Monday, April 5, 2021

5 Communications Lessons to Learn Today



I've been covering the workplace for a long, long (long) time, and the one thing I have learned is that 99 percent of the problems in the workplace occur because  of poor communication.

Poor communication between managers and employees and poor communication between co-workers is usually at the heart of every snafu, dispute and poor job performance.

That's why I think a recent podcast with management guru Robert Sutton is valuable. You can find the full transcript here, but let me highlight some of his points about how to communicate better:

 1.  "A lot of what a leader’s job is is to be clear about where people should focus attention and where they should not focus attention."

2. "There are people who suffer from collaboration overload. There’s all sorts of evidence...that essentially you’ve got 3 to 5 percent of the people who do 35 percent of the work on many teams. They get beleaguered. They get burned out. They quit. They get cynical." 

3. "When there’s hand-offs between people, between silos, those are the places where the conflict, where the misunderstanding happens. And as a leader, what your job is is to have everybody, for example, in every silo and in every shift understand what it feels like to be the giver and the receiver in the hand-off situation."

4. In meetings, "if a CEO talks the whole time, that's a bad sign. If you’re a boss, shut up and ask more questions. What good leaders do is that they make it safe and encourage the people who talk less to sort of add something, too."

5. "There’s all sorts of evidence that when people argue in an atmosphere of mutual trust, that they’re more likely to bring different perspectives. They’re more likely to develop the best ideas."

No matter what your job, these are the things you need to think about and try to implement in your daily communications. Do you ask questions? Do you cut off someone who annoys you or do you let him/her voice an opinion? Do others trust you enough to give their honest opinions? 

Working on these issues will not only make you a better communicator, but a more valued member of any team.

Monday, March 29, 2021

How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself"

 



"Tell me about yourself" is the most common interview question asked of job candidates, which is why it's a good idea that you come up with a great answer.

First, know that many interviewers use this as an ice breaker, a chance to establish rapport, whether it's for an in-person interview or over the phone.

Second, don't try and wing it. Since you know there's a really good chance you're going to be asked this question, you need to think about what you want to convey to this employer in a few sentences.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Be positive about yourself. "Well, there's really not much to tell...." isn't a good way to start. Instead, think about something you've recently accomplished in your latest role. Or, if you've been unemployed, you can talk about a previous role and the skills you used that are relevant the job and what you've been doing lately to keep up your skills: "I'm really proud of the fact that I completed certification in XYZ or will be completing my online classes this spring."

2.  Don't include unnecessary details. Since you want these comments to be concise and engaging, don't add things that don't advance your story or aren't related to the job you're seeking. 

3. Be engaging. Employers are also looking for soft skills, which  means you need to be able to communicate in a professional but friendly way. They want to see you make eye contact, show some enthusiasm when talking about your skills and smile. 

4. Work on verbal tics. You never know the kind of things that might bug an interviewer, but it's a good idea to work on eliminating bad habits such as saying "like" too much ("It's like, I've always, like, wanted to work in, like, the music industry.") That's also goes for "you know," "uh" and beginning every sentence with "so."

Finally, remember that you don't want to begin reciting your resume when you're asked this question. Keep your answer between 30 seconds and about 1.5 minutes -- try to see what feels comfortable to you. This is just an opening for your interview, and you'll have more opportunities to talk about specifics.

If you can, ask a friend or colleague to listen to your statement. Don't memorize it, just feel comfortable with it so that you're focused more on engaging the interviewer rather than rattling off an answer.




Monday, March 22, 2021

Are You Falling for Job Scams?



There are millions of people searching for jobs right now, which can be a stressful time. But to add to that stress: scammers.

