Beware of messages that sound defensive

Today, I had an experience at work that may sound familiar to you. A manager questioned the time it took me to complete a project.

I received an email from a manager asking me to account for my time on a project completed two months ago, requesting a breakdown of the activities and the associated hours worked. It would have been easy for me to go on the defensive and reply back that I simply don’t remember and have never received this request before, but I followed one of my own rules that I want to share. First, do not be quick to respond. Take a deep breath, walk away and think about it. Then come back with a rational state of mind, and put yourself inside the other person’s head.

Keeping in mind that people have their own agenda, which likely has nothing to do with me, I composed a response that conveyed a positive outlook, showed an understanding of the request and provided as comprehensive an answer as possible. I began the email stating that I was happy to offer him the activity details though unable to backtrack on the activity timeline, and then proceeded to list each action I took to complete the project.

Beware of the word “unfortunately.” It sends the wrong message. Just answer the question. Don’t make excuses. Then proofread the email. Walk away, come back and proofread it again, not just for spelling and grammar but for tone as well.

When someone asks you for information and you cannot give them everything they want, give them something. Keep the tone professional and polite. People remember that, in a good way. Going on the defensive only serves to enrage people, and that will come back to haunt you in the end.

 

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You can do it!

two business women shaking hands
Image courtesy of patrisyu by FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
– Richard Branson

 

 

When I read Richard Branson’s quote, I thought of opportunities I passed on because I didn’t have as much confidence in myself as someone else had in me. Ranging from assignments that had the potential for positive exposure, to freelance work I thought was too much of a stretch, I avoided scenarios where the possibility of failure loomed overhead.

It’s not that I never took a risk or challenged myself, but when I did the decision came from within. External confidence expressed by others was the core of the issue. This reminds me of the Groucho Marx quote, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” If someone thinks I’m worthy, does it mean they know me better than I know myself or they’re not as smart as they seem?

Branson’s quote reminds me that high achievers weren’t born that way. Likely, an undercurrent of tenacity, luck and timing propelled them to the pinnacle of success. I would make a conjecture that along the way there were times when these superstars were ill-prepared for the task at hand; that trial by fire set the course for the day; that they exposed themselves to risk; and that someone else took a risk by investing in them, their product or service.

Fear of failure prevails when there is an illusive notion that successful people are on a higher plain, elevated and showered with angel dust by the success fairy who passed over the rest of us. The realization that this is a delusion hits me when I meet professionals who lack professionalism, managers who cannot manage and executives who fail to execute. When I have a negative experience with someone at the top, it serves as a reminder that there’s room for me in the club of success. Maybe, it’s not an exclusive club after all. This is not meant to downplay what accomplished people have attained, but to bolster those who are reticent when invited to join the desired club that would have them as a member.

The next time someone I respect offers me an opportunity that leaves me dubious about my capability, I vow to err on the side of imprudence rather than caution, and tell myself, “You can do it!” How about you?

Key Phrases that Resolve Workplace Conflict

I like these suggestions for phrases that diffuse tension in the workplace. “Don’t make your workplace a battleground” is excellent advice.

Ellie Parvin

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Choose your words carefully, as the choices you make have the power to ignite an inferno or damper a flame.

Employee #1 “YOU WERE SUPPOSE TO DO [insert task here]!” “I SENT YOU AN EMAIL TO DO IT. DIDN’T YOU READ MY EMAIL?”

Employee #2. “I DON’T HAVE TO DO WHAT YOU SAY; YOU ARE NOT MY MANGER AND I DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER TO YOU!”

The two employees’ argument echoed through the building. Employee #2 stormed outside to collect her thoughts, get some fresh air and calm down. Later she came back inside and apologized for raising her voice and the comments she made and why. In turn, the Employee #1 did the same and thus the issue was resolved and today I can honestly say, Employee #2 still adores and respects Employee #1 and still feels terrible for losing her cool and yelling back. She even wishes she…

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Does delivering and receiving feedback make you uncomfortable?

If feedback makes you uncomfortable both giving and getting, you’re not alone. I dread every performance appraisal even when I am confident it will be positive. It’s just so personal. Then I found an article on ProjectsAtWork.com that offered a refreshing perspective in the form of 9 great tips. If you are studying business management, this may help:

business coaching
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net
  1. Approach the conversation with curiosity about the other person’s point of view.
  2. Set the stage as partners in the conversation by gaining consensus on the purpose and mode of communication.
  3. Avoid the long-standing assumption that negative feedback is easier to swallow when sandwiched (positive/negative/positive). Ask the recipient how they would like to receive it.
  4. State your concern and ask for their point of view – don’t make people guess.
  5. Ask how you may have contributed to the issues.
  6. React to defensiveness with curiosity about how they’re feeling.
  7. Do not use anonymous feedback – the reaction is sure to be defensiveness.
  8. Honor a statute of limitations – waiting too long erodes the value.
  9. Solicit feedback on your ability to give feedback.

Number 7 is my personal favorite. In my opinion, being told that someone said something, but their identity cannot be revealed, is frustrating and of no value.

These pointers are useful for situations outside the workplace too. What works for you?