Is Your Document Readable?

proofreading readible document formatting message

Is Your Document Readable?

by Luigi Benetton

proofreading readible document formatting messageWhen you prepare a document using Microsoft Word, you’re actually doing two things:

  • writing content
  • formatting the content

Word offers many tools people can use to automate the formatting of their Word documents, thus saving them lots of time.  But Word cannot help people who have not learned to write.

That said, Word can indicate when writers may need to improve their content.  Aside from the fairly well-known spelling and grammar checks, Word can deliver these readability statistics for your document:

  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Microsoft explains both scores on its website.  Turn them on and run them on a document you wrote.  It’ll offer food for thought.

Turn off spelling and grammar checking “as you type”

If you turned on readability statistics in Word, you might have noticed settings that let you check spelling and grammar “as you type.”

Turning these off may seem counter-intuitive.  But doing so makes sense if you delve into the actual process of writing.

Ideally, writers get into a state of flow when they work.  They build up momentum as they put their thoughts down on paper, and that momentum can carry them through plenty of writing.

Interruptions are the enemy of flow.  Phone calls and knocks on the door do happen, and writers can only exert a certain amount of control over those.  But onscreen interruptions?  Writers can prevent most of those.

(Note: Email notifications are probably the worst onscreen offenders, so turn them off too.)

Word’s indications of spelling and grammar problems can prompt writers to play both writer and editor at the same time.  Guard your momentum – stay a writer until you complete a first draft.  Become an editor only after the first draft is finished.  Run a spelling and grammar check once you’ve almost finished your revisions.  Chances are, you’ll work more quickly this way.

Listening for More Holiday Fun

listening & engaging people in conversation

Listening for More Holiday Fun

by Carrol Suzuki

listening & engaging people in conversationThe holiday season brings more opportunities to practice your listening skills.

Whether it’s at the office party or the family dinner, you just might find yourself sitting next to someone you don’t know well or someone you see only once a year.

Why not make every conversation more enjoyable for you and the person beside you?  The two key words are ENGAGE and FUN.

Eye contact – show the person they have your undivided attention

Name – use the person’s name in the conversation to give it a more personal feel

Guest – make the person feel like a special guest by really listening

Ask questions – that encourage the person to tell you more about something that interests you

Good host – focus on the person speaking, not on bringing the conversation back to you

Echo and ask – ask a question based on something the person has just said

Forget advice – avoid saying anything that sounds like advice.  It’s not appropriate with someone you don’t know well (and tricky even with those you do know well)

Unbelievable – feel free to use short responses to show you’re listening, like “unbelievable” or “That’s amazing”.  Make sure your comments are sincere.

No judgment – avoid any response that sounds judgmental (“I would never do that” or “Why would you think that?”).  Give praise or a compliment instead.

When you really engage someone in conversation by using your listening skills, you’re giving the best gift anyone could receive this holiday season.

Gifts the Seniors You Love, Will Really Love

seniors love practical gifts

seniors love practical giftsGifts the Seniors You Love, Will Really Love

by Sherri Auger

With the holidays fast approaching, it can be difficult to know what to buy for the seniors that we love.  Generally, more household items are not needed, in fact they are probably trying to get rid of stuff.  Instead, try giving them items that are practical and add value to their lives:

Tim Horton Gift Cards – with a hand written note saying you will join them once a month for coffee.

Swiss Chalet Gift Cards – no cooking required, a gift we all love to get

Diabetic Socks  – great for anyone with circulation troubles

Long Shoe Horn – no more bending over to put on shoes

Magnifier – makes that tiny print easier to see

Blank Cards – give them a year supply of a selection of various occasion greeting cards, saves them going out to buy them

 

Snow Shovelling/Grass Cutting – pay for a service cover household chores.  Gives “peace of mind” to all

Subscriptions – pay for their annual magazine or newspaper subscription

Taxi Gift Card – give them gift certificates to take taxi’s.  May really come in handy on a snowy day

 

Hair Dressers Coupon – inquire about gift certificates for the salon they frequent

We hope this will give you some ideas to show you care and happy holidays everyone.

