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June 28, 2007

The human touch, alternatives to email

More notes from ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’ by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe published April 2007. I was surprised and happy the authors touched on when to use other communication methods. This is one of the most important messages of the book in my opinion.

Rule: conveying an emotion, handling a delicate situation, testing the waters—all are usually better undertaken with the human voice.

A handwritten note is personal. Unfortunately it’s a rarity these days. See ‘When did you last receive a hand-written note?’

A phone call is intimate because you interact in real time. You can hear the vocal inflections, the hesitations and react to them.

A conversation in person brings all your senses into play. You can observe the gestures, the facial expressions, hear the emotion...and react accordingly.

Communicating with a handwritten note, a phone call or in person has weight that email will never have.

Email is a silent method of communication
Technology should complement personal communication, not do away with it. For example, email can be a good method to confirm a joint decision. Email doesn’t work for decision-making that involves a lot of equal voices.

As someone noted in a comment this week, some work groups find Instant Messaging effective for collaborative efforts. I tried IM for a short time with an eXtension colleague but didn't give it much of a chance so I'd be interested in how you use it for work and your comments, pro and con for IM.

June 26, 2007

Think before you send. Send email you would like to receive.

41i6ZZdv6ZL._AA240_.jpgDavid Shipley and Will Schwalbe, authors of ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’, published in April, hope readers of their book take away two points--
Think before you send.
Send email you would like to receive.

The book is brimming with common-sense. How appropriate. Common sense seems to abandon us when we use email, when we don’t have the personal cues of voice or expressions to monitor and adapt our messages.

Office workers in the United States spend at least 25 percent of the day on email and countless hours on their handhelds. Email is overused and misused.

The goal: write email that is so effective that it cuts down on email
The authors use SEND as an acronym for proofreading any message before you hit the send key:
Simple, cut out the unnecessary words and sentences.
Effective, focus on the right tone for your relationship with the receiver, focus on what you want to communicate
Necessary, is your message frivolous? If you don’t need to know something, don’t ask. At the opposite end of the spectrum, personal email that reinforces your connection to another person is important.
Done, are you trying to move things along or just pass your work on to someone else? Everyone respects the person who takes on tough jobs, gets things done and shares the credit.

Email is not an easy written medium to get right, sometimes it’s far too easy to use
What is your relationship to the person you’re writing? That’s the first consideration. Set the right tone and formality in your writing. It’s easy to slip into communication that is too casual for the relationship. University professors have added netiquette pointers to their syllabi to set a professional relationship with their students. The authors contend that email has a tendency to “encourage the lesser angels of our nature”. In email, we are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, more gossipy and duplicitous, they say.

I’ll do several posts using this book as a reference. The book is more than 200 pages, an enjoyable read. Some of the details were tedious but as I reviewed what I’d highlighted, it made me aware of the capriciousness with which we use email and the amount of time involved. Email has its place in our communications but we can all probably improve that communication. I’ll share more with you now and then in the coming weeks. I’ll write on personal email vs. work email, when the phone or in person conversations are better than email, emotional email.

June 22, 2007

The civility and not of business travel

We boarded the airport shuttle at 8 a.m. in Albuquerque. It was the beginning of an adventure.

Those in service positions
Our airport shuttle driver and his coworker were certain someone among us didn’t have a reservation, pretty much accused us. We all had reservations. The ride to the airport was filled with foul language between the two.

Nine Iowa State employees were booked on the same flights: Albuquerque to Denver, Denver to Des Moines. The United Airlines computer system was down so flights were delayed. We were lead to believe all United flights were delayed so we should make our connecting flights.

Several times, the flight attendants asked us to allow those with connecting flights to disembark first in Denver.

Fellow travelers
Almost immediately a woman several rows behind me announced in a loud voice, “You should let us off first because we need to get to our next plane.” She was starting another sentence when my assertiveness kicked in. “Ma’am, we’re all trying to make connecting flights.” Just as we left the plane in Denver, we learned our connecting plane was gone.

