Employee Communication

In Communication, It’s All About the Emotion

The world of communication intersects with an administrative assistant’s life all the time, whether it’s a note from her manager to his subordinates or an important message to the entire company.  Being somewhat familiar with the written word, I was happy to jump in and take care of basic communications for my manager.  It was something I did well and I was happy to make those skills available to him…he, in fact, did not do it as well, so he always took me up on it.

Its all about emotionsThe reason why he did not do very well at it wasn’t because he couldn’t form a complete sentence.  On the contrary, I still consider him a genius and he was pretty darned good at everything he did.  But he communicated in rambling sentences, giving away more detail than he needed, and the message suffered for it.  And he didn’t understand that one very important communication “thing.”

A good communication taps employees’ emotions.  It’s as simple as that, and yet so few communicators understand and use that knowledge to the company’s benefit.  Many of them will tell you straight out, “I’m not writing a romance novel here.”  But yeah, you kind of are…and it’s a romance between the employee and the company for which he works.

Let’s take, for instance, a communication that explains that a well-liked but inefficient executive is leaving the company to “pursue other interests.”  That’s a hard message to write, because people are going to be sad (that he’s leaving), worried (about their own seemingly uncertain futures) and unclear (on the direction of the company).  They’re going to know that this executive has been let go no matter how you express that detail, and they’re going to be angry with their company for doing it.

How do you conquer the employee emotions of sadness, worry, uncertainty and anger?  With a little certainty and an optimistic view of the company’s future:

Minimize words to create a feeling of authority and control – I always use Jean-Luc Picard as my example for why a writer shouldn’t ramble on in a message.  Jean-Luc could have told his crew, “You know, I’d like to move our blasters a little bit to the left and maybe increase our speed to warp 2 if we’ve got enough power, and then I feel strongly that we’ll catch that bad guy.”  Nope.  He said, “Engage!”  Everything else fell into place and his crew knew what to do.  Using a few well-chosen words conveys to your employees that you’re in control, that you know they know their jobs, and you’re confident the results will be as expected.

Don’t gloss over the details – An employee reading your communication is going to wonder, “Why?” and “What about me?” and he shouldn’t have to look far for the answers.  Quell all their fears and give them the details they need to know.  If any details should be conveyed privately, set up a schedule and ensure that those are passed along before a blanket communication goes out.

Address the elephant in the room, even if it’s only a subtle attempt – Yes, everyone is going to be angry that this well-liked executive has been asked to leave, but chances are a good many of them know that he was ineffective.  You don’t have to say that, but you can say, “We wish him well in his next endeavors and thank him for his contributions.”

End on a positive note – This new organizational structure, minus the ineffective executive, is going to benefit the company because of X, Y, and Z.  There should be no, “We think…” or “We believe…” involved in that.  You made a decision, it’s for the best, and the result will be good.  Give your employees a sense of confidence.

Be available for questions – Always, always, always leave your door open and invite discussion about events.  Employees should be able to discuss their concerns with managers in private, or even in a public forum, if the situation warrants one.

Not all communications assuage negative emotions, but they all convey emotions.  Some communications get the employees excited about where they work and what they do.  Others serve to recognize employees who have made great contributions (and, conversely, incent other employees to strive for those same goals).  All of them should serve to improve an employee’s engagement with his manager, co-workers and the organization, and that can only be done with…you got it….emotion.


Next Post:  Wednesday, August 23

Managing Successful Global Teams

I’d worked for several “international” companies before, but never was I so integrated with a global team as I was when I worked for Google. I found myself constantly communicating with people in India, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, London…my co-workers were everywhere. But we definitely always felt like a team. I may have had to wait for a few hours to get an answer to my questions, but none of us felt left out in the cold.

Other companies are growing and becoming global, and managing those teams don’t always come easy. But, don’t fear! I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again and an article I found in the October, 2015 issue reminded me how my manager got the most out of his global team…and how you can help your manager do the same.

Help your manager create a sense of unity for the team – In my current position, we just purchased a company that’s on the other side of the country. Granted, they’re only a few time zones away and still a part of the United States, but I’m bent on making sure we know each other and become friendly. When you’re dealing with different cultures, this is very important. Set aside a few minutes in every meeting to talk about what’s going on in each others’ worlds, focus on what’s unique about each other’s culture. The idea here is to create balance, so no one feels like someone else has more of the manager’s attention.

Make sure your manager is accessible to the whole team – This might mean your manager taking Internationalcalls during off hours, especially if he has teams in Singapore or India, but all team members should feel they have as much of the manager’s attention as they need. And allow for unstructured conversations here as well – talk about that work commute whether it leads to your door or to a door halfway around the world.

Is everyone understanding and being understood? – In the midst of an exciting conversation, it’s easy for someone who doesn’t speak English as her native tongue to miss some of the conversation. In your duties of taking minutes, this is an excellent opportunity to stop the conversation, summarize, and make sure everyone in the group understands what’s been decided.

Exercise redundant communication – As an assistant, you can assist your manager in making sure that messages are heard. Follow up after meetings and conversations with emails that restate the mandates and decisions the group and your manager arrived at.  This will confirm that everyone in the group understands the direction in which the team is headed.

Being a part of a global team is a very rewarding experience. I remember celebrating Indian holidays on video conference with our team in Dehli, or asking our Australian counterparts what my day was going to be like tomorrow. Learning about the rest of the world is great fun, and working with a diverse set of people to accomplish great things is even better. As a Revolutionary Assistant you can help guide your manager to success with an international group.

Next post:  Wednesday, March 16

Why Strategy Fails in Execution

Strategy Fails in ExecutionI’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again (goshdarnit, I love my HBR!) and I came upon an interesting article in the March 2015 issue I wanted to share with you. It’s about why your company’s strategy fails in execution.

The article talks about how your organization can have the clearest, simplest objectives, the most logical and easy-to-comprehend strategy, and still, employees can’t get the job done. Why does it happen?

Authors Donald Sull, Charles Sull and Rebecca Homkes offered some interesting theories based on results of a survey taken by 8,000 managers in more than 250 companies. Here are their thoughts:

Departments work well, but not together – Apparently, companies are very good at managing up and down the silo. The operations department is charged with a task and they can work to get it done without an issue. But when accomplishing the objective relies on cross-departmental work, that’s when things get sketchy. Apparently, the minute that operations department looks to sales or distribution to complete a portion of the work, everything goes south. Managers claim that team members outside their own departments are only about as reliable as vendors. Agility across business units is a frequently neglected component.

Success doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the plan – Too many companies put objectives down on paper and then worship it as Gospel. I loved the authors’ turn of phrase when they wrote, “No Gantt chart survives contact with reality.” That’s so true! The Grand Plan can’t anticipate every curve ball its thrown, and managers should be encouraged to deviate from the path if it means achieving success.

Don’t measure how much you communicate, measure how much the team understands – I was particularly fascinated by this one. The authors used the example of a CEO beginning her monthly meetings with a review of the objectives. But when her management team was asked to describe the firm’s strategy and objectives in their own words, fewer than 1/3 were able to cover two major points. Wow! I’m already contemplating how to fix that…

The wrong qualities are being rewarded – Most organizations reward for past performance, but findings of this survey indicate that the companies most likely to accomplish their objectives do so because their managers show great agility in responding to challenges. That particular behavior is, in many organizations, not rewarded.

Execution should be driven at every level – The article sites the importance of “distributed managers” in accomplishing objectives. These are not just managers that lead disciplines and navigate cross-functional areas well, but also technical and domain experts who are key influencers in getting things done.

So, there are where the problems lie. What to do about them? This the Revolutionary question that needs answering. Is your manager looking out for these land mines?


