Constructive Feedback through This Medium Isn’t Caring and Can Be Misconstrued…

I started touring colleges this past week with my oldest son, a high schooler who’s pretty curious about the whole college experience.

I was excited about the first college we toured; I felt it suited him perfectly. We’d watched a few videos on YouTube about the school and its programs, as well as attended a virtual tour. When we got there, the first impression of the institution was solid but, within minutes, I hate to say it, the cracks in the veneer began to show.

I won’t go into details (discretion is the better form of valor), but I will say that I went from a huge fan of the college to a critical evaluator of the institute and its programs.

I started to write an email to admissions to let them know a few of my gripes, quips, and disappointments. Once the note was complete, and before I hit “send,” I re-read what I wrote and decided to hit delete. My note felt snarky and the tone just didn’t seem right. The feedback I wanted to share didn’t seem helpful and it just wasn’t meant for an email.

I opted for a phone call instead. Rather than a one-sided note flung through cyberspace, I felt that a conversation would be a better medium – it’d convey my respect, interest in helping improve the admissions process, and share helpful insight into my observations. (The call’s scheduled for this week.)

This brings me to the point of this email. I know many of us like to share feedback with others via email. I get it entirely – it feels safer to articulate our words in text and hit send than to have a face-to-face where conflict or disagreement might ensue. But have you ever thought that constructive feedback through this medium isn’t caring and can be misconstrued?

Here’s the deal – email is great for admin. You’ll need, though, either a phone call or a face-to-face when the following criteria apply:

  • You have to say something that could be taken the wrong way
  • You have critical/constructive feedback to deliver
  • There are stakes involved in the dialogue
  • You don’t want what you intend to put in writing to be printed and/or forwarded
  • The other person might feel disrespected if you don’t talk to them directly

Delivering feedback in this manner can be difficult … I know. Sometimes it’s hard to follow my own advice. But there are times when we have to remind ourselves that we’re leaders. Leaders do the hard stuff because they recognize that when things are uncomfortable, they’re stretching, growing, and probably doing the right thing.

Written by Angie Morgan via Leadstar. Visit Leadstar to read the full article.

The Counterintuitive Wisdom You Need to Get People to Embrace Change

Common wisdom in management science and practice has it that to build support for a change project, visionary leadership is needed to outline what is wrong with the current situation. By explaining how the envisioned change will result in a better and more appealing future, leaders can overcome resistance to change. But research, recently published in the Academy of Management Journal, leads us to add a very important caveat to this.

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

Counterintuitively, then, effective change leadership has to emphasize continuity — how what is central to “who we are” as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.

This is a straightforward and actionable notion that we put to the test in two studies. The first study was a survey of 209 employees and their supervisors from a number of organizations that announced organizational change plans (including relocations and business expansions, reorganizations, structural or technical changes, product changes, changes in leadership, and mergers). The focus was on how effective the leadership was in stimulating employee support for the change, measured through supervisor ratings of employee behavior. As predicted, results showed that leadership was more effective in building support for change the more that leaders also communicated a vision of continuity, because a vision of continuity instilled a sense of continuity of organizational identity in employees. These effects were larger when employees experienced more uncertainty at work (as measured by employee self-ratings).

In the second study, we tested the same idea using a laboratory experiment so that we could draw conclusions about causality. 208 business school students participated in the study, and the context was potential changes in the school’s curriculum. They received one of two messages allegedly from the dean of the business school. One conveyed a vision of change for the curriculum, and the other conveyed the same vision of change but also conveyed a vision of continuity of identity. Independent of which message they were exposed to, students received one of two versions of background information that suggested either low uncertainty or high uncertainty about change outcomes. We then assessed their sense of continuity of identity and their support for the change as expressed in actual behavior: help in drafting a letter to persuade other students to support the change. The results of this second study were similar to those of the first: Support for change was higher when the vision of change was accompanied by a vision of continuity, because in this case people’s sense of continuity of identity was higher. Again, the effects were stronger when uncertainty about the change was higher.

The implications of this research are straightforward. In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity. Unless they are able to ensure people that what defines the organization’s identity — “what makes us who we are” — will be preserved despite the changes, leaders may have to brace themselves for a wave of resistance.

