See Your Communication Habits

While the blog has been down (we’re fixed now – yay!), the activity using “Communication Assessments” has been up. People are going to and checking out the value of those tests (both are free).

I just re-took the 20-question Personal Communication Assessment, which is a quickie way to find out which of the Four Conversations are strong and which ones need some work. I learned that I need to work on Closure Conversations – especially cleaning up some agreements. What I got on the screen when I clicked ‘Submit’ was (1) a graph showing how I scored on the conversations, which is how I knew I Closure was the lowest, and (2) my answers on the questions in each category. That’s how I knew my agreement-management scores were off. I like that can see where I’m doing well and where I can upgrade something. I’ll take the test again in a month or two and see what needs work then.

The 56-person Workplace Communication Assessment takes longer – about 10-15 minutes – to complete. This isn’t about scoring your personal communication habits – it’s to identify the biggest problems in your workplace that result from poor communication habits.  When you click ‘Submit’, you get a profile of eight types of workplace problems (lateness, difficult people, lack of resources, accountability, etc), showing which ones are biggest for you. Plus, for your #1 biggest workplace problem, you get a few tips on what kinds of communication habits can be developed to reduce the problem.

I’m glad people are getting some mileage out of these assessments. We are developing a way for a group of people to take the Workplace Assessment and compile a group score, so it’s not just one person’s opinion. We have done a few of those manually and the results have been very valuable to managers and team members. Having a group of people take the test means everyone has seen the questions, so they have at least thought about their workplace in terms of its communication-related problems. That means more people might be interested in upgrading their group habits for better teamwork. A good thing, right?

Committed Complaints? Good for You!

The US election season is now underway. That means there will be 18 months of complaining about the candidates, then we can switch back to our usual complaints about the weather, TV programming, and people who eat pizza with a fork. Those are all examples of “uncommitted complaints”, because we usually are not going to do anything about them. Except for voting – please do that, OK?

A “committed complaint” is one where you are committed to taking action to get it resolved. If you have a complaint about something you ordered in a restaurant and you tell the waiter or restaurant manager about it, then that was a committed complaint. If you just gripe to your dinner companion as you walk out to the parking lot, that’s an uncommitted complaint.

Every organization has a unique menu of uncommitted complaints. Here are 3 of my favorites:

  1. We don’t have enough resources to do the job;
  2. We tried that and it didn’t work; and
  3. “They” don’t _________ (fill in the blank: care, listen, help, etc.).

Nobody ever has “enough” resources; either stop complaining about it or make a request. I met a manager who took this on and itemized the specific results her office was supposed to produce. She put the time estimate for completing each task, totaled the hours, and made a note of how many staff she had to do the work. Point made: there weren’t enough staff hours to get things done on time.

She went an extra mile, however, and spelled out the value and benefits of getting each job done: who would get the results and what difference it would make to them. Then she sent it to her two bosses with a note that said, “If you will provide me with an extra 28 staff-hours per week, I can get this done. I hope you can make this happen before the end of this month so we can get back on our timeline. Thank you.”

She got the staff-hours. “I learned the power of a well-designed request,” she said. “And I told my staff to quit griping about resources. They helped design that request, and now they need to own the results.”

The same is true for the other 2 uncommitted requests above. You tried that and it didn’t work? How about itemizing what exactly didn’t work and how it could work today? Then make a request for what you need to be successful.

And the complaint about “they” – well, we’re going to hear a lot of that for the next 18 months. Let’s save our breath and find something positive to say about something, somewhere in the world. Or get out there and fix something that matters to us. Actually, you probably already do that. But do consider passing these thoughts along in order to reduce the amount of gas between now and Election Day.

Productive Communication: Your Best Goal-Getting Tool

I just looked up “management communication” to see how it is described in the world today. I’m a woman with an undergrad degree in Psychology, and two grad degrees in Engineering, and I admit to being horrified.

The American Management Association has a communication training on “Getting Results Without Authority”, subtitled “How do you influence other people who don’t work for you to get the results you need?” It covers:

  1. Personal power: Your source of influence and authority over others, independent of the position you hold (based on theories from psychology and sociology);
  2. Reciprocity: Your ability to behave in a friendly manner to build positive relationships that will encourage others to do things for you (from social psychology);
  3. Personal style in relationships: Your responses to psychology quizzes about whether you are secure, anxious, dismissive, fearful, dependent, etc.;
  4. Persuasion: Your ability to change other people’s attitudes or behaviors by sharing information, feelings, and/or reasoning with them.
  5. Conflict resolution: Your ability to bring about a peaceful ending to a conflict (negative and non-productive interaction) between other individuals or groups;
  6. Negotiation: Your ability to facilitate dialogues that craft outcomes satisfying various interests.
  7. Action plans: Your ability to outline the actions needed to reach a specified goal.