These scammers know that people are desperate, and that gives them lots of targets. Recently, FlexJobs identified 14 common job search scams. Among them:

  • Data entry. These sound like promising jobs because they offer a lot of money for not a lot of required skill. While there are legitimate jobs out there, they're not going to offer really high pay. In addition, legit jobs don't ask you to pay a "fee" or "initiation payment."
  • Pyramid marketing. This is illegal, period. Don't fall for a plan that offers no product, just the exchange of money. Remember chain letters? That's how pyramid schemes operate: they believe that they will benefit when other people follow them into the program and pay money. The key to remember is that in order for someone to make money in a pyramid scheme, someone has to lose.
  • Stuffing envelopes. Never sign up to pay a "fee" to stuff envelopes or do anything else like simply craft projects. The plan is to get you to enroll other people, and then you get a small commission. Run from these jobs.
  • Unsolicited job offers. When you're hunting for a job, to get an unsolicited recruitment email can be sort of exciting. Be careful, however, because scammers use LinkedIn to reach targets. While a legitimate recruiter might be reaching out, do your homework before responding to check out whether the recruiter or his/her company is well known.
FlexJobs offers other job scams to avoid on their site and in the link I've posted above. Always make sure that in your rush to get a job you don't expose your personal information (Social Security number, bank account number, etc.) on a job application. Once you get the job, then a legitimate employer will offer you the proper documentation to sign.


Monday, March 15, 2021

You Got a Warning at Work -- Now What?



If you've ever been reprimanded at work -- either a written warning or a verbal dressing down -- what did you do?

This may not be pleasant to think about because perhaps you were stunned by the rebuke and didn't respond at all. Or, perhaps you got mad or cried or did a quick retreat to your desk afterwards.

The problem with a warning is that you often feel unprepared for it and so react from your gut when it happens. This isn't a good idea because it often means you react poorly or inappropriately, further adding to your problem.

It's not unusual if you don't really have anything to say when you receive a warning. If that happens, don't worry about it. It's OK to get your thoughts together and address it later through another discussion or email.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Ask questions. If you were warned about being "uncooperative" or "having a bad attitude," ask the boss if he or she can give you a specific example. This gives you a better idea of how this problem occurred. Make sure you're not combative: "Can you be more specific so I make sure I fully understand the issue?"

2.  A rebuttal. If you believe that you've unfairly reprimanded for something, then it's OK to speak up. But be careful -- you can't really say "I don't have a bad attitude," when your boss believes that you do. However, if you're warned for being late on projects, you can provide proof from emails that you did turn your work in on time. (It may turn out that the boss has the wrong culprit -- it's your colleague who is late, not you.)

3. Own it. It can be difficult admitting that you screwed up, but owning up to it will be seen as a good first step.

4. Make a plan. Once you realize that you need to make improvements, ask for input from the boss or human resources. If you're reprimanded because you're always late, then that's something you need to figure out on your own. Can you set more than one alarm? Can you take a different route to work that will be faster? Can you have someone else take your son to school so you won't be late?

5. Follow up. Managers don't like to fire people. It's unpleasant and it's a hassle. They have to go through a lot of paperwork and then they have to find someone new and train that person. So, use that to your advantage. Check in with the boss and tell him how you're working to improve. Get his input so you can make adjustments as necessary to meet expectations. If the boss sees you making an effort, that will be a plus in your favor.

6. Dust off the resume. In some companies, once the "paper trail" of reprimands begins, it means that the boss has already made her mind up to fire you and she's just jumping through the hoops to satisfy HR. That's why it's always a good idea when you get a warning in writing to start looking at what else is available in the job market. That way, if you do get fired, you've gotten a jump on your job search.



Monday, March 8, 2021

Why "No" is Important to Your Success



One of the features of social media that people seem to appreciate is the ability to block or unfollow or mute people who annoy them or disagree with them. This creates a much more tranquil online experience as it means that you're only interacting with people who you consider "nice" or who agree with you.

Unfortunately, that's not the best strategy for your career, says Adam Grant, author of "Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know."

In his book, Grant provides examples of people finding success because they surrounded themselves not with "yes" -- but with "no."

Grant, a Wharton management professor, says that people who always agree with you aren't likely to point out flaws in your plans or express skepticism. They don't challenge you to think differently, to look at the world in a different way or help you overcome weaknesses.

That's why he advocates having a "challenge network." These are people who are "disagreeable -- critical and skeptical.

