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Photo: Jose Mizrahi

#WorkTrends: Building Trust In Uncertain Times

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss an episode.

It’s safe to say uncertainty is universal these days. But how do we get past it and stay engaged in our work? Remember the T-word: trust. So I invited Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer of MHR International, to #WorkTrends to share his best practices for building workplace trust during these uncertain times.

Iain said we need to be better listeners to be better communicators. And organizations really need to step up their game on this, and “address and communicate aspects around safety, the relationship, and the connected aspects of work,” he added. I wanted to know what else companies can do to enable their employees to trust them and feel trusted. 

Iain’s answer: make a conscious effort. Managers must regularly communicate, actively listen, and continue to work through the kinks of being remote and virtual. You only learn by doing, so start now. Treat trust as a collaboration. 

Here’s another straightforward way to build trust between managers and employees:  invest time in really checking in. Don’t just run a checkup. Regular check-ins can help employees stay motivated. Plus, it’s an opportunity to tackle deeper questions about where your organization is heading and how that employee fits into it all. Creating this sense of belonging can even lead to better employee performance. And besides, it makes everyone feel better.

We covered a lot of ground in this discussion, so I encourage you to have a listen for yourself. Got feedback? Feel free to weigh in on Twitter or on LinkedIn. (And make sure to add the #WorkTrends hashtag so others in the TalentCulture community can follow along.)

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with building trust? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can boost trust and a sense of belonging remotely? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders overcome uncertainty and promote a sense of trust? #WorkTrends

Find Iain Moffat on Linkedin and Twitter

This podcast is sponsored by MHR International.

(Editor’s note: In August we’ll be announcing upcoming changes to #WorkTrends podcasts and Twitter chats. To learn about these changes as they unfold, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.)

Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Ali Yahya

#WorkTrends: Going Gig: Freelancing in HR

Meghan invited both Chris Russell, the founder of HR Lancers, and Jim Stroud, VP of Marketing at Proactive Talent, to talk about the new trend in HR: hiring freelancers and consultants to fill in the gaps. 

COVID-19’s uncertainties are leaving no field untouched, including HR. As Jim said, “if employees hear the whiff of a rumor, or a layoff or have any kind of indication that their job might be in jeopardy or a furlough,” they might venture to freelance as a quick way to gain income and stay afloat. Further, freelancing is on the rise among millennials who are leaving the city. They can make their living at home — now more than ever before, noted Meghan. 

But not everyone’s cut out for the gig, Jim said. It takes self-discipline and the ability to self-structure, particularly now. Schedules may be more flexible, but kids and mounting responsibilities can add up. But the demand is there: Companies are hiring experts to help bridge the gaps, and sourcing out project-based, niched assignments like crafting job descriptions or writing a handbook. For smaller companies, this may be an effective solution. 

And if we see universal healthcare, said Chris, we’ll also see an explosion in freelancers. Meghan concurred: If benefits weren’t tied to employment, a lot more people would go independent. And that’s something companies need to think about, Jim added. Companies could be much more competitive at attracting top freelancers if they offered to cover healthcare expenses for the duration of a gig. And Meghan predicts we’ll see HR shifting along with the rest of the gig economy‚ and it’s going to be interesting to see how that changes our practices. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are more organizations hiring freelancers for HR? #WorkTrends
Q2: How is freelancing changing the nature of HR? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better attract top HR freelancers? #WorkTrends

Find Chris Russell on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Jim Stroud on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Ben Stern

#WorkTrends: Incorporating New Hires into Work Cultures

The big question: Can managers effectively integrate new hires into a company work culture when everyone is working from home? The answer is a resounding yes. But how?

To explore this question further, Meghan invited John Baldino to share strategies that can help businesses successfully hire and onboard top talent remotely. John is the president and founder of Humareso, an HR firm that’s helping organizations not only manage their talent, but better onboard new hires into the culture.

John stresses communication as a key component of any culture, but especially important for remote workplaces. Seasoned employees may have the advantage of familiarity, “but that’s not really fair to the new person coming in,” John said. Managers need to take an intentional approach to communication that isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of tasks at hand, as Meghan noted. It’s got to have plenty of room to be human and have real conversations. 

Where are the blind spots? Look at the camera, John said. Too many of us don’t know where to look, and that can make for very awkward meetings. And that’s as true for managers as for anyone. So we all have to make sure we’re comfortable with the tech. And don’t try to make eye contact, because it doesn’t translate on video. You’ll look like you’re not looking at the person you’re talking to. Just making sure the tech is up to date is important as well, and that’s every company’s responsibility. We all have to get more comfortable with the technology and being remote, Meghan said. It’s a steep learning curve, and we’re still on it. 

So much has changed in the process of hiring. Consider the old normal orientation schedules — which played an effective role in portraying a company’s culture. Now we need to deliver that via chat across managers and departments, said John. But you can’t glean the essence of a culture (let alone participate in it) in just a few days of Zoom calls, Meghan said. Build in the time to let it all sink in. And make sure your managers have the resources they need to support new hires, and can provide flexibility to accommodate the new work/life construct.  

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with onboarding? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies help bring new hires into the work culture? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better shape an onboarding strategy? #WorkTrends

Find John Baldino on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Markus Winkler

Speaking Emoji: The New Language of Working

Emojis are both a language and a technology. Cultivate’s recent study into just how we use them shows how creatively we’ve adapted to this hybrid form of communication. In just over 20 years, emojis have evolved from the province of teens to an accepted part of business conversation. Influenced heavily by the presence of Gen Z and millennials, emojis have become a standard way to communicate — faster, more effective, and also, enabling us to communicate with more empathy

After 6 months of studying communications over Slack at four enterprise companies — including a total of 83,055 messages that used 101,134 emojis, Cultivate found some interesting trends. 30% of messages used Thumbs Up, while 27% used Mask Face

Emoji usage also differs by company: each has their own visual vocabulary based on company culture. And each generation has their preferences. Baby boomers enjoy receiving business texts with emojis, but only in the right context. Gen X appreciates informal channels like Facebook that can still be written professionally. Clearly, the majority of Gen Y (millennials) are obsessed with emojis and quick, digital-first communications like IMs or DMs. And Gen Z loves video formats, apps and mobile-only approaches with filters and emojis. 

In terms of how we use emojis, 16.3% of ad hoc requests were most typically answered with Thumbs Up, 1.31% with Okay Hand and 1.29% with Coffee.  14.64% of responses to completing tasks were followed by the highest-ranking Thumbs Up emoji and 1.13% were followed by the lowest-ranking Prayer Hands emoji 1.13%. 

The study also found that managers speak their own language: the top five emojis used by managers were different from the top five used by employees. The top emojis used by managers include Thumbs Up (in 4.63% of messages), Clapping (in 1.80%), Party Popper (0.88%), Smiley Face (0.53%), and Heart Eyes (0.39%). The top used team member emojis were Check Mark (in 1.83% of messages), Heart (1.35%), Laughing Crying (1.23%), Eyes (0.64%), and Heavy Plus Sign (0.54%).

Moreover, Cultivate found that managers and employees each tend to stick to the same emojis. As a language, emojis create a sense of connection — no matter the age or rank. And they add a personal touch along with a business personality that sets the tone for the work culture. 

Emojis also offer context to a message by bridging understanding with a reaction/emotion, especially for women, as recent research done by psychologists at Southwestern University found women tend to use twice as many emojis as compared to men. They use more emojis in particular to communicate and express emotions to family, friends and colleagues. Of course it depends on who we’re emoji-ing: you may not want to throw a line of crazy faces to your manager in an email. Then again, it might garner a Thumbs Up.

Photo: Kevin Butz

Encouraging Civility Among Remote Employees: 7 Strategies

These continue to be uncertain times, creating unfamiliar territory. In such conditions, it’s even more important for the company, leaders and managers, and individual employees, to focus on civility with each other and with customers. In essence, civility is being courteous, treating others with respect — being thoughtful of others, and being aware of how your actions (and those of other people) might affect someone. We are all fraying at the edges. Courtesy and respect go a long way. 

Fewer Social Cues

Working remotely, we have fewer social cues to provide feedback about whether we’re being respectful and courteous. It’s harder to determine if someone’s having a bad day, or bad hour, unless they tell us, but we can’t stop by their area to check in. Yet those multiple, tiny in-person interactions help us get a sense of people and their moods, and give us a way to maintain a sense of connection. 

Moreover, unless their homelife is onscreen, we can only know what’s going on for them — what their mental load is like — if they tell us. So leaders and managers need to encourage discussions about what civility means during this pandemic, and ask what’s going on in people’s lives. Make a point of not only asking, but also responding to what they say appropriately, saying something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about what’s happening. I appreciate your sharing that with me. What can I do to help?” 

7 Effective Strategies

It pays to take a few extra steps to make sure communications with colleagues and customers are respectful and civil, particularly in this environment. Healthy relationships are the gel that holds us together, instead of breaking us apart. It’s the stuff that makes the difference in our daily outlook and the level of motivation. These seven  strategies will help:

Small Talk is Big. Encourage employees, especially those running meetings, to make sure there are check-ins and some personal conversation prior to leaping right into talking/writing about work. Managers and leaders should ask about employees’ self-care and share about their own. Let employees recognize each other as people. It’s the same thing when talking to customers. That said, not everyone may want to partake, and individuals should respect that.

Take a Breath. Help employees develop greater tolerance and patience. For instance, if an employee bristles at something a coworker has said, done, or written, the employee can be encouraged to take a diaphragmatic breath — on an inhale, let their belly expand with air, hold briefly, and then slowly exhale. This is an easy skill for most employees to learn, and will actually will fake out the person’s brain to make him or her feel relaxed. 

Be as Clear as You Can. Keep in mind that during the pandemic, it’s harder for most people to maintain the same level of focus as they could before. Try to be as clear as you can be so there’s less opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

When in Doubt, Ask. It’s easy to assume we know what someone means, and when we’re multi-tasking or distracted, we may be more likely to infer incorrectly. Don’t make assumptions about what someone meant. Help promote a culture in which it’s appreciated when a colleague asks for clarification. Asking instead of assuming will save time, energy, and heartache.

When Using Video Communication. Those “leading” a meeting should use agendas, distributed in advance, to make sure what needs to get discussed is actually discussed. Take extra time to consider who and who doesn’t need to attend a given meeting. Maybe a meeting needs to be more inclusive? Maybe it needs a smaller working group? Given the isolation of working at home, the criteria for inclusion may need to change. Additionally, reconsider how meetings are structured and run: How much of the meeting should be simply to connect with each other? The person running the meeting should set expectations for participation at the beginning. Try to set up the meeting for full participation so each person knows why they’re there and how they can contribute. That said, decide how much time should be spent with small talk. There should be at least some, unless you are all in frequent contact with each other during the day. 

When Using Text-based Communication. People can make mistakes and read unintended emotions into words. At least with video calls, participants get non-verbal cues to help understand what other people’s words mean. Not so with text-based communication. Also, words can be vague. Even when a person thinks they are being clear with his or her writing, it may not necessarily be so.

Photo: insung yoon

#WorkTrends: Improving Work Culture with VR

Newsflash: We may be unintentionally undermining our working relationships. Remote working has brought with it some vexing challenges, including distractions, Zoom fatigue, and even incivility. Taken out of physical context, we tend to misread and misinterpret each other. And that can have some troubling side effects.

How can we repair this? To find out, Meghan M. Biro invited Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist and the CEO / founder of Live in Their World (LITW) to #WorkTrends. Robin is using VR technology to improve and strengthen our work relationships, face-to-face or not.

Even on a good day, we may not be as clear as we mean to be on text and emails, according to Robin. And while on video, “bodily cues or facial cues can help you decode what’s going on,” information can still get lost. Even the size of the video screen can be a distraction, noted Meghan. And a tiny delay means we don’t really see people’s reactions as they happen. All can create tension — the opposite of what we need.

With VR, Robin and her team are teaching us how to read each other better and get along again. It’s a particularly valuable tool in improving empathy among workforces when it comes to diversity, as participants learn not only how to authentically walk in each other’s shoes, but “in their feet,” noted Robin.

VR doesn’t need to be expensive and can be remote (a Youtube 360-type experience). Given how effectively it expands our understanding of each other, it may come to be a standard operating procedure in terms of how we tend to our work cultures.

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do some organizations struggle with incivility in their work cultures? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can organizations use to help improve remote working? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders use Virtual Reality to improve culture? #WorkTrends

Find Robin Rosenberg on Linkedin and Twitter