this?
  • What good things result from doing this?
  • What happens if I don’t do it?
  • Why is it important that I do this?

When you’re searching for the motivation to tackle a task you dislike, try listing the major push factors (sticks) associated with the task. How can you turn them into pull factors (carrots)? Try changing your language: Instead of saying ‘I have to do this (groan)’, try saying ‘I want to do this because …’ Having to do something usually leads to half-hearted attempts while wanting to do something produces whole-hearted efforts and a better result. (Even this works, lame as it is: ‘I want to do this to get it out of the way and off my desk.’

Commitment
Are you committed enough to willingly put in the time and effort required to achieve your goal and to forgo something else in order to achieve it? For example, part-time study while working at a full-time job takes a lot of commitment. You may need to pass up many enjoyable personal, family and social activities in order to study or attend classes. How willing are you to put off short-term pleasures for long-term rewards?

Try mentally projecting yourself into the future and seeing yourself achieving your goal. Feel your success. Savour it. When your goal is a big one, break it down into a series of interim goals, or set dates and jot down a simple plan to get you moving.

Think about what might be stopping you from making a start or continuing to work towards your goal. What can you do to remove those barriers? For instance, it can be difficult to study in a noisy environment. What could you do to make it quieter? Could you study in a different environment, one more conducive to thought and concentration, or put on some headphones to deaden the noise and distractions around you?

Self-confidence
As you probably know, you need a reasonable expectation of success before you can attempt anything wholeheartedly. Do you believe you can achieve your goal? Do you have the skills? Do you need to organise any help or support? Think about your self-talk. When you’re giving yourself limiting, negative message that you can’t succeed, change them. The most important voice you’ll ever hear is your own.

 

Six hot tips to balance your life

Whether you’re into work-life balance or work-life blending, here are six ways to help you achieve it.

  1. Have a purpose. What do you from life?You probably plan your holidays and even trips to the supermarket, so why not take the time to plan the most important event of all – your own life? A friend of mine spends every New Year’s Day at the beach with a pencil and notepad, updating her life plan. She writes all the words and phrases that describe her or that she would like to describe her. Then she selects themes and turns them into goals about the kind of person she wants to be and what she wants to achieve. And believe me, she achieves a lot and still manages to lead a well-balanced life.
  2. Work to your strengths.How do you like to learn and reach decisions? Are you a reader or a listener? Or maybe you prefer to talk it through or mull it over?
    What are your natural skills and inclinations? Numbers? Logical thinking? Coming up with great ideas? Seeing the big picture? Seeing the details?
    Are you a people person or a ‘Let’s get down to brass tacks’ person?Everyone has strengths. If you don’t know what yours are, ask a few people or monitor yourself and notice where and when you feel most comfortable, confident and competent. Once you know where your skills lie, you can concentrate on them and develop them further.
  3. Sort out your surroundings.Like strengths, we all have our own work style. What’s yours? Do you work best in a pressure-cooker or a stress-free environment?
    A structured or a flexible environment?
    With others or alone? If you like to work with others, in what relationship – a close-knit, mutually interdependent team, near people but as individual contributors, as a leader, as a follower?Once you know how you work best, you can seek out those situations and make your surroundings work for you.
  4. Concentrate on what’s important.My father used to say ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ But perfectionism can be a stressful struggle. Here’s what I think: Only jobs worth doing are worth doing well. Jobs that add value to your life by moving you further along the road to reaching your purpose are definitely worth doing well. Jobs that add value to your work role or your work team are worth doing well. They’re the ones to put your energy and effort into. The others – those that aren’t worthwhile – you can dump or delegate.
  5. Make some ‘Me Time’.It might be the gym, doing a jigsaw, going for a walk – whatever it is that clears your mind and makes you feel alive. Plan those activities into your day.Snatch little opportunities for Me Time, too. I used to work with a woman who closed her eyes for 15 minutes during her lunch break, not to sleep but to ‘chill’. The point is to take time out so you don’t burn out.
  6. Dump the grumps.Some people bring joy whenever they go while others bring joy whenever they go. Who do you bring joy to? Hopefully it’s people who line up with your purpose and are important to you.And who are the people who bring you joy whenever they go? They’re the ones to dump. Complainers, negative people in general, sap your energy,  block your fun and leave you unbalanced.

Reporting to more than one boss

Following on last week’s theme of the changing workplace and how that affects reporting relationships, reporting to more than one boss is now as common as reporting to a far-away-in-a-distant-land boss (which we discussed last week, if you missed it). This week, let’s look at the possibly more challenging undertaking of reporting to more than one boss.

With temporary teams abounding,  matrix organisations becoming more common and temporary assignments to project teams commonplace, it’s goodbye unity of command and hello to the danger of conflict and confusion of two or more bosses.

Reporting to several managers, each making requests of you, each with their own agenda and priorities can be tricky. You’re in danger of:

  • Competing demands on your time: Which boss’ work gets priority? Tricky when each thinks their work deserves precedence.
  • Conflicting messages: Different bosses have different expectations and communication styles and they can unintentionally undermine each other’s messages.
  • Work overload: This occurs especially when each boss treats you as if you work only for her or him.

