Office Decorating


Dear, Anita,

Our company is moving our offices from our cramped location to a spacious new building. I guess because I am one of the few women in the office, somehow I am now in charge of decorating the new space. I have to pick carpet, paint colors, furniture – and I’m no decorator! The only direction I’ve received from my boss is to choose a color scheme that is relaxing since we are in a high-stress business. Do you have any advice?

Dear, De Facto Designer,

Take a deep breath… but not near the paint fumes! We spend approximately 40 hours a week – sometimes more – in our work environment. Office surroundings can influence our business’s image and our employees’ productivity.

blue modern office spaceColor
As a general rule, cool tones – blues and greens – are more calming. Blue and gray have the benefit of improving productivity… but I don’t advocate a drab prison palette. (Interesting side note: In the 1970s, it was discovered that pink reduced aggression, so a few correctional facilities experimented with rosy walls!) While financial services companies and law offices tend to keep their palettes more conservative and neutral – beige,  tan, taupe, cream – creative industries can get away with adding bigger splashes of brighter hues.  Hot colors – red, orange, bright yellow – are more stimulating, but beware of overdoing any strong color. Your company’s logo and branding should also play into the office color scheme. To explore more about the psychology of color, check out the Demesne site.  To read about NASA’s color research on color in office environments, check out this interesting link: http://www.informedesign.org/_news/jan_v05r-p.pdf. And keep in mind, the way a color looks on a chip in the hardware store could change dramatically in your office light.

Lighting
Proper lighting to perform tasks is essential to any office.  Fluorescent lights can be harsh; have you ever noticed that unbecoming green cast to your skin in a phosphorescent fitting room? You may not have much choice, as overhead fluorescent lighting is still widespread in office buildings, so adjust your make-up accordingly. Augment overhead lights with task lighting – adjustable desk lamps positioned behind or pointed away from computers to avoid screen glare.  Natural light is highly valued by employees, but be sure to position your computer to avoid reflections from windows. Stuck in the cubicle farm? Consider a full spectrum sunlight desk lamp so you won’t get SAD.

BlindsWindow Treatments
Desks positioned by east, south, or west facing windows may heat up for a portion of the day. Shutters are an elegant but pricey option to control light, hide unsightly views of the neighbor’s dumpster, or maintain privacy. Horizontal blinds, cellular shades, or solar roller shade options are available in every budget range. Vertical blinds are best suited for taller windows and sliding doors.

Furnishings
Form follows function when it comes to office furniture. The type of computers, number of monitors, and amount of file storage may dictate your desk selection. Clutter may lead to stress, so be sure that employees have enough storage space for their needs. Keep ergonomic issues in mind when arranging offices and cubicles.

Light deskGenerally, the darker the wood, the more visual “weight” the furniture has. Massive mahogany desks quietly announce importance and professionalism, while light maple with stainless steel may indicate a more modern, youthful vibe.

Carpet
While hardwood floors are sought after in our homes, carpet is king in offices, primarily because of the sound absorption benefit. I like to keep the carpet a multi-toned neutral – it helps hide dirt! You can always bring in color on accent walls and with artwork.  Be sure to select a commercial grade stain-resistant option. Carpet tiles may cost more up front, but you can replace one or two damaged or stained tiles rather than an entire office, saving money in the long run.

Extras
Think beyond motivational posters when choosing art for the walls. Perhaps someone in your company is a great artist, or knows one. A plant or greenery can be a nice addition… as long as someone remembers to water it. If you go the route of a faux plant, be sure to keep it dusted. My dream office would have a calming aquarium, but who would feed the fish on the weekends?

Readers: What would you change about your office decor?

 

“Atta Girl” – Handling Compliments at Work


Dear, Anita,

I recently worked extra hard on a project. My boss complimented me, saying, “Thanks for working over the weekend to get our presentation ready for the big meeting,” to which I replied, “It was nothing.” My co-worker later told me I shouldn’t have said that, and I’ll never get promoted with my unassertive attitude. She says I should have said something like, “Thanks, I had to miss going to a birthday party, but work comes first.” Is she right?

Dear, Applause! Applause!

