Archive: January, 2019

Post from Transformation Tom- Learn to Manage Up, Down, and Around: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - January 27, 2019 - News
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Manage

Can you manage and motivate people around you effectively? Can you inspire the people who work for you and with you to run through a wall for you? Can you push your peers forward who only come in for their paycheck? Can you confidently influence leaders above you and make a difference? I have found that professionals are not always equally balanced in all of the above. This presents an opportunity to learn to better manage up, down, and around. The number of people who work for us, with us, or above us is irrelevant. Everyone has a boss, even CEOs and self-employed people, both of whom need to report back to shareholders and customers, respectively. Everyone has people all around that can be influenced, persuaded, motivated, and managed.

Let’s start with the people who work for you. Many of us have been in positions in which we need to manage down. However, I should rephrase it to describe it as lead down. We should be leading people along a path to success. In this day and age, people want and need to feel appreciated and feel as though they are a part of the overall company. Managing has to be replaced with leading if we truly want to have the impact necessary to drive the business forward and build an effective relationship with employees.

Today’s workforce thirsts for leaders who can build confidence, develop relationships, and increase people’s overall satisfaction level. The success of the business is only as good as those who are doing the work. So I will ask the question that was posed to me, “If you ran through a wall, would people follow?” It took me many more years to learn that you can, and will, get better results by caring for people. I found out that I needed to be more open to what they have to say to improve the business, and strive to make them better today than they were yesterday. I needed to adapt my style based on the individual I was dealing with, rather than blanket managing a group. I learned I needed to lead the effort, not just manage the day-to-day results. I also realized that if I peaked over my shoulder as I ran through the wall, I wasn’t exactly sure if I would see people following me. I had to work harder and smarter at knowing the answer. Since I am confident that hope won’t win the game, I began to put in the effort needed to ensure that I wouldn’t have to look over my shoulder any longer. In many cases, I was learning to not only run through the wall, but to get out of the way so my team could forge ahead. I was learning to ride the coat-tails of others while leading.

I was gaining confidence in the fact that people believed in my vision, my mission, and my core values. I became more accepting of employees as individuals, and became more myself. I used to worry that if I ever played the trust game, in which you fall back into someone else’s arms, that I would not be caught. I truly believe that when I began to genuinely trust and respect the efforts of the people around me, those people became more satisfied and productive. I became less obsessed with results and more focused on the individuals working toward those results. Having less control was a new and uncomfortable concept to me. To my amazement, however, the results did indeed take care of themselves.

Another lesson is to take care of the support people, whether they work directly for you or not. The people who do the little things (and the big things) behind the scenes keep a business afloat. The many little things add up to significant impacts to everyone’s workload, potential profit, and overall satisfaction levels. I have been in several positions when people on the support staff have been on vacation and I immediately felt the short-term impacts. I have also been witness to instances when people on the support staff have been let go from the company due to budget cuts. I have felt the pain of picking up the workload nobody realized was there until it was too late. There were impacts to communication channels, key contacts, and routines that vanished. I was so confident in certain things getting done like clockwork that many things came to a screeching halt when the support person left.

I understand business models revolving around expense management, but we need to fully consider the value of good support and build that into the overall model. Everyone in the company doesn’t need a dedicated staff working behind the scenes, but a good business model does account for the value added by having a solid support staff. The ‘go-to folks’ are go to for a reason. They will take care of you. When you have the advantage of great support people, always ask what you can do for them. It is a question that I may not ask enough, but I do know it is always appreciated.

Managing peers around you is difficult for many reasons. How do you manage people or situations when you supposedly have very little influence on them? They do not have to listen to someone who is not an authority figure for them. I have learned to build bridges, and I am very confident that I have a positive reputation for working well with my peers.

As I have stated many times, it was not always that way. I had a demanding and urgent nature to my requests. To some extent, I don’t think the urgency has ever left me. However, I now better understand the importance of collaboration. In recent years, I’ve had fewer people reporting directly to me, but seemed to have more responsibility across a broader spectrum. I had no choice in these situations but to learn to manage the peers with whom I had no direct influence. I had to invest the time to speak to people who could assist and support me. I had to work well with people who could teach me a new business, or learn to negotiate their involvement in order to assist with the completion of one of my requests. I learned how to provide mutually conducive environments in which everyone could win. I also taught myself that it was all right to not have all the answers and to ask questions…A lot of questions. I learned not to hold back and to ask questions that allowed people to dig deeper, and this in turn, built mutual trust and respect. I learned that a team of peers who learned from each other and played off of everyone’s strengths all moved up together.

