E-mail is the backbone of business communication, and it causes most of our headaches! Having an in-box jammed full of e-mails that you need to read or have read and need to file can negatively affect your ability to be positively productive. Try these e-mail management tips to be more efficient with e-mail.
- Control your in-box. Take time to move every completed e-mail out of your in-box. You can easily do this by setting up a file folder labeled “Pre-[today’s date].” Just highlight all completed e-mails and move them into this folder. Take 15 minutes a day to go through them and file or trash them. Eventually, this folder will be empty.
- Create rules to handle incoming e-mails. To set a rule, identify search terms. When these terms are found, the corresponding e-mails are automatically sent into specific folders that you have set up. For example, you can set a rule so that all e-mails with your manager’s name are sent to a folder with your manager’s name.
- Write e-mails for easy responses. I recommend using a keyword in the subject line. A keyword is the first one or two words of the subject line, and it tells the recipient what the e-mail is about. For example, Decision Needed, Review by [date], and Approval Needed are all good keywords.
Don’t let e-mail derail your ability to be positively productive! For more help with e-mail, see my workshop Writing and Managing E-mail.
Landing new customers often is a lengthy, expensive process, and sometimes we become so focused on bringing in new business, we expend too little effort in keeping the customers we have. Cultivating our current customers and delivering care that goes beyond our competition needs to be a primary focus of your entire team. Here are some skills that will sharpen their customer service delivery.
- Mindful listening. Mindful listening is the ability to stay present with the customer through the entire conversation. More than just parroting what the customer says, it involves showing empathy and understanding of what the customer is feeling. Require your employees to stop multi-tasking when working with a customer, especially when they are on the phone. Mindful listening requires them to put their complete attention on the customer with an intention of meeting their needs.
- Good questioning. Open-ended questions generate discussion and add information; closed-ended questions stop conversation. For example, “Does this take care of your issue?” is a closed-ended question with only a yes-or-no answer. On the other hand, “What else do we need to consider or review?” is an open-ended question that keeps the conversation going.
- Silence. Being silent is hard for many people, yet it is a powerful communication skill to use. Never expect an immediate response to a question; give the person time to respond since some people need more time to process information than others do. Encourage your employees to be quiet and give the customer time to consider their answer.
Encourage your staff to look for ways to make every customer interaction an opportunity to reinforce and deepen the relationship. Mindful listening, good questioning, and being silent are three powerful tools that demonstrate emotional intelligence and show respect for the customer.
Need more customer service tools? Check out my newest workshop Creating a Positive Customer Service Experience.
If you regularly receive my newsletter, you know that I am an advocate of using delegation to be more positively productive. In my GO System workshops, I have found that managers are fearful of delegating important work even if it makes sense for them to do so. Here are three important best practices to help you avoid mistakes and ensure a successful delegation.
- Set clear expectations. People are more successful when they understand what is expected of them and how their efforts will be evaluated. When delegating an assignment or task, meet with the employee and explain what you want them to do. Use evidence-based performance measures, such as deadlines, quality standards, and measurable improvements.
- Focus on results, not process. Most tasks and assignments can be performed in a variety of ways unless mandated procedures must be followed. In the absence of mandates or regulations, let the person decide how they will achieve the expected outcome. Avoid the temptation to micromanage!
- Use delegation to develop employees. As a leader and manager, it’s your job to develop your employees and provide opportunities for them to grow professionally. Look for valuable tasks you currently do that could be delegated with proper training and coaching.
Delegation is a powerful management and leadership tool. If used correctly, you can strengthen your team and motivate them to greater achievement. For more help with delegation, see my blog posts Successful Delegation and Avoid Delegation Mistakes.
Most of us have set goals and created plans to achieve them; however, one important, yet often overlooked, step for success is taking time daily to prioritize your goals and action steps. This ability to prioritize is a key factor for hitting your goals and handling competing demands on your time and energy. Here are some ways to make priorities work for you.
- Establish priorities for every part of your life—work, career, home, family, friends, fun, spirituality, finances, health, fitness, and so on.
- Decide how important each area is, using a scale of 1 (least important) to 5 (most important).
- Focus your priorities and decisions on the areas that rank highest in importance. For example, if one of your top priorities is family, you may be less willing to take a job that requires lots of overnight travel unless that job helps you provide greater financial security for your family. In this case, the sacrifice you make by being on the road might be worth it.