Competitive Advantage: Including our People in the Process of Change

included in the process of change

included in the process of changeCompetitive Advantage: Including our People in the Process of Change

by Andrew Reid

We give ourselves a competitive advantage when we include our people in the process of change.  Over the “interesting” past year I’ve worked with bankers, manufacturing operators, business owners, athletes, directors, and everyone in between.  Common to all is the need to be included in the process of change.

Most of us have a negative stress response to change when that change comes from an outside source; usually as a surprise.  On the other hand, if we instigate the change ourselves, we might experience a positive stress response; where we are focused and driven.  If you agree with this simple concept, perhaps there is a change management approach to come from it.  Here are some best practice strategies:

 
1.       Invite your people to participate in change even if the process is difficult.  Your teams will have resources and capabilities if you engage them in contribution.

2.       Changing markets make it easier to compete.  Yes I said that.  It’s easy to compete in a volatile market because few are good at it.  Your competitors, unable to cope with change, turn inward and leave customers looking for love.  So go say hi!

3.       Don’t buy or sell fluff.  People want substance and solid direction in creating new opportunities.  Show them how and facilitate fresh thinking approaches that synchronize with the new market.

4.       Most of the richest people in the world got that way during volatile markets. Every business culture can benefit from that kind of story.

5.       Notice where you and your people run out of tools; and I’m not talking about technology. Humans are wired for relationship, connection, and community.  Business relationships are dependent on effective communication.  Give your people the training to take their conversations, negotiations, agreements, and listening skills to the next level and watch their confidence soar as they contribute to positive change.

6.       Tone set a culture of positive, constructive change by focusing on the other side of the goal; what it’s like living on the other side of the finish line.  People can step into super success when they can see themselves in the future successful story.  If they can’t picture what will be different, they may fear the unknown…which is a natural response by the way.  Support stories of new possibilities and where skills can be put to great use.

7.       People make stuff up; good or bad.  Missing information opens the door to gossip and fear-based stories.  Because we are wired for connection, people can connect through gossip or through innovative ideas; it’s a matter of what influences their focus.  

We give ourselves a competitive edge by providing useful information that optimizes focus, energy, and solution-based conversation.  If your ship is going to be at sea for a while with no clear port, tell them that.  Then get your teams focused on how they can be resourceful and competitive regardless of the environment. 

We can only change what we can control or influence.  As we become better at influencing situations around us, we give ourselves more choices for change.  Give your people the tools and let your them build the strategy to the future.

Why Managers Keep their Eyes Shut so Tightly

management training program avoid procrastination trap

Why Managers Keep their Eyes Shut so Tightly

by Sharone Bar-David

management training program avoid procrastination trapBy the time George missed the big deadline, his manager, Juliana, had already gone through several months of pretending there was no problem. Her longstanding positive relationship with George prevented her from addressing the decline in the quality of his work, his lateness and withdrawal.  Now, faced with a problem to which she couldn’t turn a blind eye, Juliana cringed at the idea of having to take action.

Much like Juliana, many managers avoid dealing with performance problems.  Unfortunately, the HR professionals who support them are often slow to diagnose the problem and to provide timely assistance.

When the performance of a long-time employee or one with a solid track record declines, many managers fall right into the Procrastination Trap. Other times, they procrastinate because they know the employee is struggling with difficult personal circumstances.  Or because they have a personal relationship with the person.  Or because they fear that they’ll endanger the employee’s future.  Or they worry about damaging their relationship with him or her.  Or they’re paralyzed by the fear of handling the conversation in an unskilled way.

Meanwhile, things on the ground get worse.  The performance deteriorates further, other team members begin questioning the manager’s leadership and customer service suffers.

If I’m Good, I Shouldn’t be Bad

Most of us think of ourselves as good, decent human beings, and managers are no exception.  The possibility of confronting performance issues triggers a debilitating unconscious conflict.  Somewhere deep within, the matter gets translated into: “If I can do this to a fellow human being, it means I’m a bad person”.  Once this happens, anxiety and avoidance kick in.

Like Juliana, managers will unconsciously invent a host of excuses that will justify not dealing with the performance problem.  These excuses alleviate their discomfort and allow them to maintain their internal sense of decency.  They ignore changes in the employee’s performance while telling themselves that ‘it will pass’ or that ‘it isn’t really all that serious’.  Or they persuade themselves that they have more pressing priorities.

