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What is active listening, how do I develop it and should I be making little noises?

business across cultures

Listening skills are an integral part of many of our training solutions, e.g.  Influencing, Managing Conflict and Facilitating meetings all include practical components on listening skills. However, we had a rare request from a pharmaceutical client seeking training focusing solely on active listening for their senior managers.  The new board member strongly believed that improving her manager’s listening skills would have a major impact on the quality of relationships and the effectiveness of her team. And she was right … the seminar started and almost immediately, one manager asked me, “Active listening – that’s just when you make little noises, right?”


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What is active listening?

Our tactful answer was “not quite”.  Active listening (as the name suggests) is when you actively and fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the words.  Communication theory breaks what is being said into two elements – the content and the context. Content is the what – the data, the facts, the information etc. Context refers to everything else that is going on when somebody speaks with you – the relationship, the background, the situation, the emotions etc.  Active listening involves paying close attention to the content being shared AND the contextual components between the listener (the receiver) and the speaker (the sender). Skilled active listeners can hear the what PLUS interest, emotion, concern, energy and other contextual factors from the speaker’s perspective. And they can hear what isn’t being said.

Why invest energy and effort in building your active listening skills?

The benefits of active listening are many.  To start with you’ll hear more … much more. You can enrich your understanding through gathering information and understanding the emotions. You will ask better questions through noticing the speaker’s possible intent, and not only their words. It helps you avoid or diffuse conflicts. Better listening means that solutions and discussion are stronger. Active listening is a building block for open, trusting and accountable relationships.

7 practical tips for active listening

Pay attention

I mean REALLY pay attention to what is being said. Put aside distracting thoughts, try to block out environmental factors (side conversations, people watching etc) and listen holistically.

Know your obstacles to listening

Everyone is guilty of having “inner conversations” when listening – and whether it be judging, dreaming, solving or rehearsing what you want to say these common obstacles get in the way of active listening. Check out this blog post for more information or download the .pdf version here.

Develop countermeasures for your obstacles

Self talk to interrupt your distraction and refocus and internal paraphrasing can help. Basically, this sounds like you telling yourself “Stop it and focus on them not you

Listen for context

Approach a meeting with listening tasks such as learning the interests of others in the room and listening for the valued being created in the conversation.

Dialogue approach

Listen with a mind to understand what is being said and not judge what is being said.

Listen with your eyes

Listen to what they are saying, how they are saying it, “listen” to their body language and “listen” to their eyes.

Provide feedback

It is incredibly difficult not to filter, assume or judge when we listen. As an active listener your role is just to listen. Reflecting, restating and asking questions are essential – just make sure you are doing this to check you are understanding the content and context and not to discuss, negotiate, argue, influence, correct etc.

So should I be making little noises when I actively listen, or not ?

Of course we also send messages when we listen IF we listen actively and affectively. In western cultures we expect some feedback from our listeners that indicates interest, from non-verbal messages such as nodding, smiles, eye contact and posture to small verbal comments like “uh huh” or “ “I see”. Do keep in mind thought that not every culture listens in the same way – and likewise not every individual listens in the same way.  A lack of “ums” and “aahs” doesn’t always mean somebody is not listening.

To wrap up

Active listening helps you to create an environment that supports deeper, more honest and authentic communication. Whether you are managing people, negotiating, discussing, influencing, problem solving, why wouldn’t you invest the energy and effort in becoming a better listener?

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Dealing with change

Change management is an integral, complex and necessary part of business. Companies most likely to be successful in making changes are the ones that see change as a constant opportunity to evolve. But the word ‘change’ means and implies a lot of things to the people involved: uncertainty, different, unknown, uncomfortable, etc. The truth is that (most) people don’t like change. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Sure, we have the ability to change and adapt to new situations – we wouldn’t have come so far as a species without change – but our brains naturally resist.

 

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad – not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life – to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

Dr. Dennis O’Grady

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The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is a five-stage model (see below) that describes the effects each stage of the change has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. It was developed by Virginia Satir. Although the model was initially developed for families, it is equally relevant for organisations.

changemodel2

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

We are at a familiar place. Our performance pattern is consistent. We’re comfortable here because we know know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Stage 2: Resistance

A foreign element threatens the stability of our familiar structures. We’re not sure that this is where we want to be. Most of us resist it by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or placing blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

We have entered the unknown. Our former actions and knowledge are no longer valid/effective. We don’t want to be here. Losing the Late Status Quo triggers our anxiousness and vulnerability. We have no idea what to expect, how to react, or how to behave.

Stage 4: Integration

Through a transforming idea, we’ve discovered how the foreign element can benefit us. We’re excited. With practice, our performance has improved rapidly. We’ve made new relationships and learned new behaviours.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

Our performance has stabilized at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo. We feel safe and excited. We encourage each other. We don’t feel threatened by foreign elements any more.

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.”

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

Psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman writes in his book “Thinking, fast and slow” that most of us would rather be wrong than uncertain. Just consider, how many individual uncertainties could arise in any of the above stages for each of the people involved? Right, and that’s only for one change.