Atta_girlYour co-worker does have a point about downplaying your boss’s thanks, but I don’t agree with her 100%. Playing the martyr isn’t necessary. Learn to accept compliments graciously, even without an eye on a future raise. Working over the weekend wasn’t “nothing.” You went over and above for an assignment, and your boss already knows it. If you say something that infers to your boss that he hasn’t realized it, not only might he resent the pointed comment, but he might also think you only made the extra effort in order to get the credit and not because of your great work ethic, sense of loyalty, or desire to impress.  If you want to respond with more than just a humble “you’re welcome,” a more self-confident reply is, “It was really satisfying to see that the presentation helped win the client over.”

Who doesn’t feel a warm glow when you get a well-deserved pat on the back? Businesses know the importance of testimonials. Someone else bragging about you has much more cachet than you boasting about yourself.

To keep those reassurances on hand, create an “Atta Girl” file (or an “Atta Boy” file, but as a general rule, women tend to have a harder time accepting compliments than men).  What should go in the file? Email kudos from co-workers, supervisors, or clients; performance evaluations; certificates of achievement; surveys/feedback forms; even notes from the departmental birthday card!

If compliments are hand-written, you may wish to transfer them into an Excel or Word document, along with any significant facts (date, the problem solved, context, etc.). Be sure to keep a copy on your home computer just in case you are terminated or laid off suddenly.

When a client or co-worker gives you verbal appreciation, ask them if they wouldn’t mind taking the extra step of putting it in writing and/or posting a recommendation on LinkedIn, and endorsing you for the skills and qualities they complimented. In fact, you can email them a follow-up with the recommendation typed out (remind them they can edit the verbiage if you inadvertently misquoted them). For a LinkedIn recommendation or any testimonial to be most powerful, include the original problem/situation, the results that exceeded expectations, and the character traits you exhibited while working with them. Endorsements on LinkedIn are easy to complete with a simple click on the appropriate skills that one can attest to.

When you make a mistake or have a bad day at work, go to your “Atta Girl” file to combat those waves of self-doubt. There’s nothing better for a bruised ego than remembering past triumphs.

And when it’s time to update your résumé, you can put those warm fuzzies to work! Polish up your CV, or even replace “References upon request” with a document full of glowing testimonials about your skills and favorable qualities.

Readers: Can you take a compliment? What’s the best work-related commendation you’ve ever received?

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Advice from Dad


Dear, Readers,

This touching car commercial shows a dad teaching his daughter a valuable lesson in self-reliance. “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst” is an axiom that all of us can also apply on the job.

In honor of Father’s Day, let’s take a look at some other lessons and advice from dear old dad and their application in the world of work.

“When I was your age, I had to walk (insert large number here) miles to school.” It’s helpful to keep your business’s roots in mind, particularly the values upon which it was founded.

“If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” By the same token, don’t just settle for business as usual. Constantly innovate and do things differently.

Tie“How will you know if you don’t try?” While this may have applied to tasting your peas as a toddler, develop a business culture where employees are not penalized for trying (and possibly failing with) new ideas.

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Mister.” Really? Your great-aunt died… again? You may think your employer just fell off the turnip truck, but I wouldn’t recommend using these excuses for a day off work: http://business.time.com/2012/10/30/funniest-excuses-for-missing-work/

“There are starving people in Africa who would gladly eat your dinner.” Substitute “starving” with “jobless,” “Africa” with “America,” and “eat your dinner” with “do your job.”

 “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” When you, in your teenage invincibility, overloaded your schedule with school, sports, and extracurricular activities, your wise father figure knew that you could only handle the pace for a limited time. Just so on the job.

“No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ ” Maybe it was your much older grandfather, with the benefit of hindsight, who reminds you of the need for a work-life balance.

On the flip side, do NOT use these fatherly expressions in business situations:

  • “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” While it’s true that if you hired someone, you can indeed fire them, reigning with fear won’t endear you to your employees.
  • “This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me.” When you are letting someone go, it really is going to hurt them more.
  • “You’ll live.” A little compassion when your direct report complains about aches and pains will make you a more well-liked manager.
  • “Because I said so.” A few words of explanation will help your employee understand the importance of a procedure, rule, or task.

Readers: What piece of fatherly advice have you been able to translate to the work world? Don’t remember? Go ask your mother.

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

The Importance of Vacations


Dear, Anita,

In our company culture, while vacations are not exactly frowned upon, you are expected to “check in” while taking your time off. I’m tempted to book an international cruise just because my employer wouldn’t want to reimburse me for the difficult and costly Internet access! How can I convince my boss that a 100% non-working vacation is my right?

Dear, Time for a Vacation,

Vacation_InfographicI’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the United States is the only developed country in the world without legally required paid vacation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is no federal law requiring employers to offer paid vacation time. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that many industrialized nations offer mandated paid vacation and holidays ranging from 10 to 38 days! France leads the pack with 30 paid vacation days and one paid holiday. Austria offers 25 paid vacation days plus 13 paid holidays. Even the hard-working Japanese are entitled to 10 paid vacation days per year. (I think it’s time to write your Congressperson.)

In the U.S., paid vacation time off is a benefit, not a right. Granted, it is a very popular benefit; a recent survey by Glassdoor indicates that 78% of employees receive vacation or paid time off.

That being said, if your employer does offer paid vacation, here’s some ammunition to encourage a clean break. Vacations can make workers more productive. The Oxford Economics February 2014 study, “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.,” cites statistics that 48% of managers viewed the impact of time off on productivity as positive. Further, managers believe employees who take time off have an improved attitude and better performance at work. A study conducted by former NASA scientists for Air New Zealand found that there is an 82 percent spike in performance among those who’ve just returned from vacation. In a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)/U.S. Travel Association study, a large majority of HR professionals think taking vacation is extremely or very important for performance, morale, wellness, a positive culture, productivity, retention, and creativity. Forbes reports that “job-related stress contributes to absenteeism, lost productivity, and health issues, and these factors cost businesses approximately $344 billion annually.” Vacations can neutralize job-related stress.

Happy workers stay longer at their jobs. The American Management Association reports that the estimated cost of replacing employees ranges from 25% of their salary to five times their salary. Why not keep the workers you have? In its ranking of work-life balance, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the United States ranks 25 out of 36 countries (with Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway in the top three spots).

 

 

Tips for Leaving On Vacation

  • Don’t schedule your vacation during the busiest season in your company. That won’t go over well.
  • Give your employer as much notice as possible, right after you click the “Book Now” button on that travel site.
  • Negotiate how often you will check emails or voicemail. If you’re only expecting one important email midweek, offer to respond on that project only. If your boss wants more input, check your phone or email once a day.
  • Try to get as much of your work done before you leave so you only have to delegate a few tasks to co-workers.
  • Set up a meeting with the person who is covering you to go over last-minute instructions.
  • Give your contact information to one gatekeeper, preferably your boss or your coverage person.
  • Don’t forget to change your outgoing phone message and set up an out of office automatic reply for your emails.
  • Finally, enjoy yourself and come back to work refreshed!

 

How to Brag – Nicely


Dear, Anita,

I am currently assigned to a local company through a temporary agency. This company hires temps first and then decides whether or not to hire permanent. I work 3rd shift, so there is less opportunity to be noticed by management. I am tempted to email my supervisor and “toot my own horn,” as I have never been late or absent, have done every job happily, and even volunteer for overtime. I tend to get overshadowed by more aggressive people, and I don’t want to be overlooked here. How do I bring all this positive info to his attention without sounding like an insufferable braggart? Thanks.

Dear, Bragger Lagger,

Businessman Speaking Through MegaphoneThe great boxer Muhammed Ali once said – and I paraphrase – it ain’t bragging if it’s true. (He also said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am,” but I’m not including that attitude in my advice.) In the world of employment, you’re going to have to man up and boast amiably about your strengths and accomplishments, whether writing cover letters and résumés, while interviewing, and, after you get the job, when asking for a raise.

But there is a fine line between confidence and “supercalifragilisticexpi-braggadocious.” You do need to let your employer know what you have to offer, but not in an egotistical way.

Be pleasantly self-assured. When talking about yourself, add a dash of humbleness. Avoid words like “best” (unless you really did win the “Best Fill-In-Job-Title of the Year” award). When you’re outlining your triumphs and accomplishments, this type of communication often comes across better in person rather than via e-mail (the obvious exception would be your résumé).

Provide evidence. If you say, “I’m a great motivator,” how can that be proven? Reconstruct your statement with specific examples from your past experience. Say something like, “I’ve always had success motivating others by doing X, Y, and Z.”

It’s not about you. It’s about how you can help the new employer. To avoid appearing self-centered, say “we” often to show you’re a team player (remember the axiom, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.”). Chances are you can’t really take full credit for everything on your résumé, unless you were literally a one-person entrepreneurial operation.

Let others boast for you. Bring up comments from co-workers, performance evaluations, and thank you notes or testimonials. “At my last review, my supervisor told me that…” or “A customer recently posted a great review on Yelp after we… ”

Answer questions directly and concisely. Sometimes droning on and on is a nervous habit during in an interview, but it could make you come across as someone who just loves the sound of his own voice. A shy person who avoids eye contact could be misconstrued as having a haughty or condescending attitude.

Avoid other signs that you’re cocky: name-dropping, one-upping, using five-dollar words when a 50-cent word will do, interrupting often, bad-mouthing others (former employers, co-workers, the bad driver who made you late), and to that last example, not accepting any blame. Showing a little vulnerability is not a bad thing. Why else do you think hiring managers ask that double-edged question, “What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?”

Whatever you say, be sure it’s true so this quip won’t apply to you: “With a braggart, it’s no sooner done than said.”–Evan Esar

Readers: Have you ever felt the need to brag about yourself to your manager because you don’t feel he/she has noticed your job well done? How did you handle it? 

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Online Reputation Monitoring


Dear, Anita,

I’m a hiring manager at a company, and I would like to let people know that many HR professionals routinely screen applicants online, checking out not just LinkedIn but Facebook, Twitter, and Google searches. You’d be shocked and amazed at some of the things I’ve seen about job candidates! I don’t have a question; I just think job seekers should be aware of this.

Dear, Undercover Recruiter,

Eye on Computer MonitorThank you for the reminder. Readers, your social (media) life could be killing your career. Every tweet, post, hashtag, comment, profile, and photo on the Internet is adding to or detracting from your online reputation. According to a recent CareerBuilder study, 43 percent of hiring managers who researched candidates via social media found something that caused them not to hire an individual. The top no-nos: posting provocative/inappropriate photos (50%), discussing drinking/drug use (48%), and badmouthing a previous employer (33%). Even if you don’t have half-naked photos of yourself online, something as innocuous as typos in your posts could reflect poorly on you.

Here’s how to manage your online reputation.

Google yourself. Note that some browsers may save information about you, so search from a public computer to be sure you’re getting the same results a potential employer will see. Check all of your name variations (Richard, Dick, etc.), but especially the one you use on your résumé.

Beware of online doppelgangers. If another person with your same name has a poor reputation, be prepared to combat this. If this person has a criminal record, paying a reputation management firm may be the answer. Sign up for Google Alerts with your name to be sure that you’re aware of any news stories about murderers, child molesters, and the like who a potential employer could confuse with you. Another way to contend with the doppelganger effect is to purchase a web domain of your name (if available). On your own website, you can create links to your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts and include this URL in your cover letter and resume.

Post judiciously. We tell teenagers not to post anything they wouldn’t want Grandma – or Miss Anita! – to see. Now that you’re all grown up, don’t post anything you would want a potential employer to see (review the top three faux pas in the first paragraph). Avoid oversharing (TMI!). Mind what groups you join. Even your extreme political views or a preponderance of snarky comments may have an adverse effect on your career. And let’s hash over #hashtags; don’t post #myjobsucks, #drinktilyoudrop, or anything similar. If you really must have a salty social media record of your shenanigans, you may want to create a separate account under a pseudonym.

Change your privacy settings. Check your Facebook settings to make sure that all of your personal posts are not “Public.” Watch what your friends post, too. Enable timeline and tagging review so that you can approve (or not) your buddies’ ill-conceived tags and posts before they hit your wall. Protect your tweets on Twitter to approve the people who may view your 140-character gems. Consider making your Instagram, Tumblr, and Flickr photos private. Use Secret Boards on Pinterest for your more risqué pins, or go to your settings and change the Search Privacy under your Basic Information. Since LinkedIn is basically Facebook for the job world, it may be an exception to my stringent privacy rules. However, be careful not to connect with people you really do not know. And if you want to keep your new job search on the QT, here are some LinkedIn privacy tips from InformationWeek.

Unwanted content still showing up in a search? Do what companies concerned about their SEO do: bury it. New content will push the old mistakes further down the search list. And, really, how many times have you gone to page 3 or 4 of the search results?

Establish credibility and visibility. Use a blog to make yourself an expert in your field. Your blog will be an asset that will follow you from job to job. Post comments and share articles on LinkedIn groups. Even if you don’t have a doppelganger to worry about, consider creating your own personal website with professional content. Post in the comments below if you’d like me to devote an upcoming blog post to the subject of creating your own personal brand website and blog.

Readers: How do you handle the privacy settings on your social media accounts?

World’s Worst Jobs


Dear, Anita,

I have the worst job in the world. My boss is demanding and yells all the time, I often have to work late to meet unreasonable deadlines, and I don’t get paid what I deserve. Of course, I found this all out AFTER I went to work for the company. How can I make sure I get into a better job next time?

Dear, Grass is Greener,

You are not alone. As a matter of fact, 70 percent of Americans are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” with their jobs, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study. It does sound like you have several reasons for being unhappy in your current situation. However, remember the old adage… “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Sometimes, you may have it better than you thought.

For example, check out the #WorldsToughestJob interview that has gone viral:

This job requires 24/7 work weeks. No vacation. No salary. Wait… what? This “Director of Operations” job description from American Greetings, while quite accurate, is not an apples-to-apples comparison to your for-pay job.

But even according to the recently released 2014 Jobs Rated report from CareerCast, you don’t have the worst job in the world. That dubious honor goes to lumberjacks, who work outdoors in extreme weather conditions operating dangerous machinery that could cause bodily injury – all for $24K a year. Other jobs in the bottom 10 include:

  • Newspaper reporter – job growth is declining as more print publications go defunct
  • Broadcaster – highly competitive and stressful
  • Firefighters and military personnel – duh… dangerous
  • Taxi driver – stressful and low pay
  • Head cook – imagine the nerve-racking lunch rush
  • Flight attendant – air rage
  • Garbage collector – no explanation needed

The Jobs Rated report also lists the Best Jobs of 2104, based on projected job growth, median salary, and working conditions. Have you got a degree? Many of the highest-rated jobs require higher education. The top 10 positions include mathematician, university professor, statistician, actuary, software engineer, computer systems analyst, occupational therapist, audiologist, speech pathologist, and dental hygienist (although I would argue that sticking your fingers in someone else’s mouth is not a great work environment). Click here for the full list of 200 rated jobs.

To check out a company before you accept another job offer, you may want to do a little snooping on Glassdoor.com. Here, employees can anonymously rate their companies and managers. Take this with a grain of salt, though, as we all know disgruntled workers tend to complain the loudest. Smaller mom-and-pop businesses may not show up on Glassdoor, so reconnoiter within your local network. Check LinkedIn also to see if you have any connections that you can chat with about a company’s culture.

But what may be a good fit for someone else may not work for you. Don’t just accept the first offer you receive just to get out of your current situation. Besides the obvious criteria of “can I do the job?” and “does it pay enough?”… consider your personal satisfaction, the company culture, and the opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Readers: How would you rate your job based on working climate, pay rate, and how you forecast the future of the position?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Eight Ways to Instill a Work Ethic in Your Children


Dear, Anita,

I’m trying to convince my 13-year-old son to come to my office on “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work” day this year. He just doesn’t seem interested (in fact, he barely looks up from his important texting whenever I bring up the subject). I know it’s early for him to choose a career, but I would like him to know a little about the business world, as well as where the food on our table comes from! Any advice on how to prepare him for future employment?