 

Beyond Procrastination

Let’s face it, dealing with performance issues is right up there on any manager’s list of ‘most despised tasks’.  And it can be pretty lonely out in the battlefield. True, most organizations offer clear processes for progressive discipline.  But they fall short on providing their leaders with essential strategies for assessing and intervening before things get really bad.  Managers are left to figure it our on their own, with scarce tools on which to rely.  A good managers’ training program can provide a solid framework, skills and confidence that will help managers stop procrastinating.  In addition to training, HR professionals can provide support by offering managers the following guidance:

  1. Action is more helpful than procrastination.  Become present to the paradox inherent in the fact that your procrastination is not helpful to the employee, in fact it is harmful.  If you don’t act and things become worse, you might eventually have to take more drastic measures.  By intervening early, you are respectfully providing the person with the opportunity to self-correct.
  2. Record.  Take detailed notes pertaining to the problem behaviours.  These notes will allow you see reality more clearly and help you determine if, how and when to intervene.  Make sure to record observations (things a video camera would capture), not some form of unqualified diagnosis.  For example, don’t record “George was defensive”.  Instead, record “when Mary inquired about a late report, George yelled at her”.  This way, when you raise the issue with the employee, you’re equipped with real data, rather than a ‘diagnoses’ that might induce a defensive response and make you an even worse procrastinator.  After all, if you tell George that he had been “aggressive and uncooperative” you can pretty much bet that he will become aggressive and uncooperative before your very eyes.
  3. Consult.  Get another person’s perspective.  In addition to HR, people such as your own manager or a seasoned colleague will readily share their experience and help you gain clarity and confidence.
  4. Acquire skills.  Dealing with performance issues is part of one’s developmental journey as a leader.  You need to get good at this, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.  Read, role-play with someone, or pursue training – do whatever works for you.
  5. Have a solid plan for the conversation with the employee.  At the very least, your plan should include the following elements:
  • Clarity about the desired outcome – usually it should be “arrive at an agreed-upon plan that will get George’s performance back on track”.
    • A clear structure that you can rely on when things become tense or you feel you own anxiety rising
    • A detailed list of the performance problems, articulated in video-camera terms
    • Familiarity with the resources available to assist the person
    • A willingness to listen and truly engage in dialogue

Taking action early will prevent things from getting worse and empowers a shift from a position of reactivate management to one of supportive leadership.  This will prevent much angst on all fronts and allow for issues to be resolved smoothly and effectively.

Power of Humour: Making it work at the office

sense of humour in the workplace

Power of Humour: Making it work at the office

by Wendy Woods

sense of humour in the workplaceI have spent a lot of time in hospitals lately as my dad deals with severe radiation burns.  Despite the challenges, stress and lack of resources within the healthcare system, I’m amazed at hospital staff who use humour to put patients at ease.  Even a few simple words can get a patient to laugh, smile and momentarily forget their troubles.  Here are some of my favorite hospital moments:

* Prior to surgery in August, staff had to put a hair net on my dad.  When they gave him an unattractive cap, they joked about having to take his picture.  Next when they had to get him slippers, they promised him the ‘Armanis’.  It was the perfect way to help lighten the stress of surgery.

* While my dad was waiting for one of the many tests, scans and procedures, one of the nurses told him “Running away was allowed”.

* An orderly, who took my dad for a CT scan, walked in calling him ‘handsome’ in the most respectful yet fun way.  Once he found out my dad’s last name was Woods, he started calling him Tiger after the famous golfer.  My dad and those around him laughed especially in light of the recent controversy surrounding Tiger.

If hospital employees can use humour effectively, you too can use it in your work environment to reduce stress, enhance relationships or improve teamwork.  Use humour in conversation, at meetings or in presentations.  Start small, with these simple suggestions, until you find your comfort zone.

1.    Find funny quotes instead of making up your own humour.  There are many sources but try these two to start http://thinkexist.com/quotations/funny/  and http://www.quotes-museum.com/

2.    Share a funny story.  It’s easy to find funny stories or news however the best stories are ones that involve you.  Laughing at yourself allows your colleagues to see your humility, ability to take yourself lightly and your sense of humour.  Just ensure the story is appropriate for the office and won’t risk offending anyone.