Two of our group got the last two seats to Des Moines that day. Three took flights to Minneapolis, two took flights to Kansas City and that left Dustin and I. We thought we would rent a car and drive. But we couldn’t get a car unless we would bring it back to Denver or pay $1 per mile. We became Greyhound passengers, leaving Denver at 6:30 p.m.

I was thinking the people on the bus were quite civil until somewhere in Nebraska. One woman yelled from the back of the bus at the driver, “What? We get no movies on this trip?” Surely there was a better way to ask. I don’t know if he didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her, but the driver didn’t start movies for quite some time.

Long after midnight a guy in a sport coat moved to the back of the bus where Dustin and I were. He declared in lots of bad language that a fellow traveler up front was bothering him. He started a conversation with a woman that sounded like we were going to get a condensed version of his life. Another man asked him to please stop because people were trying to sleep. The autobiography ended.

I had a nice man insist I wear his jacket when he noticed I appeared to be cold. Dustin and I hadn’t dressed for 13 hours on a bus overnight. We’d left our luggage in Denver to wing its way to Des Moines.

We got into Omaha about 5 a.m., where everyone had to get off the bus. Dustin helped a young lady find a connecting bus and move her large suitcase. There was one empty seat when we got back on the bus. Dustin was across the aisle from a woman who was sure everyone was bothering her including stepping on her toes which were in the aisle.

Journey’s end
I didn’t know Dustin other than as an IT coworker when we made our decision in Denver. I couldn’t have picked a nicer, more considerate and enjoyable companion. He’s my kids’ age and through our 24 hours together, we got to know each other pretty well.

We’re all given some trying situations among strangers. That doesn’t mean civility should be abandoned. Many people rise to the occasion; some don’t.

If you’re wondering about our coworkers, the Minneapolis travelers rented a car and drove to Ames. One Kansas City traveler stayed there with her daughter because she and her husband had planned to go to Kansas City on Friday. The husband of the other Kansas City traveler drove down to pick her up. I suspect we’ll all try to deal with the customer service people at United in a civil way to let them know we don’t think we were treated very well.

ABC News:
Travelers Wait as United Scrambles
Airline Still Unsure Why Computers Failed, Grounding Flights

June 19, 2007

Respect for cultures

Southwestern cultures
Our bus driver was Navajo on the tour from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Our guide told us about the three Native American cultures in New Mexico—Navajo, Apache and Pueblo. We stopped at Madrid to see arts and crafts produced by ‘salt and pepper hippies’ —another culture. As we toured the countryside, our guide explained it was important to use the correct terms; those were not ditches, but arroyos. Santa Fe has a historic review design committee to maintain the cultural integrity of the city.

A day later Marley Shebala, a reporter for the Navajo Times, talked to our conference about wanting others to understand Native Americans. Her father was Zuni, one of the Pueblo group; her mother was Navajo. She told us Native Americans are not minorities, but nations. She welcomes questions about her heritage.

Cultures around the world
All this culture awareness made me think about what I should tell a diversity interest group that had given Iowa State an award for a marketing project with Lanzhou Jiaotong University in China. What I learned from the project was to respect the Chinese culture. To learn as much as I could, to ask questions of our counterparts in China and the Chinese graduate student on our team before we wrote copy, decided upon give away items. What was appropriate, what was acceptable? There is a definite protocol working with the Chinese from how to brand both universities on our marketing items to how invitations are issued.

We work with people of different cultures
We communicate with people outside our office who are of different cultures. A quick way to understand other cultures is to immerse yourself in their activities if you can and to ask people of those cultures to guide you so in all dealings you are respectful (translate that as civil).

Considering and respecting culture is a really interesting topic. Civility is cultural. More to come on culture another time or tell me what you think…

Apache, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache
Navajo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navaho
Pueblo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pueblo_Indians
Lanzhou Jiaotong University brochure, http://www.lifelearner.iastate.edu/degree/LZJTUbrochure.pdf

June 18, 2007

Because, because, because….because……….

