How to Say it: Be Dispensible at Work

  1. Keep it specific.

    My most significant accomplishment this quarter is:
    * streamlining the problem reporting process
    * increasing up-selling by 4%
    * increasing sales by 25 units
    * ...
    The one thing to avoid is the appearance of presenting your ideas as a fix-it for something your boss has wrecked. To avoid giving the impression that you are mopping up after your boss, steer clear of criticism and negativity. Instead, emphasize the positive contributions you intend to make. "I'd like to speak with you about how I can make a bigger, more valuable contribution to our department. I need your take on some ideas I've been working out."
  2. Another way to give your boss a proprietary stake in your idea is to connect what you want with what your boss has already indicated that he wants:
    This reminds me of what you said back in February, about more closely coordinating Service with Sales so that we don't miss out on opportunities to sell accessories. I've been reaching out to Service, as you know, but we really need to develop a dedicated coordinator position to achieve the consistency of connection that we had talked about early in the year.
  3. Failure to listen and/or failure to show that you are listening. Make and maintain eye contact in person-to-person conversation is critically important. Nod in agreement as you listen. Widen your eyes to show interest. Resist the temptation to interrupt. Ask relevant question.
    A simple thanks may be sufficient, but it is even better to be more specific: "Thanks. You are saving me a lot of time."
  4. Avoid vagueness, which suggests insincerity. Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying "You're doing a wonderful job," say "Cutting turnaround time by half an hour really mean a lot."
    Don't overwhelm the person with serial criticisms. Identify and address one issue at a time. "The critical thing to get right is X. Once we've got that going, we can take care of everything else."
  5. Listen. Demonstrate that you are listening by using effective body language. Make and maintain eye contact with your critic. Suppress such signals of resistance as placing your hand over your mouth or on your forehead, as if to shade your eyes. Do not fold your arms across your chest - a gesture that always telegraph defiance.
    If you conclude that the criticism is indeed unfounded, resist the impulse to respond in anger or with irritation and impatience. Even if the criticism has little or no merit in objective fact, it tells you something about how you are putting yourself, your ideas, and your projects across. Perhaps you need to find ways to create more positive perceptions.
  6. Focus on the issue for which the person is responsible and explain how that issue makes you feel: "Bob, when you took credit for the widget idea, I really felt hurt."
  7. An effective apology has 4 components:
    1. The part most of us think of as the apology itself: Saying you are sorry.

    2. An embrace of responsibility: You take ownership of your error.

    3. An expression of empathy: You understand the other person's feelings.

    4. An offer of a remedy or promise that you will help the other person resolve the situation: Do what you can to create rapport by moving the conversation from I and you to we and us.
    • Here is an example:
    • You: Ted, I apologize for being late with that data update. I understand I put you in an uncomfortable situation. I'm sorry.

    Ted: Well, the boss wasn't very happy with me.

    You: I bet you were ticked off about that. I'm going to meet with the boss now, and I'll explain what happened. I didn't get the update on the first three tests on time. I don't know if I could have done anything about that, but I certainly should have alerted you. I didn't mean to leave you blindsided like that. I'll let him know what happened.

    Ted: I'd appreciate that. Thanks.
  8. Let your eyes light on some object on your desk. It doesn't much matter what the object is, as long as it is always reliably there, on your desk. Tell yourself, out loud, that whenever you sense that you are about to react out of pure feeling - to respond without thinking - that object will be your reminder to stop, to listen silently to the other person or persons, and to think. Only then will you respond, and when you respond, it will be to discuss the matter at issue, not the personalities of those involved in a burgeoning conflict.
    There need not be anything special about your chosen object. It is special only because you have chosen it as your aid to remembering how to act and how not to act. Veteran management writer Dean Shapiro Jr. advised back in 1978 that you can also choose something to carry in your pocket at all times, not jus when you are seated at your desk. His idea was to tote around the kind of counter golfers use to keep their score. Whenever you're tempted to flare up in knee-jerk emotion, click the counter instead. The advantage of carrying your reminder with you is that it is always with you, and since destructive conflict can erupt anytime and anywhere, this may be a very good way to nudge you out of coaching mode and onto the referee track when necessary.
  9. Hank presents Idea A. Mary offers Idea B.

    Hank: Mary, I've just explained how idea A addresses all the issues. Let's get moving on it, huh? 

    You: Hold on a minute, Hank. I would like to hear what Mary has to say about idea B. You've identified the major issues very thoroughly, Hank, and I believe we'd benefit from taking a look at just how ide B would tackle them. You've put so much effort into defining the problems. Let's take a little more time to consider all the alternatives."
    Hank is already acting on his defensive impulse, so you'd better not engage him as an opponent but approach hi instead as an ally. Acknowledge and praise the good work he has done, then suggest that Mary's idea may add value to Hank's investment of time and effort. Building on one proposal does not mean closing yourself off to opinions.
  10. Clear the air by identifying the issues:

    * Use that object on your desk or in your pocket to remind you to think before you react emotionally.
    * Having reminded yourself to think, actually start thinking. Define the conflict and the elements of the conflict. What is it really about? What are the substantive issues - not feelings - driving the conflict?
    * Give each issue a name, a label. Make a list of all the labels, and be as specific as possible. Some people think of lists as the dullest kind of writing possible, but, actually, there is a very real magic about making a list. It makes the fog disappear.
    Share your list-making enterprise. Donning your referee hat, say to the other person or to the group, "Hold on. Before we start going in a bunch of different directions, let's take an inventory of just exactly what issues are in play here. Alice, why don't you go first? What do you see as the main problem?"
  11. If Jose breaks in on Alice, intervene: "Jose, let's let Alice list all the issues that concern her, then we'll turn to you and the others. It will be easier to discuss and evaluate the problem if we get everything out into the open first. I promise you, we will talk about everything that concerns you. But let's get it all out first."
    Break your complaint down into its component parts. Be specific about sources of conflict. "The XYZ project did not come in on budget, which was the same problem you had with the ABC project two months ago. Before then, you were quite good at quitting your numbers. Let's meet to review your P&L projections for the last three quarters. Maybe we can track the source of overruns."

    By digging down to specifics, you not only reduce the negative emotional impact of a conflict, but you begin doing the work necessary to resolve the conflict at its sources. How much of the necessary work begins with definition? Probably 50% - and maybe even more, since the process of carefully describing a problem often in itself suggests solutions to the problem.
  12. People find a deep voice more persuasive - more authoritative - than a higher-pitched voice. Consciously lower the pitch of your voice. Practice doing so. Get into the habit of making this lower pitch the register of your public voice.
    While speaking very slowly is not an effective tactic for persuasion, speaking at a pace that gives each word weight and meaning makes you sound intelligent and articulate, thereby endowing what you have to say with greater perceived value. By way of bonus, speaking a bit more slowly than normal will also help to ensure that you do not become short of breath. Bear in mind that fast talking has a negative connotation in our culture, especially our business culture.
  13. Covering your mouth or putting your fingers to your mouth area, especially when speaking. An adult talking to another adult keeps her hands away from her face.
    Boss: I'm disappointed in you. Turnaround times have hardly improved.

    You: I'm disappointed, too. I expected more progress at this point, and I was about to come to you for your advice on the present situation. When can we get together and discuss a strategic approach to improving turnaround?
  14. If you are unjustly blamed, accept responsibility, but not the blame: "I understand that the customer is unhappy; however, I did not make the promises he has told you about. Nevertheless, he is my customer, and I own the problem. I will resolve this to his satisfaction and yours."
    "Coming from you, that really means something."
  15. In addition to "Thank you," try to use the following:
    "I am grateful for the opportunity."
    "I had a great team."
    "I look forward to the next challenge."
    "It's a win for all of us."
    "That's great to hear."
    "Your support made this possible."
    "Your support meant a lot in this."
    • When you make a mistake, it is crucial that you communicate right away:
    • 1. Acknowledge the error.
    • 2. Accept responsibility.
    • 3. Apologize - briefly.
    • 4. Offer suggestions for remedying the situation.
    • 5. If you cannot offer solutions right away, promise to find them.
  16. "Are you serious about this?" seems to demand an answer, but it's an illegitimate question. Therefore, ignore it. Blow right past it with the facts.
    • Bully: Are you serious about this?
    • You: The approach I'm proposing will save us XX percent in overhead costs.

    Provided your facts are persuasive, they will make the bully's personal remarks appear to be exactly what they are. Not right, not wrong, just irrelevant.
  17. Don't argue. Don't shout. Don't threaten. But don't back down:
    You: Ted, I need your sales report this afternoon.

    Bully: Listen, I don't have time for that paperwork right now. I mean, how can you expect me to drop everything for busywork?

    You: I understand, but I still need that report this afternoon.
  18. "Thanks for talking to me, Marilyn. In the future, I hope you'll feel that you can come straight to me if you have a suggestion or a problem with something I've done."
    Recruit your critics. Instead of deflecting, turning away from, or becoming discouraged by whatever resistance you meet, recruit your critics to your cause. "Claire, your criticism has given me food for thought. I need your input to develop the support group further so that we can make it work." If you can't beat them, make them join you.
  19. Take the initiative. Approach others and introduce yourself. Share a piece of information, aimed at revealing a common interest: "This is my first time at one of these meetings. Are you new, too?" If the answer is yes, you've got something in common. If the answer is no, you can ask for advice: "What presentations are usually the most useful?"
    Be sure to look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website and especially the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which the BLS publishes every two years and which is available online. It features up-to-date projections of long-term job growth and employment prospects for nearly 3 hundred occupations.
Card Set
How to Say it: Be Dispensible at Work
Jack Griffin