3.    Repeat a great one liner or joke from a show, movie or comedy routine.  A few good examples for the office are” “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13), “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” (Wizard of Oz), or “Show me the money” (Jerry Maguire).  Obviously it’s up to you to find an appropriate time and place to use any line.

The more you practice using humour at work, the more you’ll see its workplace benefits.

That’s Interesting, Tell me more… (Having a powerful Elevator Communication)

elevator pitch speech communication

That’s Interesting, Tell me more…
(Having a powerful Elevator Communication)

by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

elevator pitch speech communicationHave you ever had the experience of asking someone at a business function what they did for a living, only to have them ramble on in great detail about their roles and responsibilities?  I know I have and frankly, I usually stop listening very soon after they start to talk.  A much more effective way to engage people in conversation of this nature is to have a brief elevator communication.  Some people refer to this communication as an elevator speech or elevator pitch.  Personally I have found that if you call it a pitch or a speech that is what it sounds like, that is why I prefer calling it communication.

The purpose of having this short statement is to pique people’s interest and have them ask you to tell them more and to keep the conversation going.  When I work with groups during my sales training programs to create their own authentic elevator communication, the results are very inspiring.

Recently I had a group of 28 people participating in a sales training program and I had them go through a process to help them clearly define their own unique value they add.  Each of the 28 people were selling exactly the same products and services and yet they were able to each come up with their own authentic statement.  It was inspiring to listen to each of the participants share their elevator communication.  They all were so amazed at how different each message was and agreed this would help them in the future when they met new people.

Take a few minutes and create your own authentic communication using the process below!

Let’s  get started!

Answer the following questions:

  1. What I do for my customer ?

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

  2. What difference does what I do make for my clients?  What impact do I have?

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

  3. What are some of the common issue with my clients?  Are there common triggers that cause them to buy?

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

  4. Reasons people do business with me (i.e. save money, save time, productivity, higher quality, better service)

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

  5. What do I personally bring to the offering?

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

    ______________________________________________________________

Break your communication into two parts:

 

  1. Describe what you do

    _____________________________________________________________

    _____________________________________________________________

    _____________________________________________________________

  2. Benefits to the customer

    _____________________________________________________________

    _____________________________________________________________

    _____________________________________________________________

How long should it be?

The shorter the better. Some suggest 15, 20, 30 seconds, never more than 30 seconds.  Most important is that you are authentic, and comfortable with your message and you can say it smoothly. Once you get into a conversation with the other person your elevator speech has done it’s job.

 

When to use?

  • When introducing yourself to others
  • On your outgoing voice mail message
  • In your outgoing email signature
  • On your literature, advertising, business card or letterhead
  • When you leave a voice mail
  • On your website
  • When you are in a conversation with someone on the phone
  • Networking events

 

Tips

  • Write your elevator communication
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Preface your elevator communication by asking for permission to continue – during a phone conversation (say something like “Do you have a moment?”)
  • In the beginning some people include a “So That” phrase as a connector between parts 1 and 2 – not necessary and usually once you are comfortable with you Elevator Speech you may find you will not use this at all
  • Use your elevator communication everyday

 

Why Don’t You Have an AED?

automated external defibrillator

Why Don’t You Have an AED?

Defibrillators are saving lives in all sorts of places.

By Shyamala Nathan-Turner

automated external defibrillatorEvery 12 minutes, someone in Canada suffers cardiac arrest.  That’s over 40,000 people each year.  The vast majority of arrests happen away from health care facilities. And the grim fact is, less than five per cent of victims will survive.

The key to treating most victims of sudden cardiac arrest? Automated external defibrillators.  AEDs, as they are commonly known, are electronic devices used to identify cardiac rhythms and, when necessary, deliver a shock that will correct abnormal electrical activities in the heart.  AEDs are able to assess the victim and will only advise the rescuer to deliver a shock if the heart is in a rhythm that can be corrected by defibrillation.  If the heart is beating normally, they cannot deliver a shock.

For every minute of delay in defibrillation, the survival rate of a cardiac arrest victim decreases by seven to 10 per cent.  After more than 12 minutes of ventricular fibrillation, the survival rate of adults is less than five per cent. As a result, AEDs have made big news in the past few years.

Defibrillation can improve these survival rates by 30 per cent or more if conducted within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.  In fact, defibrillation combined with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can increase survival rates to 50 per cent or more.

AEDs are safe, easy to use, and can be operated effectively by non-medical people.  Many responders and lay rescuers have effectively used AEDs in public settings, including workplaces and golf courses.

One example:  Three weeks after an AED unit was installed in a York Region Veterans’ Association meeting place, it was used to revive a client who had collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest.  If the same event had happened a few weeks earlier, the outcome would likely not have been a happy one.

What’s stopping you?  And make sure people in your workplace know CPR.

Against the Tide

againgst the tide, breaking habitual patterns

Against the Tide

By Robin Lee Kennedy

againgst the tide, breaking habitual patternsHave you ever been caught in a strong current?  You’re happily going along and suddenly are pulled off course – in a direction you don’t want to go.  Initially you’re unconcerned – after all you’re a strong swimmer.  You swim faster – kick harder.  As you see yourself drifting further from shore, panic sets in.  You start to focus on your fatigue.  You notice the heaviness in your arms.  Your kicking becomes frantic as you realize that you might not make it.  Fear overwhelms you.  Swimming furiously against the current is exhausting – images of sinking down beneath the surface encompass you.  You begin to think about your family, and how unhappy they’ll be without you.  Saddened by the image, fatigue overwhelms you.  It would be so much easier just to let go – to accept the terrible reality of your circumstances.

 

The Power of Your Thoughts!

Just when you feel like giving up, a spark ignites inside you.  You choose more positive, empowering thoughts.  You muster the courage; see yourself on the beach – now miles away.  Determination and belief drive you and – before you know it – you’re standing on that beach.  You can hardly believe that you made it.  It seems surreal.  Wow!  The power of your thoughts!

You’re probably aware of, and at some point have even experienced, the power your thoughts have to change your life.  How being clearly aware of your choices, staying true to who you are, and being accountable to yourself can empower you to reach your goals.  In my case, growing up with an abusive stepfather and a mother who often ‘took to her bed’ to escape him, I was determined to show the world who I was and what I had to offer.

Although we seemed to have plenty of money, my stepfather, Ivan, wouldn’t buy me school clothes.  Each fall when all of my friends had new stuff, I trooped in wearing hand-me-downs.  Ivan said that if I wanted something more, it was up to me to earn the money, but…good luck.  That was all I needed to hear to go against the tide – a suggestion that I couldn’t do it!  I just needed to figure out how.

We had property with a big river steps from the house.  Of course!  I would learn how to fish and sell my catch to the local market.  Fortunately, I did have a fishing pole, a Christmas gift from my Grandmother.  I had the tools and was in the perfect location.  But, I had to convince myself, and everyone else, that I could do this.  I marched into the fish market to share my intentions and negotiate a deal.  The local fishermen who were dropping off their catch chuckled at my announcement.  All but one.  Charlie, the father of a schoolmate, did not.  He had heard about the way Ivan treated me.  Instead of snickering along with his peers, Charlie was interested in my plan.  Proudly, I told him how I was going to make it happen.  First, I was going to focus on flounder because they were running and plentiful.  Instead of undercutting the price, I was going to offer some “free” services to get on the good side of the fish market owner.  Next, I would buy a boat with the money I earned so I’d be able to place and monitor more profitable crab traps.

Then I began my advertising campaign.  I told anyone who would listen what I was up to.  Everyone laughed at me, no one harder then Ivan.  Everyone, except Charlie.  People said things like “I hope you won’t be disappointed;” or “It’s too big a plan for a little girl.”  But I didn’t listen. Charlie got a bunch of “the boys” together to show me the ropes.  I went out on their boats and was allowed to keep my own catch.  They guided me and believed in me, because I believed in myself.

In just two seasons I was able to buy my own rowboat, which cost $99 – a lot in 1962.  I also learned the crab trapping business and had my own traps set in the best spots.  I had a growing bank account, purchased a 5HP motor for my boat, bought my own school clothes and gave the hand-me-downs to the Salvation Army.  I was even able to buy the special red shoes that I’d had my eye on.  I was ten years old.

 

The Currents of Human Influence

Whatever your circumstances, you may find yourself from time to time pulled in a direction that you don’t want to go or letting dreams live short lives because of a belief you accepted.