I also learned to eliminate my negative competitive feelings. I used to worry whether the person with whom I was working would get the credit for work I had done. Would they get the next promotion? Could I afford to have them look better than me? When I finally learned that a team effort creates better quality work, we both won. I began to get a reputation for being a team player and that made me more favorable in the eyes of people making decisions about my next roles. I am not naïve enough to think that there is no competition. However, I no longer worry about it. I trust that either the right person will get the job or, more importantly, that everyone wins in the right situation.

How do you manage the people above you? This is a foreign concept to many people. I have learned that we need to learn to communicate up effectively. If you are given feedback, you have the right to ask for examples. If you are told to do something faster or better, you must ask how and why. A healthy and respectful dialogue will build the relationship and make both of you stronger. If you do not understand specific instructions, you should clarify and confirm. It may bother some managers to have to go into more details, but it is much better to invest the time up front than waste energy doing it all over again due to some initial miscommunication resulting in the job being done wrong. The confidence you possess when speaking to people you manage should not go away just because the bigwig is in the room. Nothing should change. We are all working towards the same company goal of making our business better.

We should seek to maintain strong conviction in our voice and avoid holding back points we feel need to be said. If we prepare and use facts to state our points, we should be confident in what we are discussing, as this discussion may create opinions and create a debate that is needed. If you are not strong enough to state your opinion, then all sides of the argument are not exhibited and additional facts are left off to the side. If your leader disagrees with your points, this is fine since at least then the entire story is on the table. When this occurs, you should professionally ask questions as to why the leader may not agree with you if you feel you have stated all the appropriate facts. Finish your thoughts with confidence. Even if cut off, you can professionally interject when you feel it is appropriate, or ask to finish your thoughts. I am not asking for everyone to speak over their managers, but I have found if you have done the legwork and preparation, including building a solid relationship foundation, this type of communication is acceptable, and even encouraged, as everyone is striving to achieve the company goals.

I have found people who were more willing to offer a quick apology for having an opinion than willing to finish a healthy debate. I was one of those people. Now, I seek to ensure that it is a two-way conversation. This comes through mutual engagement in the conversation and a built-up trust and respect from both parties. If this mutual trust and respect is not there, then make the effort to build it. Be open and honest; the buzz word in professional lingo is to be transparent. Do not be deceitful or withhold information. Note that I didn’t say you couldn’t filter messages; filtering messages provides enough information without wasting anyone’s time (e.g., executive summary).

Be as prepared as possible to manage up by having reference information at your fingertips, staying in tune with industry information, and understanding the leader’s tendencies. Keep a nice pace to what you are saying so it is fully understood and questions can be asked. Be structured and organized with your thoughts; take the time to think it through. Trust that when you are in a position to speak to senior people within the organization, you are there to provide valuable information and that they are there to seek information that will strengthen the business.

I have had many conversations with individuals who felt there was an underlying tone or agenda to some of the senior leader questions asked in focus-group-type sessions. For example, cynics may perk up when responding to a question like, “How do you think we are doing overall as a company?” when they are having issues with their own management team, and feel the question is meant to spark a negative comment. If that is truly the case, escalate your concerns to other parties who could make a difference. Trust is a delicate thing that needs to be earned, but it is a two-way street. You have the right to build up enough trust so that when someone asks what’s on your mind, you can genuinely share it.

The other side is not to speak up just to be heard or to impress. You should speak up when you have something important to say, not because you have a scripted or canned question or response.

Get comfortable with having conversations with senior leaders. Be curious—ask questions that are meaningful to you and your team. Your silence says as much as the person asking questions just to be heard—yes, that is obvious too. It takes work and preparation to increase your comfort level. You can role play ahead of time and network with people outside your area to practice. In all cases, seek to build your confidence by continuing to try. You may surprise yourself.

Whether you are managing up, down, or around, know the audience and balance your messages with honest and genuine responses. There is no need for the traditional good-bad-good sandwich feedback approach. Just provide honest answers and questions. Look for the positive in everything, but build relationships in which direct and genuine conversations can take place—that is where constructive conversations grow. If something is not going right, it is not about spin, it is about what positive measures you are taking to fix it. If two people can work through a plan of action, anything can be made better.

Finally, be willing to be wrong. Take chances—it won’t hurt you (most of the time) as long as the right effort and attitude are there. The great thing about all of the mistakes I’ve made is that I get the excitement of sharing what I’ve learned with everyone willing to listen. This builds your credibility and trust—thus opening up communication with more people. If I didn’t make mistakes, I would have no speeches or books to write, or have anything to say to my mentors.

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Take Action—Hope Won’t Win the Game without a Game Plan: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - January 20, 2019 - News
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Whether you are moving your business forward or moving yourself forward, you can’t hope for the best and expect it every time. You need to take action and put in the right game plan and preparation to ensure that your hope is given the appropriate direction and momentum. I have heard people who were responsible for multi-million dollar businesses say that they hope the new idea or initiative works. I truly believe in some cases that their fingers were crossed. We can’t predict the outcome of every decision or action we take; however, we can dictate the direction and significantly increase our odds by taking out the unknowns.

I was meeting with one of the people I mentor. It was our second meeting, so we were following up on actions I had asked of her in our last meeting. I asked her to come back with three names of leaders she wanted to emulate and network with. We spent almost an hour discussing the benefits of networking, and how we could work together to gain confidence to pave her own road ahead. During our discussion we talked about networking with people a couple of levels ahead of her. I was excited to see who she had come up with, whether it was someone from across the country or a completely different line of business. She brought in two names of people within one hundred yards of her and a name of a member of her own management team. Although it was not what I had expected, it was the small circle of names she knew.

I realized then that her circle of influence was small, and her networking circle was not much bigger. I also realized that she was accustomed to not taking accountability unless it was specifically asked of her and then followed up with a formal request. We discussed the benefits of taking action immediately and taking responsibility for requests independently. Taking action would contribute to her confidence and success.

Our continued conversation made it clear that she had issues understanding our corporation as a whole. I shared numerous examples of my own inability to understand our particular corporate culture early on and what had been required to be more proactive. I was able to share live examples of when this had worked. She still seemed hesitant. I almost felt as though she “hoped” I would do some of this for her in our mentoring sessions.

I had to change her hopeful mentality to one of action. So, I began to give examples of instances when we hear a request and are not sure whether we should do something about it or not. We discussed the benefits of clarifying and confirming the requests to ensure that the appropriate owner and action comes out of the meeting or interaction. How many times have you run into an old friend and said, “We should get together some time,” and nothing ever comes to fruition? This is the same concept. Action is required for successful execution of a request. Action makes it happen, not hope.

Hope

I found one of the potential people she wanted to network with could be seen simply by standing up and looking into the office. The fact that she identified someone to network with—even locally—was a small stretch for her, but a good first step. Another person she identified was two levels up from her, but within the same line of business. She said she had met with him when he was in town a few months before. I was excited that she had growing confidence enough to answer these questions and seek to expand her circle of influence. This was another small win, since I had not expected her to have had any previous contact with him yet. Although the networking meeting was more a circumstance of the situation, she took advantage of the opportunity. She was starting to put the pieces together regarding how advantageous this would be for her growth potential.

Her meeting with the person on the management team put her slightly out of her comfort zone, which was a plus, as it demonstrated to her that she had survived and was building her confidence one step at a time. She mentioned that this individual had said they should get together every couple of months to share ideas and discuss her progress. I was ecstatic and asked when the meeting had taken place. She said that it was about three weeks prior to the meeting we were having. I asked what was holding her back from following up to organize the next meeting with him. She said she did not know; maybe she hoped they could catch up in a couple months. Hope would not move her forward. I know, because I sat back and waited for people to approach me far too many times myself.

People hold back on taking action for many reasons. Sometimes, we just forget. This can be easily resolved if we write it down or set it up immediately. For others, it is pushing beyond their comfort level. Confidence comes with time, after continuing to do something over and over again. I often hear, “I don’t want to bother (insert name here).” If you never ask, you will never know the answer. Finally, there may be a lack of understanding as to the expectations within a corporate culture. Ask questions. Curiosity is only going to broaden your cultural understanding and comfort.

