July 28, 2009

Networking helps provide knowledge to do more with less

Less, in this case, could be fewer people in your department, less money in the budget.

My favorite networks outside the workplace are
-- connections not associated with my job. They are the people with the same interests or hobbies and you may be in a club focused around that interest. They are the people you volunteer with. They are from structured groups such as a service organization or faith community. They are former classmates, previous coworkers and friends.
--professional colleagues across the country, around the world. They are the people you meet at meetings and conferences who work in jobs that somehow relate to yours.

Underlying these networks is the quest to keep learning
Education and experiences are quickly out-of-date in the knowledge economy. Lifelong learning is vital. It can be through online learning or conferences. It can be in reading trade publications or books. It can be in organizations not related to your work if you’re willing to think how you can apply their concepts or ideas.

In a 2006 list of ‘The top 10 biggest networking mistakes’ author Harvey Mackay lists
“8. It probably isn't just your network that's aging; it's you. Unless you make a genuine effort to keep updating your technical skills and knowledge, your network is shrinking.”

You need humility to admit all you don’t know. You need courtesy and respect to reach out to people in your networks. You need good listening skills, good communication skills. That’s civility.

Here’s another list of top networking mistakes
OfficeTeam, a temporary staffing service for administrative professionals, surveyed 613 of their employees in 2003 and found these top networking mistakes:
1. Not asking for help when it’s needed (37 percent)
2. Not keeping in touch with contacts (25 percent)
3. Not thanking people for their help (22 percent)
4. Burning bridges with past employers (13 percent)

Networking is essential in today’s workplace. Do you have additional ideas about good networks?

July 09, 2009

What books have you read lately?

That was the title of a session at the conference I attended in June. Three people led it but just about every one of the 15 or so present was willing to talk about what they’d read recently. And as the session went on, people divulged their passion might be fantasy books or romance novels. There was a bonding as we admitted what we had on our bedside night stands. It was so much fun that a colleague and I submitted that topic for an upcoming conference.

So it was heartening to read an interview with the CEO of Delta Air Lines in the New York Times. (This was a link a friend sent me in late April and I found as I was cleaning out email yesterday, hence the time lag.) CEO Richard Anderson answers questions about what he looks for in job candidates. He asks people what are the last three or four books they’ve read and what they enjoyed about them. He says he’s looking for the human intangibles to gauge how people might fit the Delta culture. He’s looking for a person’s values, work ethic and communication skills. I’ll bet it doesn’t matter a great deal what you’ve read but how you answer the question.

So tell me, what books have you read lately?

I’ll start. I’m reading ‘The Painted Kiss’ by Elizabeth Hickey. It’s the author’s debut novel, about the artist Gustav Klimt and the woman whose name he uttered with his dying breath. (That’s what the dust jacket says.) I suppose you couldn’t even label it historic fiction but it’s an entertaining summer escape.

Last month I finished ‘Personal History’ by Katharine Graham. Fascinatingly good read for an autobiography. Long (625 pages). Graham’s father owned the Washington Post; she became publisher after her husband’s suicide. She was a woman in a man’s world during the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and some unbelievable union struggles. It’s on the list of the 100 best business books of all time. (I’m trying to read the individual books rather than the book about the 100 books, which I’m willing to admit is insane.)

A provocative book I read end of winter was ‘Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations’ by Clay Shirky. I have newfound respect for Wikipedia, understand how people Twitter to organize in political situations and even recognize the power law distribution when I see it.

The April 26 interview in the New York Times has way more insight that this bit I pulled out

It’s your turn to share what you’re reading….

June 23, 2009

Communication is supremely important in tough times

Fear of the unknown is a big fear. People are fearful that a pink slip is coming their way. Or that their organization’s next income and expense statement will be further out of line with the budget. Fears go on and on as far as the imagination stretches. Those fears create stress in individual lives and in the workplace.

My favorite point in an article ‘Manners matter even more in hard times’ in USA Weekend, June 19-21 issue, is “Communicate often”. Authors Peggy Post and P.M. Forni write “Nothing dispels anxiety in the workplace like the flow of candid information.” I think we’d all add: Nothing increases angst like the lack of communication. When there is no communication, gossip and speculation prevail. Productivity declines because people are under stress from all their fears.

Read ‘Manners matter even more in hard times’ which has these points
• Evaluate your behavior and anticipate the likelihood of rudeness.
• Don’t let money woes mess up your relationships.
• Watch out for others who may not be coping well.
• Be a prophet of boom, not doom.
• Make time to reassure others.
• Communicate often.

April 07, 2009

Good communication at heart of civility

Excellent rhetorical skills, conversation balanced between prying and aloof, emotional good judgment…

All these things were points of the chair of the department of communications studies at Northwestern. Marc Hansen of the Des Moines Register interviewed him for a column in yesterday’s newspaper. It’s titled ‘Civility is essential value of democracy’.

It’s worth reading or a second reading if you’ve read it once.

And the comments left on this article on the Register’s site?
They reinforce the point of the article. You may disagree with the columnist, with the newspaper….but how you word the response very quickly sets the tone as civil or rude.

February 03, 2009

Too Much Information (TMI) - way more than you need/want to know about someone

I know more about some coworkers’ personal lives than I know about what they are doing at work -- and should be sharing. It’s a curious phenomenon.

I want great communications about work—transparency. Give me background so I understand why we’re doing something, help me understand. Let me see the work in progress.

Instead I know what the children are doing or not doing, what happened at another workplace, stories of the good ole days.

Discretion is missing
1: having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech: prudent; especially: capable of preserving prudent silence
2: unpretentious, modest
--"discreet" Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2009

How have we come to this, to TMI?
Technology and cubicle dwelling
People seem to not care who hears phone conversations. Are people oblivious or think it’s somehow a sign of status? I forget I’m in a cubicle when I get caught up in a phone conversation. People with offices leave their doors open and seem to face the open door when talking. If it’s a cell phone call, you can walk to a private room to talk.
Television shows show rudeness as accepted behavior.
Social media puts many thoughts and feelings out on the Web.

In love with oneself
This willingness to tell unsolicited tales about our pets, our families, our past adventures makes me wonder if the teller is insecure, lonely, immature and/or egotistical.

Solicited vs. unsolicited information
Relationships are important. It helps us understand coworkers if we know some education, experience and personal background. But there is a boundary line of civility about how much and what kind of information we share, when and where we share it. I found it impressive when a coworker asked if I wanted to see some vacation photos. He didn’t thrust them in from of me and launch into a commentary.

Being more civil, respectful, unpretentious, unobtrusive
I find those who don’t give too much personal information more professional and actually intriguing.

I’m still interested in why people will share personal information but not work information. If you have an opinion, post a comment please.

November 20, 2008

A transparent meeting vs. an opaque meeting invitation

A transparent meeting invitation would have
An agenda or stated purpose so you could arrive prepared
A list of those invited if not a routine meeting
Relevant documents or information

With an opaque meeting invitation, you would have
A vague or no notion of the purpose of the meeting
Perhaps not know who was invited

Interestingly enough, people with both types of invitations could be at the same meeting. Some know what the meeting is really about, some don’t until the meeting is underway a time.

My experiences with opaque meeting invitations are often – surprise – you’re under attack individually or as a member of a group. Uncivil…cowardly…and heavy-handed.

Transparency includes good communication, sharing information, honesty and the desire to tap the value each person can bring to work.

I really like the topic of transparency. Do you have suggestions or questions to continue the topic of transparency?

November 12, 2008

How social media = civility

The hallmark of social media or Web 2.0 tools is inviting participation and conversation.

Monologue gives way to dialog
Instead of putting out information to educate, it’s blogs, YouTube, social bookmarking sites --- tools that invite comments and questions. It’s listening to the problems, challenges and ideas of citizens so organizations know where to focus their efforts.

PR 2.0 written by Brian Solis on the Future of Communications – A Manifesto for Integrating Social Media into Marketing says “The best companies will let go of their message and control of gatekeeping in social realms and trust it with their employees to carry forward. We need leaders. We need champions. Community managers keep the company ear to the ground to determine where the conversations are taking place and where they should participate. They are the front lines of listening and engaging in conversations across the Web.”

“Social media is about speaking with, not “to” or “at” people.”
Messages do not = conversations. Social media is interest in relationships. It’s about helping customers succeed in their businesses and improving their personal lives more than about your company or organization.

It’s a matter of civility, respect for others, listening, cultivating relationships. Getting information about your organization out to the public doesn’t happen just when the marketing, public relations and communications people send out messages. All people in the organization are ambassadors.