- Take your top priorities and create vivid pictures of what success looks like. Some people build vision boards to help with this. For example, if your home goal is buying a large house on a lake, find photos that look like the house you want. This type of visual representation helps you maintain focus on what achievement looks like.
- Every day take at least one step in support of your high-ranking priorities. This will help you feel more balanced and give you greater satisfaction when you make progress.
Setting priorities needs to be a family matter so that everyone works toward the same end. Involving the entire family also makes it easier to explain decisions that affect everyone.
Being positively productive depends on your ability to focus on the task at hand. Your ability to focus is greatly improved if you remove distractions that take your attention away from what you are working on. Here are some tips to identify and remove distractions caused by clutter.
- Paper clutter. Having stacks of paper on your desk and around your office creates clutter. It takes longer for you to find what you need, and you lose time and productivity as you sift through stacks looking for documents. Paper clutter distracts you from what you’re working on because you can see what still needs your attention. You are more likely to jump from task to task rather than finish each one sequentially.
- Electronic clutter. If you have documents, folders, and applications dotting your computer desktop, you have electronic clutter. This can be just as draining to productivity as paper clutter since your focus is scattered, and time is wasted as you search for what you need.
- E-mail clutter. Is your inbox jammed with e-mail that you have read, but not filed away? If so, you have e-mail clutter. Just as with electronic clutter, e-mail clutter damages your productivity.
So, what’s the solution?
Get organized with these tips.
- Take fifteen minutes a day right now and tackle one small part of the clutter. That adds up to 75 minutes a week or 300 minutes a month.
- Set up appropriately labeled folders for all documents.
- File or trash completed documents as soon as you finish them.
- Create follow-up folders if you need more information and move pending files and folders into follow-up.
No matter how well you get along with your manager, there will be times when you disagree and may find yourself in conflict with him or her. How you handle this kind of conflict can either help or harm your future relationship and your career. Here are some things to keep in mind when you and your manager don’t see eye-to-eye.
- Step back and consider the situation. Conflict is not inevitable when people disagree with each other; you can always agree to disagree and not let it affect your relationship. Evaluate the situation objectively to determine if a real conflict exists or if it is something you can either ignore or live with. Time can be a valuable ally when handling conflict. Sometimes things just blow over and fade away without the need for action.
- Consider your options. Writing down your thoughts and perceptions about the situation can give you distance and objectivity and help you organize your thoughts. If you believe that action is necessary, identify your options and the risks associated with each before choosing the most appropriate course.
- Consider other points of view. Everyone has expectations and preferences about work and working relationships. People can step on your toes or push your buttons without being aware they are doing so. Observe your manager’s communication and leadership styles and how he or she acts with other employees. You may discover that what you think of as a conflict is your manger’s natural way of working or communicating. Gaining insight about your manager can help you respond appropriately.
If you decide to meet privately with your manager, be prepared to explain your perceptions objectively, and avoid letting emotion take over the meeting. Focus on what you have observed, express your concerns, and be assertive, but refrain from blaming. Your intention is to resolve the conflict in a way that allows you and your manager to continue to have a productive, satisfying relationship. See my blog post Getting Along with Your Manager for more information.
The telephone is one of your most important business tools and one that is often misused. Here are some tips to improve your telephone communication whether you are making a call or answering one.
- Be upbeat. Put energy behind your voice by taking deeper breathes and smiling when you speak. Standing when on the phone also adds energy to your voice. The more dynamic you sound, the better the impression you make on the person.
- Speak clearly and precisely. Without body language and facial expressions to go on, listeners have only your voice and the words you use. This means that you must speak slower than usual and clearly pronounce each word.
- Use a greeting. Your greeting should identify your organization or department or both, include your name, and an offer of help. For example, “Good morning. ABC Financial Services. This is Carlo. How can I help you?”
- Avoid slang and speech fillers. Keep your comments professional and polite. Listen for fillers, such as ummm, uhhh, okay, etc., and work on eliminating them since they make you sound unprofessional and uncertain.
- Don’t hold and forget. Always ask if you can put the person on hold and explain why you are doing so. Return to the call every few minutes to explain what you are doing or offer to call the person back.
- Transfer calls the right way. Explain why you must transfer the call, provide the name of the person you are transferring them to and that person’s phone number, and stay on the line to ensure the call was transferred correctly.
Effective telephone skills are essential for every organization, especially for customer service. Help your staff brush up their phone skills and other customer service skills with my new course Creating a Positive Customer Service Experience
One of your most valuable skills for professional success is listening. This skill affects many aspects of your job, including productivity, teamwork, and customer service. Despite the importance of being a good listener, barriers pose challenges to effective communication. Here are three common barriers you may encounter.
