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Why Fair Division Is Essential for a Healthy Team Environment

 

“Why does he get less work than I do?”

“Why does she receive more breaks every day?

Questions like these are the start of division within any team. Even when a manager is trying to be fair in assigning work and offering incentives, the perception of favoritism can cause a festering and hidden sore that destroys the team environment.

I know it’s tempting to give your best people and hardest workers more tasks and responsibility, especially if their quality is better. Yet a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Through fair division, you can bring a team together and reduce the risks of it tearing itself apart.

So how can a fair division of work be achieved? Here’s what I have found to be successful.

#1. You must clarify specific team roles. There must be clarity in the roles everyone on the team happens to have. There is always that one person who thinks they get to be the boss when you’re gone. I’ve found it beneficial to bring the team together so each role can be clarified in a group setting. This reduces those team members who try to “jump ship” and go to a different role when not directly supervised.

#2. Create a block of time on your calendar for “delegation time.” For fair division to work, you must take time to organize the delegation process. I’ve always found the last two hours of the work week to be the best time for this. It’s not a difficult task, but it’s an important one, and you’re usually left undisturbed by others because everyone wants to start the weekend right away.

#3. Set clear expectations. People will work to the bar that you set for them. You’ve got to be careful not to set the bar too low, but your expectations can’t be in the stratosphere either. They must be high, but realistic. I walk each team member through my expectations for them with an individual meeting to make sure any questions can be answer. Then we sign a statement which says they understand their expectations so I’m not stuck with the “I didn’t understand it and you didn’t help me” excuse later on.

#4. Force the workhorse to take a break. There’s that one team member you rely upon more than anyone else. They’re good at what they do and you know it. They know it. For the workhorse, their productivity is a way to establish team leadership. You need that leadership. I’ve found it useful to force a break on that team member. Give them a low priority assignment that they could do in their sleep. It will give them a mental break and you’ll be able to work on skill-building with the rest of the team.

#5. Stay as flexible as possible. Some people will struggle when a policy of fair division is implemented because they’ve been skating under the radar. You know – the people who do the least amount of work possible. Be flexible, but also be firm, in bringing these team members up to speed. They are going to feel like this isn’t fair to them, especially if they haven’t been held responsible for productivity levels for some time.

Fair division reduces stress, improves morale, and can be a boon to your team’s productivity.

How have you implemented a policy of fair division? Have you implemented these strategies with your team? What were the results?

Why You Need 360 Degrees of Feedback to Get Promoted

Making it to the next level of career success can be a frustrating experience. I can remember sitting in my office, mired in middle management, wondering if I would ever be able to make the next step happen. It was a miserable experience. Yet when I discovered the powerful nature that 360 degrees of feedback can provide, I didn’t feel so stuck any more.

Here’s why: the best feedback you can receive won’t come from your family, friends, or your political allies at work. It will come from your biggest critics. Listen to what they have to offer and you may just find a new door is ready to open that you hadn’t seen before.

How Does 360 Degrees of Feedback Work?

I’m a pretty straight-forward manager. I know who likes me, who respects me, and who would rather see me on the first flight to Termination City. It was the last group that I decided to approach because I felt like they would be more willing to tell me the truth I needed to hear.

I’d always felt that I was very good at what I did. I could produce results. Yet when I brought my critics in for an honest feedback session where the gloves could come off, I discovered something that others perceived about me that was potentially holding me back.

Where I felt that I was confident, many felt that I was condescending. Where I felt like I was in control and a team leader, others felt that I was being dismissive of new ideas. And where I felt like I was driving my team forward to new heights of accomplishment, some felt like I was being impatient.

The bottom line that I got out of that conversation was this: many people thought I was trying to further my career at the expense of everyone else. It didn’t matter whether or not that I felt this was true – and it wasn’t true. But because this was the general perception many had about me, that perception would become a reality.

Why Having Diverse Feedback Is Important

William Wrigley Jr. is attributed to this quote: “When two men in business agree, then one of them is unnecessary.” It can be pleasing to have a team of advisors giving you feedback that supports your own point of view, but that can also give you tunnel vision when you look at the future.

You might think you’re finding success. In reality, you’re not finding anything but a lot of “Yes” people telling you what you want to hear.

