Archive for April, 2007

Tip #6–Speak in first person when telling stories about ourselves

Posted on April 17, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Often people will slip into a type of conversation called “second person” when they are really talking about themselves. Unfortunately, using second person language (you, your) shifts the story from being about us to being about the person listening. Then we run the risk of them losing interest in the story–because they feel spoken at rather than spoken to.

As communicators–people who want others to not only hear but also listen to what we say, being conscious of how we deliver our messages is critical to the success of our communication. Start listening to the conversation of others to hear the shift in their language. Ask someone a direct question about their response to a situation and, 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear them shift from using “I” language to “you” language in their response.

What’s the danger of the shift?

Quite simply, the shift demonstrates a lack of willingness to accept their own responses to situations. Basically, it’s sloppy usage of the language and inadvertently shifts the burden of the conversation from themselves to you. Let me give you an example:

Tony: “Dave, how are you coming along on your chapter of the proposal? Our deadline is Wednesday at 3 p.m.”

Dave: “I’m doing fine. But you know how it is, you have to practically pull teeth to get anything from the engineering department.”

Tony: “What do you mean?”

Dave: “Well, you tell them what you need and you tell them why and when you need it. But they just don’t seem to understand.”

Do you see what Dave did? When Tony asked him a direct question about how he–Dave–is doing on his project, he shifted the conversation from “I” (I’m doing fine) to “you” (you have to practically pull teeth). Dave is shifting the burden to Tony rather than keeping the language and responsibility where it belonged.

What’s the potential result of shifting to “you” language?

The potential result is that your listener stops listening. Defensiveness rears its ugly head, and then communication bogs down or stops all together. While this shift in language may not seem like a big deal, becoming a skilled communicator is. Our responsibility as communicators is to remove the barriers that may inhibit our listeners’ ability to hear our message. Our listeners may not know the difference between “I” and “you” language, but they do know that something about what we said hit them wrong. And when it does, we don’t get the response we want or need.

The burden of good communication is on the person delivering the message. That means to get your job done efficiently and effectively, you (yes, I really do mean YOU this time) must be aware of the potential barriers in communicating and actively remove those barriers. The results will rock your world!

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Delivery Windows–I’ll be there when I get there

Posted on April 16, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Who came up with the idea of delivery windows–those 3- or 4-hour blocks of time that service companies schedule? For example, I bought a new bed frame. The company just called and wants to schedule a time to deliver it. My options: 8 a.m. to noon, or 1 to 5 p.m. That’s it. So, I say, you expect me to leave my job and sit at my house so you can arrive any time you feel like in that window? How service-oriented is that?

If we told those very same service companies that we’d be home somewhere between 1 and 5 p.m. to let them in the house, do you think they’d wait for us? Absolutely not. Why? Because time is money, and if they wait for us they are losing money. Exactly my point! When I’m sitting at my house waiting for them to arrive–so I can pay them for their service, I might add–they are wasting my money.

There has to be a better way. When I pressed the company about that ridiculous window, I was able to get a more specific time frame for delivery. But I’m frustrated by the assumption that their time is more valuable than mine. The service companies that get my vote–and my repeat business–are the ones who respect my time and recognize it for what it’s worth.

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Tip #5–Speak in “I” rather than “You”

Posted on April 16, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

When we want to let someone know that a behavior or attitude of theirs is causing problems for us, using “I” language can help us make our statements without provoking the other person’s defensiveness. Instead of saying “You make me mad,” say “I get mad when …” Instead of saying “You frustrate me when you …,” say, “I become frustrated when you …” Using “I” language helps us take responsibility for our own feelings and responses rather than blaming someone else.


Have you had the experience of feeling attacked verbally by someone “expressing” themselves? Who hasn’t! Criticism of others often takes the form of an attack when the language used in that criticism is “you” focused rather than “I” focused. Consider the examples given in the quote above.


When we make statements like “You make me mad,” we in essence are saying that the person we are angry at has power to control our emotions. Yikes! In reality, no one has power over our emotions but ourselves. When we get mad, we (gulp) are choosing to get mad. We are responding to a situation or set of circumstances in a way that works for us at the time. Using the language that accurately reflects the situation, we should change our response to “I get mad when you do x, y, or z.”


In addition to avoiding language that shifts the power over our emotions to others, we need to consider another effect of using that language: defensiveness. Our typical response to language we hear as an attack is to respond self-defensively because our natural human response is one of either fight or flight. Our goal is to protect ourselves when we are attacked. The problem with this type of response is that communication becomes a battle rather than an exchange of information from which we have the potential to learn.