- One of the biggest barriers to listening is your tendency to talk more than you listen! It takes self-control to keep quiet and focus on what the other person is saying as they say it. It helps to take notes, especially if you’re afraid you will forget what the person said. Resist the tendency to interrupt them or plan your response while they are speaking. When you do speak, be brief, focus on the topic of the conversation, and avoid unrelated or unresponsive comments.
- Listening is harder when you are distracted. Make good eye contact with the speaker and face them. Watch their gestures and facial expressions to determine if they are in sync with what they are saying. Body language often communicates more than words! If the environment is noisy, suggest moving to a quieter location.
- Assuming you understand the speaker is dangerous. Conflict often arises from misunderstood and misinterpreted communication. Always ask the speaker to provide more detail or clarify anything you don’t understand. Use open questions that let the speaker delve more deeply into the topic. Confirm understanding by repeating what you thought was said until the speaker indicates agreement.
Career success requires you to develop effective listening skills, so start listening more than you speak to improve business relationships and be more productive. For more information, see my blog post Shhh! Listen!
There will be times when you must work with people you don’t like and who may not like you in return. Despite your personal feelings, you need a way of building a productive working relationship with them. Here are some tips to help you work with people you don’t like.
- Accept the person as they are. Often, you don’t get along with someone because you have differing beliefs and values. This can be generational. For example, Baby Boomers believe that you should put in long hours and make your job the most important part of your life. Younger employees, like Millennials, believe that the job is just one aspect of their lives, not the most important one. You don’t have to agree with each other; just agree to disagree and get the job done. Check out my program Bridging the Generation Gap.
- Always be polite and civil, no matter what you feel when you are with the person. There’s never a good reason to be rude. Even if someone has behaved rudely toward you, remain professional and positive. Focus on facts and observable data and set aside your emotional responses.
- Know what pushes your buttons and gets under your skin and refuse to let it. This is easier than you might think. When you feel yourself getting angry or find a sharp retort on the tip of your tongue, just take a breath. Inhale and exhale once or twice, and release those negative responses. Starting a verbal battle won’t help and will only widen the divide between you. If necessary, excuse yourself and walk away for a time out.
If you find it increasingly difficult to work with someone, talk to a person you trust about what is going on. Explain how you think you are being treated as objectively as possible, focusing on what you have observed and experienced rather than your emotional reaction. Sometimes just talking about the situation can provide a new perspective. See my blog post How to Handle Office Bullies for more information.
Burnout is a symptom of stress and can be caused by a variety of issues. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 26 percent of workers surveyed stated that they often or very often feel burned out or stressed by their work.
Not making time for yourself is a common factor in burnout. Are you working long hours, sacrificing personal time to get work done, not getting enough good sleep, eating a poor diet, and not exercising? If so, burnout is practically guaranteed. The harder you work, the harder it is to work.
Sometimes, the feeling of burnout is temporary, for example, if you’re working hard to meet a deadline. In this case, burnout should end when the deadline is reached. However, if you find yourself working like this most of the time, you need to act–even if you love your job. Prolonged burnout can lead to fatigue, mistakes, negativity, irritability, and health issues. If burnout is taking a toll on your life and performance, you must take charge of the situation and put yourself first.
- Disconnect from everything work-related. This will likely feel uncomfortable, but unplug from all work for an evening, a day, a weekend, or even an entire week, depending on how stressed and burnt out you are. Don’t check e-mail, make or take phone calls, and lock work away in a drawer. Use this time to recharge and reconnect with what’s important.
- Define what success means to you. Your feelings of burnout may come from not honoring your values and priorities. Take time for analysis and realignment. Set goals and identify specific actions that support what is most important to you. Talk with the important people in your life, so they understand your priorities and needs. Being with people who care about you helps you gain perspective and focus on what’s important.
- Set boundaries for yourself and honor them.Do you always step in and help no matter what else is going on? If so, stop. Assess whether the request will require more than you want to give. If it places too much pressure on you, doesn’t support one of your values, or isn’t necessary for your major business goals, decline. It’s okay to say no if saying yes is not in your best interest. See my blog post Say No without Turning People Off for more information.
Prolonged feelings of burnout may need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If you have taken steps to mitigate what’s causing burnout, and you don’t experienced results, call your primary care physician for a checkup. See my blog post Take Action to Manage Stress for more information.