Source: Harvard Business Review – by Merlijn Venus, Daan Stam, and Daan van Knippenberg

4 Ways to Encourage Others at Work…Use Your Words

The easiest way to have a positive impact on your colleagues is to tell them how much you value them. While supervisors and managers may try to use their words to encourage others, they often don’t do a great job. The good news is, using our words to encourage others is easily done, whether you are working onsite or remotely.

Here are a few simple tips to make your words of encouragement most effective and some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Be personal and individualized. Statements of encouragement to a team are great, however, they are impersonal. Direct and specific communication to one person makes the affirmation more sincere.
  2. The more specific the better. One of the most common phrases team members don’t want to hear is “good job!”. The phrase is so generic it could be applied to any person at any time. Be sure to tell the employee specifically what you appreciate about them and their work.

Some specific suggestions:

  • Leave an encouraging voicemail.
  • Use sticky notes to write short messages of appreciation.
  • Recognize them during a meeting or conference call and give them an example of something they did well.
  • Tell them why what they did is important to you, the organization, or your clientele. While it may seem obvious why an employee’s work is valuable or desired, they often don’t understand the true impact of their actions. Framing encouragement in light of the big picture can make it more meaningful.
  • Keep in mind that words are not equally important to everyone. In a study with over 100,00 employees, less than 50% want appreciation through words. That tells us that 50% of employees want appreciation in ways other than words. Seek information from your employees regarding how they best experience encouragement and how receptive they are to other avenues of affirmation.

How do you encourage others at work?

Excerpt from Paul White from appreciationatwork.com

8 Tips for Effective Day-to-Day Communication

Although communication is vital, it often interrupts work flow. Valuing the time and attention of others when communicating is crucial. While keeping others in the loop is important, sharing everything is a distraction. That’s why it’s important to have effective methods for efficient communication.

  1. Utilize Chat Tools. A single centralized chat tool (Such as Slack or Teams) keeps everything together and is a central source for the entire company. Email is an important external tool but doesn’t always need to be used internally. Zoom and Skype are good tools and in-person meetings should be used more sparingly.
  2. “What did you work on today?” Automatically ask yourself and your team members “What did you work on today?”. Share the responses with the company. This creates loose accountability and strong reflection. Writing up what you accomplished every day is a great way to reflect on how you spent your time.
  3. “What will you be working on this week?” A good way to start the week is to create an automatic ask, “What will you be working on this week?” This is a chance for everyone to talk about and see the big picture. It sets your mind, and the mind of your team, up for the work ahead and allows everyone to see what’s happening.
  4. “Social questions”. Every few weeks, ask your team “What books are you reading?” Or “Try anything new lately?” Or “Anything inspire you lately?” Keep these questions optional and use them sparingly. These help to create dialogue about things people love and want to share with others. This is especially beneficial for remote teams.
  5. Reflect every 6 weeks. Every ~6 weeks, summarize the big picture accomplishments and detail the importance of your work. Highlight any challenges or difficulties. This can be a good reminder that, yes, sometimes things do go wrong. Reflect on the job well done and the progress made for the entire team or group.
  6. Project every 6 weeks. Rather than reflect, projections state what the team will accomplish in the coming weeks. The detail specific work for a specific group but can be useful for the entire company. These should be broad and don’t include too many details.
  7. Announcements. Occasionally, announcements need to be made. Whether it’s about a change in policy or reiterating an old one, these can be very beneficial. Sending out a written form of an announcement means everyone sees and hears the same information.
  8. Day to day communication requires context. Saying the right thing, in the wrong place and omitting important details, doubles the work and number of messages. Separate communication places should be set for each project, so nothing gets missed. Everything communicated relating to that project is in the same location. Communications should be attached to what they are referring to.

What has been working well with your team?  We would love to hear!  Email us at aha@ahaleadership.com

Excerpt from Basecamp

3 Tips for Successfully Leading Your Team Back to the Office

Reopening and going back to your workplace does not mean going ‘back to normal’– the workplace post-pandemic has forever changed.  Here are some Situational Leadership strategies that will leaders navigate “re-boarding” the new processes and expectations for how people will return to the workplace.

1. Reflect and Recalibrate. Businesses had to react almost immediately to adjust with the demands of the pandemic. Now is the time to reflect on the lessons learned and the new strategies that can be applied in the plan towards reopening.

  • Send a short reflection survey to your team to get feedback on specific processes that worked well and those that didn’t to decide which practices to continue moving forward.
  • Use targeted, purposeful survey questions to help your team members identify the next normal.