So here’s what I did: I took those critics and I asked them to be my personal advisors. I told them to be brutally honest with me, but I also told them to be just as honest with themselves when it came to potential positives that I could be doing as well. After all, when people just focus on the negative, that’s what will only be found.

The results have been impressive. I may not have that promotion, but the communication throughout my team is better. I’m no longer arrogant in the eyes of most because more people understand who I am and what my leadership style happens to be.

And it’s all because I listened to the feedback from my critics.

Take the next opportunity you can to embrace your critics and take their feedback seriously. Then implement realistic changes based on what you’re told. When you’ve done that, come back and tell me what happened. I’d love to hear where you found success and what struggles you encountered during this process.

5 Ways to Add Mindfulness Meditation to Your Work Routine

 

Mindfulness meditation. It’s more than a business buzzword these days. It’s a practical action that anyone can take to experience better success in their job duties.

With the application of mindfulness meditation, an individual’s resilience, collaboration skills, and ability to lead are reinforced. And though the benefits are profound, I can tell you that experiencing these benefits isn’t always an easy process.

For mindfulness meditation to work, you’ve got to be willing to commit to the process with 100% of your personal energy. If you’re not “all in,” then the benefits will struggle to appear.

So how can each of us put in the time when we don’t have a lot of time in our schedules? I know there are days when I’m lucky to even find time to eat a sandwich. Here are some ideas that have really helped me be able to include mindfulness into my calendar.

#1. Take away the art of being “busy.” When I took an honest look at my schedule, I found that I was scheduling a lot of time where I was being busy instead of being productive. Since I felt like mindfulness meditation would make me more productive, I forced myself to remove the busy periods of time.

#2. Begin to delegate. I hate delegating. It’s not that I find it hard to let tasks go. I find that I don’t always trust those around me to do a good job. Can you relate to that? So I was brave. I allowed my admin to start reviewing my non-essential emails to let me know what was going on instead of reading through each message. This saved me more time each day than I’d care to admit – but it goes toward my mindfulness time today.

#3. Eliminate the negative self-talk. I’m so bad at this. “Good job, stupid,” tends to come out if I make a mistake. I’ve heard far worse from my colleagues. The only problem is that this negative self-talk enhances the guilt and anxiety we already feel because of failure. So, when we fail at meditation, the negative self-talk tries to show up. I’ll probably never completely eliminate my name calling habit, but by being more conscious about it, I’ve found that I’m more able to embrace mindfulness meditation.

#4. Incorporate it into other business events. When I really can’t find any time to meditate, I’ve found that most of my colleagues are finding a similar struggle on that day. Since my team gets together on a regular basis to discuss what’s going on, I’ve implemented the 5-minute mindfulness introduction. Before we begin the meeting, we have a group meditation session. It’s optional, of course, but it gives us at least a brief respite from what is going on and that helps immensely.

#5. Be realistic. I think this was my biggest mistake. At the very beginning, I expected – no, demanded – that I could make 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation work. Sure enough, it took me only 3 days to start finding excuses as to why I couldn’t make it work. When you’re realistic with your goals, you’ll be more successful. Period.

Mindfulness meditation can change everything. It allows you to connect with your job, your co-workers, and your family in new and exciting ways. How could you add just 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation to your routine today?

 

What It Really Means to Be an Active Listener

 

Ever had someone cut you off mid-thought because they just couldn’t hold their comments back? It seems to happen to me all the time – and even more so recently. The art of active listening seems to have gone away.

From my experience, being an active listener generally comes down to three traits in the eyes of most. You need to not talk when someone else is speaking, be conscious of your body language, and be able to summarize what has been said to you.

That might make it seem like you’re listening to the other person… but did you really hear what they had to say? Your Management 101 class would say that you did. I’m thinking that something may have been missed in translation. Here’s why.

#1. Active listening means more than encouraging silence.

When you’re listening to someone speak, there will be times when something might come up that is factually wrong. Or someone might need a moment to think about what it is they actually want to say. These moments deserve more than mere silence. I believe that in order to be an active listener, we must ask meaningful questions to challenge false assumptions or to break up moments of silence.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I appreciate a daytime sky that’s blue with a yellow sun.”

#2. Active listening also means respecting the opinion of others.

I’ve found that the best active listeners look for ways to build up a person’s self-esteem. They seek out moments of confidence and then look to build upon them. This creates a safe environment for even more conversation to be had.

For example:

Them: “It’s so nice to know that the sky is always yellow.”

You: “I like the fact that the stars twinkle yellow in the dark night sky.”

#3. Active listening involves cooperation.

There must be a certain level of back-and-forth within the dialogue of a conversation in order for it to be meaningful. Have you ever noticed how much more rewarding a conversation happens to be when you know that you don’t have to be defensive about what you want to say? So many conversations today are competitive in nature. The goal in active listening isn’t to prove that your opinions are superior to theirs.

It’s to create a give and take so that it feels like you’re trying to help. I’ve found that trying to win an argument is pointless. Trying to listen for cooperative moments where mutual learning can happen? That’s when a conversation becomes rewarding.

#4. Active listening offers suggestions.

I like to call this the “plan of action” stage for active listening.

This is where you can give the other person in the conversation some feedback. Most people tend to talk when they need to vent their frustrations about something. Once they have finished discussing the problem and there’s a moment of silence, that’s your cue to know that they’re potentially receptive to a suggestion.

So suggest something. As an added bonus, if your suggestion calls for a specific action to be taken, then make the time to practice that action in some way.

Active listening isn’t a race. It is a moment for you to get to know someone else in a deeper, meaningful way if you create the structure which allows it. By following these steps, it becomes much easier to make that happen.

How do you apply active listening skills to your conversations?

How to Give Meaningful Feedback to Defensive People

 

They yell. They scream. They cry. Then they blame you.

I’ve been there far too often myself. Some people are constantly on the defensive. In order to give feedback to these individuals that is meaningful in nature, we must take their emotions into account.

Are they feeling fear or anxiety? Anger? Or maybe they are trying to cover up a mistake that they don’t want you to know about?

Negative emotions don’t have to create a negative outcome. With the right approach, it is possible for everyone involved to walk away feeling like they took something positive from the encounter. Here’s how you do it.

#1. Isolate the conversation. Defensive people tend to become more defensive if the conversation is happening in a public area. By isolating the conversation so that the feedback can be given in private, you eliminate the audience that can help to feed the negative emotions so they keep growing.

#2. Focus on the purpose of the conversation. People who are in a defensive mode are looking to counterstrike. You might have some solid feedback to give them, but they’re going to attack you at the first moment they can. The purpose here is to make sure you’re both working toward a solid outcome. Always focus on the end goal first – then focus on the steps that are required to get there.

#3. Keep yourself focused. I love stories. That makes it difficult for me to stay focused sometimes when a defensive individual is off on a tangent. I realize they’ve changed the subject, but I’m fascinated as to the outcome of that story. For the feedback to be meaningful, I’ve had to adjust my perspective. I must focus on myself. And, if you’re like me, you’ll feel more prepared when you stay centered.

#4. Do your homework. There are always people who will surprise us with a negative reaction. For the most part, however, you know exactly who on your team or in your life is going to respond defensively to the feedback you’re about to offer. So do your homework before the encounter, get some research done, and provide concrete examples of how other people in a similar situation have found success. Truth will always be an absolute defense in this type of situation.

#5. Engage the emotion. If you let negative emotions hover over your conversation, then that negativity will fester and grow. Don’t allow that to happen. A few calm words of acknowledgement can be enough to diffuse the negativity.

#6. Understand the reason behind the tears. I’m adding this one on a personal note. When I get really angry – like really, really, REALLY angry – I tend to cry. It’s because I’m trying not to explode my emotions onto the other person. I clench my jaw, I picture chucking a coffee pot at that person’s head, and I say nothing while a few hot tears stream down my face.

That’s a very different emotion compared to someone who cries because they feel like they can’t get anything right.

If you approach crying in the wrong way, you’re only going to make the situation worse. So double-check the emotions before you decide on the right way to offer the needed feedback.

It’s also a good idea to deliver difficult news at the end of the day. A negative situation in the morning can fester into a full-blown disaster by lunch. By giving people the chance to cope in their own comfortable spaces, you’re giving them a chance to eliminate their defensiveness over time.