Communicating change

Communicating change successfully doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll achieve change successfully, because ultimately, the organizational capacity for change relies heavily on the individual’s capacity for change. In other words, some people will reach the New Status Quo much faster than others, others not at all. Some will have few problems, others a lot. But there’s no doubt about it, you need a communication plan/strategy to accompany the change.


A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not recommended because it’s quite possible that not everyone needs to know the same things about the change. Managers need to get buy-in from different stakeholders, engineers need to know this, procurement needs to know that. When communicating change, we have the opportunity to amplify certain messages. On top of that, a well thought through communication plan will enable people to better deal with the emotions of each of the 5 stages – It can invoke positive emotions/reactions and gives you the chance to help employees imagine a post-change future.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Randy Pennington, author of “Make change work” says that there are 5 questions that employees are most interested in getting answers to when faced with change.

From what to what?

Explain the specifics of the change. What will be different in how we must think, act, and perform?

What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate?

A personal extension of the first question. Everyone involved in the change will ask themselves: What’s the impact of the change for me?

Will this make a difference?

How will the change help the business or the team, or is this change for compliance reasons?

How will success be measured?

How will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment?

What is the support level for this change?

Is this change a mandate or do you truly believe in this change?

Repeat and reinforce

Use multiple message formats and repeat important concepts to drive and reinforce the change. At the beginning of the change process, it’s necessary to communicate to answer initial fears and concerns. As the change advances, people will have new questions, and new understandings of the intermediate and final stages will be developed. Throughout the stages of change, people have to be kept up-to-date with actual and future states, and answers given to their questions.

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“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

 

Giving feedback using the DESC model

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.





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“While feedback should focus on behaviour, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.”

Scott Levey

Some feedback facts*

  • 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized
  • 78% of employees said being recognized motivates them in their job

*(source)

Giving positive feedback is easy

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through. The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.

What is and isn’t feedback?

In an interpersonal environment, feedback is communication about a person’s performance and how their efforts contribute to reaching goals. Feedback is not criticism. Criticism is evaluative; feedback is descriptive. Effective feedback is goal-referenced and tangible, actionable, personalized, timely, ongoing and consistent. As a leader, giving feedback is a task you perform again and again, to let people know where they are and where to go next in terms of individual, team, and company goals.

Giving feedback is a touchy thing. Think back over feedback you have received in the past. Chances are you’ve been given feedback that helped you develop. And, unfortunately, chances are somewhere in your career you’ve been given feedback that made you feel defensive, resistant or unmotivated. By putting yourself back in your old shoes, and thinking about how they actually gave you the feedback, you can improve your own feedback skills.

Common mistakes people make when giving feedback

  1. Avoiding giving feedback
  2. Focusing on the person and not the performance
  3. Giving feedback on what is going wrong, and never on what is going right
  4. Coming  across as judgmental
  5. Doing all the talking, and none of the listening
  6. Giving the feedback without any context
  7. Making generalized, vague statements
  8. Avoiding responsibility for what they are saying by referring to others
  9. Getting defensive if they don’t understand you, or you don’t understand them

“We can’t let our own success, education and advancement ride on whether the person giving us feedback happens to be talented or caring. We have to learn to learn from everyone around us, including people who are lousy at giving feedback, or who don’t have the time to do it thoughtfully. Our individual success depends on it, and so does the collective success of the organization.

The DESC model

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

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Apologizing via email – phrases

Being wrong doesn’t feel like anything, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. It happens to everybody. Realizing you’ve made a mistake can be difficult and perhaps embarrassing – I’ve been there – but letting others know that you got it wrong is important to healthy relationships. You can do this in person, on the phone, by email, WhatsApp, a personal note or a post-it. Every medium has a different impact, every person has different preferences on how they want to receive/give an apology. In the end, just remember, apologizing is going to make you seem human, regardless of the outcome.


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When is an apology via email appropriate?

It’s not always possible or practical to meet someone in person. Apologizing on the phone can be difficult if you don’t know the other person, or if you’re just not very good at apologizing over the phone.

But, when: …

  • Time is of the essence
  • You want everyone to get the same apology at the same time
  • You have a lot to say
  • Your apology is formal
  • You want or expect very little to nothing in return

…then an email might be appropriate.

The perfect apology

I found this via Google. If your apology contains the following…:

  • give a detailed account of the situation
  • acknowledge the hurt or damage done
  • take responsibility
  • recognize your/the company’s role in the situation
  • include a statement of regret
  • ask for forgiveness
  • promise that it won’t happen again
  • provide a form of restitution (if possible)

… it’s pretty much a perfect business apology. Here are a few phrases to get you started, related to some of the above categories:

Apologize

  1. Please accept my apologies.
  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to..
  3. (I’m) sorry. I didn’t realize the impact of…
  4. Please accept our deepest apologies for…
  5. Please accept my sincere apologies for…
  6. Please accept this as my formal apology for…
  7. Please allow me to apologize for…
  8. I would like to express my deep regrets for…
  9. I would like to apologize on behalf of our company.
  10. Please accept my apology for…
  11. I apologize for my failure to…
  12. I’m particularly sorry for…

Acknowledge/recognize

  1. We appreciate that this caused you inconvenience…
  2. I understand that our actions meant…
  3. I can imagine that you felt like…
  4. We see that our actions impacted you unnecessarily…
  5. As a result of our decision, our relationship was affected…

Explain

  1. In our efforts to optimize our distribution process, we overlooked…
  2. The defect/problem was caused by…
  3. The error was due to…
  4. Our internal communication failed. As a result…

Promise

  1. We’re convinced that the changes we’ve implemented will prevent this from happening again.
  2. In the future, our focus will be on…, so that this situation won’t repeat itself.
  3. We’ll be increasing our efforts when it comes to…, so that in the future…
  4. We’ve increased our efforts to ensure that…
  5. I can promise you that the highest quality standards will be met going forward.

The SPASS model

When it comes to writing the email, structuring your email can be difficult. The SPASS model is perfect for email apologies. It’s simple and easy to remember. SPASS = Situation – Problem – Action – Say Sorry. That’s it. Finally, I apologize for keeping you from what you were doing, with another very long post.

Be great!

 

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Writing status updates: Tips and phrases

target training

The key to any successful relationship – business or personal – is trust. Clear, transparent and timely communication helps to build this trust. I spend much of my time providing on-the-job training and support to a logistics client. That support is often in the form of helping them write emails to customers and suppliers updating them on the statuses of certain orders and deliveries. My client often needs to let their customers or suppliers ‘know where they stand,’ in the form of email status updates on orders or shipments: ‘We have a new delivery date.’ ‘We have just determined the requested item is out of stock.’ ‘There is a problem with customs clearance.’ ‘The item has been shipped!’ Whatever the message, my client is dedicated to communicating professionally and to keeping their partner’s trust. Just as with any email, you’ll have to decide whether the tone is formal, informal or neutral. But there are a few things to remember when updating people or letting them know the status of an order, a payment, a shipment, etc.

1. Always let people know why you’re writing

This is true for almost all emails. It’s less crucial if you have an ongoing email ‘conversation’ with someone.

  • I’m writing to let you know about order number….
  • I have some information for you about…
  • I wanted to update you about…
  • We’re writing regarding….
  • We’re contacting you regarding your order number …

The “I” is a personal statement. Using “we” implies you are writing as a company, but are open and friendly. You can use the phrases above in less formal situations, or if you have an existing relationship with the recipient. But if the situation is more formal, then there are better, stronger phrases to use:

  • The purpose of this email is to update you on the status of….
  • This is to inform you about the delivery of…
  • Following is the status of order…
  • Please find attached a summary of …
  • This is to inform you that the delivery of ______ has been scheduled

Adopting the 3rd person instead of the 1st person almost always makes your emails more formal.  Avoid terms like “We hereby inform you” – this feels very legalistic.




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2. Give them the news, good or bad, as simply as possible

Good news is easy:

  • I am pleased to inform you that….
  • I have some good news about your delivery of…
  • I have spoken with the forwarder and am happy to say that…

Bad news is tricky. No one wants bad news, so don’t beat about the bush.

  • Unfortunately, the shipment has been delayed until…
  • Unfortunately, the material you ordered is no longer available.
  • I/We regret to inform you that…”
  • I am afraid we are not able to…
  • Please accept my/our apologies for this misunderstanding/delay/inconvenience.
  • We’re deeply sorry that …
  • Due to the airline employees’ strike, the order is grounded in Frankfurt.
  • It has come to our attention that the deadline that was agreed to cannot be met.

Giving bad news can be very complicated. It’s important that you acknowledge that the bad news is a problem or an inconvenience. Be brief. Be respectful. Be understanding. Explain but be careful that is doesn’t seem like you’re making excuses. Offer some alternative or solution, if possible:

  • We apologise for this inconvenience. We hope the strike will be resolved by Friday and that the shipments will return to normal by the following Monday.
  • Although we cannot provide the items xyz123 you requested, we can offer the item abc456, which are comparable.

3. Develop trust by making yourself available to them

You’ve probably seen them hundreds of times but they work!

  • If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me
  • If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
  • Please contact me with any questions you might have about this.
  • Please let me know how I can assist you with any other questions.

Consistency is key

If you adopt a formal tone at the beginning, try to maintain that throughout the email. Or, if you decide it should be friendly and less formal at the beginning, stay less formal and friendly through the entire email.

 

Don’t sweat it – everybody’s wrong sometimes, even your boss

In this video, Kathryn Schultz tells us that by the time we’re nine years old, we have already learned that the best way to succeed in life is to never be wrong. You should watch the video if you want to know how she came to that conclusion and a few others – when you have ten minutes.

Everybody’s wrong sometimes

Some of Kathryn’s words (if you don’t have time to watch it right now), and main points are:

  • Realizing you’re wrong can make you feel embarrassed or stupid, but being wrong itself doesn’t feel like anything.
  • The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant.
  • The second is that they’re idiots.
  • Then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

There’s nothing wrong with being wrong

Assuming that Kathryn’s assumptions are correct, you can see why telling someone that they’re wrong could prove to be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made – all depending on who is on the receiving end of course. Now, let’s say that person is your boss, your teamleader, or anyone in your company with more authority. Speaking for myself and my conflict avoiding personality – Difficult conversations always have a moment or two where I say completely the wrong thing. To others, determining to even speak to the boss about being wrong is enough to bring on sleepless nights.

Before you do decide to confront the person who was wrong, consider this:

Don’t pick the wrong battles

To speak up or not to speak up about it? I don’t know, is it worth it and/or important?

Don’t talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time

Stick to the topic, make the time to have a proper conversation (in private) and give your boss time to prepare.

Don’t say the wrong things

It’s just not the right time to say things like “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen” and to place blame. It’s already done, who cares? How can we fix it?

The DESC model

Once you’re ready to have the conversation, you can use the DESC model to structure your message – positively. This assertiveness model is perfect for giving negative feedback or criticism. It’s simple and it works. It’s for this reason that participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they take away.

Description – In a private setting, start by describing what you have observed. It’s important to be objective and concrete at this stage. Take responsibility for the feedback by using “I” statements.

Effect / emotion – Once you have described what you observed, move on to the effect or impact this has had. If the effect was an emotion, share this openly. Feedback is always personal in the sense that it is between people about people. Emotions play a part in interpersonal relationships and by naming them and getting them out into the open, you can deal with them in an professional manner.

Solution – Now move on to what you like to see happen. This could be directive e.g. “What I would like you to do next time is …”. Even better, build the solution together using a participative approach e.g. “What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”.

Conclusion (commitments and contract) – End your feedback conversation by building a “contract of commitment”. Check you have a mutually common understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future. Then conclude looking forward.

The 6 most horrific bosses of all time

I did some Googling on this topic. With any luck, your boss is nothing like these bosses were...so go ahead and have your conversation – you have nothing to loose. And finally, here are 10 things a good boss would never say. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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Powerful Communication – The Power of the Purpose Pyramid

presenting across cultures

listening skills target trainingThe purpose pyramid is one of the simplest and yet effective communication models for introducing a presentation, opening a meeting or organizing your thoughts that there is. It is so simple, in fact, that no one seems to take credit for it though you will find it in the work of many communications gurus. The four questions in the pyramid aren’t special by themselves, but together they offer a powerful way to connect what you want to do with the goals and needs of your organization, no matter what business you are in or function you perform. Why? + What? + How? + Who? = Alignment. The Purpose Pyramid makes it easy for you to structure your communication – in any situation.

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pyramid

Why?

Why is where you share or remind your team about the deeper meaning and purpose of the organization. This is the reason that energizes you and your colleagues as well as your customers. What’s your why? Your purpose is best when it brings the energy of your team together and they can all see themselves in it. It should also attract internal and external customers to your work.

A band plays music, by definition – but wouldn’t you rather see a band whose purpose is to give you high energy and a memorable musical experience?

At a more nuts and bolts level, you can also apply the why to day-to-day interactions and situations. An example could be to state the purpose (why) of a meeting on the agenda for everyone to see. If there is a question about being on track, the team can refer to the mutually agreed purpose of the team.

What?

What refers to the tasks you and your team need to get done to contribute to making your purpose a reality. At their best these tasks are things you can track and observe easily so all can know when it is accomplished. For example, to have better meetings is not a clear task. Having everyone contribute to the meeting is a clear task. The SMART principle is a great model to use, just remember they should in some way contribute to achieving your purpose.

An example could be to make task identification a two-step process. Instead of automatically identifying who should complete a task at the same time as identifying the task, outline just the tasks first. Going through the how before identifying who will help team members to know what they are committing to.

How?

How is where you turn to your method, approach or process, How will you get your tasks accomplished? For example, sticking with the “better meetings” example, if my task is to have everyone contribute to a meeting, I could tell the team members I expect them to contribute and hope for the best or I could use a polling technique in the meeting to give each attendee the space to speak uninterrupted.

If a task is complex, the “how” could be a process or procedure that helps to complete the task effectively and efficiently. If you have standard operating procedures in place, this is the time to stress their use.

An example could be to identify the resources and process necessary to complete a task before asking who will do it. Leaders get a chance to offer support to the team and may encourage team members to accept a stretch task because they know how they will be supported.

Who?

Who refers to the individual and collective commitments or expectations that match your team to the tasks at hand. In most meetings the who stage tells how well we’ve done the other stages. If team members recognize and connect with their purpose, the necessity of a task and the process and resources to get it done, it’s a lot easier to agree to do them. With the clarity you’ve built earlier, it is easier for you to ask for what you want while committing to do what is necessary to support your team. A great question at the end of a meeting is “what have we agreed to do?” to check agreements without sounding like a task master.

Browse our blog for more tips and tricks

And/or let me know of any other useful communication tools that always work for you. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Tips and tricks for delivering bad news from a famous baseball coach

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Is it ever possible to give bad news in a good way?

Some would argue not. Having started my working life around three months before the Global Economic Crisis hit, and watching colleague after colleague being made redundant throughout the media industry, I certainly would never have wanted to swap places with the people who had to give the bad news to their employees over and over during that time.

