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HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #3

Say Thanks and Shut Up!

This newsletter is the second in a series of 5 dealing with bad habits.  As I mentioned last month, it is based partly on the book by Marshall Goldsmith called "What Got You Here Won't Get You There".  I would highly recommend this book as you reflect on improving yourself by eliminating your own bad habits. 
To review from last month, we all have bad habits.  Many successful people have an even bigger issue in that they have convinced themselves that their bad habits are strengths!  They cling to them with pride, and refuse to change them.  Psychologically, they have convinced themselves that these bad habits are key reasons for their success.  The thing that they call their reputation or brand may be just a bad habit in disguise.  And those bad habits may become more critical as they advance in their careers, and may even prevent them from achieving their career goals.

This month, we are going to start looking at some common bad habits.  Specifically, we are going to deal with some bad habits that come from unintentionally saying too much.  Research has shown that the European-American culture has a great discomfort with silence (both verbal and nonverbal), and prefers to fill the void with the comfort of open, direct conversation.  This can be a good trait in business, especially when participation is required and decisions need to be made.

Interestingly, there are other situations where too much discussion can actually impede the open exchange of ideas, and the more favorable response is a simple expression of appreciation.  We all have aspirations of being approachable and open, where people are not afraid to bring you new ideas (if not, we will deal with that bad habit later).   We may explicitly ask others to go off and solve a problem and report back.  Or, we may imply that we want new ideas by stating that our doors are always open.  Unfortunately, our bad habit responses may be telling people just the opposite.  It's also likely that we don't even know that we are doing it.

Let's look at a few examples:
  1. Thanks
    Fred: And that's the end of my presentation.  Any questions?
    You: Yes.  On slide 13, could you explain what the graph...?

    I am teaching my 5 year old boys to say "please" and "thank you", since it's the basis of etiquette.  This skill is equally important in business, but sometimes forgotten.  It's the perfect response in many business situations.  It's polite, disarming, friendly, and shows the person that you saw that they made an effort and that you cared.   If your goal is to be approachable, start by telling people that you are grateful for the work they have done.
    Appropriate response:  Thank you.  I appreciate the effort that you put into your presentation.  Could you explain...?

  2. One thought that might make that even better is...
    Janet: And that's the idea that I had.
    You: Good idea.  You know what? You could make this even better if you...

    Our excitement over a new idea and an overwhelming need to add our two cents can be a bad habit.  Many people do this from excitement, a need to show support, or from a need to show others how smart they are.  The problem is that you may have added 10% to the idea, but you've taken 50% away from the enthusiasm of the person bringing the idea to you and their continued interest in it.  Take a breath and do the math.  You may find that your addition is not worth it.

    Appropriate response:  Thank you.  Why don't you start working on it right away?

  3. That's a good idea...
    Khalid (presenting at a meeting): and if we implemented the plan, it would save us...
    You:  That's a really, really good idea.
    Sally (later in the meeting): and if we enact that, it would result in...
    You: Now THAT'S a super idea

    What's wrong with instant feedback?  Putting judgment on ideas can stop them in their tracks.  If in one meeting you call one idea "really really good", and another idea "great" and another idea "awesome", the person with the "really, really good idea" will feel like a failure.  You have unintentionally put a grade on the ideas.  Only those with "awesome" ideas will want to present them to you, and others will shy away.  Appreciate the effort, and evaluate the content and provide feedback later.

    Appropriate response: Thank you, that definitely gives me something to think about...?

  4. However...
    Janelle: I think the facts show that we should choose option B.
    You:  You make some good points, however...

    The use of the word "however" (or "but") in the English language is to point out an exception to what has just been said.  If someone says "you look great, but", what they really mean is that you don't look so great.  When applied to an idea, it is an attempt to say politely that "you are wrong, and I know better".  If further conversation takes place, it will be an argument over position.  It may feel like you are trying to open discussion, but it really serves to shut the presenter down and take over the idea.   

    Appropriate response: Thanks for your effort.  Let me consider your proposal...

  5. I'm way ahead of you...
    David: I have a great idea on how to improve our profit margin...
    You:  I'm three steps ahead of you.  Lets..."

    This bad habit can show up in many different ways.  You may nod your head as the person starts to talk, signaling that you know what he or she is about to say.  You may finish the other person's sentences.  You may add you own stories to a presentation.  Unfortunately, much of this is driven from an underlying need to show people that you are at least as smart if not smarter than the person talking, and that you have already come to that conclusion.  You may think that you are just showing excitement, but in reality it's an insult to the presenter. 
    Appropriate response:  Thanks.  Keep bringing those ideas on  improving profit margin!

  6. That won't work
    Maria: That's the end of my presentation.  Any questions?
    You:  I don't think that would work.  Here's why...

    This bad habit operates on the same principle as the ones above, but with even a more malicious intent and destructive result.   Like the one above, it is really a veiled way of showing that you are smarter than the person with the idea.  Unfortunately, with this response there is really no attempt to further discussion or add value.  You are essentially telling the presenter that their idea is wrong and that they have wasted your time.  Most likely, they will never want to present you their good idea again.

    Appropriate response:  Thanks. I appreciate the work that you put into your presentation and recommendations.

  7. Mr. Funny Guy
    Ted: I'm going to talk about how to get better results.
    You: Well, they can't get any worse than the Cowboys results yesterday...

    We all like to keep things light during presentations and meetings.  However, making jokes while someone is talking or presenting is really just a way to change the center of attention from the presenter to the joker.  Presenters will lose their train of thought, and have to put effort into regaining the center of attention.  It's not polite behavior, and should be addressed quickly.

    Appropriate response: Let's hold the comedy for the end of the meeting...

In summary, to be perceived as open and approachable, you need to monitor your reactions and eliminate your bad habits.  There is a time and a place for open exchange and opinion, but there are other times when the appropriate response to encourage further discussion is to just express gratitude.

Tips - Do any of these habits seem familiar to you?

  1. Remember to say thank you.  Count how many times you do it in a day.
  2. Notice what you say after you say thank you.  Are you falling into one of these habits?
  3. Monitor how many times you say "however", or "but" in verbal and written communications. 
  4. Engage with a qualified person to do a 360 assessment to see if you are guilty of any of these habits.
  5. Check out the book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith, available at Barnes and Noble.

Next month, we will continue to look into some common bad habits.


Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate