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How To...

June 19, 2017

New managers: take a listening tour to understand your company’s strategy

When you manage a team, your strategies and goals must align with the priorities of those above you. If you don’t fully understand how your group’s work fits into the bigger picture, consider going on a ‘listening tour’ — a series of conversations with people who can clarify the company’s strategic objectives. Of course, start with your boss, but also talk with other leaders in the organisation, including peers and people lower in the hierarchy. When you reach out, demonstrate that you have a basic grasp of the strategy and ask for their input. For example, you might say: “I hear you saying that innovation is a priority for my team. Where would you like to see us focus?”

(Adapted from the Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook)

What to say when someone makes an offensive comment

When a colleague makes an inappropriate comment, it can be risky to speak up — and risky not to. Not addressing a sexist or racist comment may give the person permission to do it again. If you decide to say something, be careful not to level accusations. Research shows that harsh statements such as ‘That’s racist’can backfire, making the person less likely to change his behaviour. Instead, you might say, “I know it wasn’t your intent, but that made me uncomfortable.” You might also ask a question like “What did you mean by that comment?” or “What information are you basing that on?” Alternatively, you could request that the person repeat the comment. This will prompt your colleague to think through what he meant by the remark, as well as its effect on others.

(Adapted from How to Respond to an Offensive Comment at Work, by Amy Gallo)

Write emails that make you look professional

Every email you send affects your professional reputation. To give the right impression, make sure your emails do a few things:

— Go only to the essential audience. Remember, every message you send takes up space in the recipients’ inboxes. So use ‘reply all’ and cc sparingly.

— Get to the point. While context is critical, remember that what your reader actually needs to know is a subset of everything you could tell them. Given that the adult attention span is a mere eight seconds, make every moment count.

— Are clear. Don’t shoot off one-liners that are terse and cause confusion. Be concise — but not at the risk of leaving out critical information or context.

(Adapted from How to Make Sure Your Emails Give the Right Impression, by Shani Harmon)

To change a bad habit, blame a (fake) scapegoat

Sometimes we do things we know we shouldn’t — eat junk food, check our phones constantly, procrastinate. Research suggests an unusual way to motivate yourself to change your behaviour: Imagine that a villain is conspiring against you. By directing your anger and anxiety at an invisible scapegoat, the ‘forces working against you’ can seem more tangible, so you feel like you have more power to fight them. This scapegoat has to be imaginary, however. If you assign blame to someone specific (say, a boss), you may shirk your responsibilities and won’t change your actions.

(Adapted from Why You Need an Imaginary Scapegoat, by Nir Eyal)

Don’t let your boss’s ‘no’ stop you from achieving your goals

Most of us don’t like to be told ‘no’ when we ask for more resources. We believe that the more resources we have, the better results we’ll achieve. But your boss’s no might be an opportunity to prove that you can find creative solutions to deliver quality work with less. In fact, the more experience you have with scarcity, the better your chances are of learning how to use your ingenuity to invent solutions. Instead of focusing on the resources you won’t get, think about how hard work, existing resources and collaborating with others can help you meet project deadlines, sales targets or any other objective. Put the resources you do have to work and start experimenting.

(Adapted from What to Do When Your Boss Says No, by Scott Sonenshein)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 19th, 2017