Interesting. I might want to Google some of those things and take the quizzes just for the fun of it. And certainly a few skills in building positive relationships and making good plans are valuable in every area of life.

But, as the authors of “The Four Conversations: Daily Communication that Gets Results”, we’re really simple. We see four productive conversations to have at work – and we have tested them with people who are managers as well as people who have no authority whatsoever. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Talk about your goal(s) – what you want, when you want it, and why it matters – with other people who could be involved in accomplishing it. Have those conversations frequently.
  2. Have dialogues with others to find and clarify ideas about how you could achieve the goals, who else could be involved, and where you could make connections for resources and results.
  3. Get people in action (yourself included). Make clear requests for what you want, and when and why. Make good promises to deliver results to others so they can support your objectives. Create agreements with people for making things happen on time and on budget.
  4. Clean things up regularly. Update the facts about progress toward the goal and revise plans accordingly. Thank people when they’re great, or even just for showing up, and don’t be shy about holding them to account. That means reminding people to deliver what they promised or to revoke their promise so you can stop waiting for them. Apologize when other people are inconvenienced, or when you see either a mistake or some kind of misunderstanding that could slow down progress toward the goal.

That’s it. Have each of those 4 conversations on a regular basis, in whatever sequence is needed to keep things moving toward goal success. Productive communication is simple talk to propose specific goals, engage people in planning, and boost them into action with good agreements for What-When-Why something will happen. Then you have a regularly scheduled “status check” to get everyone updated, appreciated, and refreshed for the next steps toward the goal.

So if I want to reliably get results – including with people over whom I have no authority – I could learn to propose ideas, discuss them with others, make requests, and track progress. That’s my plan: I’ll keep practicing The Four Conversations.

Emotional Intelligence – Nice, But Not a Management Tool

Emotional intelligence measures the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions – our own and others’ – as a guide to our thinking and behavior in family, social, and work situations. So it’s a good thing to have – it has been shown to correlate with better mental health as well as social influence, popularly called “leadership”.

Emotional intelligence (often called EQ to relate it to IQ) is a personal ability or capacity that can be developed to improve our score and, presumably, our mental health and our ability to influence people. But that’s not much help for management, which is what you need when you want to get timely results from others. Why not? Because leadership is not management. Management depends on the use of specific practices and tools, and not so much on our personal style or psychology, or even our ability to influence others.

In a nutshell, there are 4 distinct practices of management:

  1. Use productive conversations – Initiative, Understanding, Performance, and Closure – to identify, activate, update, and report on the four components of good management: (a) The goal; (b) The type of performance, e.g., efficiency, quantity, quality, effectiveness, etc.; (c) The “performance circle” of senders and receivers with whom the development of agreements for delivery of products, services, and communications will be necessary; and (d) The scoreboard tool to record the measurable status of progress with each of those components;
  2. Identify and activate each of the four components of good managementgoal, performance type(s), performance circle, and scoreboard – on a regular schedule;
  3. Update and report the status of the four components of good managementgoal, performance type(s), performance circle, and scoreboard – on a regular schedule; and
  4. Repeat these 4 management practices until the goal is reached or abandoned.

So, will “emotional intelligence” help with any of this? It likely will make for a more pleasant workplace, so it is a definite plus. But it does not substitute for any of the necessary practices or components of good management. And it isn’t a tool, either.

So go ahead and boost your “EQ” for mental health and influence – it’s good for you and those around you. Just don’t expect it to replace management for getting results to accomplish your goals.

A Culture of Conversations: Power to the People!

The Workplace Communication Assessment (a freebie on this site) is being tested this month with a large group of managers and staff. I’m looking to see whether it is true that “organization culture” is a product of communication problems.

This assessment has 56 questions, so it takes about 15 minutes to fill out completely. But when each person finishes it, they receive feedback on how to resolve their biggest workplace communication problem. Of course, each person may see a completely different thing as the “biggest problem”. But when we look at them all together, a pattern will likely emerge.

One thing we’ve already seen is that most people don’t think they have any power over changing those patterns. Diana is a manager who was frustrated about getting her portion of the budget transferred to her control. “They promised they would move it over,” she said, “but it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t know who to talk to about it. I’m hoping they will do it soon.”

Ah, the infamous “They”, source of all troubles. We had been talking about making good requests, getting good promises, and establishing firm agreements. But Diana still didn’t see her solution.

“What if you could find out all the key people involved in making the transfer happen?” I asked her. “Then maybe you could make a good request for action by the end of the month?”

We talked about the details for a few minutes, then the lights came on in her eyes and she said, “Yes, I can do that. In fact, I will do it. Maybe even by Friday!” Everybody in the room applauded, including me.