To protect yourself, work out who your primary boss is. This is the person you formally report to, who does your final performance review and who makes decisions about your pay. Make sure you have regular, at least monthly, meetings with this boss — not the quick weekly check-in discussed in the next paragraph, but a more solid 30-40 minute meeting to discuss your role as a whole. Ask for her or his help in coaching you to work well with your other bosses if you need to.

Be open about your workload so all your bosses know your commitments. Share your electronic calendar with them and block off specific times for working on different projects and assignments so they know when not to interrupt you. Provide each with a brief document updating your progress on all of your projects and other work. However briefly, check in with each boss face-to-face or virtually once a week to maintain your good working relationships.

When you have several bosses, it’s probably fair to ask each to adjust to your preferred working style so you don’t have to keep chopping and changing, which is stressful in itself. Let them know whether you prefer to receive questions and requests via email, meetings or in some other way. Agree on mutual expectations regarding response time for queries, regularity of meetings and regularity and format of update briefings. Try to agree on one way that works for everyone.

As with working for one boss, be clear about your deadlines and deliverables, focus on results and keep communication and results flowing.

Reporting to a remote manager

How ironic. After posting last week about getting back into the routine after the crazy summer season, I got caught up in Mad March and Adelaide Writer’s Week and forgot to get back into my own routine of the weekly Wednesday blog. Shows to go, doesn’t it. All I can say is mea culpa and I hope you missed me!

Well, I thought that given the way workplaces are changing, reporting to a remote manager is becoming more common, so it might be worth looking at how best to do that.

When you can’t see your boss ‘in the flesh’, it’s easy for each of you to miss the signals of energy, mood, personality and so on. You need to put in extra effort to communicate efficiently and build trust quickly.

As with any manager, agree on your job purpose, your key result areas (KRAs) and your SMART targets or deliverables and find out your manager’s preferred working style so that you can fit in with it. What is the best time of day to contact her or him? What is the preferred method of contact? Do your boss prefer progress reports in virtual person or in writing? How much detail should you include? Does your boss prefer to take queries or receive updates as they occur, or in regular batches?
Your other initial goal is getting to know your boss. When you can’t meet face-to-face, make good use of virtual meetings and the telephone. Small talk is important, so avoid the temptation to move straight into task talk (unless that is your boss’ clear preference).
Provide regular progress reports and updates, with the frequency depending on you and your manager’s agreed plan. Involve your manager in what he or she should be involved in (but avoid information overload). Make sure you aren’t forgotten by establishing subtle routines; for example, phone at a certain time every day with a quick update or email a lunch-time status report in addition to your other regular reports.
Schedule regular virtual meetings with an informal agenda and prepare the agenda to go to your boss in advance. This is your opportunity to summarise what you’ve achieved since your last virtual meeting. Ask any questions you have and finish with an outline of the next steps you are taking to achieve your mutual goals.
Confirm your commitments in a follow-up email, including date and time of your next scheduled virtual meeting. Design the email’s content so that you can print it off to use as a checklist or use it to list goals and create work schedules and plans to achieve them.
The bottom line, as with any working relationship, is to develop trust and confidence, establish routines that suit you both, deliver the goods and communicate with confidence.

The silent language

Well, hopefully last week, you got straight into perfecting your work space. And now you’re sitting in it, and you know what? You’re sending a clear message that you’ve got your act together – you’re in control and you’re reliable. So that’s good.
You know what they say – actions speak louder than words. Every single thing you do (and don’t do) communicates. You positively brim with unspoken messages, mostly unintentional and unconscious.
Those message reflect your innermost self, your skills and your confidence. They highlight or hide your talents and accomplishments and tell others how much appreciation and respect you give yourself and expect others to give you.
That, in turn, influences your friendships, promotions, pay rises and career paths. It influences how much support and help you receive from others, how much help and support others seek from you and whether they accept your ideas or ignore them.
So here’s a quick tour of how to radiate confidence, trustworthiness and professionalism. Pick one or two to work on until they’ve become a firm habit. Then pick another, then another and before you know it – the world is your oyster. Whatever that means.
First of all, pay attention to the way you sit and stand. Does it tell people you’re interested in them or involved in what you’re doing? Does your upright posture signal you’re calm, composed, confident and competent, or do you constantly jiggle, shuffle or pace to and fro, signalling that you’re nervous, ill at ease and discombobulated? Or maybe your body drips, oozes and sprawls, so you look like you don’t have the energy or attitude to even sit up, walk or stand, never mind think anything sensible?
Do you detract from your image by sucking on a pen, fiddling with a paper clip, your hair or your tie? Do you weaken your influence by constantly clearing your throat or tapping your foot? Or are you relaxed and calm and your movements open, which says ‘I’m in control; you can trust me’?
How about your voice? When more than 30 per cent of your sentences end as if you’re asking a question rather than making a statement, you sound unsure of yourself and people discount what you’re saying and switch off. You sound more credible and confidant when you lower your voice and you sound more thoughtful and serious when you slow down a bit – but not so slow people can fall asleep between your words. You can speed up to show your energy and enthusiasm, but no so fast people can’t understand your words and follow what you’re saying.
So there you have it. A few quick ways to convey less of what you don’t want and more of what you do want so that people are more apt to like you, believe you and trust you.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.