(Are you singing along with the munchkins in ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ here? That’s the idea.)
Just recently after some disparaging remarks, I thought…I should have used the word ‘because’ to explain why I made the request. The word ‘because’ is a really good word. We don’t think about it enough. It’s a conjunction. The words that follow provide buy-in. It’s the connector for your clients, your coworkers. Maybe you don’t have to the use the word, but think it. It explains why. Why we should do this project, why this is a priority.

If you can’t fill in any sensible words after ‘because’, think about that....what does it tell you about the project?
I’m not sure all these dichotomies play, but I think they do.
Inclusion vs. exclusion
Trust vs. secretiveness
Cohesive vs. divisive
Understanding vs. confusion
Simplicity vs. complexity

I have seen really good projects summarily dismissed because people couldn’t see the connection or the value. Think ‘because’. It’s good, valuable, clear communication.

June 13, 2007

Underwear info page

Part of civility is showing respect for others as well as displaying self-respect. One way is through appearance. As society and workplaces become more diverse and more multicultural, perhaps we need to rethink what is appropriate. Does our clothing reflect favorably upon ourselves, our department, our colleagues and clients? From three-piece suit to baggy surfer shorts, mini-skirt to burqa -- make sure what you wear fits properly and is appropriate for the work you do and the situation you are in on any given day.

Here’s an example from Iowa 4-H about a clothing problem. The following is condensed from e-mails among state 4-H staff.

Underwear—Most of us wear it, but we don’t want proof!
At the end of the three-day 2006 state 4-H clothing event, the judges called me in to visit about underwear!

The judges could tell from watching participant modeling that some were wearing thong underwear, some had lace-edged underwear and some were wearing no underwear. The judges were not concerned about the choice, just the fact that they could tell from the lines showing through the clothing. (Slips may be out of style, but they did serve a function.)

As a result of this conversation and others
There’s a new bullet point in the 4-H clothing event judge’s form under modeling evaluation, fit, stating “No visible undergarment lines”. Seeing visible underwear lines is a fit problem. The judges will have a chance to educate participants on what proper fit looks like and what it doesn’t show. The 4-Hers will be alerted to this new point when they fill out their entry form, plus there’s a note for 4-Hers, “If these lines are a current fashion trend and you wanted them to show, include that explanation here.”

Part of this is a guest post by various people in my office building. Some were sure this would be a good post. Others weren’t at all sure. When I said I didn’t know how I’d connect it to civility, one wrote the introduction. So thank you Laura, Sue, Elaine, Mary Kay and Mitch.

Actually, there’s a connection here to reasons for incivility
Giovinella Gonthier in ‘Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace’ includes this in her 10 reasons why we behave uncivilly. “When our employers tried such experiments as ‘casual dress,’ they failed to formulate guidelines or think through the effects”, she says. It’s professional image. You are what you wear, how kempt you appear, how you dress for your position and your workplace culture.

A checklist for choosing the day’s mode of dress (from the book)
What are my activities for the day?
With whom will I be interacting?
Where will I be meeting them?
What will my clients be wearing?
What will my superiors be wearing?
What will my coworkers be wearing?

And then of course, there’s always that surprise—you get called into a meeting that wasn’t on your schedule, or someone comes into your place of work that you weren’t expecting. It’s in your best interest to be well groomed and dress appropriately every work day, including having the proper ‘fit’.

Technorati Profile

June 11, 2007

Valuing the people closest to the action, an Energizer tale

Scene: Eveready Energizer plant, Maryville, Missouri
Background: The machines that put labels on batteries have three gears working side by side. Originally two gears were made of fiber and one of metal. The teeth on the fiber gears wore out and had to be replaced fairly often.

The labeling machines had been looked at by several people over time. One person had switched the fiber gears to nylon gears. Then the keyhole in the gears tore. Someone added a second keyhole to balance the tension.

Assignment: Redesign the assembly line label machines from three gears to two gears to increase run time

Action: The mechanical engineering coop student who had been given the assignment called the mechanic to set up a time to talk. The two looked at the machines when a line was down for maintenance. The mechanic thought the problem had been solved with the fixes already made. Others on the floor echoed his assessment.