But while over time, some colleagues remembered the action of being made redundant, for others the way they were told stuck in their minds longer than the pain of having to pack up their things and reconsider their lives at a moments’ notice. If you have to deliver bad news, it will always be tough, but the aim is to do it in a way which leaves the bad memory without you in it.

Some of my participants are controllers. Delivering bad news is one of the challenges they find extremely difficult to overcome in English. While one popular theory is that giving negative feedback to English speakers might follow a hamburger approach – i.e., give some positive feedback (the top bun), followed by the negative (the meat), and finished with a positive plan for the future (the bottom bun), in my experience most employees value honesty far more than any trick designed to make them feel better. There is a need to be respectful, but a positive bun full of too much sugar won’t cut it when the negative meat needs to be delivered hard and fast.

xmas

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33 ways of saying Merry Christmas to colleagues, customers, suppliers and close contacts

“Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”

Billy Beane summed it up well in the movie Moneyball, when he taught his intern Peter Brand how to cut players from their team. “Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”, he asks when discussing the prospect of firing someone. There are a number of things to be learned from the tactic Billy uses throughout the movie, who in real life was lauded for his business sense within the sport of baseball. They would include the following:

1. Understand who you’re talking to

When giving negative news to a baseball player, you might need to sweeten it less than when giving it to a secretary renowned for being slightly sensitive to change. What are the main personality traits of the person you are talking to from your experience? Are they culturally inclined to handle the truth quickly? Do your research first on who they are are you will get a better idea how to handle the situation.

2. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t make it better

Saying nice things around the bad news won’t make the person feel better. Some cultures don’t use imperatives nearly as often as others (i.e. I hear German clients saying ‘do this please” while British clients might say “could you do this please?’), but all cultures value honesty. Keep your wording polite but also keep the sentences short and to the point.

3. Don’t mislead in the hopes of saving someone from bad news

At all times, the aim should be to give all the information you have and in the simplest way to understand. Like ripping off a bandaid, it will hurt less in the long run. People always find out the truth one way or another if you try to embellish the reasons behind the bad news. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so!

4. Keep it short

People don’t appreciate receiving emails with three paragraphs giving them the important news right in the last paragraph. They don’t appreciate the meetings that go for what feels like an eternity before having bad news dropped right at the end like a bomb. Give the bad news quickly and succinctly and then allow time afterwards for explanations and questions. In my first job, when we found out 30% of our department had been made redundant – explaining why they weren’t in the meeting – I certainly appreciated getting the news first up without a long winded explanation first.

5. Be confident

Billy oozes confidence throughout Moneyball and it’s one of the reasons he was so successful at his craft; and he shows in this clip that the second you are on the back foot after giving negative information, you will fall into a hole that is difficult to get out of. Be confident in what you are delivering and why you have to say it, even if you are faking it. Practice beforehand if you find it difficult.

How do you deliver bad news?

An exercise I often do with my clients is to watch the video and discuss whether they think it’s a good way to deliver bad news to their English speaking co-workers and how they think this method is effective or ineffective. While it is certainly an extreme way to deliver such news; direct, honest and without any flowery language around the sides as Peter quickly learns and applies; it is a good example of showing that cultural stereotypes don’t always apply when you need to tell someone something they don’t want to hear.

What tactics have you found to be helpful when delivering bad news? Would you give it like Billy does in Moneyball? Comment below with your feedback.

A 6 step guide to writing email apologies

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Writing apologies requires tact and a careful choice of words. An apology that accepts too much blame can lead to problems in future business dealings with that client. Equally, an apology that doesn’t go far enough, or doesn’t sufficiently demonstrate your understanding of the mistake, can also lead to future problems with trust.

Before apologizing to a customer, ask yourself these questions

  • How much of the problem are you going to tell the customer?
  • Are you accepting responsibility? How much?
  • If it wasn’t your fault do you accept some responsibility anyway?
  • What is a reasonable compensation to offer for the problem? Might this set a precedent?
  • Is the problem one that is still ongoing? (And therefore can you promise it won’t happen again?)

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Once you have answers in mind for these questions, how do you ago about phrasing and structuring your apology? The following acronym and phrases should help.

 

TAP CAP

 

Thank them for taking the time to contact you

  • Thank you for your recent email / call.
  • We appreciate you taking the time to write/ speak to us about….

 Apologize for the problem

  • We are extremely sorry for….
  • Please accept our apologies for…
  • Our sincerest apologies……

 Problem is briefly explained

  •  We were forced to…..
  • We regret that…..
  • This was a result of….
  • I’m afraid we were unable to…..

Compensation or a compromise is offered in some form

  • May we offer you….
  • We would like to offer you……
  • Would you like…..?             

Apology is repeated*

  • We apologize once again….
  • We assure you again that this problem has been resolved
  • We hope that this has not caused you any inconvenience….

*Don’t overdo it. Skip this stage if the problem is small.

Promise to keep standards as high as they were previously and reassure the customer

  • We will take steps to ensure that the high level of service you expect continues….
  • Thank you for your continued business during this time
  • We appreciate your understanding during this period

An example of using TAPCAP in an email

Dear Mr. Chambers,

(TA)

Thank you for your email dated April 15, 2008. We would like to formally apologize for any delays to your shipments which have occurred since the start-up of our new loading dock system in Barcelona.

