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.
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.
Most people in today’s working world are feeling the pressures of having too much to do and too little time to do it. The stress of trying to do more with less is beginning to take its toll on my productivity and of most of the people I know. The illnesses, mistakes and even accidents resulting from lack of sleep and extreme stress cost us more than what we are attempting to gain by doing too much. The realization that both time and energy are finite has prompted me to take a deeper look. This year, the buck stops here.
Over the past several years I have been on track with goals of improving my health and quality of life. It wasn’t one big thing; it was all the small adjustments to absolutely everything I do that has freed up minutes each day. That extra time has allowed me to dedicate time for activities that keep me physically fit and well (i.e., working out, sleeping and eating properly), which altogether have contributed to an improved quality of life. But it is still not enough.
Each day I become increasingly aware of the nagging feeling of moving too fast and missing something. I have missed friend’s birthdays, their children’s weddings and an elderly neighbor’s moving away party and remained unaware of some challenges close friends were facing, to name a few things I wish I had been present for. There have been far too many important occasions or life events that can’t be replicated. It’s time to take a closer look at where my time goes.
Going into the New Year, I have planned more changes that will impact my business and my daily life with the goal of improving my overall quality of life in several areas. To get started, my approach was to create a list of all of my activities and all of the people I am involved with on a daily or weekly basis. I then identified those activities that left me feeling tired or unproductive. Next, I started to identify the relationships (not done with this yet) that resulted in interactions that either left me feeling drained or cost me time with no pay back. The activities were easy enough to cease. The people side is a little tougher.
In order to make some serious changes, it takes some hard thinking (I am not done with this yet, either) and then creating a plan for changing or ending some relationships. With the first go around, I came away with a very full list of activities that still energize me, and coincidently, a long list of people whose involvement in my life consistently is a positive or productive experience. Seeing what I want to keep in my life makes it somewhat easier to remove what I don’t want.
The tough part will be putting in place new behavior that over time, will make more room for all that I want in my life. As I have learned through taking steps to improve my health, it will take small, consistent behavior changes over a period of time to reach some bigger goals for my quality of life. And, as in years past, rather than wait for the New Year to start making changes, I began the moment the thought crossed my mind.
Going forward, I will review each day to determine what could have been left out or added to improve my quality of life. Yesterday I came up with three changes and have immediately taken action on all of them. That’s a good start.
What do you want to find time and energy for in this coming year?
Having worked with employment issues through some of the worst economic times and some of the best, it is difficult to ignore some of the seemingly obvious reasons people stay unemployed. In tough times, the following behaviors can make the difference between saving your home and car, and in better economies, they can make the difference between securing an ok job and the job of your dreams.
As I listen to people complain about the economy, I am struck by the fact that I receive new job announcements daily, and, that many of the people that are in such desperate need for paying work may take hours or days to respond when I forward information to them. It also continues to baffle me when people that have been unemployed for more than a year (maybe even 2 or 3 years) compare their past salary with an opportunity, and won’t pursue it because it is less money than they consider themselves to be worth. (Mind you, it may 20-30% less, but that is still 100% more than making nothing.) In the mean time, what they are worth continues to decline, the longer they are out of the market.
Now, none of this is new behavior. It just seems to be more obvious when we are in severe economic times, and more people are losing their homes or filing for bankruptcy. I am not suggesting that the behaviors listed below will guarantee a change in employment status. But I can easily say, they provide a stronger likelihood something can or will change.
1. Get up and get started. This means starting a work day when others start the work day, not when you feel like getting started. Many hiring managers are rolling by 7:00 AM or earlier. If you are not getting started until 10:00 AM, (or in some cases I see, 11:00, 12:00 or 1:00!) you are missing several hours of productive time that others may capitalize on simply by being accessible if something comes up.
2. Pursue any opportunity that is in line with your skill set. If you have been unemployed for over a year, then your market value has already dropped. You are no longer considered “current” or necessarily “competitive” compared to someone that was doing the same thing yesterday or last week. You have a stronger chance of negotiating for more money if you show up and are able to illustrate your value. It isn’t always possible, but not responding pretty much ensures nothing will happen. You can’t turn down an offer that hasn’t been made.
3. Follow up! Many of my clients complain that hiring managers or networking contacts don’t follow through with promises to return calls or provide information. Ok, that might be true. Since when is your priority supposed to be theirs? If it is important to you to know something, then set yourself up to get what you want by defining touch back times when the promise is made, to ensure you get what you need when you expect/need it. Own the process. Don’t rely on others to keep track. Waiting days to follow up after something was a hot topic will most likely kill any possibility of something coming through.
4. Ask for clarity. If someone says something that is left to interpretation, then ask then to clarify or specify their intent. So many times I watch people drop the ball because they “thought” someone meant something other than what they intended. The result was that nothing was done because the party that was expecting to follow through believed the person requesting the information or action was no longer interested, since they didn’t follow up or answer a question that had been posed.