Calculation: The parts and labor to change labeling machines would cost about $8,000. The four production lines would be shut down four days. A calculation was made of how many million batteries wouldn’t get labeled if the lines were shut down to change the labeling machines. And finally, a calculation could be done of how long it would take to recoup the costs incurred for a problem that apparently was no longer a problem.

Recommendation: Do not change the gears on the labeling machines.

“How did you know all this?” I asked the engineering coop student given the task. I wondered what course at Iowa State had taught him this.
“Mom, it’s just common sense”, he said.

It is common sense
Common sense based on communication. Based on involving the people affected. Based on a company culture that is collaborative and respectful.

How often does someone sit in an office in isolation designing when there’s no need to design? Or designs something needed but doesn’t involve those who will be affected? Or doesn’t ask the most civil questions, What are the problems you see? What should our next project be?
And then those designers wonder why there is no commitment, no passion, no buy-in.

May we all work towards the common sense culture of Eveready. I don’t know that culture statements get any better than this.
Our Culture
• Team culture of colleagues who communicate well, problem solve together and respect each other
• Participatory culture where decisions are made by colleagues closest to the action. Management will provide direction, resources, training and honest feedback
• Ethical culture that is open, honest, and respects the laws and regulations of the societies we operate within
• Passionate cultures that cares deeply about winning in the marketplace

(This post was reviewed by appropriate folks at the Energizer plant. I was asked to not include the number of batteries that wouldn’t get labeled in four days. It’s a competitive market.)

June 06, 2007

The handshake and the name badge

A firm handshake with good eye contact communicates self-confidence.

Shaking hands is often appropriate when you are introduced, arrive for a business meeting, close a deal or leave an event, says Giovinella Gonthier in ‘Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace’. Look the other person in the eye, grip his or her right hand firmly and shake hands up and down several times. If you are seated, stand for introductory or farewell handshakes.

You may use your left hand to grasp the other side of the person's hand or to touch his or her arm. This gesture makes the handshake warmer and more personal.

Name badge
Wear your name badge on your right side. The person you shake hands with can easily read your name. I’ve done this for years after reading the tip. It’s a civil thing to do for those who didn’t understand your name when introduced or can’t quite think of your name if he or she should know you or is one of those visual types who needs to see the name in print to remember it.

June 04, 2007

The right questions (what and how) for personal accountability

The important, yea civil, questions contain an “I” and focus on action. If you ask a better question, you get a better answer.
Ask questions that begin with what or how.
What’s the one thing that needs to be changed in my job?
What can I do to let go of the things I can’t control?
What can I do to move the team forward?
What can I do to achieve more with the resources I have today?

How can I apply what I’m hearing, even if I’ve heard it before?
How can I help them reach their goals?
How can I help him communicate better?
How can I learn this new process?

How can I release my potential if I’m blaming, procrastinating and thinking I’m a victim?
1. Questions that begin with why often reflect entitlement; you believe you’re entitled to something. It’s victim thinking. Why don’t I have better coworkers? Why doesn’t that client understand we’re doing the best we can? Why change? Why don’t they communicate better?
2. When questions show procrastination. When will someone define my job? When will we get the vision? When will I be trained on this? When will that department do its job right?
3. Who questions look for blame. Who missed the deadline? Who will get me this information? Who left me out of this communication? Who decided these were the priorities?

Make personal accountability your mission.
The only person you can change is yourself. Accountability is not a group thing. It’s your power.

Focus on action. Action defeats victim thinking, procrastination and blame. Character counts more than any degree or any title. Whatever the problem, ask What can I do? How can I do it now?

This is synthesized and adapted from a speech I listened to on the Internet by John Miller of QBQ (The Question Behind the Question), http://www.qbq.com/

"Some favorite expressions of small children: “It’s not my fault. . . They made me do it. . . I forgot.” Some favorite expressions of adults: “It’s not my job. . . No one told me. . . It couldn’t be helped.” True freedom begins and ends with personal accountability."
--Dan Zadra