PR 2.0: The Future of Communication Starts Here, blog by Brian Solis
Includes free downloadable ebooks

September 25, 2008

When you throw the communication doors open,

you get ideas, comments, dedication and energy. My two primary goals as the lay leader at church are to communicate and to promote civility. I strive to involve many, to make others feel seen and heard, to consider all ideas and not react negatively. That keeps the ideas and comments coming. As you may guess, there are some terrific ideas coming my way that makes that congregation far more vibrant, focused and possessed with a spirit of community that I could ever generate on my own.

Sharing information and responsibilities
Some of my actions since taking office in January
• Seek out members who are not on church boards to serve on internal committees and task forces as well as be our church representative on outside boards.
• Upgrade the monthly newsletter from come-what-may announcements to planned articles. I ask others to write on specific topics and I write to produce a true “news” letter.
• Post the agenda and minutes of executive board meetings on a primary hallway bulletin board.
• Share decision-making and abide by those decisions. I gave the executive board a list of candidates that fit the profile for a transition team and asked them to vote. I asked the executive board for ideas of qualifications for task force members; they gave me qualifications and names. Several of those task force members told me if was one of the most exciting and meaningful things they’d ever done for the church.
• Provide information and opportunities to ask questions and make comments on important matters that will come up for congregation vote. Information goes out in the newsletter, it’s in worship bulletins and special information sessions so anyone who wants to learn about what we’re voting on has the opportunity.
• Delegate and set expectations for roles and responsibilities.

There is always room for improvement
I am asked pointed questions about what am I doing about this or that. That’s good; it shows people care. I still get kidded about the Sunday we had cake after worship to recognize two members but neither of them were present; slight communication breakdown between two boards and I’d not paid attention….obviously. Even the failures can provide a spirit of vitality.

Sharing lots of information
It’s gets buy-in. It’s a matter of civility to communicate and involve others. It’s a whole lot of fun to energize others. It creates community.

September 24, 2008

A near miss; it can be hard to remember to share

I had an ‘aha’ moment this weekend. I’ve been working on a new project, a challenging one. It’s bringing some project management into the processes of producing educational materials and promotional marketing. I’m many hours into writing a project charter. Many of those hours were in the evening and on the weekend because this is a challenge and I love to be challenged.

That ‘aha’ moment--I’m doing exactly what I so loathe when others do it. The only input I’ve had was from my boss and some very informal discussions with others.

I need the perceptions and expectations of others
This need for project management was identified at a staff retreat. On Monday I was scheduled to meet with the three managers in my unit. I was going to give them copies of the project charter I’d worked so hard to create. I didn’t. Instead I gave them each one sheet of paper with some historical information and nine discussion questions.

I’m going to do the same exercise with anyone on the staff who wants to be involved. Why are we trying to incorporate some project management techniques? What is the vision---what will this look like when we’re finished? I’ve now convinced myself that all my work to date is simply background so I can host focused discussions.

This was a near miss
I was so focused on my work that it didn’t occur to me that talking through some basic questions will help shape what I’m doing into a much more relevant effort. I planned to share lots of information and ask for ideas and comments later, but I needed to share much earlier in the process. I almost missed that civility component of respecting what others can bring to the initial planning.

September 23, 2008

They don’t like to share

That’s one of the cultural differences American managers find working in China compared to working in the United States.

A Gannett News story about the book “Leadership Success in China: An Expatriate’s Guide” says, “In the past, resources have been scarce in China and workers grew up hoarding what they had. They think if they share information or knowledge with another worker, it will limit their chances for personal success.”

I’ve been in work cultures that I could say, “They don’t like to share.”

From those experiences I’ve deducted some reasons for not sharing.
• It’s the same as the Chinese. People believe if they know details of a project or information from a meeting, they have power over others.
• They are insecure and don’t understand one is effective when you include others who have expertise and ideas in areas you don’t.
• They don’t understand the power of effective communication. It doesn’t occur to them that communicating details will get buy-in, discussion leading to better ideas and solutions.
• It takes time to write and speak effectively giving only succinct and meaningful information.

What happens when there is no sharing
• Staff spend time speculating and complaining. Morale and productivity are undermined.
• Staff tire of ‘surprises’ and begin searching for new jobs or no longer care about their work production or quality.
• It’s viral. Others stop sharing information.
• If openness brings criticism and repercussions, people focus on protecting themselves.
• There’s no excitement or energy.
• There’s a lack of civility (respect for others) in the workplace.

Sharing information promotes a cohesive energized workplace that can focus on common goals.

Gannett News Service, July 23, 2008
Anita Bruzzese: When in China, heed differences

July 31, 2008

Failing the civility test in social media

The test is….Would you say to someone’s face what you typed online?

Twitter messages, Facebook messages

Blog comments, comments in chat pods

We live in a social media universe. It’s open to many long after we type in messages and comments. Often we don’t think about that. We’re in the moment thinking our writing is fleeting but it’s certainly not.

When social media was initially the realm of traditional college students, college placement staff advised students to clean up their Facebook pages and other social sites before applying for jobs.

Now companies and organizations need to remind employees
It’s a matter of civility to not write about internal problems online or unwittingly reveal confidential information.

Often it’s how the comment is phrased that alerts others there is internal dissension. “the misplaced photos” “hastily-made decisions”. If you leave off the adjectives, which are most-likely your perceptions, the message becomes neutral in tone.

What you write lives on….and on.

Read about social media espionage
How to Avoid Social Media Espionage
“Along with this openness, however, comes the danger of publishing too much information too publicly and unwittingly leading to the rise of social media espionage ... the act of obtaining information published on social networks or online presumed to be secret or confidential and using it for personal or business gain.”

July 30, 2008

Continuation: self-centered marketing … inside the creative camp

A post from last week relates a story of egos on the flip side…in a top creative advertising agency where practicing civility—respect for the end-users—is missing.

From Blog: Post-Click Marketing—
“At that point I learned what stands in the way of so many creatives — their egos.

“…doggedly defending landing pages that don't work. No tool is going to make them work. No act of God is going to compel consumers to buy when they are misunderstood and treated with disdain by egomaniacal creatives operating under the air cover of artistic expression.

“Hold up before all you creatives out there spam me into submission. I'm a creative. … 'great' must be in the eye of the target, not the creator.

“Wake up! What you like doesn't matter. It's much easier to defend results.”

Read the post—it’s short and interesting
Ego, Creative and Post-Click Marketing

July 29, 2008

The dilemma of self-centered marketing

“I want most of the money in billboards.”
“I don’t like these graphics.”
“I think this copy needs to be more focused on the company.”

These are typical comments from decision-makers who insist an advertising campaign or communications plan uses the media and message that works for them. Often “I” is not a member of the target audience.

Media strategies editor Jim Meskauskas names this ‘self-centered marketing’. While the term is new to me, the experience is not. Frequently I try to explain personal opinion should be trumped by research and best practices.

Why is this a challenge today?
We’ve moved away from mass media. Today people seek news, knowledge and entertainment in a myriad of ways. The variables are many and are often influenced by the person’s age or stage in life.
People live longer and differently. We’re told the new 60-year old is the old 40.

Methods of getting away from self-centered marketing
The media, the message and the look of the message need to be geared to the target audience. I suggest several methods to people I help with marketing.
• Use generational research that provides the preferences of Generation X, Baby Boomers, etc.
• Use personas that help keep the focus on the target audience. A persona is a make-believe person you’ve given a name, demographic data and a lifestyle. An example: Katie is a soccer mom who lives in suburbia and has a full-time job, two children in high school. What message will Katie read or listen to and where does the message need to be?

Practice civility in marketing
If you’re not a member of the target audience, you need to be neutral. Give up your personal opinions and put yourself in the position of the target audience. It takes research before making decisions. Use general research, focus groups. It takes evaluation after the project. What can you learn from this campaign to help in the next? It takes a commitment to learning, the realization that what worked five years ago is not what works today. We’re talking time and commitment but it’s far better than spending time and money on efforts that don’t accomplish the goals.

The era of self-centered marketing by Jim Meskauskas

Defining Markets, Defining Moments: America’s 7 Generational Cohorts, Their Shared Experiences and Why Businesses Should Care, a excerpt

The Power of Personas

More on the Power of Persona

Jakob Nielsen
Known as the Web usability expert for years because he builds research and best practices.

June 10, 2008

Wish you were here

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Sand underfoot, two of us sat under a beach umbrella that really offered little shade given the angle of the sun. Laura and I talked about a blog in our minds for the Leopold Center that Fred will author, all the posts he could do, all the people he knows.