5. Be available. You don’t need the most advanced electronics to do that; you just need to be responsible. Check email frequently. (Can be done at the library or WorkSource). Get a voicemail box you can access from anywhere. Oddly, the people that seem to be most delinquent in responding are people with the latest technologies – palm pilots, iPhones, etc, yet their responses might come hours after the opportunity was already lost. And, I also find many entries on Facebook or Twitter during a time I have tried to reach someone, yet emails and phone calls about immediate opportunities may have gone unheeded.
6. Improve your communication skills. Communication is vital to moving opportunities forward. Answer requests from others in a timely way. If a question has been posed, then answer it. Reading an email and thinking through a possible answer is only half way there. A reply is still required. If you need more time to think about something, then say so! Ignoring a request or question is simply rude. Is that how you wish to be treated when you need something?
7. Stop pretending. Get real about your situation and what you are really doing about it. Be honest with yourself before you tell someone you have “done everything you can”. Is that really true?
Harsh you think? Perhaps not. Minutes before posting this blog I received this email from a client:
“Wow, you sure are keeping me busy! I am looking forward to you going on vacation.”
Perhaps this will spur some people into changing behaviors that have been creating self defeating circumstances. Please share where you can make (or have already made) some simple changes in behavior that could lead (or have led) to different results.
Recently, one of my clients shared his frustration with the game that is played between candidates, H.R., recruiters, and hiring managers when sharing information (or not) about the status of a role or actual qualifications needed. The conversation then expanded to include his interactions with fellow job seekers that may embellish their skills or exaggerate their experiences. In fact, he asked me to offer a workshop to teach people how to better determine when people are not being forthcoming or simply not telling the truth, as in, “How to Train Your B.S. Meter”.
Since I am not a licensed psychotherapist, nor do I have qualifications that remotely speak to why human behavior is the way it is, I thought a workshop would be overstepping my area of expertise. Most of my work however, does involve counseling people on how to deal with the ambiguities and inconsistencies found in the work place each and every day. Personally, having served for years as a hiring manager for businesses, a manager of two staffing services, and now as a career coach for over 12 years, one might say that I have developed heightened radar when it comes to believing (or not) the stories candidates tell, or accepting (or not) the reasons given by hiring managers for making decisions.
The bottom line here is that we all have to deal with these communication issues, whether we understand them or not. There are some specific behaviors I have observed that more or less serve as barometers that can indicate when things are different than they seem on the surface.
The following examples are not all inclusive, nor are they intended to be absolute facts; they simply are the indicators that show me something is a little off. In essence, the things that set off my B.S. Meter.
Dedication: When a candidate tells me they rise at 7:00 AM every day, but their first email response arrives at 11:00 each day. Or, they are really, really tan and have said they have been working at the library for 8 hours each day.
Motivation: When they come up with more reasons for not applying for positions, than they seek out opportunities they can apply for. Or, when they are taking 3-day ski-weekends, but say they are broke and desperate for a job. Or, when they can’t go to an interview because they have to get their nails done or their dog groomed. (See dedication.)
Experience: When a candidate refers to themselves as having a specific level of expertise, or implies they have had a specific level of authority, and it is discovered that they either just completed a degree so their intention is to have that role, or their past experience reveals that they actually held a higher role for no more than a few months. Or, the V.P. role they held was for a start up that immediately went under. (Some people may remember this common occurrence from post dot com days.) Or, when asked about details from work done within the last 5 years, are unable to remember any level of detail at all.
Project Management: When a candidate says they have strong project management skills, but consistently misses deadlines or waits until the last possible minute to accomplish tasks. Or, when they have no idea what the status is on any of the irons they have (had?) in the fire. Or, when they make many, many promises, and fulfill none. Or, when candidates are unable to commit to activities that are beyond two days away or arrive on time for the ones they have committed to.
Competence: When people state they have held highly responsible, complex or detail filled positions, but cannot follow simple directions related to applications, submissions, and appropriate follow up, and may also have extremely poor writing skills.
Excuses: When I am told the same exact excuse in detail that I was told the preceding week when something else didn’t happen when it should have. I.E., the refrigerator repairman was here all day (but wasn’t that last Thursday?), or perhaps they are going to their grandmother’s funeral for the 3rd time. Truly- when the list of excuses out numbers the solutions they may produce.
Hiring Managers or Recruiters
Dedication: When they are on vacation more frequently than they are at work during a time when they have stated that everyone in the company is working overtime, with less staff to accomplish more.
Motivation: When every candidate they speak with has something ‘not quite right’, but they can’t put their finger on it. Or when it appears they are stroking a candidate’s ego, because there are no concrete actions to back up the words, or no follow through in regard to promises made.