Our mentor conversation continued to what she wanted to gain from the three individuals she’d selected. She mentioned that she had watched the other two people already in close proximity to her over the past month. I asked what she had gained from watching them. It was a difficult question for her, since she hadn’t been sure what she had been looking for. The question was not intended to put her on the spot. The question’s intention was to let her know that she had gleaned a month’s worth of valuable observations. Now, what was she going to do about it? She began to grasp the concept that she needed to take action by either trying some of the things she’d seen herself, or by meeting with these two leaders to get some context to what she’d seen so that she could begin to apply it. In simple terms, her personal growth would accelerate when she took action.

We moved on to the next long-term steps she wanted to take. She stated that she wanted to take the next step up in her area or move to another area. She understood the direction of our conversation and proactively mentioned that she did not have a game plan. She was going to wait until something opened up and she would put in her application and résumé. When I asked if we could review her résumé, she said she hadn’t written one yet. I asked how she planned on submitting it if the opening came up today? She said she would have to scramble. This was another “aha” moment for her, and it was fun for me to watch this learning take place before my eyes. We discussed how I “hoped” someone would have had this conversation with me years before. She immediately began to take her own actions right there in the meeting. She began to outline the beginning of her résumé, she took copious notes, and I know that her future success was now in motion based on her actions.

We must all have a game plan, whether it is for our own career, or to push an initiative over the finish line. If you don’t have a game plan, sit with someone who can help formulate one with you. Finding help and support is taking action.

 

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

 

Post from Transformation Tom- Learn the Value of Effective Verbal Communication: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - January 13, 2019 - News
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Verbal CommLearning to verbally communicate effectively is a valuable tool that will build your confidence and credibility. The ability to appropriately balance a message, filter a message, and provide an impactful message is important to move a professional business forward. An effective communication style and approach will give the presenter confidence, and gain credibility with the audience.

What is “effective” communication? The term itself is vague, and therefore hard to define. I like to start with the basics. What is the message you want to send? Whether you are attempting to put two sentences together or a thirty-minute presentation, you must have a clear message with a strong beginning and a strong conclusion. The message you are attempting to convey should be emphasized and reiterated throughout the body of your presentation. The preparation in formulating your message is important, even in question and answer formats or impromptu situations. You should know your audience well enough to have some semblance of an idea of the types of questions or responses that may come up. For example, an executive summary doesn’t need the minute details of the inner workings of a process. This type of audience simply wants to be assured that the process will work as intended. You can give high-level examples where this is the case and have details available if questions are asked, or in the Appendix at the back of the written presentation.

Even if you have the jitters when communicating in front of a group, keep them under control and attempt to present confidently. I realize this is easy to say and harder to do. As you nurture your ability to control your nerves, that ability will improve over time. Keep trying, even if mistakes are made. The more public speaking you do, the more comfortable you will be. I have seen too many people in meeting settings who were experts in their fields not say anything because they were uncomfortable with their own oral communication skills. Not saying a word is communication—if you choose not to participate, you must take this into consideration. If a question is asked about any additional points or a discussion is required prior to a vote, for example, you can make a difference in the direction a business takes if you choose to stay out of the debate. Be confident enough to state your points. You do not have to own the situation; you need to just confidently speak up when necessary. Confidence comes with time and practice.

How often have you been distracted when a presenter communicates a message intertwined with filler words, such as “ah,” “um,” and “you know?” There are plenty of filler words out there. Many times, the speaker’s mind is working faster than he can get the words out as he thinks ahead to the next piece of the presentation. This is easier to fix than you think. Being conscious of your own behavior is half the battle. When you begin to understand how distracting or annoying it can be to the audience, you will slow down your thought process and formulate better-constructed sentences. You can have people around you provide feedback. This practice is critical in a Toastmasters meeting and has been a practical exercise to everyone who has ever had anyone count their filler words.

The ability to reduce filler words will increase your credibility with others. Although you may feel embarrassed at first, the respect you will gain from your audience for your improved communication will easily make up for it. You may remember the story of Caroline Kennedy when she expressed an interest in the U.S. Senate seat in New York. In a thirty-minute interview in December 2008, she had been reported to say “you know” well over one hundred times. The unpopular media responses hurt her credibility. It was not long after the media stories that she decided to drop out of the race. If it was not the direct link to her dropping out, was it at least a contributing factor?