2. Assess the Current State. Businesses refined and created new solutions and procedures to perform their jobs during the pandemic.

  • Now, to get an assessment of the current state, identify and prioritize team members’ tasks.
  • Take time to determine skills and specific tasks that are now essential due to the changing work environment. Look for ways to leverage support, mentoring and delegation within the team.

3. Engage to Manage the Movement. If you haven’t already implemented 1:1 coaching practices, now is the time to do so. This coaching is vital to help team members navigate the fear that accompanies a changing environment.

  • Establishing proactive communication is essential to cultivate trust and personal connection.
  • Encourage your team to be accountable to their own performance and establish touchpoints to discuss current priorities, their status and what they need from you. Compare lists and develop a plan for direction and support.

What is one adjustment you can make, something to stop doing or start doing, to increase your effectiveness as a coach?

Repurposed from Situational.com

Listening is an Action – Will you Listen to Create Change?

Black Lives Matter 

At Aha! Leadership we stand in support with all humanity. In light of recent events, we unite with the black community and recognize that racism is real. 

Leaders must lead by being willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations that drive change. The next right step is to listen and learn. 

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing happens when we’re able to recognize a sound. Listening happens when we put in the effort (action) to understand what it means.  And when we take action, change happens.

As a leader, ask yourself….

  • Are you willing to lead?
  • Are you willing to step into uncomfortable territory?  
  • Are you willing to really listen to others?  
  • Are you willing to act on what you learn? 

Being receptive and understanding others are key components to creating a respectful workplace. 

Please know, we are here to help your team listen, learn and create an inclusive workplace. 

Please email Stephanie Gibbons stephanie@ahaleadership.com or Robyn Marcotte robyn@ahaleadership.com.

“To understand and be understood – those are among life’s greatest gifts and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.”   – Maria Papova, writer

5 Reasons Why Teleconferencing is Draining Your Energy & What to Do About It

For a lot of us, the current situation we are in means we are spending a lot of time working from home and in video meetings. But why do virtual meetings seem more tiring than in person ones?

  1. We miss out on non-verbal communication. We pay attention to the facial expressions, gestures, and tone of others and respond accordingly. During in-person meetings, this processing is automatic. However, video chat requires we devote significant energy and attention to pick up on non-verbal cues.
  2. What’s going on in the background? We feel anxious about our new workspace and how it appears to our colleagues. We worry our kids, partners or parents could walk in at any moment. We also focus more of our attention on the backgrounds of others. The environment where meetings are held is also very important to our processing. We attribute certain meetings to specific rooms and adjust our behavior accordingly.
  3. No more in-passing small talk. In-person, we often meet people on the way to a meeting and have time for small talk and catching up before the meeting starts. On video, it’s all business right from the start.
  4. Watching ourselves is stressful. The heightened focus on facial cues and the ability to see ourselves has proven very stressful. Viewing negative facial expressions can intensify those feelings and emotions in ourselves and others.
  5. Silence is awkward. Silence in real-life meetings is normal and provides rhythm. However, over video, we don’t know if the other person is listening or frozen. Silence makes us anxious about technology and lagging connections.

So, how can we reduce fatigue?

Experts suggest limiting video calls to only the essentials. Additionally, turning your camera off or your screen to the side can make the call less tiring.

Restructuring meetings may also be helpful. Try introducing a shared document in addition to the video call. Make time at the beginning of the meeting for small talk and catch-ups. Check-in on the well-being of others.

Lastly, building in transition periods can help us adjust. Try stretching or doing some exercise before a video meeting. We need buffers to allow our minds to transition our focus from one thing to the next.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” -Wayne D. Dyer

12 Tips for Effective Emails

Email is a communication currency that can lose its value very quickly if not used appropriately.

We “hear” what is being said through our senses, so when we can’t see verbal cues or hear someone speak, there is a greater chance for miscommunication.  Working from home as a ‘new normal’ for many makes our email communication clarity even more critical.

