Nonresponsiveness is my pet peeve, closely followed by the failure to use media/technology appropriately. Both behaviors create obstructions to effective communication. Why is it that we don’t take more care when we are trying to convey a message?
It’s understandable that people may choose to ignore communications from unknown sources or simply delete them as spam. What isn’t clear to me is why it seems so difficult for people to take a couple of seconds to acknowledge the receipt of information from a trusted source. When is a nonresponse supposed to be interpreted as a “no” versus “I don’t know?” Even more curious, or at least a very striking coincidence, is that the same people who consistently ignore email requests or refuse to acknowledge receipt of information seem to expect an immediate response when they make a request from others.
People’s actions or inactions, and their choice of technology or media, create more issues than not.
This isn’t new. Years ago, voicemails went unreturned. Voicemails became emails, and they went unanswered. Now we can add texts to the list. We could also blame technology for some percentage of the communications that simply vanish. But more realistically, people’s actions or inactions, and their choice of technology or media, create more issues than not.
Everybody is busy. That’s as true as saying water is wet. To what degree each of us considers “too busy” is certainly relative. People seem to believe that reading something and then deleting it is all that is needed. More and more requests go unanswered, issues stay unresolved, and data is lost. The question remains, is being “too busy” a valid enough reason to be unresponsive or outright discourteous? I can’t count the number of emails I resend each week to ensure the recipient has what they needed. A number of times the response (when asked for the third time) is: “oh, yeah, thanks” or “I didn’t know the answer.”
Not knowing is understandable, and a response stating so would be courteous. It ends the whole discussion, and each party can continue about their business. Not saying anything leads to redundant requests of “didya get it?” which only creates many more unnecessary emails. Job applicants experience the stone silence from recruiters more times than not when they have been eliminated from consideration or an opening has been frozen. (It’s become pretty widely accepted that a candidate should not expect a recruiter to return an email or call, because we all know they are much busier than any other business person and their time is much more valuable.)
Is being too busy also a good reason to use the handiest technology to convey a message versus the most effective method? Overall, with more and more social media and communication portals to manage, our communications seem more incomplete, less effective and more convoluted than when we had fewer options. The addition of social media has allowed us to share information quickly and broadly. That can be good, and that can also turn out very badly if the wrong messages are sent without thinking. (Remind you of anyone?) We all need to be aware of how we contribute to ineffective communication and confusion.
Selecting the most effective technology for communication is just as important as what you say. Too often I receive long-winded (yet important) business information via text or a Facebook message that would have been more appropriately sent via email. Conversely, when a call or text would have been the most immediate way to reach me with an urgent message, I’ve gotten emails with time-sensitive information that was viewed long after it was relevant.
A good practice is to think of the audience before choosing a method of communication. Call, email, tweet, text … whatever it is, consider what your audience is working on or involved with and how much time they might have available before you dial or hit send. Think of what you need and what will be the quickest way to get it from your audience, based on their needs. Allowing the reader the option to respond with something brief like “OK” or “thanks” is much more likely to elicit a response. Wading through lengthy emails leaves too much room for miscommunication.
A thoughtful communication is much more likely to get a personal or thoughtful response. If we can find some point between saying too much and saying nothing at all and use the most appropriate method of transmission, we would all waste less time on redundant or broken communications.
In an ever-changing economic market, or riding the wave through industry changes, you just never know when you might need to rely on your professional network to help bail you out of a rough patch. Maintaining a professional network is like having car insurance – it’s a pretty big risk to drive without it. Your network is your safety net. And like insurance, it requires an investment that can’t lapse. Without it, the costs can far outweigh the investment.
Your network serves as a barometer that alerts you to changes you may miss. It can fill you in on the inside details of organizational and industry changes you might not see coming. Peers help you keep abreast of which skills are in demand and where to get training. Just like insurance, you’ll want to understand your coverage and be current on your protection. Who is in your network? Are your contacts aware of what you actually do and what your strengths are? When is the last time you were in touch?
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting.
And just like choosing a policy, it’s important to regularly analyze what you need and be clear about what you are protecting. Is your status inside of a company going to be impacted by your internal network (or lack thereof)? Will your ability to quickly adjust and recover after a downsizing or merger depend on who you know outside of your company? Is your business in a position to falter without referrals?
Investing in your network requires attention. Regular installments, if you will. It takes time every day, every week, to stay in touch with people. Everyone is busy, so trying to excuse your lack of engagement with that tired excuse about being “too busy” isn’t going to impress anyone. Now that our networks have spread to global proportions, it’s even more critical to have systems in place to maintain our connections. Having a communication system is more than just having the technology available. It means creating and executing a plan for sustained engagement that may involve technology and in-person commitments. It may be true that you are busy and that probably isn’t going to change any time soon. The following remedies can help you sustain your network without a lot of added effort.
Plan further out. Look ahead and commit to actions/activities. By committing ahead of time you can ensure you are fitting in time for people who would be glad to support you if you end up facing a major change when you least expect it. Look for and commit to professional development activities that will help you build skills while simultaneously exposing you to others in your industry.
Do a little every day. If you are currently using social networks, then develop a system for reading and posting. Plan the time to find something every day, or at least every week, that would be of value to people in your network and share it. You really can make an investment of five minutes a day and find something a number of people would share an interest in.
Listen to others. If you are head down in your own world, you will miss the opportunity to help someone else and be remembered. You may be busy or having a particularly tough time, but there is always someone else who is dealing with something worse than you are. Listen to/read about what other people may need and find opportunities to make their world a little easier. Sometimes a simple message offering genuine support or encouragement can make a big difference to the person receiving it.
The key to maintaining your network is to make it a habit. Avoid getting caught in the quicksand of complacency because everything is going fine right now. It’s never too late to start making adjustments to your behavior, one little step at a time.
There are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
At the risk of severely dating myself or alienating my readers, I‘ll start with a confession: I still expect people to do what they say they will do. I know, I know, I know. Call me a dreamer.
Recently, after a series of disappointments due to people not following through on commitments, I asked someone what they thought about this apparent trend. I was told to “change my expectations.” At first, it seemed like a puzzling response. If someone says they are going to do something, is it unreasonable to expect that they will follow through? Short answer: “Yes.”
Wow. So, the handshake, the promise or someone’s “word” doesn’t matter anymore? When, exactly, did that come to pass? Although I‘ve seen signs of this behavior increasing over the past 10 years, it now seems to be becoming all too much the norm.
This behavior extends beyond personal commitments to include business commitments. I’ve experienced some stressful situations when clients need me to do scripting, editing, writing or consulting work for them. I’ve requested materials by specific dates to allow enough time to complete the projects in time to meet pre-established deadlines that, in many cases, are determined by third parties. Due dates might be set for the submission of resumes or employment applications, completion of performance evaluations, timing for crucial conversations or submission of responses to requests for proposals (RFPs). Whatever the project might be, you can bet that accuracy is extremely important — and time is needed to ensure the information is accurate and without typos.
All too frequently, the people with the most skin in the game end up submitting what is needed long past the designated time frame, expecting the same results. I’ve heard everything from “I forgot” or “I’ve been busy” to “the dog ate it.” It appears that what may have been a critical issue a week or two ago is no longer a priority until the deadline itself looms. Even though the requesting party’s commitment was missed, they still expect an immediate turnaround and flawless materials. This may or may not be possible, given other commitments, so exactly whose responsibility is it to ensure this happens?
Another escalating trend that also contributes to missed deadlines is the failure to respond to communications. It’s not unusual for me to ask the same question via text or email multiple times without a response. The content may directly impact the recipient in a critical way, yet it doesn’t seem to register as a priority. I’ve learned that silence typically means “no,” although not all questions are sufficiently answered with a yes or no. Unanswered questions may result in unintended or incorrect information being provided to a third party.
Overall, failing to follow through ends up leaving situations fertile for mistakes, wasted time and increased costs — and, at times, opportunities are missed all together. I now plan ahead for Murphy’s Law. I write dates in pencil and remain as flexible as I can. I prepare three to four options for what else can happen in any given scenario. When I’ve clearly defined my expectations and someone doesn’t follow through as agreed, sometimes it simply isn’t possible to meet a demand effectively. So, I have also learned to just say no.
Putting a system in place to make sure you are meeting your commitments as agreed and are able to take time to respond to communications will have a significant impact on the quality of the outcomes you are seeking. Think about this: when you miss deadlines before you are even considered for a job or for involvement with a project, it’s not hard to imagine how employers/customers will view your missed deadlines or a failure to respond down the road.
