Communication

three questions managers should ask
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

One of the advantages of moving jobs frequently early in your career (like I did) is that you get to experience a lot of different workplaces and management styles.

A few of my first couple of jobs out of college were case studies in bad management.

I had the “I want you to be successful, just not more successful than me” manager.  And, the passive-aggressive manager who tells you one thing and but does another.  I also had the shrinking violet manager who could talk about managing but never actually do any of the real work with the people.

And, the thing I remember about all of them is how it felt to work for them.

Frustrated.

Confused.

Belittled.

Disappointed.

Angry.

Defeated.

Not the type of emotions that create a work experience where you can be your best.

This reminded me of the great Maya Angelou quote.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Managing people is not an easy job.  And, if you think it’s easy, you probably aren’t doing right. Humans are complex creatures with an often confusing mix of needs and emotions. Managing that complexity to create an environment where the best work can happen is challenging.

There’s no shortage of management training programs out there that promise to help you succeed by giving you the right tools and approaches. But, I think most of them are missing a really vital step.

Declaring your intentions as a manager.  Can you answer this question?

  • How do I want the people I manage to feel at and about work?

Too often, the wake we create as managers is unintended.  We say something flippantly in a few seconds that our people will stew about for days. As a manager, we must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others, particularly those who depend on us for leadership.

So, how do you want people to feel?  Safe? Motivated? Happy?  Put a stake in the ground. Make a commitment.

This leads to the next question.

  • What can I do to ensure my people feel this way?

Once you are clear on your intentions, you can start aligning your behavior to that intention. If you want your people to feel safe to make mistakes and to speak up when they disagree with you, it’s on you to take the actions to make it so.  What does that mean for you? How do you have to change your own behavior and decisions? It starts with you.

Pretty straightforward so far, right? Now we get to the complicated part.

Since we are trying to impact how people feel, it can be hard to know if we are succeeding. After all, humans don’t always project their emotions and particularly not at work. So this leads to a third question.

  • How will you know how your people are feeling about work?

The answer is obvious. You ask them. And yet, so few managers do this well and consistently. Creating meaningful conversations with your employees about their experiences at work is the most powerful tool you have as a manager. It is the most direct path you have towards creating an engaging work experience that unlocks great performance.

But, this is the hard work.  You have to ask scary questions of your people like:

  • How are you feeling about work?
  • How would you like to feel about work and what can we do to get you there?
  • What’s not working for you these days?
  • How can I be a better manager for you?

This is the work of management. It is not easy. It will be messy. It will be uncomfortable at times.

But, if you get clear on your intentions, align your actions to that intention, and then be in ongoing conversation with your people to get feedback, you might just create some magic with your team.

Clear Expectations = Great Relationships
Clear Expectations = Great Relationships
Clear Expectations = Great Relationships 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Getting my family loaded in the car before a road trip of any length is a stressful event at our house.  On account of having small children, the process is like packing up an entire circus to move it to the next town.  There’s a lot to be done, a lot to remember.  And, historically, my wife and I would both get a little short with each other before we finally made it in the car to leave.

Eventually, what we discovered was that both of us would start this circus moving process with an estimated time of departure in mind but we weren’t communicating to each other what time we were each individually working towards (and almost invariably, the times were at least a little different).

This lack of communication was causing a lot of added stress to the process and once we realized what was happening, we changed our tact by agreeing to a target time before we started packing.  I’m not going to tell you that the process is stress-free now, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be.

When relationships break down, it’s frequently due to a failure between the parties to communicate expectations clearly. Marriages, manager/employee, parent/child, friendships, and even family relationships all work best when the expectations are abundantly clear. This sounds so simple, but as you’ve probably found in your own life, it’s not simple at all.

Getting clear on expectations isn’t as simple as saying, “This is what I expect.” That is simply stating expectations.

When expectations work the best, both parties have heard, understood, and taken ownership of the expectations for the relationship. Creating and sharing expectations in this way creates a contract between two people that has real meaning. Great relationships are shared when two people consistently live up to each other’s expectations and occasionally exceed them. Without the expectations, the relationship doesn’t have the boundaries it needs to be healthy.

To create great relationships through expectations requires some key things:

Courage

Speaking your expectations out loud to another person can feel daunting. You can’t be sure how the other person is going to react, particularly if the expectation is new or hasn’t been communicated in the past.

And, what if the other person doesn’t agree with your expectation? That leads to conflict and we all like to avoid conflict.

However, it’s in this conflict that we have the conversations that lead to clarity, to shared ownership. So, the first step is moving beyond your fear and doubts so that you can find the needed conflict to create clarity.

Patience

True clarity of expectations comes over time, particularly with new relationships. Think of the times when you had a new manager or supervisor. If you were lucky enough to find a manager who took the time to set expectations up front, you probably didn’t fully understand those expectations for months or even years afterward.

As an example, “be on time” with one manager could mean “don’t be late,” but with another manager, that same phrase could mean, “be 10 minutes early.”

In my experience, we have a tendency to lose patience with the expectations conversation long before getting to a place of clarity and mutual ownership. No matter how frustrating it becomes, stay with it until you arrive at a place where both parties are clear.

Thoughtfulness

Many times, we aren’t sure of our expectations until someone fails to meet them.

For example, I’ve always been motivated to learn, so I would leap at any opportunity through work to learn, whether it be training, a book club, or other development experience. And, for years, I thought everyone else was motivated the same way. I didn’t communicate to my people that I expected them to take advantage of every learning opportunity available to them.

I used to get really frustrated when I found myself managing a person who didn’t care about these types of experiences.

It took me developing some self-awareness before I recognized the need to communicate this expectation.

Creating clarity of expectations isn’t a one-time process, it’s ongoing communication. Expectations emerge, grow and change over time and we need to pay close attention to this process.

Becoming great at creating clarity of expectations will improve the quality of every relationship in your life. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, and it can be messy at timesparticularly when expectations are out of alignment.

Engaging in the conversations to create this alignment is one of the most important things you can do for the important relationships in your life.

10 Rules to Avoid Getting in Trouble with Email
10 Rules to Avoid Getting in Trouble with Email 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Much has been written about email etiquette, but people still get it wrong everyday.  The biggest mistake people make with email is deciding when an email is appropriate and when it is not.  Because writing an email is a one way communication and it is impersonal, we tend be a lot tougher, bolder, and more forceful in it than we would be in other types of communication.  This can be incredibly dangerous and damaging to the relationships we have with the people on the other end of the email.

Here is a list of my rules of thumb for when to send an email and when to pick up the phone (or schedule a meeting).

  1. If you are simply providing information or updates for review, email woks great.
  2. If you are following up on a conversation with a summary of the conversation or requested information, email is good.
  3. If you have a quick question that simply requests information or clarification, email is okay.
  4. If there’s any chance the recipient might misinterpret what you mean by your email, don’t send it.
  5. If you wouldn’t say the same thing to the person’s face that you are about to email, don’t send it.
  6. If the topic of the email is something that will require discussion, don’t email.  (The only exception would be in situations where a meeting is already scheduled and you are sending the email to give the person a chance to prepare for the discussion).  
  7. If it is an emotionally charged issue, never email.
  8. If you want the conversation to be confidential, don’t email.  
  9. If you are providing negative feedback, don’t email.
  10. If you are providing recognition or kudos, email is okay but sometimes a phone call or in-person visit is better.
Email is a great tool that has become over-used and abused.  These are my general rules of thumb for keeping myself out of trouble with email.  I hope they will be helpful to you.  Let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have any other rules of thumb that are helpful to you.
Jason Lauritsen