Realizing that our conversations have the power to change things is wonderful news. I’m excited to see what will happen when a whole group of people chooses some negative part of their culture to upgrade. Tomorrow they will look at their patterns of communication and pick a target or two. Power to the people!

Good Communication Works at Home Too!

We deliver management communication programs in all kinds of organizations, but sometimes we get to see how the basic principles work in our personal lives too. We have a friend, I’ll call her Celia, who attended one of those programs, and sent an email saying: “Hey! This stuff works at home too!”

Celia said she was having trouble handling her own interests and commitments because her husband and two teenage boys were creating so many seemingly unnecessary interruptions in her daily life. So here’s how she described her solution:

“I got out my old notebook from your class, and realized that the first problem was that nobody seemed to be really clear on their agreements for tasks and communications and schedules here at home. Then I noticed that instead of keeping track of household and homework agreements and following up with people, I was relying on everyone’s “good will” to stay on track. That didn’t work. So I followed your 5 rules, as follows:

  1. Be clear on your requests, get good promises, and make sure they are clear & completely stated. A request + a promise = an agreement. (Wow, I really fell down on this one, but now I’ve got good agreements with all 3 people!)
  2. Make sure the agreements are recorded – plus it’s always good to keep them visible. (This is really working – I have them spelled out on a poster-sticky by the back door)
  3. Be sure you and other people put the time to perform the work for each agreement into your/their schedule. The “law of accomplishment” says everything needs to happen in time, so use your calendars. (I totally left this out. Guess what: people don’t remember!)
  4. Track what happens – when agreements are kept and when they aren’t. (This is easy now – thanks!)
  5. Follow up on each agreement, yours and theirs. Was it kept? If so, applause. If not, what is the cost or consequence caused by that failure? How will it be cleaned up? Have the closure conversations you need. (OMG, this is so much simpler now, and life-changing for my household. Yay!)

“Thank you so much. Please, the next time you give this program, tell people it works at home too!”

I’m leading a program again in 2 weeks – I’ve got a post-it reminding me to tell people that.

A Personal Upgrade for 2015

In my year-end cleanup of Stuff and Promises, I have been getting rid of stuff (Goodwill, Salvation Army, food bank, etc.) and closing out promises made. The stuff is easier to clean up than promises, because promises disappear unless they are recorded somewhere. But really, all I have to do to find broken promises is skim through my Outlook contacts, or my Facebook friends, or my LinkedIn connections. I can find Unfinished Business by just looking at a name and feeling that twinge: Oh, yeah, we were going to do that thing, or Oops, he never sent the document and I didn’t follow up.

I have done a communication course or two in my time (thanks, Werner), and was always fascinated by one unique attribute of conversations: they disappear. Unless we make a point of capturing our requests and promises – in some display that keeps them alive for us and “in existence” (not in our heads) – they will dissolve, often within minutes of being spoken.

That “existence” piece is hardest for me. I grew up thinking if it’s on a list, well, that should handle it. But it doesn’t. Unless the list includes something about time – like when the action will happen. And the person or people involved – like whoever else needs to be included or should know about this. And maybe add a location – like whether the action will be in my office, over coffee, or overseas. I don’t make a list that looks like this:

  1. Request confirmation on presentation plans from Darryl in 3:30 meeting at Stauf’s coffee shop;
  2. Review promise for training schedule with LEAN Team by email on Tuesday morning;
  3. Complete and send promised report to Sharon in office on Thursday.

Worse, I don’t always put those details in my calendar. My schedule says:

  1. Monday – 3:30, Stauf’s, Darryl
  2. Tuesday – LEAN Team schedule
  3. Thursday – Sharon’s report

As a result, I risk forgetting certain elements of the request or promise, and not getting whatever it was I wanted to accomplish. Sometimes it means an extra item on my year-end Oops List too.

I’m scheduling an upgrade for 2015: I am now putting my commitments – personal objectives, requests, and promises – into existence in a way that I “have” them alive in front of me every day, instead of trusting that I will remember to “do” them. This is an upgrade of work habits too: I am beginning to build a habit of looking at my (newly upgraded) list of commitments every evening and every morning, and adjusting my schedule as needed to accommodate them.

Conversations disappear. Commitment displays will keep them in existence. I’ll let you know what I learn.

When Integrity is Missing

You know that person who says they will do something and then doesn’t do it? The one who says he’ll be at your place at 10:00, then shows up 15 minutes – or an hour – late. Or the one who says she’ll email you that document as soon as she gets back to the office but you still haven’t received it by the next afternoon?

I was annoyed with both of those people, which didn’t change a thing, of course. I knew I needed to follow up – to let both of them know that what they promised did not match their actions. But I didn’t want to hear their explanations. I just wanted to point out the gap between promise and performance, and figure out how to get things to match better in the future. If you know a nice way to do this, let me know.

The other thing is that those broken agreements are also my bad. Agreements always have 2 ends, and I am at one of them. Did I not get a good promise? Did I not let them know their being prompt mattered to me? With the person who showed up late, I failed to let them know I had a meeting to get to, and hoped they would be on time. With the person who promised the email document, I didn’t tell them I had promised to forward it to someone else. I had to revoke that promise and make the request again.

Letting people know WHY something matters to you makes a difference because it underlines the importance of the agreement. When people know it matters, they raise their attention a bit. I dropped that ball.

It also occurred to me to do a bit of housekeeping with my own agreements. I looked over my schedule and my Due List (it used to be a To Do List, but my husband pointed out that I needed to practice what I preach and list the “deliverables” and who will get them). Sure enough, I saw several places where I had let something slip past the due date. So I had some cleanup to do myself.

Integrity is about honoring agreements. First, I need to have a good agreement – clean and clear about what will be delivered, and when, and why it matters. Second, I need to schedule whatever work is required in order to keep that agreement. Third, I need to put that schedule and agreement where I will see it, instead of putting it in a file folder under my desk or something. OK: Agreement, Schedule, Visible. Lesson learned.

This Works at Home Too

The Four Conversations aren’t just for the office. We communicate in our real lives too. I just had some great results out of having a “closure conversation” with a dear friend. She had been unhappy – and unusually touchy – for several months. I had been patient and kind with her, because I knew she was still upset about her failure to get the promotion she wanted. But sometimes enough is enough.

At first I couldn’t see how to handle it. Of course, use the Closure Conversation’s “Four A’s”. Acknowledge the facts: You had a big disappointment, and have been in a miserable frame of mind ever since. Appreciate the people: I care about you, and you have been a good and trustworthy friend and colleague for many years. Apologize for mistakes and misunderstandings: Ummm, not sure I know what to say here. Maybe I don’t need this one? Amend broken agreements: Not sure here either.

But I couldn’t stand it much longer. The irritability, the whining and complaining about every little thing that “went wrong” or “didn’t work”. I should have put my foot down about this situation months ago.

Aha! It’s not about her, it’s about me. I hadn’t communicated!

Apologize for mistakes and misunderstandings: I apologize for not pointing this out earlier, but your misery is now driving me nuts. You need to pull yourself out of this, if not for yourself, then do it for the people around you. You’re creating an issue and a burden for others.

Amend broken agreements: You and I have an understanding that we will be honest with one another. But I let this go too long before letting you know we have to do something to break up this negative cycle for you. You can count on me to be more alert in the future: I will pay more attention to the moment when something upsetting – for either of us – turns into a chronic habit of negativity and complaint.

Result: Certain parts of that Closure Conversation sounded a lot like an argument. But I kept going, and fortunately we have enough background relationship that she was able to hear what I was saying. We’re back on track, without the irritability and pessimism, and even showing some glimmers of relaxed optimism. Whew. I’m reminded that the four conversations work wherever there are human beings.

Crabby Consultant Observation #423

Here’s another survey result. This one tied for 5th place on the list of Biggest People-Problems at Work: “Dealing with difficult personalities and behaviors.” Comments went on to describe examples such as “unfriendly people”, “passive-aggressive people”, and “people playing power games”. One person explained, “Nobody wants to work with some people because they don’t like their behavior or personality. “

Seriously? Kind of makes you wonder what people are saying about you when you’re not there, doesn’t it? Actually, our work life does not need to put personality first, or even second. Work is about producing results: solving problems to produce results, communicating to produce results, and yes, working with others to produce results.

So when somebody brings their personality to work, maybe we could just let them be however they’re being?  Maybe we could have a conversation that will help put our attention on the results we want to produce out of our interaction?

Oh, wait. I forgot there are people who want to produce a result by fixing (or dissing) the person, instead of a result for their work responsibilities. So, I have a message for those of you who want people to be some other way than the way they are: get over yourself. Let people be, and get back to work. Your company, agency or organization wants something from you. They even pay you to produce it – products, services, or communications they want you to create, assemble, or deliver to internal or external customers.

Sorry, that’s just me being crabby about people-fixers. I promise I’ll offer some suggestions for reducing people-annoyances soon. Meantime, I’m going to get my personality checked so I can be a better person by the time I write the next blog post. Thank you for listening.

PS – If you haven’t checked out the Personal Communication “diagnostic”, take a couple minutes and you’ll get to see your communication profile. It’s useful to find out which conversations you’re already brilliant with, and which ones need a little work.