To ensure your email communications are clear, we outlined the following: 

  1. Include a clear, direct subject line.   Examples include:   “New Meeting Date,” “Quick question about your presentation,” or “Suggestions for the proposal.” People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line, so ensure yours is clear what it contains.
  2. Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’ Refrain from hitting “reply all” unless you think everyone on the list needs to receive the email.  IF you do copy everyone, write why you are doing so – outline why the person (s) were included. 
  3. Include your auto signature. This allows your email recipient to easily contact you, in case they want to call you in reply.
  4. Use professional salutations“Hey you guys,” “Yo,” etc .  While the email may have a relaxed tone, you should still address an email professionally.
  5. Use exclamation points sparingly.  If you choose to use an exclamation point, we recommend using one to convey excitement.  If overused, you can appear too emotional/immature.
  6. Be cautious with humor.  This is one where it can get lost in translation without the right audio tone and/or facial expression.  This is best left for in-person or videoconferences.
  7. Factor in different cultures speak and write differently.  Tailor your message to the receiver’s cultural background or how well you know them.
  8. Reply to your emails.  This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply. Or if you were “copied” on it, you should let them know that you are intending Cathy to respond if directed to Cathy and Cathy is better equipped to handle.    Example:  “Cathy, I will assume you will reply to Joe on this issue.”
  9. Proofread every message.  Don’t rely on spell-checkers. Read and re-read your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.  Grammarly is a free tool that helps with grammar beyond email spellchecks.
  10. Add the email address last.  It is easy to hit “send” by mistake before finishing your message.  This will save a lot of headaches as you compose and proofread your message first.
  11. Double-check that you’ve selected the correct recipient.  Pay extra attention when typing a name from your address book on the email’s “To” line especially since it may autofill similar names.
  12. Nothing is confidential—so compose your emails accordingly.  Every electronic message leaves a trail.

5 Ways to Prevent Miscommunication from Infiltrating Your Team

Words matter and words can be misunderstood. You can break a heart or start a war simply based on the words you choose. We know communication is important – Especially now, as are working remote and stress levels are high.

Remember, everyone processes information differently. This gets into some pretty nutty areas of neuroscience and behavior. For those of you who use DiSC to aid your communications, attached is a refresher overview of how each style is wired.  

For those that are not familiar with DiSC, knowing someone’s DiSC style helps us communicate better with them.  For example, some people are good at active listening, while others are not. How we absorb and digest information is a factor as well. Some process information visually, while others process through sound or touch. Lastly, perception based on what we want to hear versus what’s said is also a huge factor.  

Conversations can easily be misinterpreted because of a combination of bad communication habits: people are hurried when they speak; they’re distracted and not actively listening; or they simply have a lack of understanding or context to what is being said.

So how do you prevent your team from falling prey to miscommunication? Here are 5 steps:


1. Make sure everyone involved understands and realizes that misinterpretations are human nature. We’re all guilty of it. Just because you told someone something, doesn’t mean they got it. 


2. Be aware of yourself and others. The more you know about yourself and those with whom you’re communicating, the more effective you will be in disseminating information to ensure you are aligned with someone else. This is especially helpful for aligning with people who are wired differently than you or who come from a very different background where their understanding of something could have a wildly different meaning from what you meant. 


3. At the end of a conversation with someone, repeat what you heard. This allows for feedback on whether you understood the message in the way the speaker intended. You will be amazed by how many times the other person will say, “No, I didn’t mean that. I meant…”  You will save time by taking this simple step to being tactically aligned.


4. Leave a few minutes at the end of a conversation or meeting to go over next steps. Allow for questions to provide further clarity or context for those who need it. This is especially important if a lot of different topics or ideas were discussed. Context shifting is a heavy task for our brains, so the more topics, the greater chance there is for tactical dissonance.


5. Account for the digital age we live in and be mindful of how you’re delivering your message.  Email is best used to spread information, like recapping action items after a meeting or sharing attachments others need, NOT for in-depth communication. This means no debating, convincing or critiquing via email—save that for face-to-face communication.

The good news is, I truly believe that our new working environment will help us develop stronger communication skills if we slow down and use this time to focus on improving the quality of our messages.

Source Excerpts from Leadercast March 2020

Using DISC to Power and Support your Remote Team

Knowing your team’s DISC assessment results is always beneficial since you can tailor everything from assignments to workstations to match your worker’s skill sets and preferences.

For remote workers, the knowledge imparted by a DISC assessment is even more meaningful.

You’ll know how much support, attention and feedback each member will need, and even get a good idea of which of your team members can handle the sometimes-isolating aspects of remote work. Since each individual style needs different support and will value different aspects of remote work, knowing what to offer is essential if you want to have a successful remote program.

Click here for an overview of how to support your remote team based on their DiSC style.