Theater of the Absurd (or, How To Deliver A Presentation To Make It Count)

More real-time musings from the person who just came back from running the biggest event her company will host this year. Like I mentioned in my last post, our senior leaders were really on the hook to deliver good content and engage their audience. I went into great detail about how to arrive at good content for a presentation by cutting irrelevant points, making it about the audience, creating a structure and theme so that important points make sense and are easy to remember.

But I didn’t talk at all about how to deliver it.

barry_manilowWriting good content is hard, but unless you have a real gift for theatrics, delivering it is even harder. I joke with people that I learned everything I know about staging events from watching Barry Manilow in concert. They don’t know that I’m kind of telling the truth. So today, on Barry Manilow’s birthday, I want to prop up his work as an example of how hook an audience.  Consider the following:

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing just one note – Barry actually sings many notes, and while you may not be singing your company’s year-end results, you shouldn’t be talking at one, consistent, droning level, either. If you’re excited about something, raise the volume and the level of your voice. When you’re sad, bring it down a bit. Make your tone fit, make it interesting.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing “Mandy” like it’s a carnival song – Emotion, emotion, emotion. In my last entry, I talked about how appealing to your audiences intellect will get you nowhere, but touching them emotionally will incent them to change their behavior. How many people ran out to buy that sappy song when Barry sounded like he was all but crying at the end? I mean, he really wanted her to come back!!

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing with his hands tied behind his back – Sure, he’s done a gazillion concerts, and he looks comfortable in front of a crowd. But he’s probably not as comfortable as you think! I don’t know him personally, but I’m guessing he’s a little nervous when he steps out in front of 20,000 people. You will be, too, but, like Barry, try not to show it. Loosen up those arms. Bend those knees. Don’t stand there like a statue because you have 300 eyes on you. Use body language to help.

Barry Manilow doesn’t forget the words to “Looks Like We Made It” – His band doesn’t forget how to play it, either. So, when you go out on stage, you should know your material. It’s not enough to run through it and take up some note cards. Get it into your brain so that it’s second nature. If you know your speech inside and out, you’ll have extra confidence up there, and it’ll help everything else.

Barry Manilow’s show doesn’t run long – When Barry is singing in Vegas, his concert is 90 minutes long. If he runs over, Wayne Newton won’t have enough time to do his material, right? Don’t take away from the other guy by using up all of your time and part of someone else’s. No one wants to hear you yammer on longer than you should, anyway.

Barry Manilow doesn’t just walk up on stage and start singing – Barry is well lit, and there’s usually some music that introduces him. If you have the means and the equipment, lower the lights and put on the intro to “Copacabana” when you walk on stage. It looks professional and it gets the audience into a cheerful, energetic mood.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing his last song, talk for a little bit and then wander offstage – No, he’s singing, “I Write the Songs” or a reprise of “It’s a Miracle,” and the audience is on its feet, clapping along, cheering him as he’s played off by the band. Similarly, is your finish strong? Do you have a call to action, do you give them a reason to applaud? If not, reconsider your content.

If you’re trying to get the feeling for your next presentation, use these guidelines set by me and Barry Manilow to help you reach your audience a little bit better. With a little practice and some thought toward showmanship, you’ll change your presentation from boring to a true, blue spectacle that will keep your listeners engaged and encourage them to tackle action items.

Next Post: Wednesday, July 1

Choosing and Negotiating With Guest Presenters

I bet the guests of your event have heard your vice president speak about two gazillion times…

Yup, if you want to really change things up and pique people’s interest, a guest speaker can be the way to go.  Often, if you choose wisely, the guest speaker can be the highlight of the whole event, as they’re well trained in presenting and know how to engage an audience.

So how do you go about choosing a guest presenter?  Chances are likely you’re working with someone else who’s in charge of content, but here are some things the both of you can think about:

Consider your content – Usually your event has some sort of theme, whether it’s about engaging with your customers, rewarding and recognizing employees, or something else.  Consider that theme, and look for someone who’s got content expertise in that area.