There was sun for water-logged Iowans and enough wind for white caps onto the sand. Ducks bobbed on the waves. A dog and his owner were at the end of the dock.

Peace…and civility
Just the free flow of ideas between two people. Shore visible on the left and right and then the opening out to the Great Lake, Michigan. Picture perfect clouds and blue sky. Wish you were here.

It’s a common line on scenic and humorous postcards of days gone by. We used to receive them along with tidbits from friends and families on vacation.

Do we send or receive them today?
Once in a while a coworker will send the office a postcard from a vacation spot. So rare, the cards generally get posted on a bulletin board even if the coworker is back before the card arrives. If the coworker had sent an email, would it get posted?

A travel postcard is perhaps a ritual but it says there is a relationship, a sense of community. Someone took the time to search for it, get the proper postage, write about five lines, address it and mail it.

I’m in Michigan at the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) conference. I’ve written and sent some postcards, more to go to family and friends, including my coworkers who didn’t come to this conference. Handwritten postcards = civility.

June 04, 2008

Try sentiment analysis

This week’s post on dysfunctional communication has been on my home computer for some time. Was it too negative for a civility blog? How about rewriting…flipping it 180 degrees? It wouldn’t have the same impact.

It took me two weeks to link in my mind that post and a ‘sentiment analyzer’ a fellow Iowa State communications specialist had provided. This week I plugged the text into the analyzer. It came up ‘Overall Sentiment: Positive’. Enough of a green light for me.

Sentiment analysis is
a statistical analysis of the adjectives you use, tone, cues, polarity, culture and more…gauging the attitude or opinion of the communicator. (This is what I glean from a document by people from Google Inc. and the Department of Computer Science at Stony Brook University. It’s noted at end of this post.)

Shel Holtz, Accredited Business Communicator, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology wrote on his blog, (
Sentiment Analyzer
Enter the text of an article and watch the Sentiment Analyzer parse the document and then let you know whether it was mostly positive or negative, highlighting the elements that fall into each category. Notes David Phillips, “This kind of development is useful for analyzing sentiment of news articles, blogs and other content, which is its primary purpose but it also has applications in evaluating style and bias all of which are very useful to the public relations industry, regulators and watchers of political sentiment on and off line.”

Give it a try
Plug in an email or any text. It gives you positives and negatives. Remember it’s a computer…algorithm and all that. But it might be better than your own biased opinion.

For the people more technical than I

Large-Scale Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs
Open-source RapidMiner for data mining and analysis

June 03, 2008

Dysfunctional Communication Leads to Dysfunctional Work Places

• Units operate in silos that are unaware of the efforts of other units. One’s work may well impact another’s. They may be working on similar projects or the same project.

Roles and responsibilities are unclear, intertwining or no one oversees units to ensure each focuses and adheres to their roles.

• People hoard information so others feel disempowered.

• Overall organizational goals are unclear or nonexistent.

• Creativity and innovation take time and collaboration with an open trusting atmosphere, but workers are expected to produce every minute possible.

• Fear-based management stifles workers so they don’t ask questions crucial to an initiative’s success.

At the heart of these dysfunctions is the lack of meaningful civil communication. There’s no respect for workers. No civility. No compassion. No listening. Assumptions and gossip abound. Workers are not connected in healthy relationships.

What’s lost?
Creativity, integrity, collaboration, community, effectiveness and efficiency. There may be a frenzy of work, but are the accomplishments meaningful?

Exemplary communication needs to be part of the heart and soul of any organization or business if it wants to be successful. Then all workers feel empowered because they understand where to focus their energy and time…..So many good things result—creativity, community and change.

April 10, 2008

The incivility of jargon (goobledygook)

“The two words ‘information' and ‘communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
--Sydney Harris, American journalist and author (1917-1986)

Today in this hurry-up world, our messages need to be clear, precise, unambiguous and free of jargon, clichés and goobledygook.

First thoughts for any communication
Whom am I talking to and how much do I know or can I learn about that audience?

What’s in it for that audience? What does that group want to know or how will this communication help them? I try to think as if I’m a member of that audience. If I were a …………..

Will that person understand the jargon? (Do I understand the jargon in my organization?) I could be writing to customers, coworkers or shareholders. I need to communicate to others clearly and efficiently to get any point across.

In my opinion one peek into an organization’s communication may tell you about its values and quality. If the communication is efficient and mindful of the audience, the company is likely to be run the same way.

Those of us who write and edit for a living work hard to get to plain understandable words. And we still get caught up in the jargon and goobledygook.

Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth President of the United States (1856-1924), said it well: “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

Buzzwords, misuses of language and punctuation
I go through cycles of the top word or punctuation I can not stand and I undoubtedly overreact to edit them out. At the top of my current list are
‘Utilize’ when often the correct word is ‘use’
Every thing is an ‘opportunity’ (It’s a nice word that’s highly overused.)
‘Regarding’ or ‘in regard to’—often the word should be ‘about’
People as ‘resources’
Colons everywhere::::::
The use of exclamation marks is declining, thank goodness!
Acronyms for everything

What goobledygook or misused terms, words or punctuation are on your list?

The Gobbledygook Manifesto -- Cutting Edge! Mission Critical! An analysis of gobbledygook in more than 388,000 press releases sent in 2006

March 06, 2008

Receptive--open and responsive to ideas, impressions, or suggestions

If you’re receptive, you’re adaptable and tend to be creative and innovative. You like to solve problems, be visionary, to learn from and connect with others.

An unreceptive person may believe her way is superior so there’s no need to listen to the ideas or comments of others. I might label an unreceptive person as stubborn, close-minded, insecure or egotistical. An unreceptive person frustrates those around him, stifles morale and momentum and misses dynamic discussions and brainstorms that could lead to higher productivity and satisfaction for everyone.

An author on Ivy Sea®, Inc.,, a guide for right-livelihood-- resources for living true and working well, writes:
“Imagine a clear, healthy, flowing stream, and then imagine that same stream with a blockage of garbage and dead wood. Where receptivity is limited, so is the stream of what otherwise might be flowing in and received.”

How do we become more receptive?

Devote time to mindful and skilled communication.

1. Mindfulness is being in the moment. Concentrate on the speaker, the nonverbal moves and what he or she is saying.

2. Listen and receive what that person is saying. Don’t judge (piling up trash on that stream) but be open to the person’s perceptions, thoughts and ideas.

3. The skilled part is deep inquiry, not inquisition. You genuinely want to hear more about a specific idea or observation. Ask questions rather than offering advice or giving opinions. It’s asking the right questions so you understand what another means and work toward creative and innovative ideas.

4. Be open to criticism. It’s someone’s perception and you need to understand their view. Discuss without being defensive. Often you’ll generate ideas for improvement or you’ll learn you didn’t communicate as well as you intended.

“The thunderclap of passion is heard only by the heart ready to listen.” Benita Eisler, American author

How can you be more receptive?

February 26, 2008

Was a cell phone invited to your meeting or dinner?

My parents said it was rude for a store clerk to answer a phone if there was a person waiting at the counter. If a person made the effort to come to the store, he or she deserved first attention. It’s a rule so ingrained that it spills over to other situations.

It’s probably why I cringe when I see a cell phone set down on the table at meetings.

And why I cringe when someone answers a phone call during a meal.

The exceptions
If you are expecting a critical call, set your phone to vibrate. I’ve seen civility extended by someone saying before the meeting or dinner, something like “I wouldn’t have my cell phone on during this get together but my son is on the road.” Or “I’m waiting for a call from a doctor about my mother’s condition.” Something significant, perhaps life and death, about another human being. And when the call came, the person would excuse him or herself and leave the meeting area to take the call.

To take other calls during meals or meetings is truly uncivil. It bespeaks of arrogance…of lack of manners...that you don’t place much value on the people present.

If you forget and the phone rings, turn it off without answering and apologize. I don’t have this down perfectly but I’m trying…..because long after the infraction, I remember who took a disruptive phone call. And I’m offended again.

A very good article from the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas—
Use common courtesy with cell phone,

January 15, 2008

Management and information: the broken connection

"The cure for apathy is comprehension." --John Dos Passos, American novelist and artist (1896-1970)

Quite often vision, mission, plans and other ideas are announced with great fanfare to employees. The one doing the announcing believes this constitutes communication.

Why, then, do so few of these great plans come to fruition?
Why are they the object of ridicule in the cubicles?

There’s no buy in.

The employees
• weren’t involved in crafting the plan,
• don’t understand the benefits,
• don’t see how this vision or plan relates to their jobs.
Will it be a benefit to clients or customers or just more work?