Our world continues to change at breakneck speed, and consequently, people in the workforce need to keep pace with current expectations, standards and technologies. They also need to rethink their job descriptions and titles when those become as outdated as last week’s breaking news. The purpose of this post is not to incite debate about which things need to be edited. The point is to illustrate how a change in mind-set will help some people get more done and help others identify new ways to apply their skills by better understanding current employment trends.
For example, editing has a different connotation than it used to for many of us. Perfect doesn’t exist, and slightly less than perfect may be just fine. As with most things in life, there are times when precision in communication is vital to relaying accurate messaging, and there are times it is not. In some cases, good enough is really good enough.
Texting is probably the most obvious example. Proper spelling is no longer a requirement. The only real requirement is that the message is conveyed in a way that the intent is received accurately. The reason behind this acceptable form of communication is clear: it takes less time to type a letter that sounds like a word, or a symbol that represents a word, than it takes to type the whole word. Simply put, “R u :)?” is an acceptable and understandable replacement for “Are you happy?” This is an obvious change to anyone who currently uses a hand-held device to communicate. For others who see the abbreviations used to communicate on these devices as an outward deterioration in the quality of written communication, the reasons for adopting these changes may not be as obvious.
With the speed that technology allows us to change messaging, data and manufactured products, the need to be as precise or exact about some details no longer exists. In today’s world, the time used to make major edits to a lengthy product description may be wasted if the product itself has changed two or three times by the time the first description gets completed. Many times, people have limited time to review data and may be looking at overviews and concepts, rather than reading word for word.
Someone who has previously found work as an “editor” for technical documents may be finding there are fewer and fewer opportunities. More people are now responsible for proofing and editing information inside of the larger scope of their work. Additionally, when Web content is involved, a “producer” or “project coordinator” may actually be the person who is tasked with ensuring accuracy of published information. What this means to prior “editors” is that they can be on the lookout for work that has a job description with a different title.
For others who may find that they spend an inordinate amount of time reworking and reworking documents without any change in the overall value, some guidelines could be used for determining when “good enough” will do. If you find yourself reworking your resume so many times it is keeping you from actually meeting people to talk about potential opportunities to get work, or if you have spent extra hours on projects but have not been paid for the added effort, or if you don’t understand why companies are allowing “good enough” to prevail, then hopefully this information will help.
Sometimes reworking and reworking can cause deadlines to be missed, budgets to be blown or opportunities to pass. The following are some points I’ve learned to ask when reviewing documents that are needed quickly. If you answer yes to items 1-8, then please go back and give it another shot. Otherwise, if the answer to 1-8 is no, then please give yourself a break and move on.
1. Are there typos or obvious errors?
2. Will the intent of the message change?
3. Will more work increase the value or change a perception?
4. Will there be any misunderstandings if left the way it is?
5. Will someone get sick or die?
6. Is the work public?
7. Are you cutting back on profits by overworking the product?
8. Will leaving it “as is” defame you, your client or anyone else?
9. Have the goals of the project been met?
10. In a year, who will know or care?
The news is filled with pleas to the public to be better “prepared” following a terrible event. Disaster. Emergency. Storm. Flood. Earthquake. Recession. Unfortunately, these events occur pretty frequently, so it is reasonable to believe that being prepared means setting ourselves up for the worst to happen. That might seem obvious, but on the flip side, how prepared are you for the best to happen? If the opportunity you have been dreaming about and waiting for were to suddenly materialize, are you prepared to grab that brass ring? What are you doing right now to be ready when opportunity knocks?
Recognizing you want something to be different is the first step. Getting ready to seize an opportunity requires having an awareness of what has to change to allow something different to happen. To ensure your “dreams come true,” it is necessary to connect the dots between your desired goal and the things you can do to get there. Sometimes the gap between where you are and where you want to be might seem insurmountable and that only a miracle can change things. But just as people are able to overcome the odds against surviving a catastrophic event, you can shorten the distance between where you are and where you want to be by changing the things that are in your control. That means changing your own behaviors and habits so that you are ready to respond when opportunity strikes.
One of the single most glaring reasons I see people stay unemployed or remain in less than their desired role is that they “assume” they have time to get around to things or that some sort of miracle is going to take place. I hear a lot of grousing or wishing for a change while observing behavior that contradicts what people say they want. Some people:
Don’t acknowledge info while they are “thinking” of what to say
Assume people will do what they say
Don’t follow up when information has been promised but not received
Aren’t prepared for introductions or interviews
Believe “it won’t happen to me” (layoff, termination, plant move)
Don’t believe “it will happen to me” (opportunity)
If you have previously missed opportunity, then it may be time to enlist some new behaviors. There are some very basic habits anyone can develop to help overcome complacency.