Look for entertainment quality – I love to hear a big audience laugh and applaud.  You all know what it’s like to go to a concert where the performers are dry and boring.  Those folks are so much less interesting than the ones who have a real performance quality about them.  Maybe they’re particularly funny, or they have a Liberace-like flamboyance, or a personal story so engaging and heartwarming that you can’t help but lose yourself when they speak.  That’s the kind of guest presenter you want.

Look for the emotion! – Just like in Seth Godin’s article, we learn when something affects us emotionally, rather than being hit with facts.  A guest speaker with good performance quality can be an excellent place to ramp up that emotion.

Think outside the box when choosing your speaker – I once planned an event where we wanted to convey an idea to our guests that they should navigate obstacles and try that much harder to reach our company’s goal.  We could have had someone who talks about making sales quotas, but instead we hired the first North American woman to ever ascend Mt. Everest.  Her story was compelling, and she was able to link it back both to our business goals and to our own personal challenges.  I’ll never forget her talk!

Choose someone who can reach everyone in your diverse audience – If you’ve got a bunch of retail store managers in the room, it’s probably not a wise idea to have an economist jump into some very detailed charts and start talking about economic theory.  Make sure your speaker resonates with your constituency, or you’ll be wasting your money.

Choose someone who’s in your budget – If you have a limited budget, you might not want to go with a speaker agency, as you can end up being charged a lot of money.  Frequently, you can find authors and other speakers who aren’t represented.  Without the agency taking a cut, they usually come a little cheaper.

Sign a contract and secure your dates – Don’t just shake hands and consider your guest speaker a done deal.  Draw up a contract with him or her, and ensure that your date is secure.  Make sure it addresses travel and lodging (are you paying for it, or is the cost her responsibility?).  Are you video-taping your event?  Make sure that’s okay with your guest speaker and, if necessary, put those arrangements in writing.

Prep your speaker with information about your organization – Your speaker should know all your company’s lingo and the ins and outs of what you do.  At our company, we call our customers “neighbors” and we made sure our last guest presenter used that term, too!

A guest presenter can really make your event special!  Choose your speaker wisely and make sure he blends with the common themes of your event, but, more importantly, make sure that he engages the audience well.  Your own executive staff is probably not trained to really grab and entertain an audience, so this is your chance to really make an emotional connection!

Next post:  Wednesday, December 18

The Content of Your Event: Be Involved!

If you’re planning an event, chances are likely there’s content to be dealt with.  After all, you’re not bringing these people all together for nothing, right?  There will be information dispensed to your guests.  There could be keynotes and general sessions, and maybe even breakout sessions.  All of these gems, yours to manage.

A lot of times an event planner just waits for the content to be submitted.  A Revolutionary Assistant gets into the middle of all the content development, making sure that her logistics match the learning and information needs of the event, and ensuring a dynamic and unforgettable presentation of the agenda that’s going to make her company more successful.

So how is your event’s information going to be talked about?  Take some of these suggestions and put them into action!

Keep the sessions short and sweet – If you’re holding people captive for more than an hour at a time without allowing them to get up and move around, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.  This is not to say that you can’t have a two-hour keynote.  Just remember that if you do, you should plan a break or…

Encourage movement and audience participation – Shift gears at some point, and your audience will reengage.  If you have a speaker up on stage for a while, pepper that with an interesting table activity.  Or maybe even get the audience going by building a symbolic house of cards, putting together an easy piece of machinery (some groups do team bike building), or engaging in a challenge against other people in the audience.  The more movement and participation you have, the more your information will stick.

Spread it out – If you have a large event, make sure your large, general sessions and your breakout sessions are dispersed throughout.  Throw in some meals, some breaks with fruit and caffeinated beverages.  Make sure people rotate from sedentary presentations to ones that are full of activity.  It’s all about variety if you’re going to keep your audience engaged.