"They're fearless about questioning the way things have always been done and holding us accountable for thinking again," he says.

Too often, Grant says, people protect themselves from dissent as they gain power. "They tune out boat rockers and listen to bootlickers," he says.

The key for finding the right people for your network is knowing that these people dissent because they care, not simply because they delight in shaking things up. You want people who are moving toward excellence -- they look for better solutions because they have integrity and a commitment to looking for successful outcomes.

Who could be part of your challenge network?


Monday, March 1, 2021

When Was the Last Time You Invested in Your Career?



Just because you can't travel or meet with a lot of people right now does not mean it's OK to stop investing in your career.

In fact, it's more important than ever that you be proactive in making sure that you're growing your network, keeping your skills up-to-date and understand the trends in your industry and how they will affect you.

It's understandable that you may have grown a bit lax in some of these areas, but you need to change that starting now. With more vaccinations and more businesses ramping up their plans for the future, you can't afford to still be lounging in your pajamas with your laptop.

It's time to start investing in your future. Here's how:

1. Set a career goal. Most career goals went out the window when the pandemic started, but now it's time to reassess. Where do you want to be in one year? In three years? Are you on track to make that goal happen? What do you need to alter to make it a reality? Who do you need to contact? Will it require training or additional education? 

2. Reverse engineer. Once you've identified that goal, then start working backward on how you can make it happen. For example, let's say you want to be a registered nurse. You need to set a target date for when you'd like to graduate. Now, start working backward on how much schooling you will need. When will you need to be admitted for classes? When will you begin pulling together necessary records to meet that admittance deadline? When will you select the school you want to attend? When will you begin your research on schools? You will probably discover along the way that  you need to get moving now to make your dream a reality.

3. Check in with mentors. As the world begins to return to some sort of normalcy this year, you need to be ready to go. Talk to a mentor about where you are in your career, and new goals. Are past goals still realistic? Does your mentor think you need to turn in a new direction? 

4. Shift into a new gear. For many of us, just getting through the last year has been a great achievement. But now it's time to take it up a notch. Are you taking time to brainstorm creative ideas? Are you finding ways to challenge your thinking with new podcasts or books? Are you proposing new ideas to your boss or your team -- or to a job interviewer?

5. Attend industry events. Many professional organizations are doing a great job of moving their events online. This is the time to jump in -- attend seminars, go to training events and meet new people and reconnect with others. This will not only ensure that you're keeping up with industry trends, but that you're investing in your network and your career.

A lot of people have taken a career hit over the last year through no fault of their own. It's been a helpless feeling. But now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it's time to be proactive and set your own course for what lies ahead in your career.

Monday, February 22, 2021

This is Why Meetings are Such a Hot Mess -- and What You Can Do About It




It often seems that many meetings go off the rails right away. Someone shows up late. Another person won't stop texting. Still another participant stares into space and seems to be in another world entirely.

Collaboration expert Dick Axelrod says in a recent interview that the trouble with meetings often occurs even before participants show up, because people "arrive at meetings prepared to be disengaged."

He explains they may still be thinking about their last phone call or interaction, or be distracted by many other things such as an upcoming deadline.

The key is grabbing the attention of folks right away, he contends, before they have a chance to mentally drift away. That can be done by:

1. Doing a warm up. There's a reason that musical acts or other entertainers often have a warm-up act: It gets attention and prepares people to be engaged. One way to do this is the spend a few minutes letting people speak freely and greeting people individually.

2. State the purpose. Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered what it's about and why the heck you're there? If you feel that way, it means that the facilitator hasn't done a good job of clearly stating the purpose and how it's linked to a larger problem that needs to be solved by the group's collective creativity or expertise.

3. Provide a roadmap. This should be a quick explanation about what the group needs to do during the meeting. This can be done by going through the agenda briefly and addressing any questions.

While this may sound like a simple formula, I'll bet we've all been in plenty of meetings that seem disorganized, rambling, too broad or very, very dull. With a few tweaks, it seems that we can all make better use of our meeting time.