Have can an organization make it easy or even possible for employees to buy in?
If it’s a new process, for instance, that will be used by a small group, the entire group should be involved in the crafting.

If it’s a plan for a large organization, have small group discussions when the new plan is announced. Discuss questions such as:
• What do I understand this to mean?
• Does this change the priority of my work?
• What can I, or my team, do to contribute to implementation?
Unexpected insights for management and the employees will come out of the discussions.

Buy-in = civility
It is respectful. It is inclusive. It is communication. Buy-in is the connection between management and information.

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving cards

A Thanksgiving card arrived last week from a vendor of specialty items. It’s sitting on my desk.

At home, a Thanksgiving card came from my insurance agent. The back of the card says ‘Hallmark Business Expressions, Created especially for State Farm’ and has the State Farm logo. The message inside the card thanks me for my business with State Farm.

My financial planner hosted a client appreciation celebration one evening last week at a downtown restaurant. He gave each person a bag with a notebook and pens plus a thank you card.

Because I work in marketing, I try to observe how and when businesses and organizations thank their customers.

Tying customer recognition to Thanksgiving is a practice of civility
The recognition comes before the busyness of December.
Thanksgiving is a holiday all Americans observe.
It has the connection to family, whether a family who lives together or works together or a family of clients.

Years ago, people sent cards and letters freely to stay in touch. They are so rare in the mail today that it’s a pleasure to receive a card from a company or organization.

So to my family of readers, whoever you are and wherever you are, here are my Thanksgiving cards for you. Thanks for reading, thanks for comments, thanks for giving me ideas and thanks to those who don’t comment publicly but tell me something I wrote made them think. Thanks for joining me in thinking about civility at work and in all our relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving

The cards on this post are from my collection of old holiday postcards.
The top one has a 1906 postmark mailed to Miss Good in Stanleyton, Va. It’s one you see often. The artist is Ellen Clapsaddle, International Art publisher, printed in Germany.
The bottom one was sent to Mrs. Mattie J. Smith in Laurens, Iowa from her son Claude in Los Angeles in 1923. It is not a notable card but I liked the verse.

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…

Lanzhou Jiaotong University brochure,

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 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),

"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

May 30, 2007

Could you use improvisational techniques for workplace discussions?

In ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’, author Malcolm Gladwell has a section on improvisational theater. In acting, the goal may be a 30 minute performance in which the players agree they have to accept everything that happens to them. They have no net, no script, no plot. They practice to become better listeners, to follow what another has said and done, to keep a good pace without suppressing action. After performances, they critique one another and how the audience reacted.

It seems to me those would be interesting techniques in the workplace.

My goal is to advocate for workplace meetings and discussions that employ constructive debate focused on finding the ideas or solutions which are most likely to succeed. Take away the ownership and defense of ideas, the remarks that seem to be personal attacks, the predetermined outcome.

Neither improvisational theater nor constructive debate is totally random. Actors come to the stage with personal knowledge and experience. So it is for workplace discussions. People need to feel their opinions and ideas are valued, that they are contributing or getting information. They need to feel their time is well-spent, that there is progress. They need to feel they belong.

I find real value in group thinking, that often the best ideas surface when you have a team of people with various roles come together to define work, tackle projects or find solutions. There could be improvisational-type ground rules such as you follow up on the ideas of others; you focus on ideas, not personalities. Everyone plays a part, large or small. There can be debates, being responsive more than reactive. It is taking the ego out of the discussions and letting free thinking shine.

Gladwell writes about improvisation: You create the conditions for successful spontaneity, the framework for fluid, effortless, spur-of-the moment dialog. For meetings, I think the framework includes an agenda, a meeting leader who seeks ideas of all, who is not intent upon forcing his or her ideas upon the group, who controls the meeting to keep one or two people from domination, who keeps the meeting focused and moving toward resolution.

Gladwell writes about spontaneity---not thinking about something a long time, not having to write about it, but ‘being in the moment’. I think we’d find some neat solutions and enjoy real buy-in to projects begun this way.

P.S. I plan to submit a civility in the workplace workshop for this fall’s annual extension conference. This idea of constructive debate is my idea at present. What do you think would be a good focus for a civility workshop at annual conference? It doesn’t matter if you will attend or not. I’m just looking for good ideas.

“Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so is he.”
Publilius Syrus, Latin writer of maxims, improviser (1st century BC)

January 30, 2007

I want an agenda

and I want a decent one, at that.

When did meeting agendas go out of vogue? Who decided we had endless time to sit through unfocused meetings?

We’re all pushed to produce more in less time in our jobs. In our volunteer work, which often includes meetings, we have limited time to devote. Unfocused meetings are not a good fit. An agenda, a good agenda, spells out the purpose of the meeting. If there is no purpose, it goes without saying---there should be no meeting.

An effective meeting begins with an agenda distributed several days in advance. It should list the location, the beginning and ending times. If this is a group of people who don’t know each other well, include a list of those invited and each person’s role. An agenda lists problems to solve or motions to be presented.

An agenda distributed in advance gives everyone time to think about the topics to be tackled and about the materials they might bring.

And during the meeting, an effective leader (or lacking that, an effective communicator at the meeting) can focus the discussion by bringing the group back to the agenda.

Do meeting leaders think they don’t have time to prepare agendas?
Then count the time being wasted by those sitting through unfocused meetings. Perhaps meeting leaders don’t know how to create effective agendas. There are good resources on the Web and in books.

When you are in charge of a meeting, prepare a good agenda and conduct a focused meeting. This is so rare today that people will actually be in awe and will tell you so. It’s really fun and quite rewarding.

Take meetings seriously. Have a focused agenda. It is effective communication. It’s a civil thing because it respects the time of those attending.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, scientist, philosopher, writer and inventor (1706-1790)

Web resources, How to Create an Agenda, Step by Step,
Meeting Wizard, Effective Meetings – Tips,
Basic Guide to Conducting Effective Meetings, Developing Agendas,

One book
Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, as told to Scott Adams, author of The Dilbert Principle
“If you’re part of a meeting that’s scheduled for 60 minutes, feel free to use it all. And remember: Agendas are suggestions, not rules. And rules were made to be broken; therefore, suggestions are made to be ignored.
Sometimes you’ll blunder into meetings called by people who have a ‘mission’ or a ‘purpose’ for the meeting. That’s the sort of thing they should be doing on their own time, not yours.”

October 19, 2006

Sharing to Build Esprit de Corps

es•prit de corps (e-spree duh kawr)
noun, the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group
Synonyms: camaraderie, bonding, solidarity, fellowship
Etymology: French, literally ‘spirit of the group'

Today’s professionals are accustomed to easy access and abundant information from the Internet. They live with rapid change and demanding timelines. They are bothered, even offended by coworkers and bosses who don’t share information or seek input.

Call it ‘buy-in’
If you don’t have it, you don’t have the devotion and enthusiasm for your project or on your team. Without buy-in, projects can create conflicts, false expectations, diminish the amount of work that can be accomplished and extend the time a project takes. It can bring projects to a complete halt.

Workers who don’t understand the reasons for a project or aren’t involved early on can’t see how their part fits into the whole or even the reason for this new process or project. And when it comes to implementation, those who weren’t involved in planning often see little value in doing the work. I see this often with the front-line staff who talks to customers. If you don’t ask for their input in planning a new process, why would they be enthusiastic about using it?

Good working relationships produce a passion for work and a better quality of work life. People understand they are valued. We learn and contribute to better products and service when we share ideas. It’s brainstorming. It’s listening. It’s a 360 degree view, thinking like customers, involving colleagues, clients and bosses. Seek opinions and input up, down and across your organization. Talk about priorities and challenges.

Being inclusive shows respect for others. Create an atmosphere where positive, productive dialogues can happen. Seek input from all team members. You may have to be assertive, asking for opinions from the quiet people in the group and reminding others they have already made several points.

Knowledge hoarders think they have to hoard their ideas to profit, to appear important, to establish their identity. Maybe they aren’t hoarders but believe a project will move faster if they set up the original work on their own. Maybe they just don’t think about the impact on others.

What to do when input is not solicited
Suggest you could help but you need to understand the background of the project. Taking the project originator back in time points out the method used may not have been efficient after all if he or she missed some key points.

Be assertive. Describe the behavior you find objectionable, express the feelings you have because of the behavior and name the behavior’s effects. For example, “When I learned you were working on this assignment, I felt disheartened. I could have given you data I received from one of our satellite offices that would have saved you research time.” It is not about blaming someone. It’s focusing on solutions.

A habit of civility is realizing that no action of ours is without consequences for others. Bottom line: communicate widely and be inclusive.