Lemonade StandDear, Fathering Greatness,

I remember when this event was started in 1993 by Ms. Foundation (it was originally called “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” back then; sons have been included since 2003). It’s a great opportunity to under­stand what Mom or Dad does all day, which, for a kid, is usually a pretty vague concept. This year’s Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 24, 2014. For more information about activities
or resources, check out the Foundation’s web page.

I took an unscientific poll of hard-working individuals I know and combined that with an ad hoc degree in parenting to come up with a few words of wisdom on raising future professionals:

1)  Insist on Respect. I love to see parents teaching their children to introduce themselves to adults with a handshake and eye contact. I would request that your son look at you when you are speaking to him. (Hey, you asked for my advice!) During teenage years especially, you may butt heads. In the future, your kids will certainly work with a few difficult people. Teach them to disagree agreeably.

2)  Chores. Helping at home as part of a family “team” will teach your child to pull his or her weight in a future workplace. In their future career, they will steadily get added responsibility, so graduate children from one age-appropriate chore to the next. One of my colleagues subscribes to this philosophy, “Just like mom and dad have a job, their job is to go to school and learn.” Report cards are their quarterly reviews! Working toward a college education was highly valued, whether from a high-achieving degreed parent or a mom who survived hardships and wanted her daughters to be self-sufficient.

3)  Praise the Effort. It’s important not to quash a child’s spirit by being overly critical, especially when they are younger.  Be sure to give clear instructions (bosses, are you listening?) and then give positive reinforcement for a task’s completion, even if it is not perfect. I’ve read that 10 compliments to one correction ratio is a good rule of thumb.

4)  Encourage Improvement. After you commend your offspring’s endeavor, offer some constructive advice. One colleague remembers her parents saying “do more than the minimum.” As she got older, they advised her to dress for the job a level above hers. Develop an “always improving” mentality.

5)  Rewards. You work for a paycheck, so pay your kids for their work. Whether you give an allowance, “incentivize” good grades, or create extra pay-for-hire chores, it’s great real-world experience to earn, handle, and budget money.  You can decide whether your kids’ earnings should go for necessities (clothing, cell phone, hair gel) or extras. One colleague remembers asking his dad for a baseball glove. The response: “You got money for that?”

6)  Let Them Solve Problems. Don’t always jump in to save the day when your child is having difficulties. One young director’s parents instilled that idea the “reward” was the success of the endeavor and the feeling of accomplishment – something money can’t buy.

7)  Delayed Gratification. In the age where instant texts have replaced letters to pen pals, it may be hard for the up-and-coming generation to get practice at delayed gratification. As kids get older, encourage larger projects that call for persistence, like starting a vegetable garden or earning scouting badges. Opening a bank account so she could watch her earnings accumulate was empowering for one industrious manager.

8)  Be a Role Model. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. While many teenagers go through a slothful phase (you sometimes wonder if they’ll ever become a productive member of society!), if you are diligent at work and at home, your children will notice.

Don’t expect the school system alone to make your children employable. Do your part to set your kids up for future success in the world of work.

Readers: What was the best work or job advice you ever got from your parents?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 2


Dear, Readers,

Last week, Wrong Wavelength wrote in about a misunderstood email she sent to her supervisor. Follow my 10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications to keep you out of hot water. Review Commandments 1-5 here.

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: www.masalatime.com

Even the most clearly worded directives can sometimes be misunderstood. A cake decorator took her instructions too literally. Source: http://www.masalatime.com

6. Avoid ambiguity. For example, you write, “We’re losing sales on our XYZ product. I wonder what our competitors are charging.” Does that mean you want the recipient to research the competitors’ prices? Make sure you are not asking rhetorical questions in email (“Why don’t you… ?”). If you are taking excessive care not to offend, the recipient may not even notice the constructive criticisms couched in our communiqués. A phrase like “There’s a problem with …” or a polite instruction like “Could you please correct… ?” is more to the point. If you’re giving bad news, use simple, sympathetic language, like “I’m afraid…”

7. Ditch the demands. On the opposite end of the beating around the bush is coming across as hard-nosed. Instead of “I want you to explain ABC,” it’s better to say, “We need to discuss ABC.” Common courtesy goes a long way.  Even an innocuous reply of “Fine” is subject to interpretation. Revisit drama class and read that one word with the following emotions: angry, happy, satisfied, bored, and exasperated. To be safe, add a few extra words (“That sounds fine to me”) or rephrase.

8. Add a little emotion.  Even at work, show a little feeling with your words, from excitement to sympathy. While trying to motivate, though, don’t overdo the exclamation points. One per paragraph is my rule of thumb. It’s my opinion that adding emoticons to internal (non-client) emails is acceptable – in moderation. But don’t think that adding a wink makes it okay to forward that off-color joke.

9. Use your CC wisely. While it’s important for anyone with “need to know” status to be included in the information loop, use the CC wisely so as not to inundate your co-workers with unnecessary emails. If you are reprimanding someone in a CCed email, the whole department (usually) does not have to know about it. Likewise, if you are the person to respond to an email with a lot of people CCed, consider whether or not they need to be included on the response. Don’t just hit “Reply” when “Reply to All” is more appropriate. It’s frustrating for the originator of the email to have to keep adding the CCed recipients back in every time the conversation shifts back and forth.

10. Reply thoroughly. My personal pet peeve is sending an email with multiple questions and getting a response to only one. When writing the original email, if you number your questions, you’ll have a better chance of getting all of them answered.

Before you hit “send,” take a moment to review your email. Read it aloud in your head in the opposite tone you intend (say, sarcastic or angry for most business email). You may be surprised at how your innocent email could be taken the wrong way by a colleague. If you just can’t get the tone right, pick up the phone for a 38% better chance of being understood.

Readers: Have you ever had one of your emails misunderstood? Feel free to post your example in the comments!

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10 Commandments to Avoid Email Miscommunications: Tablet 1


Dear, Anita,

I work remotely and sent this email to my boss. He got very upset and I don’t know why.

Hi [Boss], I haven’t been successful reaching you by phone, so I’ll try email instead. Could you please forward me the newest statistics for the [project] that I requested last week?

I almost lost my job because he said I was being insubordinate. What do you think, Anita? Did I do anything wrong?

Dear, Wrong Wavelength,

I recently had a text message misunderstanding with a family member, so your question really hits home. It sounds like you accidentally offended your boss when you insinuated (in his mind) that he does not return phone calls and unprofessionally ignores requests.

Albert Mehrabian, a 1960s researcher, found that communication is 7 percent verbal (words), 38 percent tone of voice, and 55 percent body language. Since a whopping 93% of nonverbal cues are missing in electronic communications, it’s no wonder there are so many crossed wires!

To avoid misunderstandings – or worse, offense – keep my Ten Commandments of Email Communication in mind. We’ll start with five this week, and bring the second electronic stone tablet next week.

1. Keep it short. Nobody has time for long rambling emails, and you may lose your audience before you get to the point. Summarize briefly, while still relaying relevant information. Use attachments to supplement your email outline.

Lets_Eat_Grandma_Save_Lives_Meme2. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A simple mistake could change your message dramatically – especially for poor grandma.

3. Be clear and avoid double negatives. Look at this muddle with a quadruple negative: “Unless you fail to inform us in advance of your inability to attend the training event, you will not be billed for those presentations which you cannot avoid missing.” Will I or won’t I be charged for the event if I don’t cancel?

4. Be specific. If you add a comment or opinion about a statement in an email, make sure it’s clear which point you are remarking on. Sometimes, it is helpful to respond under each statement or question, and change the text color of your responses.

5. Be careful with humor. Your tongue-in-cheek sarcasm may just come across as just plain mean when not accompanied by your charming smirk. Electronic joking is best employed with co-workers you know quite well.

Stay tuned for email commandments 6 through 10 next week!

Readers: Here’s a fun challenge for you! Rewrite the email excerpt in Wrong Wavelength’s question to improve the tone and avoid misunderstandings. Post your best rephrasing by leaving a reply in the comments.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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