Do outside influences direct your course or is it your own inner critic telling you that you can’t do something you’d really like to?  If you’re like most people, the path of least resistance is the one you most often take.  Particularly, if your belief or desire is unpopular or unproven.

 

Direct the Course of Your Life With Conscious Choice and Effort

It is possible to focus your energy on creating the things that you want.  If you’re willing to go against the tide, you can direct the course of your life.

It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone to take control of your future and perseverance to stay on course and resist habitual patterns.  Forming new habits will take you where you want to be.  Recognize the power of your thoughts and words to make focused decisions about which ones to empower.  You can breathe life into what you truly want with conscious choice and effort.

Doubts That Multiply!

Notice what happens when another person or your inner critic says that you can’t do something or that an idea you have just won’t work.  Suddenly your doubts multiply.  Your enthusiasm and belief in yourself wanes – you might even retract your idea.  In some cases, you feel embarrassed that you actually believed it had merit.  The current was just too strong for you to go in a different direction.  Silently, grudgingly you dive back into stagnant waters.

 

Choose a Positive Focus

Now, consider what happens when you speak positively about something you want or believe in.  Your energy is contagious and people buy into your idea.  You react with more positive thoughts and energy.  Before you know it, there is a collective belief that begins to grow.  The air feels electric.  You’re going where you want and pulling others along with you – caught up in your enthusiastic wake.

What would happen if you always chose positive thoughts and words?  Notice that I pointed to a choice.  Everyone has negative – even self-deprecating – thoughts from time to time.  However, we all have the ability to decide whether to pursue a particular thought or not.  We can choose to go with a positive current.

 

The Process: Awareness, Truth and Accountability

First you need to become aware – to be awake to the moment and keenly observant of what is – to be conscious of all possible and probable outcomes of any choice or action.  To live in awareness is to not pretend that you don’t know.  It is to not do things subconsciously, but instead make conscious choices and decisions and understand their impact.  Clarifying your values helps you to make choices that serve you.  In my case, being a young girl keenly aware of the impact my home life was having on my image of the world, and focusing on a path that I understood completely would not be supported by that home, my actions were chosen carefully, in neat succession, to meet my goal.  What is important to you?  What are your “must haves” in order to be happy?

Next you need to tell the truth – to yourself.  Are you living by your values?  If not, what gets in the way?  Your values can motivate you to stretch beyond the comfortable status quo.  They give you the why for doing something new.  Are you willing to navigate uncharted waters by altering your ready acceptance of negative thoughts or discouraging input?  Can you identify the Ivan’s and Charlie’s in your own life?  In yourself?  Had I given into the views of the Ivan in my life, I would have achieved nothing.

Last comes being accountable – again, to yourself.  I took control of my circumstances by making choices and taking actions that were not influenced by the will or view of others.  My success or failure would not be the result of anything outside of my own actions, without excuses and regardless of how toxic the world around me could be.  Will you take responsibility for getting yourself to shore?

 

By being aware, honest and accountable you’ll find that you can create your own flow and current.  You’ll find the best places to cast your line and life’s ebbs and flows will be much easier to navigate.

Overcoming Team Tension

team tension

We had such great feedback from our summer articles from our partners that I have decided to continue to feature various articles from my partners as well as my own submissions… enjoy

 

 

OVERCOMING TEAM TENSION

By Mark Ellwood

team tensionYou’re working on a big project. Deadlines are approaching. Major work needs to be done. Numerous team members are involved. The goal is clear. At the beginning of the project, things go smoothly.

 

But then trouble sets in. It starts out as a minor difference of opinion between team members. Then, there’s a stall in progress. Heels are dug in. Positions become more firm. Arguments ensue and no one is happy. Nothing gets done. It’s a case of team tension.

 

People work on teams because collaboration allows productive activity to flourish. One person doesn’t have all the skills, resources, or knowledge to get everything done. So teams form to foster synergy. The theory is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Individuals can make progress, whereas teams can make magic.

 

But difficulties can arise because not everyone sees a project the same way. Team members bring different experiences, training, and points of view to their work. Sometimes, these clash. The result is team tension.