How do you handle giving defensive people the feedback they need? Have you implemented these methods? I’d appreciate hearing about your experiences, no matter what your results may have been. 

How You Can Be Intelligent Instead of Sounding Smart When Writing

 

Do you spend a lot of time trying to sound smarter than you really are?

The art of writing is a lot like the art of refereeing. You know it’s good when it goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, many professionals today are spending more time trying to figure out how to sound smart instead of working on being intelligent.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a grant letter, or a basic email, your goal should be to drive an outcome with every word offered. There must be a purpose to what is being written that goes beyond trying to establish a better reputation.

I know that I’ve really struggled with this in the past. I used to think that if I sounded smart, then those who read my content would feel that I was intelligent. That would make everyone want to read more of what I had. Now I work on checking these things before posting or sending anything.

#1. Eliminate jargon or unusual words. I love strange words in the English language. It used to be fun for me to talk about my lamprophony within my content. Using words that people have to use a Google search to figure out is a fast way to drive them away from what you’ve written. The goal of writing isn’t just to communicate. It must also establish a relationship.

#2. Use your words correctly. Buzzwords are fine when they’re used properly. The only problem is that you don’t sound intelligent or smart if you use those buzzwords incorrectly. My biggest pet peeve is the use of “empathetic” and “empathic.” If you’re empathetic, then you are able to share another person’s feelings. Empathic can mean the same thing, but it is only supposed to be used in non-scientific writing.

So in this instance, where we’re discussing how to write better, we would actually say that an individual is an empathic listener. If we were talking about a research study about listening, then they would be an empathetic listener.

Or we could just describe someone as a good listener who can sense the feelings of others and avoid misuse altogether.

#3. Include bullet points when they make sense. Bullet points can really help a bit of content stand out. The structure naturally draws the reader to the key points you’re trying to make. The only problem is that when the bullet points don’t flow together well, the reader becomes disengaged from the content. Each bullet point must have the same form of grammar in order for it to be effective.

#4. Stay out of the passive voice whenever possible. “I will write this content today.” That’s active voice. “This content will be completed by the end of the day by me.” That’s passive voice. Active writing creates confidence. It inspires accountability. That’s not to say that passive voice is bad. It’s just a way to offer yourself a method of escape as a writer if someone happens to disagree with what you’ve written.

Being intelligent with your writing means that you are writing for your reader. Sounding smart with your writing means that you’re writing for yourself. So think about what the reader needs, provide that, and your writing will improve.

How do you avoid the traps of sounding smart when you write? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

Methods to Keep Yourself Calm While Competing

The butterflies are almost always the worst.

I know they’re about to start fluttering when a shot of adrenaline surges through my body. My muscles feel kind of weak, even with the extra energy. I don’t get sweaty palms, but the back of my neck flushes hot.

It’s more than nervousness or a fear of failure. It is the need to be my very best.

Although how we feel during a competition is different for every person, there are similarities that each of us will experience. The stomach churning, fear-producing, unfocused mind can conjure up a lot of scenarios where failure becomes the only possible result. When you know these methods to help keep yourself calm while competing, it becomes easier to make the most out of these moments.

#1. Stick to a routine. Although being on complete autopilot isn’t beneficial, forcing yourself to think about every single task you need to finish before starting a competition is also not helpful. I’ve found that by embracing how I think and feel when I’m at my best, I can focus on the routine tasks with enough attention to complete them without losing my focus on the end goal.

#2. Let it go. When it is time to start competing, the focus tends to shift from the actual competition to the variable influences which might affect it. Racers might worry about the weather, their diet, or what it might mean to fail. To avoid this, I place visual cues that emphasize the importance of the competition so I can stay focused on the process I need to follow instead of what is going on around me.

#3. Picture what it means to succeed. When I was in high school, our basketball team once lost 40 straight games. One of my friends was on that team and he just didn’t care. “We never win. So I don’t bother to try.” That attitude went into the practices, the efforts during the game, and sometimes even how those on the team interacted with others. They were picturing themselves failing.

