Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

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.

Spread the cheer

Last week I told you about a friend with a time-consuming and costly email habit. Today I’ll tell you about another friend who is so positive and complimentary, she is a total pleasure to be around. Her co-workers love her, her friends adore her and her family are devoted to her. I’ve watched her closely over the years and here are what I thin are her three secrets to not just making everyone love her but also (and this is pretty cool, too) just about always getting exactly what she wants.

First, she never criticises anyone. She always says how nice you look, what a great job you’ve done, how much she appreciates what you do — you get the picture. Then, if there’s anything she’d like to see changed, she offers one tiny suggestion — after asking if you’d like to hear it, of course. And it’s always a good suggestion, and nicely worded, so people are happy to oblige.

The second important thing she does is never to wait until the end to say Thanks. When she’s training someone, for instance, she shows her what to do and as she’s doing it, she’s encouraging her by saying how well she’s doing and how quick she’s learning. When the trainee gets a bit of confidence and does something without being asked, she thanks her for taking the initiative and says what a great job she did and how much she appreciates the effort.

She calls this her Cricket Fan Principle: How would the cricket players feel if their fans waited to cheer until someone gets a century or the team wins the whole match? The answer is, of course, demoralised. It’s demoralising and bad for performance not to hear any support when you’re working hard and making progress.

Her third secret is maybe not-so-secret, but it, too, works a treat. Manners. Simple manners. Please, Thank you, How was your weekend? Manners help people work and live together effectively.

Three tiny little things that make an enormous difference.

Start the New Year off Right

Okay, you’re probably back at work now and struggling to get back into the swing of it. Here are three ideas to make sure you swing rightly.

My parents had a book by Dale Carnegie called How to Win Friends and Influence People.  I read it and it was a great book. One of the things he said in it was: ‘There is no sweeter sound to a person’s ear than the sound of his own name.’

That’s the first way to start the New Year off right: Use people’s names (if you don’t already). It encourages them and builds good working relationships.

The Positivity Principle is the second way to start the New Year off right. Not only are people with a positive approach happier, healthier and live longer lives than gloomy people, but they are also more popular — most people would rather hang out with a positive person than an old party pooper. A positive approach makes your day and everyone else’s that much brighter.

The Boomerang Principle is the third way to start the New Year off right. You know that if you smile at someone, they smile back. Try giving a compliment to someone and watch what happens. No, you’re not fishing for a compliment yourself, although they’ll be more willing to compliment you. The point is, you’re building positive working relationships.

So there you have three quick and easy things to do to start the New Year off right!

 

How to get what you want without nagging

Would you rather I asked you:

  • Reader, remember that you promised to exercise more this year.
    or
  • Reader, are you going to exercise this year?

How about this:

  • Reader, you really ought to think about recycling.
    or
  • Do you recycle, Reader?

And here’s one more:

  • Reader, healthy eating is good for you, you know.
    or
  • Do you eat healthily, Reader?

When you want to influence someone’s behaviour, it’s better to ask a question than make a statement. That’s what researchers found in a meta study led by Professor Eric Spangenberg published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (‘A meta-analytic synthesis of the question-behaviour effect’, Dec 2015) that reviewed over 40 years of research in the area of influencing. That’s fantastic news for parents and managers everywhere. Teachers and trainers, too. Anyone, really, who wants to get people to do something.

The researchers think that the reason questions are better than statements for persuading people to change their behaviour is that a question subtly reminds people what the best thing to do is without being pushy and telling them. A question about exercising, recycling or eating healthily can lead the person to feel a bit uncomfortable if they don’t do those things. As a result, they’re more likely to do them in order to ease those uncomfortable feelings.

So teachers might ask: Are you planning to finish your project in plenty of time?

Parents might ask: Are yu taking your turn at washing up tonight?

A manager might ask: How is your XYZ coming along? (The XYZ being something you want the employee to work on but the employee isn’t that keen.)

Professor  Spangenberg says that questions are great at encouraging people to behave in socially acceptable ways. Questions can sway customer purchases, reduce gender stereotyping and influence all sorts of other behaviours, too. And you don’t have to ask the question in person, either. You can ask it in an advertising flyer or brochure, a radio advertisement, put up a poster with your question, or ask your question on-line on social media, for instance.

There are two big buts:

  1. Don’t ask a question when the person reliably does whatever it is you’re asking about because they’d be miffed.
  2. Don’t ask a question about unwanted behaviour, because your question could encourage it–the opposite of what you want. So you wouldn’t ask your teenager as he’s heading out on a Saturday night: ‘So, will you be doing a lot of drinking tonight, then?’

Ask don’t tell. Question in the positive to get what you want. Without nagging. Simple, really, isn’t it?

What time spells

A child asks Dad to play Scrabble or play catch and but he’s too busy. An employee stops by a manager’s desk for a quick chat and she carries on with what she was doing while listening with half an ear.

How aware are you of the messages you send people? Do they ever say ‘You’re an interruption’ or ‘I don’t care’, even when you don’t mean them to?

Everyone’s time is precious and that means everyone needs to choose how they spend it. And those choices are important.

Children spell ‘love’ differently that adults – they spell it: t-i-m-e. And to employees, ‘time’ can spell ‘I c-a-r-e’.

So this week, pause and give some thought to whether you’re spending enough of your time on what, and who, are most important to you. What you were doing can often wait when giving the gift of time spells ‘love’ to a child, or ‘I care’ to a friend or employee.