 

Recognize the symptoms

You’ll experience team tension when you encounter the following symptoms:

  • Team members repeat points over and over to each other, but no one seems to be adding any new information that hasn’t already been covered numerous times. Discussions become more heated. Arguments ensue.
  • You suggest options that are routinely rejected.
  • Individuals begin implementing one part of a decision they’ve made, without informing other team members. This is progress by stealth.
  • You worry that there is an overwhelming issue no one has addressed, and that must be dealt with sooner or later. Perhaps you feel too intimidated to bring it up.
  • Someone threatens to quit. This may not be an obvious threat – the hints may be subtle. For instance, you realize that people aren’t pulling their weight, and progress becomes slack. Or someone leaves a discussion, with no agreement or decision being made.
  • Team members use documentation to cover themselves. They write down what they agreed to, or what you did, or what they expect. Documentation is a useful tool, but not when it masks unresolved differences.
  • Someone appeals to a higher authority to resolve the dispute. Or they suggest a vote. But bosses don’t like to take sides, and voting creates winners and losers rather than consensus.

 

So, what are some practical ways to manage team tension? The first is to simply acknowledge that it exists. This can take some bravery. In the middle of a meeting, or in a one-on-one conversation, make a declaration: “We seem to be at an impasse here. I’m sensing some tension about our differences. I wonder if we could…” Then fill in the rest of the sentence with one of the suggestions below.

 

TAKE A BREAK

Allow the situation to rest for a while. Sleep on it. Go for a walk. Think it over during the weekend. Share your thoughts with colleagues outside the team. If there has been a long build-up to a disagreement, it may not get resolved quickly. Be patient.

 

INVOLVE A MEDIATOR

Consider asking an objective outsider to help resolve differences. When you do, be sure to present both sides thoroughly. Then, listen for what your advisor has to offer. Avoid saying, “Yeah, you’re right.” This often means you’ve heard what is being said, but you don’t really get it and you plan to do nothing. A trained mediator can also help, but only if both parties agree.

 

DECIDE ON WHAT REALLY COUNTS

Consider what you are really attached to. What are your motivations for pursuing a course of action? Perhaps what you think is of paramount importance is not really essential to the project. Focus on what makes a difference, and let the rest go. The consequences will probably be minimal.

 

LISTEN

Do you really understand the other person’s point of view? Practice active listening. This means hearing their comments in full, rather than composing your own response as they speak. Then, repeat back your understanding of what the other person said. Check with her to see if you got it right. Sometimes your empathy will encourage her to tell you more, uncovering additional clues about how to deal with her issues.

 

COMPROMISE

Offer to concede a point or meet in the middle. You’ll be surprised at how accommodating the other person can be when you “blink first.” Don’t think of it as backing down. Think of it as creating an opening towards a productive next step.

 

KEEP THE OJBECTIVE IN MIND.

In a meeting, remind everyone what the objective is. Ensure they all agree. Then help them visualize a picture of success. When people realize they are all working towards the same purpose, they become less entrenched in their own positions.

 

LIST WHAT YOU AGREE ON

This technique can work for two people or for a large group. List the subject at the top of a piece of paper. Then write down everything you agree on. Anyone in the discussion gets a veto – if they don’t agree on something, it doesn’t get written down. Listing a series of agreements focuses people’s attention on core values and common steps. And, when people discover items they agree on, a positive energy emerges that spurs further cooperation.

 

APOLOGIZE

Humility can go a long way to opening up conversations. Apologize for being bullish, getting upset, making accusations, or even for not understanding the objective properly. Then, use one of the other techniques to find a genuine path towards team commitment.

 

Remember that team tension is natural. If your team consists of a variety of strong individuals, disagreements will naturally occur. If they don’t, your team may have too many conformists who are unwilling to challenge the status quo. Strive to keep the differences minor, and not long-lasting. What you should hope for is a situation where team members say, “We often disagree with each other, but we can always go out for a beer afterwards.”

 

It isn’t easy admitting that team tension exists. By breaking the ice, you allow others to admit that there is tension. Only then can you move towards a better solution. Eventually, someone on the team will thank you for being so forthright.

 

And remember to keep the perspective of time in mind. Minor differences today will eventually form the histories, the stories, and the anecdotes that you will look back on as the team celebrates its successes.