It’s not always easy to visualize success. I look at what I want to accomplish and then picture that moment. I want to know how I’ll feel so that I can strive toward that feeling with my daily actions. It doesn’t mean I’ll get there, but if one practices for success, they are much more likely to achieve it.

#4. Cope with the worries. Do you have people come up to you randomly while you run errands? It happens to me all the time. That kind of interaction triggers my stress alarms. I worry about who I might run into during the day and what they might say to me. During a competition, this anxiety gets heightened by 1000%. When you know your triggers and how your body reacts to them, then you can begin to cope with them.

I prefer deep breathing exercises and meditation. Anything that lets you examine the emotions, however, will be beneficial.

#5. Plan for the worst-case scenario. When you are competing, what is the worst thing that could happen to you? Picture it. Then plan what you’ll do if it happens. Chances are that it will not, but when you expect the unexpected, you’re able to keep pushing forward.

Staying calm isn’t always easy while competing, but it is possible. Apply these methods to your next efforts to see if they can help you cross the finish line.

How do you handle competition? What strategies help you to stay calm?

How Mindfulness Can Rejuvenate Your Career

 

Everyone has a bad day or two. But maybe you’re stuck in a bad month or two. Or maybe it’s been a year or two. These things happen.

Mindfulness isn’t a magic pill you can take to fix everything. It is a form of meditation that can help you gain more control over your thinking. This is important for those times when you’re stuck in a rut because thinking leads to feelings. Feelings lead to choices. Choices lead to actions.

If you try to stop a poor action by making a different choice, but do not address the thinking and feeling behind the choice in the first place, then your odds of success will be quite low. Mindfulness can be used to address those thoughts and feelings so that your career choices can be better.

This is why mindfulness can make a bad day better. It can even rejuvenate your entire career.

Why Is Mindfulness So Popular in Today’s Workplace?

There are many reasons why mindfulness meditation has become popular in today’s workplace, but the top reason is that it provides a retreat for the busy professional. By scheduling in time for mindfulness, you’re really scheduling time for yourself.

When was the last time you had 30 minutes without an interruption? Without your phone, tablet, or TV? Where you could just sit in silence and not need to worry about what is next on your schedule?

It doesn’t happen often. Since almost 3 of every 4 dollars in the US is spent on stress-related expenses, it needs to happen more. We’re literally working ourselves to death. That’s why mindfulness is being embraced by many companies in the Fortune 100 today.

It’s not about making people more productive. It’s about saving people so they can actually have a career.

How Come Thoughts and Feelings Need to Be Addressed?

We could talk about how mindfulness improves your focus or boost your creativity, but the real benefit comes with an improvement in your emotional intelligence. This is how you manage your behavior, both personally and with others. When you know how you are thinking and feeling, then you can make a better choice to take a more effective action.

If you didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, you probably reach for the coffee pot first, right? Or maybe it is an energy drink. I tend to crave waffles in these circumstances. Our choices are not the same as they would be with 7-8 hours of sleep because our thought patterns are affected by fatigue.

The same principle is found in the modern workplace. People are fatigued at work. They feel burned-out.

What mindfulness meditation is able to do is help you and I be able to recognize this fatigue, identify problematic thoughts that may be generated because of being tired, and then stop those thoughts from becoming feelings that we all act upon.

I’ve found that mindfulness has helped me get through the toughest days at work because it gives me a better perspective of life. Work is important, but so are the personal moments with family and friends.

Have you tried mindfulness meditation to deal with the stress in your career? Has it helped you be able to save your job? Your career? I’d love to hear your story!

Facial Expressions: The Ultimate Negotiation Tool

 

I know we’d like to think a logical thought process goes into most negotiations, but the fact is that emotions play an influential role in them. If you know what your counterpart is thinking and feeling, then you will have an upper hand during the negotiation process.

Experienced negotiators know this, so they’ve taught themselves how to mask their feelings. They control their body language, words, and tone of voice very effectively. Yet there is one place I’ve noticed where even the best negotiators aren’t always in full control: with their facial expressions.

The Secret Is Reading a Person’s Micro-Expressions

As much as we’d like to think we are in full control of ourselves, sometimes there are emotional moments that escape – even just for a second or two. These moments appear within the context of our facial expression.