(P)

Operational delays are occurring which are then being compounded by the roll-out of new delivery schedules. Customs has also had to adapt to the new situation which is currently set up only for part of the new system.

(C)

We ask you to excuse these delays. As part of attempts to help you during this period, we have asked that a hotline is set up to give you up-to-date information on any potential disruptions. If required, we will also provide an extra truck delivery per day at no further expense.

(AP)

We expect that from the upcoming week an interference free operational sequence will once again be in place. We apologize once again and promise to maintain the high level of performance you have come to expect from us in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Ms. Turner

 

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Giving Feedback Virtually

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Do you ever give feedback virtually?

Do you give your suppliers, your clients and your co-workers effective feedback – both positive and constructive (negative)? Giving good, timely, constructive and actionable feedback is something that most of us have to put a lot of effort into. Do we praise theVTchecklists right things? When we give constructive feedback, do we make positive suggestions? Do we always remember to address the issue, not the person?

Giving feedback well is not easy. But, giving feedback well in a business world that is becoming increasingly virtual can be a real challenge. When we add a few of the complexities that come from interacting virtually, we have an even harder job. Some of these challenges include timing, reading reactions, specificity and tone. When giving feedback virtually, for example via email, here are a few suggestions and tips below to help you do a better job.

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5 Tips for giving feedback virtually

1.  Make sure that the timing is appropriate – especially if your feedback is negative. Think about raising a child or a pet; you don’t tell them they did something wrong three days later!

2.  Make sure that the reader understands immediately what the email is about:

  • Use a subject line like: “Feedback on your proposal”
  • Tell them in the first sentence why you are emailing: “I’m writing to you with some feedback regarding the proposal you sent me on January 4.”
  • Tell them what feedback is included: “I have some feedback regarding the pricing and the payment process.”

3.  Break your feedback up. If you told them you had feedback about the pricing and the payment process, these should be two completely separate paragraphs. Give them headings if you wish.

4.  Try to be specific and give justification. For example:

  • “We liked your proposal. Especially the second page where you mentioned that the training would focus on our corporate values. This really fits to our company philosophy.”
  • “Unfortunately, we cannot agree to point 3 in section 2, relating to the payment options. This is not in accordance with our compliance policy.”

5.  When rejecting a suggestion, try to make a counter suggestion. For example:

  • “We cannot agree to point 3 in section 2. However, we could agree if the payment period was extended to 60 days.”
  • “I do not like the way you formatted the report. Next time, try to base it on the attached example or come and see me to discuss my expectations in more detail.”

Of course, there are many other things which can help to make giving feedback virtually more effective. Please feel free to add your extra ideas in the comments section below. Also, make sure to check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams to help improve your virtual team’s performance.

 

 

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Giving Constructive Criticism: Phrases and Tips

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How are you at giving constructive criticism?

Giving praise to someone, for example on a job well done, is easy and direct: “Well done!” – but what about doing the opposite, giving constructive criticism when someone’s performance is unsatisfactory?

The problem is that if the constructive criticism you give is too negative or direct, you might risk destroying a good working relationship with a valued member of your team.  Working  internationally means you also have to consider cultural factors when delivering constructive criticism, and it is very important to handle this with sensitivity.

Below are some standard phrases for giving both praise and constructive criticism, as well as some tips which can be used in a variety of cross-cultural situations to help you make your point sensitively and ensure that you get a positive outcome. After all, the reason for giving the criticism is to improve things in the future, right?
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Phrases for giving constructive criticism

 

Praise:  This team works very well together.
Constructive criticismI’ve noticed that the team has some problems communicating.

Praise: The performance of the database is excellent.
Constructive criticism: The database performance needs to be improved so that

Praise: That sounds like a good idea.
Constructive criticism: I’m not sure that idea would work because

Praise: I love this application.
Constructive criticism: I can see some difficulties with this application, it could be improved.

Praise: You are very well-trained in ABAP.
Constructive criticism: How about getting some training in ABAP?

Praise: The project was a great success.
Constructive criticism: What do you think is the reason we had problems with this project?

 

5 Tips for giving constructive criticism

  1. Where possible, give concrete examples for your criticism. This helps the other person to really grasp what you are saying.
  2. Give the other person a chance to explain and to fix things if possible, make sure this is a two-way conversation.
  3. Say what you would like in future – and why. Let the other person see the bigger picture and get an understanding of your perspective.
  4. When discussing lessons learned, make sure you get input from the other person i.e., the expert, on how to solve the problems.
  5. Agree on specific targets and timelines. That way, the person receiving criticism walks away with a concrete guide on how to move forward.

By making sure your criticism is truly constructive and culturally sensitive you can have more meaningful discussions and avoid damaging relationships. Just remember, in most cultures you can be more direct when complimenting people than when giving constructive criticism. Let us know if you have any other tips that have worked for you in the comments areas below.  Do you want to improve your ability in communicating difficult news?  Click here to learn more.