Don’t pack too much into a day – If you have your audience moving from 7AM until 10PM, you’re bound to see some folks fading.  Tired people miss information.  Interspersing sedentary presentations with ones that are full of activity can help you stretch a day a little bit, but be careful about keeping your attendees on the run for too long.

Draw out common threads in your content – If you’re doing 10 breakout sessions over three days, your breakout format should begin to look familiar to folks very quickly.  For the last event I ran, I worked with our training department to prepare Powerpoint slides that helped shape the presentation – each of them had an intro that covered a certain number of points, and then allowed them to dive deeper into each point.  After that, an activity that helped the audience learn, and questions…followed by the all-important “Five Key Takeaways.”  No matter what session attendees were in, that format stayed the same, and it helped them remember.

Ensure there are action items with your information – That “five key takeaways” slide was the most important slide of the bunch! An event is successful when behaviors change post-event.  The takeaways slide was an imperative because it got right into the audience’s face with the requested behavior changes.  Encourage the use of a format that will ensure your audience understands what’s expected of them once they go home.

Rehearse your speakers – Two important things happen when speakers rehearse, both before the event and at the event.  The first thing is that they learn to stay within their time limit.  Always stress that a speaker needs to finish in the time allotted – nothing kills energy like a speaker that runs longer than expected.  The second thing is that they learn to coordinate with technology.  They learn to understand the clicker for their slides; the videos and sound get cued correctly.  Always, always rehearse.

Make sure content is available to your audience after the event concludes – Work with each of the speakers to redact event presentation slides, removing sensitive information, so that the basics of their session can be available as reference.

When coordinating an event, you can have a huge effect on content without actually creating it.  Definitely be involved.  A successful event is all about the content you’re presenting, and if you don’t have a handle on what that is, you can neither frame it in the correct light nor ensure that it’s presented in a way that’s memorable.  I encourage you to do the Revolutionary thing and be a buttinski!

Next post:  Tuesday, December 10

Halloween in Your Office

People ask me all the time what it was like to work at Google.  I won’t lie, it was an extraordinary company full of extraordinary talent.  And one of the most extraordinary days of the year in our office was Halloween.

Googlers go insane on Halloween.  One year, four of my colleagues went as the Hungry, Hungry Hippos, complete with little white balls and a large, human-sized board they could use to gobble them up.  Oh, yes, competitions were had.

Another group came as all the characters of Super Mario Brothers.  This required coordination and talent within the team.  They paraded around doing Super Mario things and throwing around Super Mario quotes, in their best schmaltzy Italian accents.

I was impressed, not just with my co-workers’ willingness to dress up, but with the creativity and teamwork required to pull off their grand costume ideas.  This was the first time it ever occurred to me:  Halloween wasn’t just fun at the office, it was GOOD for the office.

A Revolutionary Assistant can use Halloween to boost morale and strengthen interdepartmental relationships.  Here’s a few ideas to help that along:

A costume contest – Encourage people from different departments to get together and do team costumes, as well as individual ones.  The Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Super Mario are excellent examples.  Let people vote for favorite team costumes as well as individual ones to encourage team participation.  And give out funny, Halloweenish prizes!

A lunchtime Halloween party – Last year, my company brought in Coney Island hot dogs and all the fixins on Halloween, and everyone brought in some baked goods to share.  It’s a fun time to get everyone together, and even a good time to give out some costume awards.

Pumpkin carving contests – When I worked for Borders we had the most amazing pumpkin carvers around.  I expected standard jack o’lantern fare, but instead I was able to witness works of art.  It’s relatively inexpensive to purchase pumpkins for your artists, and the results are magnificent!

Area decorating contest – People enjoy decorating their cubes and their departments.  This is a great way to get some team spirit going.  Encourage tasteful decorating, and even check to see if your “fun fund” can be used to provide each team with a little budget!

Don’t play “The Monster Mash” – Because I hate that song.

This is another time when I go online and read articles about the nightmares human resources claim to experience over Halloween and all the things they need to be aware of.  But I say, throw caution to the wind and expect everyone to behave themselves.  If they don’t, send them home.  But have a fun Halloween!