The best written speech is only as good as the person presenting it. Imagine the “Gettysburg Address” wrought with filler words: “Four score, ah, and um seven years ago, you know, our fathers brought forth, you know, upon this ah continent, um a new nation, you know conceived in um liberty, and, um, dedicated to the, you know, proposition that all men are created equal.” You get the point.

While I am discussing effective communication, I thought I would also share some of my favorite communication pet peeves. I’ll start with the use of the words “go” or “went” when the intended word was “say” or “said.” For example, “He went, ‘You should have…’” Another one is “to be honest with you.” It adds no value to the conversation, and does not change the message. The phrase may even negatively impact your credibility since it provides the audience with a taste of something about to be said that needed emphasis on the so-called truth. The phrase is filler and should be avoided. I went years saying the word “supposebly.” Ask me to spell it out on paper and I would spell it correctly, “supposedly.” I knew how to say it, but picked up on the habit of saying it like I had been hearing it from several people around me. Someone said to me once, “You realize the word is supposedly?” Yes, I did, but I had become oblivious to my own poor habits. Actively listen for it. It is still out there in the professional world being used daily.

Another unnecessary phrase is, “It is what it is.” What is “it”? What new nugget of hope or information is the audience given with the phrase? I find it is a way to end a conversation, but adds very little value to the intended message. Remember, your conclusion is just as important as the introduction and body of your message. Do you really want to end a presentation or a conversation with, “It is what it is”? Finally, the recent integration of the words “right” and “really” at the end of sentences is becoming main stream. For example, “You know what I’m saying, right?” Or a little increase in tone when someone ends with a sarcastic, “So that’s what happened? Really?” A keen ear, or in many cases, a not- so-keen ear, can easily pick up on these add-on words that add little to no value to the conversation.

Build your own confidence and credibility by starting with the basics. Keep the message clear and concise, and speak with confidence. Minimize filler words and nurture your ability to overcome your butterflies and your audience will gain respect and consequently promote your credibility. Your verbal communication will become a valuable tool with direct links to your success.

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Know What the Written Word Says About You: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - January 7, 2019 - News
0

Sometimes I think that the written word is a lost art form. Considering how hard I had to work on improving my own writing skills over the years, I take this topic very seriously. In some cases, the use of proper grammar has disintegrated due to the fast-paced environment and technology all around us. Understanding that language is constantly evolving, I have grown to be flexible and accepting of new styles, forms, and words (look up “Ginormous” to get the point). However, I still understand the importance of how much the written word says about the writer.

Twitter, a social networking platform created in 2006, is a text-based methodology to post your thoughts with less than two hundred and eighty characters. These “tweets,” for those not familiar or living under a rock, can be made public to anyone who may be following the author. The public nature of this communication channel is a good example of why a writer needs to be extremely careful of what is written—or, in this case, posted. However, the shortened number of characters creates the need for the person posting to use symbols, limit the use of vowels, and eliminate punctuation in many cases. It also opens the reader up to many interpretations of the meaning of the message, the intended emotion, and limited context in which it was written.

Written Word

Although my current employer limits texting, it doesn’t eliminate employees from staying in a texting mode when sending written communication through emails, instant messages, and in some cases, official memos. I have often been accused of being critical about professional writing. Texting and instant messaging are so commonplace in today’s society, both personally and professionally, that they have influenced grammar when it comes time for formal memos and presentations to be done. Too many times, the habits from these quick-hit communication channels come out when it was not intended.

I consider attention to detail in writing both common sense and critical to anyone’s success in the professional world. I personally enjoy the challenge of creating a perfect document. I try to have a magnetic eye when it comes to spelling errors, spacing errors, and many editorial issues. Although I can hardly say that I am perfect with my own writing, I make the effort. In some cases, I think the diverse communication channels and flow have changed our attention to editing the written word. I don’t think we need to push the argument to the full extent and force everyone to hire an editor to sit down and read every email that is sent. However, I would strongly suggest that the authors slow down enough to proofread their own work. Stopping to read what was written prior to sending an email is a smart business move—simply running spell check does not count.

Written communications tell a lot about a person. Are you detail oriented? Do you have a reputation for misspelling, poor grammar, or lack of ability to check your own work? Whether we like it or not, judgments are often being made about our intelligence level based on what we put down in writing. In a professional setting, do you want the reputation of being the person who always uses silly acronyms such as LOL (“Laugh out loud”), EMPHASIZES YOUR EMOTIONS THROUGH CAPITALIZATION, or must get your point across with multiple exclamation points (e.g., !!!!!!!!) on formal, business-related communications? Believe it or not, I have read the word “crap” more than once on supposedly professionally-written emails.