T o reduce the potential for defensiveness in others, our responsibility as good communicators is to ensure that we are not provoking a defensive response when attempting to convey our message. If someone in my office is doing something that is inhibiting my ability to do my job, my gut reaction may be to attack them to get them to stop. Instead, a better method of communicating to them is to tell them the problem I am having with their behavior or action … and to request a change on their part. Here’s an example:


Valerie, my coworker, takes client files to her desk to work on them. After finishing her work, she keeps the files on her desk rather than returning them to the main storage area. That means when I need a client file and I can’t find it in the main storage area, I then have to hunt for it. This wastes my time and frustrates me–especially since this seems to be a habit of Valerie’s.


Yesterday, I was looking for the Marquad file. I went to the main storage area but couldn’t find it. I hunted around to see if it had been misfiled. Then I started asking questions of my coworkers (there are three of us in the office). After several minutes of all three of us looking for the file, Valerie found it on her desk. This is the third time this week that missing files have been located on Valerie’s desk.


My gut wants to say to Valerie: “Why can’t you put the files back when you’re through with them? You are wasting all of our time by not putting these back.”


If I say this Valerie’s response, most likely, will be one of defensiveness and possibly anger. We work in a small office and need to get along to get our work done. If I attack Valerie the way my gut wants to, I’m going to do some damage to our relationship.


So here’s what I’m going to say instead: “Three times this week, I have gone to the main storage area to get files I need only to find that the files aren’t there. Each time, I’ve then had to interrupt your work and to find the files. When I have to do that, I’m not only wasting my time but your time as well. I get really frustrated when the files I need are not in the main storage area where they should be. I’d appreciate it if–to save all of our time–you’d put the files back when you are done with them.”


Is there a potential that Valerie will still get defensive? Yes, but this time it won’t be because I’ve attacked her. She may get defensive out of a sense of guilt, but she’ll have no cause to be angry at me for how I requested a change in her behavior. The method I used took responsibility for my own responses and communicated to her the negative affect of her behavior on all of us. By doing so, I’ve removed the language that would justify a defensive response on her part.


We can’t guarantee that changing the way we speak will eliminate defensive responses in others, but we can reduce the potential by taking responsibility for how we deliver our messages. And when we do that, the common outcome is a change in the responses we receive.



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Has the use of email made your job harder?

Posted on April 13, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

Yesterday I asked you what makes email so great. Today, I want to go the opposite way: what do you hate about email and its use at work? Has using email at work made your job harder? Ponder these questions and send me your thoughts:

  • How has using email ruined your ability to get your job done?
  • When does your coworkers’ use of email really bug you?
  • What do you think of the Reply All function and how it’s used at work?
  • Does using email cause more problems than it solves? How?

These are just a few questions to get you started. I’m looking forward to your responses!

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What makes email so great?

Posted on April 12, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

The use of email seems to cause so many problems at work–misunderstandings, cryptic messages, Reply Alls zipping around the office. Considering all of the problems email causes, what makes it such a great tool for business? Really, I want to know–what to you makes email so great?

Think of the various reasons why you use email at work, then tell me why you use email rather than some other tool for communicating. I’m looking for your best reasons for using email, but you’re going to have to convince me!

Send me your comments today!

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Tip #4–Avoid giving too much explanation

Posted on April 9, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

We often get into trouble with our coworkers and supervisors because we spend too much time explaining why something wasn’t done rather than how we plan to solve the situation. Instead of offering an explanation, offer a proactive solution.

The key with this tip is understanding what our coworkers and supervisors hear when we offer explanations: typically when we explain the why of something not getting done, what they hear is excuses. Sure, we may be giving them valid reasons; but what they are interested in is knowing what we plan to do to resolve the situation.

Exercising your management fitness means presenting at least one solution to every problem you present to your manager. Managers have several staff members reporting to them. If each of those staff members brought their problems to their manager to solve, managers wouldn’t be able to get their own work done.

Managers appreciate and look for staff members who not only identify problems in a timely manner but who also present solutions for those problems. When staff members do that, they are lifting some of the burden from their manager’s shoulders and developing a reputation as an integral team member with that manager.

When you have a situation that requires you to explain why something wasn’t done, plan ahead. Before you take that situation to your manager or coworkers,

  1. think through some options to resolve the situation first
  2. present the facts of the situation to the relevant persons
  3. present at least one workable solution

Following this pattern consistently will develop your skills as a valuable team member and improve your reputation on your team.

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