Manage communications. If you have sent a message to the universe, you’ve got to find ways to access your communications to acknowledge the response you receive in a timely way. It may mean checking email in the morning, lunchtime and evening or investing in a smartphone if matters are more urgent. It may mean visiting Starbucks to find a hot spot or going to the library. In today’s market, it’s critical to use technology to stay in touch, or make sure someone else can respond on your behalf if you are out of reach for 12+ hours and awaiting important news.
Respond within 24 hours. Even if you need time to think about the information you have received, it is critical to acknowledge your receipt. Show courtesy by thanking the sender and letting them know when they can hear back from you. Not responding until you have the “best” answer can appear unappreciative or downright rude to someone who has responded to what may have seemed an urgent request.
Manage your expectations and guide other people’s intentions. Most people are sincere when they offer to help. Unfortunately, even the best intentions get forgotten when someone’s focus is elsewhere. When someone offers to do something for you, follow up immediately with a confirmation of what and when. Make sure to provide them with any information they need to facilitate the offer to take action on your behalf. This could include a written introduction, a list of bullet points regarding the information you need or dates of important/relevant events.
Own the communication process. If someone has offered to send you information or make an introduction, set touch-back times to check in and gently remind them of the request. Don’t expect others to manage your needs. People get busy and things slip through the cracks. It is up to you to guide the conversations to ensure your needs are met.
Be careful what you ask for. Expect people to respond to your requests and be ready to follow up.
If you have been communicating a specific request to your network or the universe in general, you must believe it will happen. Keep your resume updated and make sure you are prepared for an interview or introduction to a key contact at any time.
Nurture your network. Make sure you are connecting with people on a regular basis. Ask questions about their circumstances or their interests. Find out what they are working on, worried about or challenged by. If you are able to assist them, by all means do so. If you can’t help, then prepare yourself in case you, too, may find yourself with similar issues.
Stay awake and aware. Pay attention to what is going on with your company. Take note of any indicators of a potential status change. If an important account is on the line, it could change the company’s financial picture. If there have been talks of a merger, be aware of what your value would be if roles are duplicated or the company were to close your location. If there is a drastic change in the market, be aware of how it impacts your business.
Take control of what you can, while you can. Following these suggestions will help you be prepared to make the most of that golden opportunity when it knocks at your door. It isn’t a mystery that opportunities always seem to come more readily to those who are prepared for them.
Even with the best intentions, there are still times when our communications (or our failure to communicate) end up leading us down the wrong path. When this takes place, it is necessary to restate, repair or recover from a misstep or misstatement. We waste even more time sorting out the damage than we hoped to have avoided if we had dealt with something using thoughtfulness and careful attention the first time around.
If you have waited too long (or failed altogether) to respond to an important call/email/letter, then there is likely to be some fence-mending in order. The failure to get the results you wanted may be more about the timing of your request or response than the actual wording. The lack of responsiveness when a person is job hunting, searching for candidates or developing new business can end up being a bigger nail in the coffin than an actual message.
Along the same lines, leaving a 10-minute voice mail for a recruiter, candidate or sales prospect when you have been out of touch is likely to put them off completely. It’s critical to respond in a timely way, using the right tools, while also being cognizant of your audience’s needs. Now that the job market is softening up, recruiters/employers are going to have a tougher job filling less interesting roles. It might be the time to reconsider ignoring candidates’ calls or emails and be more conscientious about developing relationships with clearer communications.
Here are several remedies that would help prevent or eliminate unnecessary miscommunications:
Acknowledge. Respond to all communications that include a question, information you requested or any content that leaves you unsure of what the other person needed/wanted. A one-sided conversation can lead to greater issues. A non-response doesn’t necessarily equate to “no” or “I’m not interested.” To the person initiating the message, not receiving a response when feedback is requested can also mean “they must not have received it,” which leads to a redundant request. A non-response can also suggest “this person is pretty rude” or “this person thinks they’re more important than I am” or “this person is much too busy to be bothered, so I don’t think I’ll send a referral/lead/tip/invitation their way again.”
Request clarification. Staying in the dark or making assumptions never helps. If more information is needed, let the person know you can follow with a more complete answer at a later date. Not responding to a request because you don’t know what they mean or don’t have an answer can lead to a variety of misperceptions.
Timing. Send communications that require a response when you/the recipient are most likely to be available. Asking for something late on Thursday, receiving a response on Friday and then waiting until Monday to answer could mean missing an important date/time or leave the other person completely disinterested in helping by the time you respond. Think about the recipient and when they are most likely to be in a position to (1) have the information you need and (2) have the time to respond. If you are requesting information before the person has access to it, they may ignore your request completely. If you make a request just before they are headed out for the day or going into an important meeting, the message may also get overlooked. Likewise, if you have a bone to pick with someone, catching them on their way out the door or just before they turn in for the night is probably not likely to elicit the response you hoped for.
Follow through. If you said you were going to call someone on a certain day — do it! It’s shocking to me how many commitments are broken and not acknowledged because someone was “too busy.” Everyone is busy! It simply causes unnecessary conflict, bad feelings and more work for everyone to make an appointment and not keep it. At the very least, call to change it if you can’t make it. People remember unfulfilled promises and impolite behavior. These actions can break trust, turn away business and cause projects to fail. Here’s a small example:
Recently I read a lengthy blog post that began with a candidate suggesting it was common for recruiters to miss scheduled interviews with candidates. A recruiter responded by explaining how it can happen and why it really isn’t the norm, just a product of too much to do. She may not remember that years ago she stood up one of my clients not just once but twice for scheduled phone interviews. The excuse after the fact was that she had an “emergency” and was too busy to call to reschedule. Coincidentally, at the scheduled time of the last interview, I found several new blog posts published on the recruiter’s website that appeared to have been written during that “emergency.” This was probably close to 10 years ago. I haven’t forgotten.
During a very tight economy, candidates were in abundance. A candidate who didn’t respond to a phone call or email or missed an appointment was out of luck. Many candidates learned the lesson the hard way by missing opportunities. Now, employers may not realize it yet, but after having a surplus of candidates, things are changing. Now that the market is picking up and good candidates are able to be more selective, it is all the more reason for recruiters to respond to calls or email and follow through on promises, or they are going to have an even harder time finding candidates for tough-to-fill positions.
Appropriate technology. A 5-minute voice mail message is most likely to be deleted before the point of the message is heard. If you have a lot to say, then leave a message regarding the points you need to discuss and the best time to reach you, or, if there is a considerable amount of data to share, send the full version by email. Don’t hold someone hostage by delaying the point, or you are likely to miss it altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are using a mobile device to receive messages, make sure you have accessed all attachments or viewed the entire message before you respond or delete. Too frequently, communications break down because the recipient has breezed past the message, inadvertently deleted it or simply didn’t notice the full content.
Proof. Auto-write programs in email and handheld devices have the tendency to skew messages. If you are sending a text that has been auto-filled, please read it again before you hit send. It could save time, embarrassment or hurt feelings. I am personally guilty of dyslexic typing and being in too much of a hurry to stop and correct all of the mistyped information in some of my “quick” communications. Many times, it just creates more work when the recipient is trying to figure out my “code.”
Discuss. Communication is a two-way street. Passive-aggressive behavior (not speaking, not responding or getting even) can lead to greater conflicts than ever could have been imagined. When involved parties discuss a small issue up front when it happens, a small issue/situation can be kept from being blown out of proportion. If someone needs to blow off steam, rather than avoid them, acknowledge their feelings or concern, then suggest a time you can discuss the matter more completely when you are both calm.
Set clear expectations. Clearly define tasks and set touch-back points for delegated activities or projects points to avoid delays. Make sure all parties are clear about their contributions at the start.
Pay attention. Stop what you are doing when someone requests an important conversation. If it is not possible, then let the person know when it will be possible. If a customer requires your attention, figure out how to give it. It’s just not always possible to continue to type, talk, read and respond to four people at once. If I am engrossed in other work that is time sensitive, then it is extremely difficult to stop in the middle to concentrate on random or multiple layers of questions. One remedy I request is that my clients set appointments with me to discuss questions that require more thought or more time to discuss than we each have available by going back and forth by email. That way I am able to schedule time to dedicate to just them and their issue.
Listen. Make sure you have captured the intent of the conversation. Did you fully understand the other party’s intention? Were your responses appropriate? Be certain you have left the conversation with as few misperceptions as possible.
If you think you are too busy to dedicate time and effort to all of the communications you receive, start paying attention to all of the unnecessary communications that inattention generates. Track how many more emails, phone calls and conversations are generated to straighten out misperceptions, address lack of business, develop new prospects and screen new candidates. Think again before you ignore a request requiring a response. Avoid unnecessary conflict and start communicating for results.
Tags: avoiding conflict, communication, delegation, follow through, follow up, interviewing, interviews, managing email, performance, planning, project management, recruiting, results, sales, time management
Although electronic communication may account for a large percentage of our conversations, most of us still talk with people in person each day. This month I am shifting the focus from electronic to effective face-to-face communication.
In person, we are able to use more than words to make a point or communicate thoughts. If we look at commonly accepted statistics, it’s a little shocking to recognize that only 7% of our communication is verbal. The majority of our communication comes from the tone or sound of our voice (38%), and our non-verbal cues account for a whopping 55% of what is actually received. This means it is extremely important to be clear about what we say, cognizant of how we say it and aware of how receptive (or not) the audience is to whatever we need/want to relate.
There are several factors to take into account when sending a message. The following are a few points that need to be considered when beginning a tough conversation, interview or performance evaluation to ensure your intent has the best chance of being heard.
1. Sending and interpreting the messages. There are two sides to any communication: the person sending the message and the receiver. Each has “noise” that can easily change the intent of a message or the tone of a conversation. In addition to the obvious differences (language, gender, appearance), there are other, not-as-obvious differences (values, culture, education, history) that can impact what is received. The everyday hassles each may have on their minds combined with any actual physical noise can create severe distractions. Each sent message comes with all of these factors and is interpreted by the receiver, who, in turn, has their own baggage. To ensure you don’t end up reacting negatively to something that is out of your control, be conscious of any issues that may be distracting someone during an important conversation. If necessary, it might be a good idea to ask to reschedule a meeting if it seems apparent the person you are meeting with is preoccupied or upset about something.
2. Body language. Posture, eye contact (or lack thereof) or placement of hands, arms and feet can all be clues to someone’s emotional state or feelings related to power or self-worth, confidence and attentiveness. And, because what someone sees is typically more reliable than what they hear, body language can potentially turn the outcome of any conversation into something very different than what was intended. Crossed arms can indicate someone is not open to hearing what is being discussed. Fingers tapping on a tabletop can illustrate boredom or impatience. Rolling eyes may indicate total disagreement. Look for contradictions like someone saying “yes” but shaking their head to reflect “no.”
3. Grooming and appearance. Although the rules around “good” grooming may have changed some over the years (such as unshaven vs. clean-shaven, tousled hair vs. meticulously placed and lacquered hair), there are still some basic elements that are consistent. Clean hands and fingernails will send a different impression than dirty ones, depending on the work you do. If you work in an office, the expectation is that you will have clean hands, and, if you work on the land or repair cars, it might be questioned if your hands are “too clean.” Also, check to notice if the clothes you wear are similar to others’ or strikingly different: wrinkled vs. neatly pressed, conservative vs. casual or plain vs. loud colors? These are simple observations that may impact someone’s interpretation of what you are saying. A question to consider is: how much does the sender look like the receiver? To make a good impression, it doesn’t mean you have to match or overdress; it means to be conscious of how different or similar you may appear.
4. Tone and pace. The volume and pace of a message can easily impact interpretation. Some people get loud when they are excited and happy. Others may hear “loud” and associate the sound with anger without actually hearing the words. Speaking too quickly may be interpreted as trying to pull something over on someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked if I am from New York because I talk at a rapid pace!). A good rule is to mirror the pace of the person you are speaking with.
It’s important to communicate in a way that will ensure the intent of your message is received. When preparing for a job interview (or an important business meeting), it is critical to be conscious of how all of these factors can distort the outcome if not planned out in advance. Learn about a company’s work environment and culture or a person’s style and preferences in advance. Prepare accordingly so you are much more likely to be well received than if you do not take the time to consider how you will be heard or how your messages will be interpreted.
How many times have you sent an email believing you had asked a simple question and received a response that had nothing to do with your intended request? Or stated an opinion that caused a backlash worthy of starting World War III? Missed communications can turn into missed opportunities. If you have felt unheard or misunderstood and are still licking your wounds, let’s take a look at some things to consider about your contribution to any kind of miscommunication.