Experience: When they are unable to understand/identify very obvious points about a person’s background, i.e: asking why someone in IT may have been unemployed in 2002, or why someone left Washington Mutual in 2008. (O.k., I know they just want to hear the story, but believe me, some actually ask the question and act surprised at the answers!) Or when they interview candidates that someone familiar with the industry would clearly see is not qualified for a specific role. They not only end up wasting everyone’s time, but have built up false confidence for the candidate, which often fuels their continued interest in roles they will continue to be uncompetitive for. (See “Competence”)
Project Management: When they are unable to reply to an email or return a call, or they continue to set time lines that are overlooked or unmet. I.e., a candidate’s calls/emails are not returned when both are in the middle of the interview process. Or,when candidates are actually stood up when scheduled for an interview. Or, when they put out a request for candidates, but never acknowledge referrals that are sent to them. (See “Excuses”)
Competence: When they continue to hide behind rules because they can’t articulate any reason for their actions. Or, when they clearly do not understand the mission of the role they are trying to fill, or show no evidence of understanding the company’s mission, for that matter.
Excuses: They are “too busy”. “I need to let the process follow its course for consistency and equitability”. “Processes are followed to ensure fairness.” “We are having system problems.” (See “Dedication”)
You might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with my job search?” In pretty simple terms, unless your B.S. Meter is on, you are going to find yourself wasting time going down roads that don’t pan out or trying to help people that are only wasting their own time. Or, you might find yourself taking it personally when a hiring manager strings you along. In any of these cases, it takes your eyes off the ball, takes a little more wind out of your sails. It is important to stay on course, and not let the inconsistencies and ambiguities you encounter keep you from ending up where you need to be.
The second half of that is, other people’s B.S. meters may be on high, while yours is on low. If you are exhibiting behaviors anything like those described above, then they could be visible enough to others to make them think twice about recommending you. In which case, perhaps your meter needs a tune up or you need to stop BS-ing.
The key here is to ask questions, get firm commitments, and respond to what you see, not what has been said. Actions speak louder than words.
Add your experiences or examples of inconsistencies you have encountered of your own, with fellow job seekers or with recruiters/hiring managers that took you off course. What did you do about it?
The most productive, qualified job leads typically are the end product of an inside connection or referral from a valued contact. Although it may seem like a thoughtful gesture, receiving job postings sent from someone that spotted it on an online database rarely amounts to much more than a flurry of emails. In order to get the good stuff- the inside scoop on what’s opening up – it is important to go beyond broadcasting your unemployed status, blasting out resumes or signing up on Linked in, MySpace, and Facebook. It requires positioning and making sure your contacts understand what you are truly capable of and qualified for. It also requires their trust that if they refer you, you won’t embarrass them.
So, you may ask, how does that happen? It is not as hard as you think. The good leads go to those people who are responsive, cooperative, helpful and reliable. Here are some pretty simple tips for ensuring when something relevant turns up in their arena, your contacts think of you first:
Have a clear, precise “elevator speech”. (I dislike that terminology, but most readers will know what it means. I prefer to call it a “30 Second Introduction”). Provide information someone needs to know about what you do, want, need, and are qualified for.
Stay in touch beyond just contacting people when you need something. Approaching anyone with your hand out, and showing no interest in them prior to that moment is extremely unattractive. You may not feel like you have much to offer right now, but, you really can find many ways of helping others by simply asking what they might need. They actually might surprise you and tell you what they want and need. Wow- imagine that. No guessing. And, it could be as easy as taking their dog for a walk. (And that would make you feel better, too.)
Act right. Ok, that’s a pretty broad statement, but it really is a pretty simple concept. It means when you put something out as a question to others, then you need to make yourself available to acknowledge the receipt of their response. Follow up and thank them. Follow up with others that have possibly referred you to the person/place that actually provided what you needed so they know they were helpful to you. If you are in the middle of a job search in 2009, then you need to learn to use email/internet as a tool. That means you need to check your email regularly for new information, and learn how to research to get information you need.
Show up. If you frequently cancel meetings or appointments, show reluctance to commit to job search or other activities, or tend to arrive late, people will and do notice. Simple logic follows. Is this person going to behave the same way when they go to work?
Create a reputation for being reliable, resourceful and proactive. Be on time. Follow through with requests from others. Follow through on leads/or introduction given to you by others within 48 hours. Exhibit good problem solving skills. Go the extra mile to help yourself and others. Be diligent about following up with leads that may have not immediately led to your goal. Be flexible.If you are going to use descriptions on your resume like “extremely effective managing multiple priorities”, “able to multitask”, “high performer” ,”service driven”, proactive”, “team player”, or “excellent problem solving skills” – you need to be exhibiting them.
Get real. If you are not able to spend 8 hours a day on a job search because of health issues, then why would you think you are ready to take on full time employment? If you are currently going to school part time, or caring for someone else, and are unable to spend 8 hours per day on your job search, what kind of work are you seeking that will coordinate with your schedule? Take inventory and determine what you are truly able to do. If you are able to work 8 hours a day, then you need to be using the same amount of time on your efforts for getting to work.
It is far easier for others to offer help to someone that is visibly helping themselves. In this economy, everyone is being impacted in some way. Make it easy for someone to help you. Show people you are ready, willing and able to go to work, and that you are someone they will be proud of recommending.
If you are in a position to help others with leads right now, what suggestions would you add?