Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

What Dinosaurs Could Have Learned From Us…

I remember seeing a cartoon many years ago depicting two HUGE dinosaurs (like there were ever any small ones?) looking at each other dumbfounded. The caption at the bottom said, “If dinosaurs could have communicated, they would have ruled the world!”

I’m sure we all know the feeling of what happens when we fail to communicate properly… not unlike a bunch of huge dinosaurs or bulls in a china shop. No doubt you had that experience using our wonderful email technology… an accident waiting to happen on each press of the SEND button!

I cannot but shake my head in bewilderment each time I see (and have sent!) an email in lieu of just getting some exercise by picking up the phone. They say that act (of picking up the phone) does wonders for your forearms, shoulders and jaw muscles…

If I were to give any lessons on improving communication in viewing the ‘drama’ that is created by the use of technology, it surely would have to be the use of email to communicate about sensitive matters in lieu of picking up the phone. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that most times it’s simply a lack of courage to confront the issues in a 2-way manner.

It’s so easy (and habit forming) to haul off a strong message that you would probably never say on the phone and surely in person. And if you would, it probably would be posed in a much softer manner.

Being known as a rather ‘direct’ conversationalist, you can take the above from me as a confession – and they tell me ‘confession is good for the soul and may get me redemption. I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time for such at the rate I’m going. So learn from my experiences as an observer of other sinners… and myself!

Your mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of your business as I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Are Things Slipping Through the Cracks?

If you’re like most small business owners I’ve worked with, you probably find yourself wondering how it is that no matter what you say or do to clearly communicate, motivate and reward people, there is always someone who ‘drops the ball’. Oftentimes, the common REACTION is to consider such ‘bad behavior’ as either intentional, or simply unintentional neglect, oversight, or just attitudinal.

In fact those might be the cause; however, my experience is that the most common reason is SYSTEMIC. In other words, the people don’t have the right systems in place or don’t use them – to avoid such ‘slippage’. W. Edwards Deming, noted international consultant, made this point by saying “… the fault lies not within the people, but in the systems they use.”

This is not to excuse people from the responsibility of their assigned duties, but it helps us to focus on what is usually the ‘cure’ to most ‘slippage’ situations I have seen. Oftentimes, ‘lack of training’ is a part of the ‘system’ that is missing. Likewise it may be the lack of ‘reminder’ systems; e.g. something as simple as a calendaring or contact management system… or the failure to use it!

All that being said, I believe the root cause begins with the mindset of the owner and/or the individual who is allowing things to slip. I was once given a lesson by a former boss (who eventually made me his partner) that “People do what you INspect… not what you EXpect.” At first I thought he meant I had to micromanage everything I delegated. What he meant was that there is a combination of things needed to avoid things slipping through the cracks: mindset, processes and systems.

So I always recommend that everyone adopt the concept of ‘delegation’ (still owning the responsibility for the outcome) as compared to ‘relegation’ (washing your hands TOTALLY of it). Equally important, make sure you have a system in place that will provide periodic ‘follow up’ and/or feedback. This is especially true when you are working with someone with whom you have not had a lot of experience. No sense learning the hard way!

You can learn more about this (especially in the section dealing with personality types) in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because personality type is also part of the ‘human system’ that you need to work with.

If you want to learn more about this subject, I hope you will take feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Drama… Small Businesses Should Have An Emmy Award!

I know this may come as no surprise, but the amount of ‘drama’ one can find in even the smallest of small businesses would put most soap operas to shame! It never ceases to amaze me how much ‘stuff’ becomes the subject of internal conflict and other dynamics which have one common result… NO GOOD. While there is a place for constructive conflict, there is no room for the kind of drama that comes from such things as poor communication, hidden agendas, egos run amuck, employees on a power trip, owners/managers who are either permissive or abusive towards employees and poorly selected and lead employees (or owners). Be assured this is not an exhaustive list because the reasons are only as limited as the imagination and personalities of the participants. The number of possibilities becomes endless when you add the component of ‘family dynamics’ to the equation!

Small business owners (SBOs) pull their hair out (if any is left) because it’s one of the most common causes of mental fatigue in their lives and often makes them feel more like therapists than entrepreneurs. As many SBOs have said to me (indirectly if not directly), “I’d love owning my business if I didn’t have to deal with employees.” The sad truth is that ‘dealing with employees’ is part of that responsibility and when that becomes a ‘nightmare’ it is usually a sign of leadership gaps – which includes ‘getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off… as noted by Jim Collins in his book, Good To Great. Another common mistake I see is keeping the wrong people on the bus far too long and
not having a recruiting program that gives you choices to bring the right people on the bus.

Many SBOs and their managers don’t realize they are ‘beating a dead horse’; i.e. trying to change people who have neither the capacity to perform nor the desire to behave in a productive manner. Terri Kabachnick, author of ‘I Quit But Forgot To Tell You, describes the ‘disengaged employee’ who is not unlike a zombie; i.e. you can see them moving about but they are not really ‘there’ at the same time. These folks take up space, contribute little… and often get away with it.

If you feel trapped by people like this, then you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you do have choices and there is an effective process to get out of this dilemma.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Breaking Internal Communication Barriers

Imagine an organization with little or no dissent, no bickering, no confusion, no gossip, with nothing slipping through the cracks – just perfect harmony. To some, this would be totally boring!

These are just some of the more obvious communication barriers which plague companies and result in lost profits, poor morale, and needless frustration. Let’s take a look at some other, less obvious, barriers to communication:

  1. Lack of cooperation
  2. Silence
  3. Isolationism
  4. Walls
  5. Good guys/bad guys
  6. On/off meeting schedules
  7. Job Insecurity
  8. Lengthy meeting schedules
  9. Process slowdown

1. Lack of Cooperation

This barrier can be insidious. It doesn’t always appear in the form of outright refusal. Instead, it can appear as forgetfulness (“I’m so sorry, it just slipped my mind”), lack of understanding (“I don’t know what you mean”), misunderstanding (“Oh, I thought you meant …”), or a difference in priorities (I’m sorry, but I won’t have time to get to it). Either way, it blocks the proper flow of information and work product.

2. Silence

This barrier is sometimes hard to detect. It can be camouflaged to look like harmony. Yet, it results in the blockage of valuable information between people and/or departments. It isn’t necessarily the deliberate destruction or discarding of information, but rather the selective filtering or complete transfer of information. For example, the purchasing department head might become aware of something that adversely affects the sales department (e.g. a major delay in product shipments). Yet, he fails to communicate that information to the sales manager. Such silence can be costly.

3. Isolationism

While team spirit and a sense of department identity can be a positive force, some managers create an “us and them” mentality among their staff. Not only is this a negative attitude, but it stifles individuals from learning more about the company’s operations. Also, it precludes staff from developing a whole team image and diminishes job satisfaction.

4. Walls

When operating departments create barriers so that attempts to provide incoming communication are thwarted (e.g. “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t rely on what they say.”), valuable information is lost.

5. Good Guys/Bad Guys

Whereas isolationism pertains more to entire departments, good guys/bad guys is a form of political war games. This barrier seeks to pit members against each other – the good guys against the bad guys. This often happens between members of the sales department and members of the purchasing department. Either way, it creates a combative mentality between individuals mostly for the purpose of gaining or exercising control.

6. On/Off Meeting Schedules

Because people’s schedules don’t always conform, a frequently changing meeting schedule can increase the likelihood that one or more people will not be able to attend a given meeting. This obviously thwarts good communication.

7. Job Insecurity

Especially in today’s economy, this barrier plays havoc with good morale which in turn affects good communication. Some managers appeal to fear as a motivator and a way of controlling their staff. And while it may appear to serve a purpose to these managers, they are unwittingly impeding their staff’s performance by negatively affecting concentration, judgment and other cognitive skills which are affected by job insecurity. Creating a positive environment can greatly improve communications.

8. Lengthy Meeting Schedules

Overcooked meetings that drag on endlessly and aimlessly serve to demotivate and tune out the participants. Consequently, potentially valuable and necessary information can be filtered out or overlooked. This barrier to effective communications is probably on of the most abused.

9. Process Slowdown

This barrier is manifested by long gaps between completion of one phase and commencement of the next phase. While one might expect it to be rather obvious, it is often undetected until the resultant damage is too great to endure financially. If the purchasing department is not pleased with the warehouse staff, it is possible that the needed warehouse supplies might get ordered on time. Or perhaps, the accounting department is a little lax in processing the sales staff expense reports (“That’s what they get for not underlining the expense totals.”). If your company is experiencing productivity decreases, quality problems, and lowered staff morale, chances are you have a serious case of the communication blues.

For more information about how you can break the internal communications barriers in your organization, please click here to contact us or e-mail us at stan@fambizdoc.com

Good Communication… More Than Words

Communication. It sounds like such a simple word. Speaking, listening, writing and reading. These are the most common forms of communication. Yet, we know that communication involves more than just these sensory functions.

You are probably familiar with body language and other nonverbal forms of communication. Yet, with all the knowledge we have about communication, many of us still have great difficulty communicating effectively – whether individually or as part of a group? Communication, like sports, is easier to understand conceptually than it is to execute. Just ask any golfer!

If you have suffered the slings and arrows of poor communication, then you will be interested in learning how you can help to break internal communication barriers.

Managerial Communications

To begin with, let take a look at the many dimensions of managerial communications. The table on the next page lists seventeen of these dimensions. You may already know some of them: behavioral, inferential, factual, written, and verbal. And for some, verbal communication can be the one which gets them in the most trouble. Let’s review some of the more subtle forms of communication….those messages you never hear or see.

Yet, their meaning is loud and clear! For example, you may have had personal plans to go somewhere after work. But, when your boss asks you to stay late to help with an urgent project, or if a client asks if you could please meet him for dinner, you know the real message is: “This may sound optional, but you know I’m expecting you to say yes.” This is an example of inferential communication.

In the military, in sports, and other specialized environments, there are a variety of semantic communications. For example, we are all familiar with the All-American Hot Dog. Yet, in skiing, that term refers to a certain type of skiing style.

We’re not talking about slang expressions. There are many words which have different meanings in different environments. Let’s take the word: juggle. In the accounting profession, it one juggles the books, they may find themselves in a vertical position behind steel bars. Whereas an executive who juggles his/her schedule, is considered flexible and possibly efficient. Clowns, however, do juggle balls in the air.

Another dimension of communication is tactile (touch). We know how important touch is for the healthy development of babies. But it is no less important a medium for communicating messages to fellow workers. A pat on the back (literally) can feel good to the person who just accomplished a difficult assignment. Sure, it’s nice to hear you’ve done a good job, but that pat on the back does feel good! When you add the dimension of touch, the message can be quite strong and genuine.

Another form of communication, often encountered by sales people, is nonverbal. Dead silence can be a powerful form of communication when you’re looking for a response from a customer who doesn’t seem pleased with your offering – whether it’s price or another selling point. A look of puzzlement isn’t a good sign when you’re explaining some of your product’s features and benefits. These nonverbal clues are just as important, if not more important, than anything that is uttered by the customer.

Organizations become victims of poor communications not only because of technical deficiencies, but also because of internal barriers. For example, personality conflicts, office politics, power struggles, policy changes, and organizational changes add fuel to the fire of poor communications.

Fear (of one’s boss or ostracism from ones peer group) is another barrier to effective communication. High stress levels, an excessive work pace, and frequent interruptions also contribute to poor communication.

To understand, the power of communication, just ponder this thought which appeared in a syndicated cartoon: “Dinosaurs could rule the world if they could organize their speech.”

Dimensions of Managerial Communication

1. Behavioral
2. Formal/Informal
3. Factual
4. Perceptual
5. Inferential
6. Technical
7. Organizational
8. Written
9. Oral
10. Nonverbal
11. Semantical
12. External/Internal
13. Directional
14. Symbolic
15. Motivational
16. Up/Down/Across
17. Tactile (touch)

For more information about how you can improve communications in your organization, please click here to contact us or e-mail us at stan@fambizdoc.com

Managing Conflict In A Family Business

Nearly 80% of all businesses are family businesses In fact, about one-third of the Fortune 500 are family-owned or family controlled. Family businesses account for nearly one-half of all jobs and 40% of the gross national product. These are impressed statistics indeed. And while managing conflict is certainly important to everyone involved from a personal standpoint, it is obvious that this has a major impact on our overall economy when considering the above statistics.

In discussing the subject of conflict in family businesses, it is essential to point out that leading psychologists acknowledge that conflict is a normal by-product of transition in a family business and that there are proven ways to manage such conflicts in a productive (or less destructive) manner.

While this may not eliminate the conflict or underlying causes completely, sufficient gains can be realized to allow the business to function in a more productive and harmonious manner. In some cases, conflict between family members (or others) can be resolved (i.e. essentially eliminated). In other instances, it may only be possible to minimize it.

I. CONFLICT RESOLUTION

A. Negotiate for meaning – be sure you understand the issues involved; i.e. don’t fight over the wrong reasons;

B. Reverse roles – be sure you understand the other person’s perspective and feelings; i.e. their “reality”.

C. Negotiate for common goals – find the principles that all parties can agree on. Frequently, people don’t realize they want the same thing and are haggling over the “mechanics” of execution.

D. Negotiate for cooperative action – agree on what you will do – not what you won’t do; identify your degree of rigidity or flexibility on certain items (i.e., black and white vs. gray areas). Determine what you will give up and what you want in exchange.

E. Negotiate autonomy – to coin a phrase from the “hippie generation”, everyone needs “their space”. Identify how much “space” each of you needs and then develop a way to assure that everyone gets their needs satisfied. At first glance, these approaches may sound abstract, but after careful thought and introspection, almost everyone can relate them to his/her situation.

II. CONFLICT REDUCTION

If you have determined that total resolution isn’t possible or necessary and that simply reducing the amount of conflict (as some conflict may appear beneficial for other reasons), then you should consider the following steps in combination:

A. Negotiate for meaning
B. Negotiate for autonomy
C. Agree on a time period (e.g. we’ll agree to disagree and not throw rocks for the next three months”).

At times you may have a project that requires the efforts of two or more people. Here you have two options of which both are directly opposite:

1. Decrease interdependence – separate the tasks (if possible) so that each party can work independently (i.e. put them in separate “corners”) or
2. Increase interdependence – structure the tasks in such a fashion that each party will fail without the cooperation of the other (i.e. “United we stand, divided we fall”).

A simple example of this is taking two people and tying one leg of each of them together and then having them run a race together.

While they may despise each other, they know they will surely lose the race if they don’t work in unison. Who knows, maybe they’ll begin to trust and respect each other in the process?

III. CONFLICT REMISSION

SOURCES OF CONFLICT Conflicts between family members in business can often be traced to similar underlying conflicts in their personal family lives. Conflict remission requires and understanding of those dynamics; for example:

1. Differing goals for the business
2. Time management/work overload
3. Compensation/benefits disagreements
4. Different or unequal commitment to the business (hours, diligence, sense of urgency)
5. Family – non-family employee issues
6. Power/ego struggles
7. Insufficient definition of roles and responsibilities
8. Spillage between work and home life
9. Difficulties expanding the business
10. Change in the firm or breaking with tradition
11. Differing attitudes about spending or investment
12. Succession issues
13. Family dynamics interfere with communications and decision making
14. In-laws in the business
15. Personal crisis of family member employee
16. Feeling unsupported

For more information, please click here to contact us or e-mail us at stan@fambizdoc.com