Consider the following elements for any form of communication:
- Are you using the correct email address or correct phone number to communicate this message?
People often have multiple email addresses in addition to several home, work, and mobile numbers. Don’t assume that the first one that pops up on your electronic device is accurate. Ask the recipient if you are unsure which is preferred for each kind of communication.
- Are you using the right medium?
Text, email, telephone or snail mail? We have many choices and all have their advantages. Think before you resort to what is convenient for you and consider what will be the most efficient and clear means for the recipient to read/hear and respond.
- Did you send a clear, concise and complete thought?
It’s important to finish a sentence, but don’t write a book. Most people use email to quickly convey information. It’s not always possible for someone to take the time to review a 500-word email. Give them advance warning of your intent/ask when they might be able to review and respond to detailed information. It is not uncommon for key points of a very long message to get lost or overlooked, especially when someone is reading it on a hand-held electronic device.
- Did you ask specific questions or make requests that are easy to answer?
Avoid unnecessary/sidebar chatter that may distract your audience from capturing the intent of your message. Most people have so much on their minds that it is easy to get distracted or simply become unable to stick with the line of conversation when it is about something that doesn’t interest them. Watch for telling body language and listen for responses that may indicate the person is no longer with you. If you are sending an email, make sure you state precisely what you need and by when, or you will likely end up having unmet expectations.
- Have you made assumptions that could cause conflict or misinterpretation of your message?
Think before hitting send or verbally firing back to a voicemail. Reread any prior communications before you jump into a tirade or listen closely to any messages. If your communication is a reaction to an earlier communication from the same person, make sure you have not misinterpreted their intent. Check in with them and ask if they “intended to say…?”
- Are you using an email format that makes it easy for the receiver to read?
Running many thoughts together makes it difficult to read, prioritize and respond. Many times points can be missed. Make sure to separate subjects with space or numbers so the reader can quickly spot the differences.
Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring your communications are effective:
- Acknowledge emails/calls/texts so the sender is aware you received it.
- Emails are often deleted or ignored when received on mobile devices. Plan time to look at a full-size screen where you can use a filing system that allows you to save and search.
- Use texts for brief messages. Sending lengthy messages by text can waste time spent correcting errors made by autotype or misinterpreted abbreviations.
- Use email for important messages that may need to be used as documentation or for record keeping. Emails can be forwarded quickly, they readily allow for inserts or additions, and they can be more efficiently organized, stored and retrieved when needed.
- In an emergency, it is important to reach the party ASAP. The most direct medium would be a phone call. Even a text can be easily overlooked.
- Use courtesy! Remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
We’ve covered only a small piece of the communication process. Stay tuned for “Part II” next month.
Although a candidate may be extremely focused on their own behavior and speech, it is just as necessary to pay attention to what the interviewer discloses through conversation or body language throughout an interview. In addition to debriefing an interview to learn where improvement may be required, a review can also help you pick up on clues the employer provided that could alert you to a dysfunctional work situation.
It’s always best to know of potential issues/personalities you might encounter in advance, so your interpretation of any odd behaviors is closer to the mark. When advance information from insiders isn’t possible, the following are some things to pay attention to and their potential causes.
The interviewer(s) arrived on time. An interviewer arriving and beginning the interview on time shows respect for your time. It also shows they have planned ahead. Certainly there are reasons someone might end up running late. The key is in how they approach the issue. If they’re not apologetic, or if the late start is not even acknowledged, this could illustrate how other meetings are approached or how your time is valued.
You met the person (or people) you expected to meet with. It’s great when the people you expected to meet are the ones actually present, but it isn’t unusual to be greeted by someone else. When people send stand-ins because they are unable to follow through as planned, it can work out ok if the replacement is someone actually prepared to interview or has a stake in the situation. It can turn into a problem if the person you end up meeting with appears to have little interest or awareness of your potential contribution or role with the company. A late replacement can be a sign of disorganization, or an indicator of how tough it might be to get the real decision maker’s time or attention on other important issues down the road.
