How to Crush Creativity

In some companies -- especially large ones – creativity is expected and encouraged only by those paid to be creative.  The rest of the employees are expected to follow policies and procedures, keep quiet, and do what their told.  Of course it's never expressed like that, but the end results are the same.

But where do good ideas come from?  Where is the next gem that will send sales skyrocketing?  A spark of creativity can hit anyone at anytime.  When that does happen, it's best to support both the idea and the person.  Richard Highsmith of BusinessKnowHow writes some tips on how to NOT encourage creativity in the workplace.

First, remember that a man is an island.  Your employees get a paycheck and should be grateful for this.  Any ideas they have were probably inspired by your greatness and are therefore yours.  Plus, you're insulating them from upper management and office politics.

Of course, who are they to suggest anything anyway?  You know best about your company and department.  Only you can see the forest because they are all pruning trees.  Because of this, make sure you tell them your (better) opinions often.  How else will they know what's going on.

By just reading the title of this post I'm sure you realized that I don't really want to encourage the crushing of creativity.  However, I'm sorry to say the above examples aren't made up.  If avoiding these examples are ways to have more creativity in the workplace, what are some proactive things you can do?

Well, realize that other people can have good ideas, no matter their station in life.  If you can't be congratulated for coming up with something creative, at least you can be known as having the foresight, intuition, and humbleness to be able to spot and implement someone else's good idea.

But you can't spot what isn't there, so ask people their opinions about problems.  Have meetings to let anyone throw any idea out there.  Let people know that their thoughts are welcome, appreciated, and most importantly, listened to.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Reading Without Words

Whenever we talk to someone, we don't so much pay attention to what they say as how they say it.  As it's been said before, 70% of communication is done through body language.  So, it would seem to be important to understand what the body is saying, especially in business.

Body Language

In his post on SalesGuru, John Boe begins with a great example of the power of body language using the Nixon vs. Kennedy election.  Right after their pivotal debate, opinion polls reported voters watching on TV felt Kennedy had won, while radio listeners were sure that Nixon was victorious.  What it came down to - for the TV viewers at least - was that Kennedy looked more presidential.

It is with this in mind that we look at business communication.  What is your customer telling you verbally that their body suggests otherwise?  What signals are sent that a co-worker is unhappy, in disagreement, or upset with a project or policy?  More importantly, if you could know all of these things all the time, how better would you communicate?

Boe's blog post is mainly geared for sales, but his points can be used for negotiations as well.  "Mirroring" is one such tactic.  This is where you mimic the other person's subconscious body language and it sends the signal to them - again subconsciously - that you like and agree with them.

These signals and tactics aren't for face-to-face communication only.  They can be invaluable during a video conference as well.  In fact, the signals may even be easier to spot.  Most people on a video conference tend to make sure they are clearly visible and close enough to the camera to be seen well. 

This makes it easier to spot someone touching their ear or scratching their nose.  And when they cross their arms, it's like a billboard saying, "I'm against this."  If you become good at reading body language, video conferences may be your preferred method of meeting.

At the end of Boe's post is a quiz about reading body language which I highly recommend to you.  For example, what would you answer to this question:

1. What emotion is associated with the "palm to chest" gesture?

A. Superiority
B. Critical judgment
C. Sincerity
D. Confidence

Go on, give the quiz a shot then see how many body language indicators you see in a day.  Good luck!

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

3 Meeting Tips for Leaders

A meeting is a time to show what kind of leader you are.  Yes, it's also a time to gain or share information, but it can be one of the few times that employees get to see their boss at the helm.  How you run your meetings will tell a lot to your employees about you and the state of the company.

John Baldoni of the Harvard Business Press wrote about leaders and meetings in a recent blog post, "Now more than ever, senior leaders need to be seen and especially heard by the people who are counting on them for direction and focus." 

Meetings are times when you can be visible and proactive, so use them to inspire your employees.  Here are three meeting tips Baldoni gave us to help leaders run a solid and energizing meeting

1.  Be Focused – It's sometimes easy to get distracted or off on a tangent during a meeting, but this isn't strong leadership.  Have an agenda, stay on task, and schedule tangents for another time.  To quote Baldoni again, "Executives need to demonstrate their knowledge of the situation as well as their command of the situation."

2.  Tell Stories – This piece of advice is invaluable.  A lot of information is thrown around during a meeting, and often even copious notes don't catch it all.  And if you record your conference calls or web conferencing, you still have to remember what the webinar was about.  Figure out what your main point of the meeting is and tell a story about it.  A story will make it memorable, long after the notes are gone.

3.  Hear from the Field – A good leader knows they cannot do everything themselves, but must delegate.  It can be the same during a meeting.  You don't have to stand in front of everyone for an hour to be seen as a leader.  Instead, let people report about their departments, tell what they've accomplished, or voice their ideas or concerns.  You and everyone else can learn from these people, and perhaps be inspired by them.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

The Pros and Cons of Using Instant Messaging on the Job

As we saw previously, using IM is a generational thing. But how does IM work in an office environment? How best is IM integrated into proper office procedures?

1. Use IM as another form of email. If you receive information on IM, respond that you received it and will respond when you can. The instantaneous aspect of IM sometimes can lull users into a sense of non-response. Always respond, even if it's to say "Can't talk. I'm in the middle of something. I'll get back to you."

2. Be a leaver of messages. Especially when someone has an away message up, leave a succinct message and don't pester.  Instead of using IM as a chatter tool, transmit the important message and then don't keep typing. Work is not the same as a chat with your friends online.

3. Use chat rooms when there's more than one person involved. Nothing irritates people more than trying to have a discussion and one user takes forever to respond. If there's more than one person involved in the discussion, invite everyone into the chat by using a chat room. Better to have everyone involved from the first word rather than having to repeat from person to person.

4. When in disagreement, try a phone call or a face-to-face talk. Nothing online is worth insults and disrespect. If you can't resolve your issues through IM (or even email), pick up the phone, or go find the person and resolve it face-to-face. I've saved myself hours of IM discussion using this tactic.

5. Respect your fellow users' time. Forwarding web sites and cartoons and news stories is fine, but don't inundate your colleagues with an endless stream of content that only distracts from work. Sure, it's fine to have a little, but a lot gets old fast.

Start Your Presentation Strong

Good morning.  My topic for today's blog post is improving presentations by beginning with one of the tips that will be listed below.  The first part that I would like to discuss is…

Are you asleep yet?

No one wants to start their Monday morning with a meeting that makes even coffee ineffectual.  Come to think of it, there is never a time that people want to sit through a boring meeting.  The necessary information at the heart of many business meetings is dry, but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting to hear about it.

Bert Decker - Chairman & CEO of Decker Communications - wrote in his blog several "do's" to open your presentations that are designed to waken and enliven an audience and get them in a more receptive mood. 

The first - and perhaps most dramatic - is to start with a bang.  Decker suggests being unusual.  Do you have a hidden talent?  Could you start your meeting off with a yodel?  Use your imagination to shake off the cobwebs.

Another good suggestion is to use stories.  Pick one that has a point to coincide with your presentation, but one where the connection can only be seen at the end of the story.  Or better yet, pick a dramatic tale and just when you get to the cliffhanger, start your presentation.  Of course you'll need to finish the story at the end or some people will get upset.

An attractive suggestion of Decker's is to use intrigue and interest.  His example is one of his staple techniques.  He approaches the podium and reads a speech - looking down the whole time - in a monotone.  After thirty seconds or so, he rips up the speech and goes into his normal, energetic presentation - to the relief of the audience.

I just had an idea to kick-start an early morning meeting.  When you announce your next meeting, make sure to clearly and menacingly state that there will be no food or drink tolerated in the conference room.  You should even put a big official sign on the door.  Then the morning of the meeting, after everyone else but you is in there, walk in last with coffee and donuts for all.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

The Conversation is Yours

It's easy to think of a conversation between two people as a simple natural thing.  To some degree it is, but not when it comes to a business conversation.  In business, there are many factors, a lot of subtext, and specific goals involved when communicating with another person.  How can we keep track of it all?

Here's a new rule of thumb from the blog, JustTellMeHowtoManage, "The person initiating the communication is responsible for the communication."

What exactly does this mean?  Communicating is not a one-way street.  Both parties should be responsible, right?  Yes, but it all depends on what your intentions are.  If you just want two people to throw syllables at each other then you don't need any forethought.  But in business, you want your conversations to be effective, to transfer information, and to get things done.

If you need to update your sales manager, you don't just go in and start barking.  No, you gauge their mood, how busy they are, and attitude.  Then you talk to them in the way you know they prefer.  For example, for someone who talks fast and wants concise answers, you keep it short and sweet.  For a more laid-back individual, you might do a little more small-talk than usual.

You do all of this because your goal for the conversation is for them to receive, properly process, and understand the information you're giving them.  You do this because you – as the initiator -- are responsible for the communication.

The good news is that we humans tend to mimic or match other people almost automatically.  Even so, it's something to keep in mind the next time you walk down the hall to start a conversation.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Get A Handle on Your Audience

Your audience can be as diverse as your department, your employees, your clients, your competition, your board of directors, even your prospective employees. How you write your business communications depends on who your audience will be. A few ideas on how to determine your audience in order to write more effectively for them follow.

1. Who are they? Sounds easy enough, right? Well, sure if you know exactly the type of person to focus on. Who are the key influencers? Who has the most direct power? Who can influence the outcome of the communication? Who has indirect influence (opinion leaders, potential allies, even those who just stamp approvals or route the communications)?

2. What do they know? How much information will they need (background information, new information)? What do they already know about the topic? What do they need to learn about the topic? What are their expectations and preferences?

3. What do they feel? What kind of emotions or feelings will arise as they read or hear your message? What is their current situation? How interested are they in your message? Is it low priority or high priority? Will they actually read it with interest and listen carefully? How curious are they and how much do they care about the issue or its outcome?

4. How can you persuade them? What is their probable bias? Positive or negative? Are they likely to favor your conclusions, be indifferent to what you propose, or be adamantly opposed to your ideas? Is your desired action (as every piece of communication you write must include some desired action) easy or hard for them? Will it be something they aren't interested in doing? Will it be a burden or a joy? Will they agree to your ideas with gusto or reluctance?

All of this is something you need to think about before writing your piece or speech. If you do think of these issues, you will likely be able to predict a response rate and a response attitude from your intended audience. CEOs and managers often put off writing until they "have to do it," which creates a badly written and poorly thought-out piece that doesn't accomplish what they set out to do in the first place. Taking a bit of extra time to think through objectives before you "have to write it" will help you to create a piece of communication that will do its job well. Plus, those who read your communication will be glad you did.