How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Still working to develop those good habits? Be more organized? Eat better? Exercise regularly? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but studies show that about now you are perhaps not keeping up with those new goals. According to one very cited statistic, only about 8% of us actually keep our resolutions, and most start our downfall after about 3-4 weeks into the new year. Welcome to week 5 of January, 2018! I truly hope you are one of the 8%, but if not, there is also research that shows that failing to keep your resolutions may not be all your fault. As the new year begins, we have BIG plans for change and tend to set unrealistic goals. The experts suggest that we start small by making incremental changes instead of the “go big or go home” mentality. So instead of cutting ALL sugar out of your diet, resolve to lessen your daily sugar intake or work for no sugar at 2 meals. Instead of exercising 7 days a week, resolve to start with 3 days or add 15 minutes to your two-a-week sessions. And if you struggle along the way, work to remember that each DAY is a new beginning, and you can reset and start again if necessary.
So how can we apply this more realistic resolution setting to communication? Well, let me throw out a few more statistics -- did you know that the average worker spends 13 hours per week on emails? We spend 28% of our work week reading, responding, and rearranging emails. Yikes! I think that we all need ways to better handle emails, so let’s make a resolution to work on “email exercises”! Before we get started, remember that to achieve maximum results from physical exercises (to get the most bang from the buck!), experts recommend that you change up your exercise routine to prevent overuse injuries, to build new muscles, to beat boredom, and to keep your brain focused. And depending on current physical health, time available, facilities and equipment, and even the budget, different people work better with different exercise programs. Let’s apply these same rules to email exercises. Here are some small changes (researched and recommended) for you to try. Find the ones that work for you and mix them up.
Once-a-Day - first thing in the morning, schedule a long period (at least one hour) to check emails and formulate a plan for the rest of the day.
5-a-Day - check your emails first thing in the morning, mid-morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon, and before you leave for the day.
AM/PM - check your email in the morning when you get to work and in the evening before you leave.
Take a Break - during the day, take 2 hour breaks from emails. Turn off all notifications and force yourself to focus on tasks.
Just like physical exercises, there are lots and lots of ways to handle emails. And depending on the day or project, you may need to be flexible, but I suggest that you try ALL of these email exercises. Maybe on Monday, check your email ONLY in the morning. Try the AM/PM method on Tuesday. Wednesday, Take a Break or try 5-a-Day. Find what works for you and use it (or them). etc Strategies believes that finding ways to better handle your emails will improve productivity and lessen stress. And with more time and less stress, you can work on your other resolutions! Good luck!
Apology time again -- I am so sorry Diane, Michelle, and Karen for all the times we played school growing up and I ALWAYS had to be the teacher. Let’s face it - I was (and probably still am) pretty bossy, and after all, I did have my mom’s old schoolwork from her classroom. But looking back, I now realize I wasn’t being fair at all! Okay -- even back then I knew I wasn’t being fair, but Diane, Michelle, and Karen knew that I was going to be the teacher every single time, and guess what? They still played with me. And we spent hours “learning” stuff at our imaginary school before we moved on to Barbies or going outside to play. Do you remember your childhood group of friends? Luckily I grew up on Cheshire Lane with house next to house next to house filled with kids, all ages, boys and girls, with parents who made us play outside as long as the sun shined. We played kickball in the street and got so mad when cars came and we had to stop the game. We rode our bikes to the park and played tennis. We swam at Michelle’s house and jumped on the trampoline at Karen’s house. And all in all, we played nicely. We certainly had our squabbles (Rob made Diane cry at least once a week), and we didn’t always agree what to play or how to play it (except playing school - remember I was ALWAYS the teacher). But we figured it out and quickly got back to the game or Barbies or playing school. Wouldn’t it be great if we as adults could “play nicely” with each other, especially when it comes to communication?
In honor of those fun-filled days of playing with my childhood friends, I thought I would use the word PLAY to share some ways to “play nicely” when communicating with others
Prepare - Before we kicked the ball, before we organized the Barbie stuff, before we swam or jumped, we prepared. We picked teams, gathered our Barbie cases (and my cool Barbie airplane), grabbed towels and pool toys, or made sure we had the right shoes for the trampoline. To prepare for communicating with others, make sure you schedule the best time to meet, gather all of your needed materials and notes, organize your points, and plan multiple ways to meet your objectives. Even if your communication experience is informal and unstructured, prepare by remembering connections you can make during the conversation.
Lessen - As kids, we never planned to play kickball, Barbies, and jump on the trampoline all in one evening! I’m pretty sure our newly-forming time management skills did not teach us that we didn’t have enough time in an evening to participate in every activity. We just knew. But how many times do we try to squeeze way too many objectives into a communication experience? Work to lessen your load and more fully focus on fewer but more developed ideas.
Applaud - Although as kids we literally applauded (and yelled) when a team member made a great catch or kicked the ball a long way, we can figuratively applaud during communication experiences. Show your admiration for a well-made point or innovative idea. Give credit to others’ for their contributions. Highlight a job well-done. Everyone enjoys a little applause!
Yield - Although I ALWAYS had to be the teacher when we played school, there were other times that I didn’t have to do things my way (I only hope my friends can remember those times!). We all need to yield at times when communicating. I tend to talk way too much, so I work to stop talking and let others jump in. And if no one starts talking, ask open-ended questions to get everyone involved.
I’m thankful that I grew up with a wonderful group of friends who knew how to play nicely. etc Strategies believes that learning to “play nicely” when communicating can help you connect to others and develop stronger relationships. And a big thanks to Diane, Michelle, and Karen -- all those times they “let” me be the teacher only made me a better teacher later in life!
Back before Texas A&M football season tickets cost as much as a small car (thanks SEC!), we packed up and trekked to College Station most fall weekends for Aggie football. With our very young family and very early career earnings, the “best” seats we could afford were located on the 3rd deck about 4 rows from the very top of the stadium. Although our noses bled at this height, we loved spending time with our surrounding seatmates. And with A&M’s up and down seasons, for many games we were more excited about visiting with our friends than actually watching the game. As I said, we hauled our very young kids to the games, so I worked super hard to bring things to keep them occupied as football didn’t seem to hold their attention. Every game weekend, I packed the Backpack of Fun! Remember, we lived way before cell phones and iPads, so our fun included handheld games, crayons and coloring books, puzzles, cars, Legos, and the most fun of all, Play-Doh! I packed snacks and drinks and chewing gum (a very special treat!). For one game we even did crafts with pipe cleaners and beads! Of course, we needed batteries and Band-Aids and sunscreen. We had water and Goldfish and Tylenol. I’m pretty sure our family could survive in the wild for at least a week with the Backpack of Fun. But don’t just think that our family benefitted. Most games, we shared our snacks or water or batteries or Tylenol with our fellow fans. One game, I even remember using up all of the sunscreen as the weather report did not predict the bright sunny day. As a mom, I didn’t always make the right decisions and didn’t always handle situations as a “good” mom, but I pride myself on the Backpack of Fun! For the duration of our season tickets, I was prepared for just about anything. Fast forward to today, and although I don’t have a Backpack of Fun anymore, I do still carry a small container of mosquito spray and sunscreen in my purse, and I always have a fresh bottle of water in my car. I try to be prepared.
So why am I sharing my “be prepared” story with you? How does being prepared connect to effective communication? In previous blogs, I’ve shared strategies and tips about working to know your audience and purpose to make better choices for your communication medium and word choices, but today I’m focusing on a more general but important way to be prepared. And I’m offering a very simple task -- to prepare for any communication experience, take a few minutes right BEFORE the experience to prepare your attitude and outlook. Remember, you have already prepared “what” you want to say and “how” you want to say it. You may have even prepared visuals and examples and the answers to any questions. Now, prepare by getting into the right mind frame - work to be positive, confident, and cooperative. Take a deep breath and approach the communication experience with an open mind and a calm demeanor. Work to take out emotions BEFORE you engage in the conversation. And if needed and possible, postpone the communication until you can be more prepared. By taking the time to prepare your mental attitude before a communication experience, you are more in control of your emotions and better able to problem-solve and think creatively. Research shows that this positivity leads to more cooperation and collaboration.
etc Strategies believes that mentally preparing BEFORE a communication experience results in a more effective and productive engagement and exchange. You can “be prepared” by working on a more positive attitude and a willingness to listen and work with others. And put some sunscreen and mosquito spray and even a battery or two in your purse or briefcase. You never know when you might need some, so be prepared!
We snow skied, we hiked, we played the slots, we ate a lot, and we even saw the Star Wars movie -- welcome to the Hardegree Family Vacation, 2018! Last week, we visited beautiful South Lake Tahoe for a quick but fun trip - we love frequent flyer miles! Although I have more than a few blogs about the trip and “family” communication strategies to share at a later date, today’s blog is about how effectively our AirBNB host communicated before, during, and even after our visit. But first - a little story - you knew it was coming … After a visit to the Houston SPCA with my dog-loving brother and sister-in-law, my parents adopted a new dog, Rusty. He’s a five year old mix of some sort and seems to be pretty independent but loving, necessary qualities that meet my parents’ needs at this point. But, my mom is having great difficulty communicating with Rusty. When he comes back into the house, he stands beside her waiting. She’s tried giving him a treat, petting him, using affirming words, even offering him a toy, but nothing seems to completely satisfy him. After a few minutes, he moves on, but my mom is frustrated that she can’t figure out what Rusty wants or needs. If only Rusty could use his words to talk to my mom. Of course Rusty can’t use his words - he’s a dog, but life could be so much easier if everyone would “use your words” to communicate.
Now back to our vacay - from the moment I made the reservation for the condo, our host began “using her words” to share detailed information about the condo, the area, the process, and even about herself. From the first email introducing herself and sharing not only how much she loved the condo and the area but also sharing that she wanted to do whatever she could to make our trip easy and fun to subsequent emails confirming our details and letting us know of some changes in the scheduling to a very detailed email sharing particulars about the condo and suggestions and recommendations about local businesses and restaurants - our host truly helped our trip run more smoothly allowing us to have more fun and less worries! But the “words” didn’t stop at the emails -- in the condo, cabinets and drawers were labeled with contents, short notes shared hints and tips about appliances, and a bulletin board spilled over with information about the condo and surrounding area. She also created a scrapbook with even more information including phone numbers and directions. During the trip, she continued to email me offering to help with any questions or concerns, and after our visit, she welcomed my suggestions to make the condo even better for the next visitors. In our world of texting and tweets, less seems to be better, but there are times when “using your words” (and I mean lots of words) can more effectively communicate. Although some of the words shared by our host may be common sense, and I’m pretty sure I could have just opened the cabinets and drawers to see the contents, her words made my vacation a little easier because I didn’t have to figure things out. I know, I know - in previous blogs I’ve preached about concisely communicating, but there are times both professionally and personally that we all need to use more of our words. For that big project, offer both a concise summary and a detailed plan of action. Have multiple people take notes during a meeting so that one person can take detailed notes on one topic and make those detailed notes available for anyone to access. In emails, concisely share an overview but offer links and attachments to provide more details. etc Strategies believes that you should “use your words” to more effectively communicate. Sharing more details can avoid confusion and misunderstandings and increase productivity, safety, and morale.
So if you have any ideas about what Rusty may want, please “use your words” and let me know. And if you are visiting South Lake Tahoe any time soon, email me for information about a great condo and even greater host! And thanks for letting me “use my words” in these blogs!