Unanswered Messages – The Black Hole of Doom
Have you ever scheduled a conference call and the person in question simply doesn’t call? Did you then call them, only for it to go to voicemail? Perhaps you then emailed them and said something like, “I thought we had a call scheduled today, did I get the day wrong?” When what you really mean is, “You unreliable idiot, I arranged my day around our call and you couldn’t even be bothered to turn up!”
How did that make you feel? Unimportant? Angry? Frustrated? Did it ruin your day? Did your opinion of the person’s professionalism take a major hit? Did it make you more or less keen to work with him or her in the future? Of course, it did. Unreliability in every aspect of life is bad, but in business it can be very damaging.
Have you texted someone who didn’t answer, and then several days later they do and expect you to answer them immediately? Do your emails sometimes get totally ignored? If they do, do you start thinking it must be all about you? Does the voice in your head start saying, “Perhaps they are annoyed with me or they don’t like me?” Or, “I’m simply not important enough, or what I had to say/ask was not relevant or a priority.” Maybe you start thinking that perhaps they didn’t get the message, or they missed it?
If you are prone to Machiavellian thinking you might consider it as a power play, or they are asserting their dominance. Of course, all of this is catastrophic thinking, but none the less real to you. They may just be considering their reply, or genuinely think you didn’t actually ask a question, so a reply was unnecessary. Or your message simply got lost in the mix. The average businessperson gets nearly 100 emails a day, and these days probably almost as many texts. There is an increasing need to prioritize.
It used to be we wrote a letter and mailed it and didn’t expect an answer for a week or two. Today we find a delay of 15 seconds to a text, unacceptable at times. The world of communication has sped up to a point where the number of messages hitting us a day is out of control. If we consider texts and emails alone, could you imagine receiving and having to answer several hundred letters every day? But the truth is, we are expected to do just that or be deemed unprofessional or unreliable.
One of the reasons we expect a near instant reply, is that we think/know that everyone carries their cell phone everywhere with them at all times, so they must have seen our message and must be ignoring us if they don’t instantly reply. Whether this the case or not, perception is reality, so if you are the perpetrator of a delayed reply, it can come across as either rude or unprofessional; whether or not you mean it that way. We need to consider how a customer, a co-worker, a friend will feel if we ignore their phone call, text, or email. What will they think? Is there a chance they will feel slighted, or think you unprofessional? Will they be anxious as to the reason why you are ignoring them?
When we’re face-to-face with someone we deal better with silences; we can see their face and decide whether we should say something or just let them think. But an unanswered email is a black hole of doom.
Email anxiety is becoming an actual syndrome and it’s all down to the delay between sending an email and receiving a reply and what we read into that delay. And, when we do get a reply, we read nuance into every word and phrase, in spite of not knowing the writer’s state of mind when they replied. They could have just lost a major client or been screamed at by their boss. We have no idea of context, except what we ourselves read into the unembellished words.
As business people, we have to remember that texting and emailing is not conversation, even though at times it feels like it is. Where does this leave us as businesspeople? Regardless of how we are treated, our personal or business communication etiquette needs to be as good as our face-to-face communication. No matter how poor the people we interact with are at communicating electronically, we have to be quick and efficient if we are not going to be thought of as unprofessional, or send recipients into uncontrolled anxiety-driven, emotional tail spins.
Can Fun = Success?
What do Adobe, Yahoo, Google, Walt Disney, Nike, Apple, Southwest Airlines all have in common, besides their success? They are all heralded as great, fun companies to work for by employees and customers react very positively to their corporate personas. Search for “fun companies” and you’ll find out why these and many other firms attract the best people to work for them, and provide excellent customer service.
Fifty years ago the workplace was a very different place; for the most part, it was not a place to have fun, it was very much a them and us environment and if you kept out of trouble and worked hard, and showed respect to your bosses you might expect to work there from cradle to grave as the saying goes.
Fast forward to today, and it’s a different picture; employees have choices, they can and will take their skills elsewhere in the time it takes to print a resume. They have expectations and they don’t settle. But still, some employers seem to hang on to the old ways and treat their employees as somehow subservient, as if they are lucky to have a job. This leads to high staff turnover, incalcitrant employees and inevitably unsatisfied customers.
Is your company fun? For your employees? For your customers? Suppliers? Investors? Does it matter? There is a lot of evidence out there that points to, yes it does, that it matters a great deal. Your internal corporate culture dictates how you are perceived as a company. Who would you rather buy from or deal with, a company that has a fun, positive, upbeat attitude, or one that seems dull, boring, and whose employees always look sad, bored, unhappy?
There are many ways you can make your company’s environment more fun without necessarily following Adobe’s example of offering staff a meditation room, kickboxing classes and TGIF events on Fridays or Patagonia whose west coast offices allow flex-time based on the weather so people can hit the surf when the waves are high!
So, what can you do to make your company hipper? What might change everyone’s perception of you? Here are 10 things you might consider.
- Dress code – too strict and your employees will feel confined, to casual and your customers might be turned off. What about asking your team what they think? They may surprise you and decide on matching clothing, a uniform, or at least similar colours.
- Do you allow staff to decorate for the holidays, or dress up for Halloween? Perhaps this could become a tradition and create a sense of pride in the workplace?
- What could you offer employees that would make them smile and feel you care? Perhaps workplace massages once a month (bring a masseur into the workplace – don’t try it yourself!), or yoga classes before work or at lunchtime. These small things can make a big difference to morale.
- If your lease is due, how about considering moving to a funkier location? Both employees and customers might appreciate and react positively to somewhere a little more upbeat, modern, funky. Even the media might latch on to it and give you some press coverage.
- Depending on your type of company, allowing staff to bring well-behaved dogs to work can be an amazing happiness booster.
- If you have room, install a table-tennis table, a pool table or something similar in your staff room. Keeping employees happy will pay off in positive attitudes and in the end result in a happier workplace and satisfied customers.
- Fun brainstorming sessions for the team with a focus on coming up with new products and services, or ways to market existing ones better can provide a fun few hours and also give employees the feeling they are of true value to the company, and part of its future success.
- On the same track, consider hosting an annual company golf tournament, a paintball adventure competition or any event as long as it’s fun. If you don’t have enough employees (yet) then consider inviting customers or suppliers. Even a chilli cookoff could be great.
- Many companies make employees pay for their coffee, they think, “hey why should I as the boss pay for their coffee?” On the other hand, some not only make coffee and tea freely available but pay for healthy snacks. Which company do you think has the happier and more dedicated employees? And really, in the big scheme of things, the cost is negligible compared to the upside.
- Building fun into the company can also involve volunteering. Adopting a good cause and giving employees time off to volunteer, while also raising money throughout the year for ‘their’ cause can be fun and build a strong team environment.
You may think that these types of activities are only applicable to larger companies, such as those listed at the beginning of this article, or perhaps only high-tech companies run by millennials, but in almost all cases the companies who act in this way did so from inception. It was always part of their corporate culture. Maybe, in part at least, it Is why they became successful in the first place.
What can you do to make your company a fun place to be?
Coach’s Corner – The Importance of Feedback
What is the difference between criticism and feedback? When we think of the two, it is worth exploring two questions. How do we feel when we are criticized? What is it like to be given feedback? How we feel provides the best indicator of the real difference between feedback and criticism.
Criticism, whether couched in terms of being constructive or not, has negative connotations. It feels like we have been personally attacked and are being judged. The focus is on a problem not a solution, on the past rather than the future. Criticism puts up defensive barriers that block the way forward.
With feedback, whether positive or negative, the focus is on growth and learning. What have we learned? How can we improve? What is the best path forward?
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”– Bill Gates
Feedback becomes an important tool to help with the growth and success of our business. As leaders, how can we give feedback which leads to improvement? Here are four ideas on giving feedback.
- Feedback needs to be seen as supportive and without judgement. It is not about controlling or manipulating behaviours, it is about promoting growth and improvement.
- Feedback needs to be as immediate as possible. When an incident or behaviour is fresh in everyone’s mind, feedback is most effective. It becomes stale and less effective the longer it is between when an incident occurs and when feedback is delivered.
- Feedback describes behaviours and uses statements such as, “I observed this when you were doing that.” It avoids asking, “Why did you do that?” Both statements and questions need to be non-judgemental; they need to lead to conversations about future behaviours and actions.
- Feedback must be honest and authentic. It needs to come from a place of caring while being respectful of the individual. Subordinates and colleagues will respond positively to feedback when they feel respected and have trust in the person delivering the feedback.
Finally, we as leaders need to be confident and comfortable to not only provide feedback respectfully but also to receive feedback graciously. Our employees, subordinates and colleagues will see the importance of feedback, when we “walk the talk” and welcome their feedback about our actions and behaviours.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk
Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching