Avoiding the “Bonehead Move.”

June 15th, 2010

People can make such bonehead moves, can’t they? I’m sorry, but it’s true! Take this story, for example …

A sales team of twenty people were competing with each other in a friendly, month-long contest. At their end-of-month meeting, the manager got up and announced the two winners. Everything was fun and upbeat … until he said this: “If the rest of you slackers were as intelligent and hard-working as these two, maybe you’d have been up here!”

See what I mean? “Motivation through Shame and Insults!” What was he thinking? (It didn’t work, by the way. The team was furious.) Sadly, this sort of thing happens every day, and it boggles the mind. How can you explain it? I mean, seriously, don’t they know?

Here’s the thing: they don’t know. And that’s the key to the whole problem. Read the rest of this entry »



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Case Study: Difficult Conversation Between Peer-Level Teams.

May 25th, 2010

I had a conversation this past week with a physician/administrator who needed to address an on-going problem with another team. Here’s the email she was planning to send:

“Hi guys,

There was a patient last night [ who was transferred to our unit without you briefing us on the case ]. If you would like help in managing these cases, you need to page us. It’s not acceptable or safe to expect the nurse who wasn’t present for the case to try to relay the message of what happened and what needs to be done. In general, if you want us to see any of your patients we would appreciate a page, but especially when there are unstable patients or urgent situations. If you call the central operator (x-xxxxxx-x) they can promptly connect you to us.


Based on the facts, she seemed to have a reasonable position. Also, this was not the first communication on the subject, so there was a certain amount of frustration on her part, which I think you can hear in her note.

But, to me, her email had real problems. It was antagonistic, judgmental and condescending, even calling into question the other team’s commitment to patient’s safety. Bottom line, if I had received the note, I would have felt attacked and likely dug in my heels, and been even less open to anything she had to say in the future. In other words, her note would have had the opposite effect of what she wanted.

As we talked about the situation, it seemed to me the biggest problem was the tension in their work relationship. I didn’t feel she was going to be heard on her main points until she first addressed that reality. In addition, I thought the points themselves would be more effective if presented in a more inclusive, respectful, and non-confrontational way. Here’s what we came up with as an alternate: Read the rest of this entry »



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Love your job?

April 26th, 2010

I was ordering a take-out lunch the other day and was really struck by the young woman behind the counter who was helping me. She was polite and efficient, but at the same time she seemed to be almost constitutionally unable to smile. We made direct eye contact several times throughout the ordering process but it was always the same:

“Welcome, sir can I help you?” No smile.
“Anything more you’d like with that?” Nothing there.
“Do you want some napkins? Do you need your receipt?” Stone-faced.
“All right, thank you.” Not a glimmer. No movement at the corner of the mouth, at the eyes. Nothing.

Does she love her job? It sure didn’t look like it to me. Now, the truth is, of course, I don’t really know. At one time or another everyone gives an impression that’s different from what they really feel. So it’s possible she does love her job and just isn’t a smiler. But as a customer, the impression I get in that moment is all I have to go on. So, based on that, the answer is no, she does not love her job. She doesn’t even like her job. Being there, wearing that uniform, serving her customers: zero fun, for her. No pleasure whatsoever.

Now, from a management perspective, the question of whether someone who gives that sort of impression should be in a position like that is a great question. But for this discussion I’m really more interested in the question from her perspective, about what’s good for her. Read the rest of this entry »



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Fired for being unhappy?

April 7th, 2010

Do you know anybody who is clearly not happy in their job? Someone who’s always whining and complaining about this or that, always spreading their negativity around to the rest of the team? Me too. I’m sure every organization has them. For me, whenever I meet someone like that I always think, since they’re so obviously unhappy, why do they stay? I mean, I know it’s not that simple, but still, I can’t help but wonder.

And then I found the answer. A friend sent me this article the other day, and it really clarified for me what I think is the ultimate reason unhappy people stick around: it’s because the organization lets them. For whatever reason, the organization hasn’t included “happiness in the position” as an essential requirement for the job, so the individual is allowed to stick around even though they’re bringing down the whole team.

As if to reinforce the point, a couple of days later I heard about a study on the impact of “bad apples” on a team’s performance. The researchers assigned different teams identical tasks, and the team with the bad apple came in last every time.

Now, before you launch into all the reasons why “firing the unhappy” is over-simplistic, unreasonable, inhuman, or whatever, please read the piece. It’s actually very thoughtful and sensitive to the people involved. Also, understand that I always err on the side of the individual and what they can do for themselves first. But at some point, someone has to enforce standards, and that ultimately comes down to managers and leaders taking action. Besides, you’re not really firing someone because they’re unhappy anyway, you’re just helping them find somewhere where they are happy. How is that not a good thing?

However you approach it, the bottom line is that if someone who reports to you is truly unhappy, you can’t just ignore it. You need to do something about it and help them find a position that’s a better fit. The change doesn’t have to happen today, necessarily. Don’t make it a bigger problem than it needs to be. But at least talk about it, get it out into the open, and start putting some energy into finding a better fit. Because having someone stick around in a position that’s a bad fit serves no one. It’s no good for the individual. And it’s deadly for the organization.



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Presentation Tip #2: The PowerPoint Problem

March 19th, 2010

I was at a conference this last week and it reminded me again how much I hate PowerPoint. I’m sorry, but I really do. It just makes for the most awful, boring, “shoot me now” presentations I’ve ever seen.

There are two big mistakes people make with PowerPoint: 1) They make the slides the star; 2) They have boring, unreadable slides.

Most of the advice for improving PP presentations focuses on the second item. But I think the first is much more important.

Here’s the classic example of making the slides the star, and I’m guessing you’ve seen this too. The screen is front and center, the lights are dimmed (so people can see the screen), and the presenter is off to the side at a podium, reading their notes—which happen to be the same, word for word, as what’s on the screen.

Friends, that’s not a presentation. That’s torture. And in large part because there’s absolutely no personal connection with the speaker.

Think about this for a moment. I was at the National Speakers Association’s national convention last Summer. This is an organization made up of the most professional, experienced, and successful speakers in the world. In other words, it’s a group that knows how to connect with an audience! And you know what? In not one of the general sessions did I see a single slide. Not one. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Being effective with your audience is about connecting with them. And that’s not about slides, it’s about you. People relate to people. Your best tools for connecting are your voice, your body, your stories, and your expertise.

The message is, if you want to improve your presentations, focus on you first and your slides second. Here’s how. Read the rest of this entry »



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Presentation Tip: “Be the Host”

February 1st, 2010

How do you like giving presentations? Do you look forward to it? If so, you’re in the minority. It scares most people to death! I was in Atlanta doing a session this last Monday—for Anthem/BCBS—and it reminded me that I actually love it. (Especially when it’s with such a great group of people!) That’s a nice thing, I think, and I feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and work with people in that environment.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t still get nervous beforehand, because I definitely do. Here’s a tip I use that helps: “Be the Host.”

Before my presentation begins, I look out at the audience and imagine I’m hosting a dinner party, and they’re my guests. So, I don’t see them as strangers, wondering who I am (and who I think I am to be coming in here telling them anything), but as my friends, who are genuinely interested in what I have to say. They’re not sitting in judgement of me, demanding I earn their respect or be quickly dismissed. They know and like me already, and are looking forward to spending some time together. Best of all, I’m not frightened at the thought of going out there and making a fool of myself. I’ve planned things out, I’m feeling good about what I’ve prepared, and I’m genuinely looking forward to sharing it with them and making sure they enjoy themselves. And you know what? They are going to enjoy themselves—and I am too.

This might seem silly, but it works for me. No, it doesn’t get rid of all my nerves, but it does help quite a bit.

Read the rest of this entry »



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“Elevate the Conversation” (Outstanding!)

January 6th, 2010

NOTE: As I was finishing up Don’t Just Talk, Be Heard! last Spring, my good friend John Miller called one day to say he had a new book he wanted to write. (Translation: Let’s start writing—today!) Fantastic!, I thought. And, AAAAHHH!!! Needless to say the next few months were crazy. (I actually started to have repetitive motion issues in my right elbow from all the writing.) But it worked out great. I got Don’t Just Talk out in September, as you know. And now, (Ta Da!) the official release date of Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional is upon us! I’m really excited about the book, and wanted to share a bit of it with you today.

(FYI, the official release date is this Thursday, the 7th. You can place advance orders now at Amazon if you want, or just visit your favorite bookseller on the 7th.)

Since communication is the subject nearest to my heart, here’s Chapter 32 from Outstanding!: “Elevate the Conversation.” But the other 46 chapters are full of information that’s every bit as important for your organization’s success. Really, one of my favorite things in working on the book was the growing feeling as it came together of what an incredible resource it was going to be for organizations. It’s just SO full of great stuff!

Anyway, you can see a bit of that for yourself right now. And I hope you check out the rest soon.



Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional

Chapter Thirty-Two
Elevate the Conversation

In organizations, people need to talk to each other. Sounds obvious, I know, but sometimes there are groups, teams, or departments that just do not communicate with each other very well—even when they’re in the same room! And, even in our high-tech world of virtual meetings, webcasts, and online chats, getting people together still brings tremendous value. Being face-to-face is a fundamental human need that isn’t going away just because we’ve come up with time- and money-saving meeting options. The desire to know our teammates better, to understand their views, and to be connected to them is a powerful one, and it’s still best done in person. And since there is less face time available than ever before—at least in most organizations—it’s even more imperative that the time invested in a gathering be both productive and constructive.

When I first started working with teams, I remember how odd it seemed that people didn’t speak up or communicated in “code,” failing to address real problems Over time, I began to see that there are four levels of conversation or communication among teams and workgroups. “Team talk,” if you will, ranged from non-existent to truly healthy, valuable, and meaningful. I call these levels the “4 D’s” and here they are:

To call this lowest level “conversation” is really a misrepresentation because there is no talking or communication going on at all. Read the rest of this entry »



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2020 Vision (Not for your eyes. For your life.)

December 28th, 2009

Four years ago, we started a new family tradition. During the last week of the year, we all sit on the couch, turn the video camera on ourselves, and recap everything that’s happened during the year. At this stage, with two kids under five, the videos are very sweet. I can also already tell how fantastic they’re going to be for all of us as time goes on—watching the kids grow up, and ourselves grow, well, let’s just say wiser. :-)

The idea grew out of a habit of mine to take this week between Christmas and New Year’s to reflect on the year past, and think about the one to come. But really, it’s a little reflection and a lot of thinking about the year to come. What am I going to do next year? What am I excited about? Where are things going to be this time next year? It’s a fun and helpful process, but since this New Year’s Day will also New Decade’s Day, I’m changing things a bit this year. Instead of focusing only on 2010, I’m also thinking about 2020.

How about you? Where do you want to be in ten years? What’s your 2020 Vision? How different will things be then from the way they are today? Most important, what choices will you make, starting today, to put you on a path to getting there?

There’s an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” What better time than the start of a new decade to take that idea to heart? Let’s plant some trees, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »



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Ho Ho Ho! (Ha Ha Ha! He He He!)

December 17th, 2009

One of the things I find most sweet about Peter at this age is that he hasn’t quite developed his lying skills yet, or the instincts to cover up bad behavior. For example:

“Peter, where are you? What are you doing?”
“Don’t come in here.”
“I don’t want to tell you.”
“Why not?”
“Because it’s something you’re not going to like!”

Another example: Coming home from playing at a friend’s house, as soon as we got in the car, Peter announced, “When we get home, I’m heading straight upstairs to play, because I’ve got something COOL in my pocket!” He had “borrowed” (without permission) a tiny lego piece to replace one he’d lost at home. I’m not even sure he considered it stealing, and I’m definitely sure his friend would never have noticed it was gone. But we had a little talk, nonetheless, and he returned the piece the next day, with apologies.

Funny stuff. And I know he’ll figure all that deception stuff out soon enough, so I’m appreciating the innocence while it lasts!

Speaking of comedy … Read the rest of this entry »



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Wonderful, Beautiful

November 24th, 2009

I met my wife, Margret, in the Fall of 1987, waiting tables in an Italian restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. I was 28, she was 22, and we were both somewhat adrift at the time, though me much more so than her. I was just coming off of ten years playing rock and roll across the upper midwest, and had no idea what I was going to do next. She had just finished college, and, though she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do either, she was at least drifting amongst good options. (She entered medical school two years later.)

The point is, when Margret first introduced me to her folks, I can’t imagine they were too thrilled. I mean, I’m sure I was nice and upbeat and all that. But still, a musician? For their little girl? (Margret is the youngest of seven.) Honestly, it must have sent shivers down their spines. But if it did, they never let me know. From the very first day, Joyce and Jim welcomed me into their family, and have shown me nothing but kindness and respect ever since.

In recent years, Joyce has taken to referring to her children and grandchildren as “Wonderful, beautiful.” She’ll write in birthday cards, “To wonderful, beautiful Peter!” And tell them in person: “Hello, you wonderful, beautiful child!” I must confess that it seems a little over-the-top to me at times, but I can be something of a party-pooper, too, so pay me no mind. The truth is, it’s sweet and sincere, and the kids love her, as does everyone in her life. Or, to be technically correct, I should say, “as did everyone in her life.” Joyce passed away this last weekend.
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