Giving feedback using the DESC model

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Giving feedback effectively will have a real impact on your business

Everybody understands that performance feedback should be constructive, focused and to the point. Effective feedback can resolve conflicts, overcome problems and improve individual and team morale. It doesn’t really need mentioning that ineffective feedback often accomplishes the opposite. Or that if you are skilled at giving effective feedback, your team will be more motivated, which leads to better performance.

While feedback should focus on behavior, performance feedback is still a personal conversation between people about people. Emotions always play a part in interpersonal communication. Effective feedback is as much about bringing the right message(s) across as it is about how your message is interpreted.

No matter how skilled the feedback giver is, if the receiver isn’t interested in hearing or taking the feedback, nothing will get through.http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2014/03/05/douglas-stone-the-importance-of-feedback-in-business-communications/

The more difficult the feedback, the more the giver needs to consider the the emotional impact of the feedback. Giving positive feedback is easy.
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DESC is simple and it works

In our skills-based Leadership training, we use the simple 4-step model DESC for structuring feedback. Participants in our “Practical Toolbox for Managers” seminars often highlight DESC as one of the most valuable tools they are taking away. This model is designed to help you to get your message clear and it can even take the stress out of the feedback conversation for those of us that weren’t born with effective feedback-giving skills.

DESCRIPTION

Give an objective and concrete description of what you have observed using “I” statements.

EFFECT

Explain the effect or impact it had on your business, the team or its members. If the effect was an emotion, name it. Your body language and tone of voice will already be showing your elation or frustration – putting them out in the open can help you move things forward.

SOLUTION

Build the solution through a directive (“What I would like you to do next time is …”) or a participative approach (“What do you think we can do to avoid this next time?”).

CONCLUSION

Build a “contract of commitment”. Check your understanding of what has been agreed, and get commitment for the future.

Further Leadership resources:

Reacting to Bad News: Tips for Email Phrases

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Reacting to bad news

Reacting to bad news in a prompt, well-written way can convey a powerful message: not only are you concerned about your business relationships, you also care about how your clients and colleagues are doing personally, too. If a client cancels a meeting because something unfortunate has happened in their lives, take a moment to pass along your best wishes. This is a very simple process that can be accomplished with just a few phrases. The key is to make sure your email matches the seriousness of the situation. Here are some phrases that match situations you might encounter.



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Phrases for reacting to bad news

1.  That’s a pity. / That’s a shame. / That’s too bad.

We use these phrases for unfortunate, but small, incidents. For example, if someone can’t come to your  presentation.

2.  I’m sorry to hear that. 

Here we see a useful phrase: ‘I’m sorry to hear’. Some examples:

  • I’m sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well.
  • I’m sorry to hear you missed your flight.
  • I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get the job.
3.  I’m very sorry to hear that.

We use this phrase for serious events, such as a death in someone’s family.

Phrases referencing a positive view of the future when reacting to bad news

  • I hope you get well soon.
  • I hope you can catch another flight.
  • I hope you find an interesting position soon.

Phrases offering to help when reacting to bad news

These phrases can be used in the more serious situations listed in numbers 2 and 3 above.

  • If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.
  • If you need anything, please let me know.
  • If there is anything I can do to assist you in this difficult time, please let me know.

Example of a good way of reacting to bad news

Hi John,

Thanks for your email.
I’m sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well. I hope you get well soon.
If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.
Brigitte and the rest of the team send their best wishes.

Best regards,
Pierre

Giving and getting bad news can be very difficult in business.  Hopefully, these email phrases can help. Let us know if you have any suggestions on other phrases or approaches to reacting to bad news in emails in the comments area below.

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If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

 

Apologising in Business: Quick Tips

In any language, apologising in business is one of the hardest things that anyone has to do. It’s not always easy admitting that we are wrong. If we are not careful, apologies can quickly turn into excuses, and eventually switch from “I’m sorry for what I did” to “I’m sorry you feel that way!”

Reasons to apologise correctly

Not apologising correctly can lead to:

  1. Damaged professional relationships
  2. Delays in information exchange
  3. Time wasted handling unnecessary issues

So what can you say to avoid these issues and make sure your apology is appropriate?
“I’m so sorry” is always a good way to start!

Phrases to use to ensure an appropriate apology

Informal
I was wrong.
I shouldn’t have said/done that.
I made a stupid mistake.
I’m genuinely really sorry.

Formal
Please accept my sincere apology.
My comments to you were ill-advised.
There is no excuse for my behaviour.
It was not my intention to…
I’m terribly sorry.

The key to a successful apology is sincerity. If it doesn’t sound like we mean it then the apology has failed. Clustering a few sentences together often sounds more sincere, for example, “Please accept my sincere apology. My comments to you were inappropriate and there was no excuse for my behaviour.”

Outcomes of a sincere, appropriate apology

  1. Respect from colleagues that strengthens your business relationships
  2. Faster and smoother cooperation with colleagues
  3. Opening up time not spent dealing with the “clean up” of a bad apology

Have you had experience in apologising to someone in English? What did you say? Did it go well? Let us know in the comments area below. Feel free to check out some information on our seminar for delivering difficult news by clicking here.