The interviewer(s) seemed genuinely interested in meeting you. It’s important to look for signs that the interviewer is actually engaged in your conversation. Did they take notes? Did they give eye contact? Smile? Did they nod or offer affirmations to your comments/answers? Yawns are a pretty sure sign of disinterest, but so can stoic stares. If the interviewer was watching the clock throughout the discussion or allowing interruptions, it can be a sign that their mind was elsewhere. Ultimately, this can lead to a colossal waste of time for each of you. It can mean they were overbooked, or had already mentally checked out because they have an earlier candidate pegged. Or, they truly have an emergency to contend with and are feeling pressed to “carry on” with the interview because you are there. If you see extreme signs that would indicate they are preoccupied or their attention is slipping away, it might be helpful to simply ask if they are running late for another meeting. It might even be necessary to offer to reschedule.
The interviewer(s) was prepared. It is always a nice experience to learn that an interviewer has actually read your resume with care. Seeing a marked up resume with key points highlighted can be a very good sign. When specific questions about your personal past experiences or skills are asked, it shows that someone took the time to dig into your background. There may be something of particular interest they wish to expand on and will lead the way there. A good sign the interviewer was prepared will also show up in the order they ask their questions. Typically building on one piece of information to the next to help them develop a full picture is a sign of interest and understanding. When an interviewer clearly shows signs they have not seen your resume and is completely unaware of your background, it can be an indication of a number of things that might not be in your best interest. They may not have taken the time to think about you at all before your arrival or they may not be completely present in the moment. They also may not have a vested interest in you or your role and may have already made up their minds about another candidate, or they may simply choose to shoot from the hip when making other important decisions. Going through the motions by asking the same old, rote interview questions, in random order, can also either be a sign of inexperience or disinterest. The question remains: how will they treat you once you are an employee?
The interviewer(s) listened to your answers. When the interviewer asks questions and is carefully listening to your responses, even asking clarifying questions, it shows they are engaged in what you are saying. That isn’t always the case, however. Many of us have experienced the interview that progressed with the interviewer doing all the talking. When the “discussion” turns into a “monologue” about the interviewer’s experience or interests, there is a good sign they are more concerned about impressing you than learning about how you fit or can add value. It may also mean they are trying too hard to impress you, which could mean they are covering up other issues. A talkative interviewer might not sound like a problem, if you are a good listener. It might not immediately be a problem, if they end up presenting you with an offer. The real problem could come along later if they end up NEVER listening to you or acknowledging your value or contribution. When it comes to solving a problem or getting a promotion or a raise later, their behavior of not listening could become a problem. Or, if they had only been talking to cover up any unrevealed issues, you may discover them at a later date.
The information provided was consistent from all sources. It’s always important to pay careful attention to the input you get from all participants. If there are glaring contradictions, it could be a sign of communication breakdowns, disagreements or even all out wars. It would be a good idea to ask an open ended question to help clarify, correct or expose something that could be very important at a later time. If an open ended question gets them to talk more, it may expose more inconsistencies, or in the best case, it may prove to clarify something. If more unraveling occurs, then pay attention. Don’t try to brush it off as something insignificant. Contradicting information can be signs of unrest, and may be fertile ground for the next person to serve as a scapegoat. A clarifying question could be: “Earlier I heard Mary say that the project was slated to begin on the 8th, and I thought I heard Joe say it was the 12th. Could you please tell me more about the anticipated start date?”
The interviewer(s) was comfortable or poised during the interview. Granted, some interviewers are inexperienced and may seem uncomfortable because they are nervous. Others may be uncomfortable because they know more than they are sharing or because they really don’t have the time to interview someone. If someone is getting fidgety, try not to take it personally, but do take care to pay attention to how you might be contributing to their response. If your answers are long, are delayed in getting to the point or you have said something that could be interpreted as off-task, off-color or politically incorrect, it’s time to stop talking. Pay attention to their body language before you continue down the same path. If the discomfort appears when they are talking, it might also be a sign that they are having difficulty shielding a sensitive issue.
Each of these scenarios could expose information that would make a difference to you. Lack of punctuality, disinterest, distractions, stress and inconsistencies could all be indicators that things in this workplace are not ideal. Although none of these issues need to be deal breakers, don’t assume little things are unimportant or are an aberration. In order to maximize any employment situation, it is vitally important that you are aware of what you are getting into. Knowing the pitfalls in advance allows you to develop strategies for avoiding derailment at an inopportune time down the road.
What red flags have you encountered in an interview? Please tell us what happened if you ignored it until it was too late.