We all can recognize common emotions when we see them in people’s faces. During a negotiation, you might see a flash of anger or disgust. That tells you it is time to shift gears. You might see fear or surprise – that’s a moment to leverage your position. If you see happiness, then you know you’ve struck gold.

And if you see contempt – that “fake” smile – then you’re in trouble.

The time it takes for an experienced negotiator to recognize an emotion and control it on their face can be as little as 1/25 of a second. Yet if you can catch that flash of emotion, you can be in control of the ultimate negotiation tool.

Here’s How You Can Use This to Your Advantage

When I discovered this negotiation trick, it became my top priority to discover how I could leverage this information to my advantage. It’s not always easy to read a person’s facial expressions, but here’s what I’ve discovered can be successful.

#1. Stay focused on the face. Look your counterpart in the eye. Make them feel a little uncomfortable. Far too often, we watch a person’s mouth instead of their eyes.

#2. Tell your story. If you’re telling a personal story, the emotions your face will show are going to be based on how you feel about those memories. It can be an effective masking technique. Make sure you’re watching your counterpart’s face if they are telling their own story to catch any slip-ups.

#3. Ask about multiple options. You can catch micro-expressions whenever multiple options are presented to you. This will show you which option your counterpart wants you to take, the one they hope you won’t take, and the ones they couldn’t care less about.

There will always be those who can negotiate without letting anything slip. Most people, however, will offer you a clue or two about how they are thinking and feeling if you pay attention to their facial expressions. Their micro-expressions can be what leads you to a great deal.

What have you discovered to be helpful during the negotiation process? Have you tried to read micro-expressions before? Let me know what happened and what you learned from the process. 

How You Can Make Time for Work that Really Matters

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have 25 hours in the day?

The fact is that we often say we wish there was more time in the day, but what we’re really saying is that we wished we had less to do. Now here’s the good news: the average person can actually free up nearly 90 minutes of time on an 8-hour work day just by setting realistic and rigid priorities.

This is because our days are often filled with an emphasis on “being busy” instead of an emphasis on “being productive.”

So here’s what I’ve found can be done to make sure there is enough time for the work that really matters, which will help us all become less busy and more productive every day.

#1. Identify all of your low-value tasks.

Nearly 25% of the tasks you perform at work are either going to be relatively easy to stop doing or aren’t really important to the future of your company or your position. Something as simple as dropping a needless meeting can free up 1-3 hours in your weekly schedule instantly. You might also be too involved in the daily details of a project, wasting time by sorting documents, or bogged down in other routine administrative tasks that may not even need to be completed.

#2. Make sure you’re not being a martyr.

If it seems like you’re too busy at work, then there’s a good chance that you’ve chosen to be this way. There are ways that you can lessen your workloads, even if there are tasks that rise above low-value status. You may be able to delegate these tasks to other members of your team if you cannot drop them completely. It may also be possible to restructure how that work is being completed so you can become more efficient at it.

#3. Find a way to let the worries fade away.

One of the biggest struggles we all face in terms of delegation is fear. Because we’re letting other people finish the tasks for us, we’re essentially vouching for that person. My first issues with delegation certainly hovered around this. Yet at the end of the day, when I could get past worrying about the tasks I’d delegated, I learned that developing an entire team is just as important as learning when to delegate.

#4. Use your new free time wisely.

The first time I had freed up my schedule enough where I had an extra 30 minutes, I just sat behind my desk and did nothing. I unplugged my phone, put my feet up, and enjoyed the silence. That was useful for one day, but it wouldn’t make me productive from a long-term perspective. When you’ve got extra time, make a list of the things you should be doing, but are not. Then keep a log of what you do during your free time to make sure you’re remaining productive.

#5. Commit to your plan.

None of this is going to work unless you stay committed to the goal of making time for work that really matters. You can’t go back to being a martyr. You must keep delegating. You must take advantage of the free time you have. You must look to the future instead of worrying about the past. Not every day will be easy – I can vouch for that – but there is the potential to be rewarded with more time every day.

Stop being busy. Start being productive. That way you can enjoy all 24 hours that we have in the day.

What has been your biggest struggle in making time for the work that really matters? I’d love to hear how you were able to overcome these challenges.

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