Writing Emails: Giving Bad News

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When giving bad news in an email, it’s extremely important to communicate ideas clearly and respectfully. In the email below, Carl Lane has been forced to give his colleagues some very bad news. Mr Lane does some things well in this email, but there are also some things he can improve. Read the email, and then read our tips for giving bad news in written form.

Sample email:

Dear colleagues,

As manager of the TURN project since 2008, it has been my pleasure to share in your success and watch the development of the project from the very beginning. All of us have worked hard and shared in TURN’s success. Now, I am faced with the most difficult task I have had as manager of this project. We received this news one month ago, but wanted to wait until we felt the time was right to deliver it.

I am very sorry to inform you that the project has been canceled effective July 1st, 2013. As of then, all project positions, including assistant and secretarial, are terminated.

There are many factors involved with the cancellation of our project: our failure to secure the PX19 contract, the recent 10% increase in material cost and a 30% drop in Sales were all involved. Every employee of the company knew these developments were negative in terms of our bottom line, a fact that the Board communicated via company-wide email in December, 2012. Despite these difficult circumstances, every member of our team worked diligently to help our project succeed.

I would like to thank you for your hard work over these past five years. If you have any questions regarding this very unfortunate news, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Sincerely,
Carl Lane


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Positive points to use in your emails:

•    He writes respectfully (but not too formally). Employees should always treat each other with respect, but at a difficult time like this, it’s especially important for the team to know that their work was appreciated. It’s also important to use the correct level of formality. Too formal and you can sound rude. Not formal enough and it can seem like you’re not taking the situation seriously enough.
•    He states the reasons for the cancellation. This is major news, and the employees deserve to know the causes for the change. It should never be left to the employees to speculate about what happened.
•    He mentions written records of past performance. Mr Lane mentions the memo written by the Board in December. Even though they didn’t save the project in the end, it’s important for employees to know management was aware of the problem and working to solve it.

Things to avoid or do better in your emails:

•    He doesn’t address other people affected by the news. Mr Lane says that employee positions are canceled, but he doesn’t mention any of the other people who might be affected by the cancellation. This could include clients and investors.
•    He doesn’t mention anything positive. The news is bad and there is no hint of a future for the members of the project. Is the company possibly looking for other investors or is there a chance the project could be saved? Employees might be confused by this lack of mention of the future.
•    He didn’t deliver the news immediately. Unfortunately, Mr Lane waited to deliver the news. Perhaps the company wanted to see if the situation would improve, but the employees deserved to be informed about the situation.

Giving bad news is never easy, but by keeping the above guidelines in mind, your bad news letter can be written in an effective, respectful way. For more tips on this sensitive subject, please check out this link. Do you have something to add to this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

Giving Negative Feedback: Quick Tips

A stone makes a chip in your windscreen. If you leave it, it will spread and a small crack will become significantly larger, and likely more expensive to repair. Leave it too long and the chances of you having to replace the complete windscreen are pretty much guaranteed.

Being unhappy with one of your team’s performance in a task can be like that original chip. If you avoid the issue and do nothing, the action will be repeated or increased. Over time the situation will escalate and you are likely to become more judgmental than objective. Dealing with a performance related issue in a timely manner is key to stopping the problem from increasing or spreading like that crack.

However, giving negative feedback is not one of the more enjoyable aspects of people management, and one that is often avoided. So how can you do it in a way that is constructive for both you and your team member? What can you say so that they leave the room motivated to do something differently in future, rather than feeling like they’ve been in the head teacher’s office for kicking a ball through a window?

3 steps and language points to motivate you to try something different:

1. Start with a positive.

“Thank you for the effort you put into correlating the timesheets. It really helped the finance team put together the claim for the first quarter.”

2. Give a specific example of the problem and the impact. This shows that you have an understanding and vested interest in the situation.

“I noticed that the deadline you gave the Project Managers to get their information to you was two days before your own deadline to get the finished report to the finance team. I saw that this put a lot of pressure on you and you had to work considerable overtime. I also noticed Birgit working late to organize the Managers’ Webcast as you weren’t free to support her.”

Now compare the example to the one below:

“Your deadline for the Project Managers was too late. You shouldn’t have had to have done that overtime and you left Birgit to deal with the Managers’ Webcast on her own.”

Doesn’t sound so good…Only using ‘you’ or ‘your’ to start a sentence sounds judgmental and is likely to make them become defensive and not open to constructive direction of what you would like to happen next time.  Alternatively, in the first example each sentence starts with ‘I’. This sounds more objective, backs up that you understand the situation and that you want to help them do better in future. It is also much more difficult to argue against a statement starting with ‘I’ than ‘you’. However, avoid using “I think” as this implies a personal feeling and can be felt to be more judgmental than “I noticed” or “I saw”.

3. Say what you would like to see in future. However, only set one concrete action unless absolutely necessary. Keeping it short and simple means you are far more likely to see success.

“Next time, set a deadline for the Project Managers of one week before your own deadline.”

Let us know if you have any other suggestions or experiences on giving negative feedback in the comments area below.  Also, click here for more information on how you can improve your approach to delivering difficult news.