Go plan now.  You have a week.

Next post:  Wednesday, October 30

Pay Attention to My Emails, Darn it!

Sometimes it seems as though there is not a soul that listens to me, especially when I have directions to issue here at the office.  For instance, I ask folks not to put their juice bottles in the returnables container.  I write them emails, I create signs, I make an announcement at lunch, and the next day there’s still a Minute Maid bottle right on top of all those pop cans.

I fantasize about putting that returnables container on webcam and waiting in the wings to catch them red handed, but in the end, I don’t need to go that far.  The reality is that our employees get 200 emails a day, and they probably didn’t read mine because it didn’t jump out at them.  I need to write a better email.

What makes an effective email? Here are a couple of things you can keep in mind:

Be quick and concise – If you drone on about the Minute Maid bottle too long and don’t get to the point of the email, you’ll lose your reader.  They’ll never see what it is you want them to do.  Cover the subject matter quickly: (1) We are finding non-returnables in the returnables container and; (2) please take care not to put those there.  Add some niceties so they don’t think that you’re the Returnables Gestapo, and you’re good to go.

Treat the subject line like a newspaper headline – Your reader should be able to read the headline, understand what the email is about, and even search and locate it later as reference.  A title like “Two things” or “Stuff” is not so good.  A title like “New procedures regarding returnables” works just fine!

One subject per email – If you need to talk about juice bottles and you need to let the office know that one of your servers is powering down for an hour, do it in two separate emails.

Specify the action you want to take place – Frequently, I’ll put “please read” or “action required” in the subject line of the email.  If there’s a due date embedded within the text, I’ll underline it and make it bold.  Anything so that they notice immediately what needs to be done and when.

Use good grammar, standard capitalization and punctuation – It’s amazing how people will hone in on the format of your writing and not grasp the content.  If you’ve used the wrong “your,” written something in all-caps, or write in one, long run-on sentence, people will notice that.  And they’ll make fun of you.  But they won’t remember what it was you were talking about.

CC people correctly – Use the CC button only if it’s necessary, and then only for those people who absolutely need to be aware of the conversation.  There’s nothing worse than being cc’d on an email that you don’t care about, and then have it blossom into a conversation that goes on forever!

Should this subject be an email or a conversation? – Ask yourself this every time you send out an email.  If many details need to be covered, or bad news needs to be delivered, then perhaps you should reconsider the email and stop by this person’s office instead.

Preparing a thoughtful and to-the-point email will always increase your chances of being read and understood.  I am turning off the webcam and concentrating on writing a better email.  And I will try not to think about how the “we’re all leaving early for the holiday weekend” email always seems to be read and understood by everyone…

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 31

Getting the Times All Confused

Turmoil apparently occurred while I slept last night.

We have a recurring weekly meeting on the calendar with a company that’s in a different time zone.  A couple of weeks before, I’d moved this standing appointment from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM to accommodate another meeting.  I called all parties involved, cleared the time with everyone, and put the meeting on the calendar.  Everyone accepted my meeting request.

Fast-forward to last night.  My counterpart at the other company sent an email to all involved participants, containing information they would need to review before the meeting.  She wrote, “Confirming tomorrow’s meeting at 12:30 CT and including materials for your review.”

It’s midnight, and all of my execs are exhausted and somehow reading their email in spite of that.  They read “12:30” and ignore the fact that she’s written in “CT.”  Chaos ensues, emails are being sent everywhere saying that this new time either is or is not good.  The other company’s assistant has long since gone to bed, not knowing that her email has prompted three C-level employees to try to move the meeting (by themselves, without our help) to another day because they can’t make 12:30PM work.  No one bothered to check their calendars to see that this meeting was actually on their calendars already at 1:30 PM.  Eastern time.

When I arrived at 8AM this morning, there was a lot to fix, where nothing had originally been broken. My counterpart and I had to spend more time than we wanted to – more time than we had, really – to get everyone back on the same page.

The moral of the story is a pretty simple one: when I have a meeting that includes people from different time zones, I either include both times in my messaging…

Confirming tomorrow’s meeting at 12:30 CDT/1:30 EDT and including materials for your review

…or I defer to the time zone in which our meeting partners reside.

Confirming tomorrow’s meeting at 1:30 EDT and including materials for your review

Preferably, I choose the former.  If you put in both times, people will automatically recognize that there’s a difference in time for the participants.

Notice, too, that I’ve included the “D” in “EDT.”  Eastern Daylight Time.  This can be especially helpful for residents of Arizona, Hawaii and U.S. Territories that don’t observe the change-over.  When we all go back, I formally add in the “S” and refer to our zone as “EST.”

When you’re very specific in your communications, everyone can stay on the same page.  It’s true, my counterpart at the other company was not technically incorrect in her email communication, but because human nature dictates that messages like this are scanned and not studied, evil things are bound to happen!

Next post:  Wednesday, June 26

Emoticons in Business :-) or >:-/ ?

When I began my two-year stint with Google, I was miserable.  Fifteen years older than the rest of the people I worked with, I was used to assisting serious Fortune 500 executives and was having a hard time adapting my style to assisting a lower level of management and a constituency of 200+ co-workers who’d been out of college less than three years.  Getting a message across to anyone in the style I was used to was nearly impossible.  In fact, during my first performance review, I was told by my manager that my email communications sounded harsh and that I should consider using smiley faces in my writing.

Smiley faces??

In my former position, I communicated regularly with c-level personnel.  When I was asking a question by email, I was short and to the point.  When I was responding to a question…ditto.  In no way did the leader of our company want or expect from me any sort of visual “sunshine.”  And what did I have here at Google?  Well, in my opinion they were a bunch of whiny kids whose feelings were hurt when I wrote an email that said, “Please do X.  Thank you.”

I wanted to tell my manager that he was out of his mind, and there was no place for a freakin’ smiley face in serious business correspondence.

But what I actually did was start using smiley faces.  And you won’t believe how ticked off I was when I saw that they actually worked, that people took a renewed liking to me and welcomed me more into their world.  I was deemed newly “Googley” and saw that I was able to get a lot more cooperation, a lot more accomplished.

Articles have been written and studies done on the use of emoticons in the professional world, and the results are heavily divided.  Some sources reluctantly acknowledge they exist and recommend using them almost never, others are beginning to endorse them as a means of communicating emotion that might not be conveyed in words alone.  I will take the stand that you need to consider your audience and your message . . . and if the moment calls for an emoticon, use it!

For instance, I prepare a lot of office-wide communications.  Some are in the vein of company strategy messages, or new instructions on how to use an expense reporting tool.  I’m not likely to say something like, “Hey, remember to split out the food and beverage from that hotel bill!  We don’t want the comptroller coming after us! :-)”  Things like detailed instructions and messages about company direction are not flippant, whimsical communications, and you don’t want your audience taking them as such.

But if I’m telling them what we’re having for a company-wide lunch, or letting them know about the shoe shine service downstairs, an emoticon might creep into my writing.  If I’m asking the group to adopt a new behavior to avoid irritating consequences, I might throw in a smiley face to soften the blow: “We must remember to rinse our dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  Food left in the sink starts to smell bad, it looks bad and, well…you and I both know, it’s just gross!  :-)   Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.”

Emails lack personality and almost anything can sound harsh.  Emoticons smooth the rough edges and convey the emotion that’s behind the message.  When relationships matter so much in business, there can’t be anything too wrong with the judicious use of a smiley face here and there.

I’ve long since left those smart Google kids behind, but even in my new job, my fellow co-workers will come up to me and say, “I love your emails.  You’re so sweet.”  I like being thought of as sweet.  It helps me get the job done.


Next post:  Wednesday, May 8