I have been given the advice often that you should assume that what you write or send to someone can, and potentially will, be made public, even if your intentions are to keep the audience restricted. There are far too many opportunities for messages to be sent on to unintended parties. We are too public in our communications in today’s world not to be cautious of what we write. I am not talking about spelling issues. I am talking about private messages that become public because of our ability to forward and reply to the message. Emails can become an endless string. I recently saw an example of an email that came back to my inbox over two hundred times because someone hit “Reply All” in error, and then a comedy of emails of people informing the person that she hit “Reply All,” followed by the annoyed recipients who chose to inform everyone that they should not be responding to “Reply All.” The final kicker was the courtesy “Thanks” response at the end.

I am often surprised—although I have seen it enough not to be—that within minutes following an internal memorandum, it is already published on an external website for the entire world to see. I am not naïve enough to think that this is not intentional as a way to get the good news out about a company. However, we need to be sensitive that in any company, less trusted individuals with access to information are hungry to seek out the media to share the negative company news as well.

Depending on the company policy, the written word can be permanent. You should always make the assumption that what you write is considered part of the permanent record. How often have you seen in the news someone from a large corporation been dragged through some investigation, including a senate committee hearing, because of an email that came back to haunt them, or someone running for public office whose past written word forced them to be dragged through the mud? The key is to be careful in what you choose to put down in writing. Deleting your emails may not be your savior with today’s technology. We all need to be sensitive in what we choose to send out with our name on it.

Let’s oversimplify: proofread your work. The easiest way to do this is to stop and read it before sending it. I know I am stating the obvious, but running spell check is not considered editing in my eyes. Just ask my old manager, who had the word “manger” written at least twenty times throughout one of my performance appraisals. If we don’t edit our work, we may be losing some credibility—just ask the person we attempted to recognize with an email that starts with “Congradulations.”

I have had many people tell me that writing skills aren’t needed for certain jobs, such as being on the phones talking with customers. This may be true based on the job itself, but it also has to do with pride in your own skills and ability. In my field of work starting from speaking to customers on the phone to managing people and projects, I felt it was imperative to have decent writing skills. Let’s use the example of working on the phones: You may need to document the conversation on the system. Other customer service representatives need to see it for future interactions. The customer needs it for a record to ensure that the inquiry is addressed and resolved. What if it is more complicated, and an email or written request needs to go to another department? What about emailing the manager for assistance? I have seen run-on sentences that have lost all meaning, and entire communications without a vowel. Basic writing skills are critical if your original intended meaning is to be understood.

The speed of business may have moved us from the need to consciously vet everything written through proper and traditional grammar editing. I am pragmatic and understand not every word needs to be scrutinized. My request of you is to pay attention and double check your own work to ensure clarity within the writing. How it is written, and the attention to detail, is often interpreted solely by the reader, regardless of intent. If you are someone who does not proofread well on a computer system, there are other methods that are helpful, such as reading a passage backwards, and in some cases, printing it out to give it the extra attention it may need (note: plug to minimize printing when possible for environmental reasons). You can always have a second set of eyes review as well.

Whether someone chooses texting, instant messaging, email, or formal memos, a person’s personality comes out loud and clear. All methods are effective means of communicating. Text and email tend to be more reactive, but knowing this will change how you effectively use it. The key is to think things through before you hit send. These written communication channels have a tendency to have more emotion—which can be dangerous. What you intended to communicate and what is truly interpreted can and will be different. Take the time to gather your thoughts and to review them. Interpretation is a one-sided process. The recipient has full control to interpret your message any way he or she wants. A simple written joke, such as, “What was up with your presentation this morning?” can go from a fun message to say “nice job” with a little jab, to getting the recipient upset and forcing the need for apologies.

When it comes to written communications, please take notice of the following:

• Be clear and concise in what you are attempting to convey

• Invest time to review your written work prior to turning it in or sending it on

• Understand what you write will become a record of who you are

• Writing is a skill that can and should be honed

• There is value in effective writing skills; value that will be noticed and appreciated by the reader.

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby