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Via Business News Daily : Proper Workplace Communication in the Age of Chat and Text

Communication tools have made leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. We have moved from phone calls and faxes to emails and text. With those changes came a new language and new rules for professional communication etiquette. Experts advised leaving humor out of emails to avoid misinterpretation, and arguments ensued over the use of salutations and signatures in replies and forwards, not to mention the battle over personal quotes in signature blocks.

Flash forward to today. Now many productivity tools include instant messaging in their team spaces and have taken that challenge a step further with the introduction of emoticons in their systems. While many of us use smiley faces, sad faces and “LOL” in our everyday informal communications with friends and family, should they be used in professional correspondence?

“Those types of communication tools allow for flexibility,” said Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at West Unified Communications. “Many times the communication tools get blamed, not the user, for inappropriate use. Instead, managers should focus on the results of increased and immediate communication, and not the means of getting there.”

The pros and cons of digital communication tools

There are many positives to using Slack, Teamwork Chat and the wide variety of similar communication tools. Sharon Schweitzer, an international business etiquette expert, author and the founder of Access to Culture, said collaboration tools provide teams with a designated platform on which to discuss and develop projects, allowing everyone to share and consolidate their ideas.

“The open exchange between co-workers allows them to transmit and receive information as quickly [as possible], amping productivity and cross-team communication,” she said. “For a project that includes multiple teams or people working remotely, these apps help reconnect employees, provide progress updates and facilitate collaboration. The apps also provide a designated platform for workplace communication without the distractions of Facebook Messenger or Google chat, allowing for greater office efficiency.”

Guiding that open exchange can be a challenge. While Collins encourages small business owners and managers to embrace the technology and go with the flow, he also encourages setting parameters.

“Set expectations,” he said, “and provide guideposts for their use. The appropriateness of different media makes a difference. You may ‘talk’ one way in an email and express the same sentiment in a chat message, only differently because of the more informal nature.”

This includes the use of emoticons. Collins has several reasons why using emoticons in chats is a good thing, primarily when it comes to context.

“Content that is not relevant is just noise,” he said. “We are being flooded with content. But when content has context, it is easier to understand. Emoticons provide that context, making one-dimensional messages more robust and showing inflection.” It gives what the person is saying a visual communication feel, adding an extra layer to tell if the words typed are meant as a joke, serious or sarcastic, for instance.

Instant communication has other benefits as well. It breaks down hierarchal boundaries. Instead of an email to a boss, then another one to their boss, one to the big boss and back down again, now a question can be asked in real time. Because people don’t have the attention span they used to, shorter messages at greater frequency elicit better and more immediate responses, keeping a project moving forward instead of waiting on a question and answer that is traveling up the ladder and back down.

There can also be a downside to the use of emoticons, inside or outside of your organization. According to a new study from Amsterdam University, including smiley faces in your email correspondence leads readers to view you as less competent. If that is a concern, Schweitzer has some advice: For professional exchanges, leave out the emojis, LOLs and memes.

“Remember that your online work platform is first and foremost a professional sphere designed to facilitate efficient and effective dialogue,” she recommended. “Spamming your co-workers with GIFs is a sure way to cause problems and irritate your teammates. Keep your messages short and sweet.”

She also endorses using professional communication platforms internally only. “External tools risk exposing private, confidential, trademarked, financial, or other sensitive information to the public or competitors. Open the channel to the in-house groups that are collaborating together, and be sure to close the conversation to all not involved in the project.”

Another negative is the use of the platforms for personal business. It shouldn’t be used to send messages to co-workers about non-business topics such as weekend plans or personal problems.

Advice for managers and employees

Within an organization, however, the use of common emojis, memes and GIFs can promote familiarity and foster that teamwork feeling. The key is to provide and enforce the guidelines for appropriate types of communication over the workplace communication tool and channel.

“Use it as a leadership opportunity,” Collins said, “not a boss action. Sit down with the team and explain protocol for inside and outside communications and work on those protocol points together. Explain what is OK and what isn’t. Once determined, monitor and engage – practice what you preach.”

“Management can coordinate with HR to prepare written guidelines for use of the platform,” added Schweitzer. “HR managers can train and debrief employees on the platform’s function, tools and guidelines so that its use remains professional. Guidelines prevent personal and unauthorized use (for example, office gossip). Instruct employees to refrain from sending personal or sensitive messages; be clear that, as with any online messaging system, messages are not private.”

Also, to prevent your team from distraction by notifications, create a management override or policy requiring them to adjust their settings so that they only receive alerts pertaining to them and their workgroup. This cuts down wasted time and increases productivity.

Finally, emphasize that a messaging platform is not a substitute for in-person meetings, phone calls or video conferences, all of which are more personable and effective communication. While online apps are convenient, they should never take the place of real-time interpersonal interactions. It is OK to instant-message to see if someone is available to talk, but discussions of substance should still take place in person. No electronic smiley face or “LOL” can take the place of a true smile or a team laughing, discussing and working together.

Via International Business Times : Body Language At The Workplace: Tips To Boost Confidence Through Non-Verbal Communication

It is well agreed upon that in a workplace, exchange of ideas or communication that leads to formulation or discussion of issues is what prompts a healthy and conducive environment. However, when one talks about communication, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is the verbal aspect of it, forgetting that non-verbal communication is equally important.

Huge amounts of research conducted over the years have proved that when properly used, non-verbal communication can make an instant impact on the other person, and can be key to greater success.

According to Tonya Reiman, author of “The Power of Body Language,” powerful non-verbal communication skills can tell your audience that you are energetic, engaged, confident and honest. However, poor non-verbal communication skills may also give an impression of low self-esteem and a lack of interest. “Is this 100% fair? Not necessarily. But it is how humans are programmed,” she says.

In an article for the Conversation, David Keatley Lecturer in Psychology at Curtin University, Australia, says body language was difficult to analyze given its complex nature and could also be easily misinterpreted as a particular gesture can carry many meanings.

Many experts highlight some basic rules to follow in order to send the right kind of non-verbal messages while at your workplace that could project confidence.

Communication expert Carol Kinsey Goman, in an article for Forbes, suggests keeping your posture erect and your head held high. “If you stand you will look more powerful and assured to those who are seated. If you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression,” Goman says. While sitting, she recommends keeping feet flat on the floor and keeping your arms a little further away from your body.

Reiman, in an article for the Business Insider, also endorses Goman. “This does several things. It changes the chemicals in our brain to make us feel stronger and more confident, and it gives the outward appearance of credibility, strength, and vitality,” she states. Slumped shoulders are a strict no-no according to Reiman, as they give an impression of “insecurity, laziness, and a general sense of unhappiness.”

Hand movements and gesticulation also play an important role in non-verbal communication. Reiman says rather than big hand movements small gestures tend to have more of an impact on communication. “It is rare to see the alpha of the group wildly flailing about,” she says. “Powerful business people tend to use smaller, more subtle hand gestures to demonstrate their point with authority.”

Fidgeting with your hair or your hands can also be perceived as signs of weakness and lack of confidence.

A handshake can also tell volumes about your confidence. Sarah Perugia, communication skills trainer and executive coach in a piece for the Guardian suggests extending your hands a little further while going in for a handshake and keeping it firm. Goven also stresses the importance of the right way to shake hands: “Since touch is the most powerful and primitive non-verbal cue, it’s worth devoting time to cultivating a great handshake. The right handshake can give you instant credibility and the wrong one can cost you the job or the contract.”

While in an office space, controlling your facial expressions is also important when, say, reacting to a certain piece of information. Both over-reacting to a piece of news and holding expressions that show no signs of interest can be detrimental to relationships.

Patti Wood, body language expert and author of “SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma,” is quoted in an article saying: “We often express interest through raised eyebrows, smiles, head nods, vocal utterances. If you don’t give feedback physically, people think you don’t care, that you’re stuck up, and host of other negative attributes.”

The ability to maintain eye-contact is another important component that can make you seem confident and certain. Lack of eye-contact may portray you as shifty and deceptive. Goven suggests: “Whenever you greet a business colleague, look into his or her eyes long enough to notice what color they are.”

The final component, but in no way less important than the others, is smiling. A simple smile could portray you as someone who is approachable and trustworthy and even increases your sense of well-being. However, smiling too much can also be trouble, as it is perceived as “insincere and misleading,” Reiman says.

Via Forbes : How To Standardize Corporate Communication

Corporate communication has never been an easy or straightforward matter. The business world sees professionals from all different backgrounds interacting in bustling, stressful environments — the sheer diversity of languages, rhetorical behaviors and personality types is enough to make one’s head spin. This Tower of Babel-esque situation has been dramatically compounded in the modern age, with modes, mediums, technologies and platforms of communication proliferating at breakneck speeds.

Whether it’s public relations or internal communications, directors, managers and executives who oversee the written and spoken words of an organization face one doozy of a task. Rather than discussing specific social media marketing tactics or another listicle on how to speak to your employees, let us take a moment to evaluate general tactics and considerations that help to identify balanced, efficient common-speak in today’s corporate landscape.

Adaptation: A Two-Way Street

An effective, centralized communications strategy balances how much the business adapts to the employees entering the workplace and to what degree those professionals will be expected to adapt to the communications culture of the company. Despite sitting at the foundation of corporate communications, this balance is seldom discussed and (likely) rarely discussed in a corporate boardroom.

I work at a company that certainly falls into the territory of a Babel-esque communication risk, as countless backgrounds and personality types are represented – techies, salespeople, literary types, nerds, jocks – you name it, we got it. Internal communications are one matter, but client interactions are an entirely different story, as we primarily work with some of the finest rhetoricians around — attorneys. Long proposals, quick emails and all communications in between are scrutinized in epic fashion, especially given the sensitivity of the work we complete.

Somehow we managed to find ways to speak the same language, all while building and maintaining exceptional relationships with our clientele. Like so many other businesses that made the jump from startup to midsize in the proverbial blink of the eye, the communications culture crept out of the primordial ooze and blossomed into this cosmic, unified language that (incredibly) worked for everyone.

As a business grows, its language and communications culture will have to adapt and transform but remain standardized at any given time to avoid minor to major issues with corporate efficiency, performance and progress.

This is where the two-way-street element of corporate communications culture comes into play. First, the language needs to grow and refine itself naturally. Then, leaders must take purposeful, substantive steps to keep it all under control, adding in some clear definitions and essentially turning abstract culture into firm policies of sorts.

Standardization: People, Process, Technology

Any strategy will live and die with its functional ability to unify people, process and technology. As such, communications policies and strategies must swiftly and coherently cover all bases in this triad of management frameworks.

A few elements that might be helpful for each include:

People: onboarding, training, and monitoring frameworks that help all employees adapt to the corporate culture of communication and stay on the same page throughout their tenures. Employee feedback and perspectives can be invaluable when building these frameworks out.

Process: policies that govern everything from email and conference-call etiquette to information sharing and knowledge management. There should be a governance web that guides communication in each department and across the business as a whole.

Technology: management and governance statutes that control the use of devices and applications as they relate to both internal and client-facing communications. Chief technology officers should be highly involved in the development of such rules.

At the end of the day, communications managers, directors and executives will need to customize the governance of people, processes and technologies in accordance with their unique corporate cultures. There is no cut-and-paste solution to the Babel-esque challenges faced in each business environment today.

The goal here should always be standardizing and unifying the communications culture of the business, building off of strengths and learning from weaknesses every step of the way. These policies should be viewed as agile yet steady compasses for directing all personnel.

Justification: Attaining Buy-In

Directors and executives alike will often run into issues when trying to gain buy-in from the C-Suite, floor-level employees and everyone in between. Once communications strategies have been properly standardized, buy-in will be the final challenge that needs to be hurdled, and it is arguably the most difficult.

This is where employee feedback and insights will be invaluable. For example, if three-quarters of personnel prefer to use a specific device that policies prohibit in the workplace, buy-in will be unattainable. Or if the C-Suite has not been involved in the manifestation of policies and procedures, chances are there will be some significant demands for adjustments and changes once the complex web of governance is already established.

So, communications directors and executives need to do what they do best: Communicate. Get feedback throughout the process of overhauling or establishing the standardized, unified, common language and communications culture of the business, and attaining buy-in will be a far more straightforward, speedy and seamless pursuit.

Do not let the threat of Babel-esque communication quandaries hinder your company’s performance. Adapt, standardize and modernize in every possible way to rescue your colleagues from the perils of modern corporate dialogue.

Via Forbes : 3 Simple Steps To Keep Your Employees Talking To You Instead Of The Press

We live in an era when sweeping workplace problems under the rug is no longer an option for corporations—and thankfully so. Still, there are always going to be conflicts in the workplace, well-meaning policies that lead to unintended consequences, and employees and managers who cross the line despite clearly outlined regulations. So how do you stay on top of what’s happening in your workplace if you’re a CEO, senior leader, mid-level manager, or HR team member? How do you address internal conflicts and ensure that you’re promoting an inclusive culture?

Whether you’re leading a team, a department, or an entire company, your role as a change agent has never been more important. And your ability to hold your organization to its stated values and policies or to establish new ones when the time calls for it has never been more necessary.

We’ve all seen the headlines—“BetterWorks CEO Hit With Sexual Harassment Suit,” “Susan Fowler Alleges Sexual Discrimination Against Uber,” “Amazon’s Work Culture Really Is Terrible.” Employees who experience issues in the workplace that go unresolved, even after they alert management, can blog or go to media directly as a last resort. Allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct continue to come out about companies like Binary Capital and 500 Startups, meanwhile Uber is looking for a few new board members and had to recently hire a new CEO.

Too many companies today still respond to the whistleblower phenomenon by fearing their employees, introducing NDAs, or worse—policies that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Corporations need to respond to their employees’ concerns and needs, not try to control them from speaking out about problems. If there are problems brewing inside your organization where employees are feeling excluded by the company culture or that their concerns are going unheeded, you want to be the first to know about it. Not the last when it appears in the media for the whole world to see.

As an advisor and educator who specializes in helping Fortune 1000 executives become “corporate change agents” within their organizations, especially in relation to gender equality and diversity initiatives, I often see the blind spots and land mines from my outside-in perspective and help them to build effective channels for capturing and responding to employee feedback so that they can tackle issues swiftly long before they get to the point of a national media frenzy.

Here are the top three things companies can do to address employee feedback head on and avoid a whistleblower moment:

1. Don’t talk the talk, walk the talk.

Some of the most beloved companies have been exposed when their internal practices don’t match their external PR. The disconnect between appearances and reality reads as hypocrisy and lack of concern for employees, and this does more to fuel their discontent and make them ripe for reporters covering your industry.

Susan Fowler, an engineer at Uber, and her unaddressed reports of sexual harassment to HR, which echoed the complaints and experience of other women, ultimately led to the the CEO’s departure and the firing of 20 executives. More than 100 Amazon employees detailed the relentless and punishing work culture to The New York Times. Former Googler Erica Baker went public with a salary spreadsheet to help co-workers negotiate for more equitable compensation.

On first glance, the proliferation of blogs and publishing sites like Medium that make it easy for anyone to shout from their own soapbox might seem like a liability for corporations. But trying to quash this trend by establishing draconian PR policies or managing away leaks through damage control after the fact is not the answer. Instead, companies need to view employee feedback as an opportunity for senior management to empower employees to become courageous intrapreneurs—people within the organization who can not only speak up about an issue, but who can also contribute to the solution that improves it.

2. The three Cs: clarity, consistency, and C-suite commitment.

Organizations need to define and publish their core values and commitment to inclusive workplaces. What are your policies when it comes to gender equality and diversity, both inside and outside of the company? What kind of impact do you want your work to make on the world? For your employees? This also means getting rid of the old model where diversity initiatives are centered in HR. Progressive policies must be driven by a deep commitment from C-Suite executives. Diversity is now an imperative for any business that wants to remain competitive in the marketplace for customers and for talent.

3. 360 Employee Engagement.

Organizations must publicize their commitment to diversity and their process for engaging and soliciting employee feedback internally. Develop channels for employees to report problems or suggest improvements to company policy. Give workers the tools to problem-solve and make the workplace better for everyone. Designate leaders in each department across the company who will hold new mandates and policies accountable. Strive to engage with employees at all levels, from senior executives and middle management, to entry-level and contract workers.

Gender equality and diversity is not just a PR problem, but a business imperative. Research shows that companies with a more diverse workforce outperform others that are not. According to an MIT study, shifting an office from all-male or all-female to one that is split equally by gender can increase revenue by 41 percent. Stocks with higher gender diversity experience less volatility and deliver better risk-adjusted stock returns according to Morgan Stanley. Being exposed to diversity makes people more creative and hard-working, and companies with a reputation for having a good work culture attract and keep top talent more easily.

The landscape has changed for corporations. Whistleblowing is not a trend that executives can wait out, and organizations don’t have the luxury of thinking they are immune to a PR crisis. Instead, view employee feedback as an opportunity to empower your workforce and improve company culture.

The new workplace reality is one where corporations must reflect the population they employ, serve, and market to. Your employees are the soldiers on the ground; they know the ins and outs of your organization like the back of their own hands. Think of all the potential innovations and improvements you’re missing out on when you don’t have an effective way to capture and implement their feedback. Is that something you want to pass up?

Via Newsday : Email still king for workplace communication, but IM’s booming

Technology is changing the way people communicate, both inside and outside of the office, but email is still the top communication tool.

The use of instant messaging in the workplace has skyrocketed, thanks mainly to millennials, but it has yet to unseat email, according to a recent report on the state of business communications by Provo, Utah-based InsideSales.com.

One of its key findings: 94 percent of respondents said they recommended people contact them by email.

But texting is growing in popularity in the workplace, particularly among baby boomers, with 81 percent more boomers using it daily than millennials.

Cellphones have surpassed landlines in every category at work, with 86 percent of respondents saying they were likely to respond to a cellphone call at work.

“Business communication tools have evolved quite a bit,” says Ken Krogue, president of InsideSales.com, a cloud-based sales acceleration and intelligence technology company. “Instant messaging has really taken off, and the big news is that the cellphone has become the medium of choice.”

Cellphones have grown in usage in and out of the workplace as many people have dropped their home landlines, he says. In fact, the percentage of workers who recommend contacting them on their landline at work decreased 14 percent from 2014 to 2017.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents said they still use a landline phone every day at work, but only 6 percent said they do at home.

But cellphones still take a backseat to email. That’s not surprising considering it’s familiar to people and easy, says Krogue, “but it’s not very assertive, and it’s becoming caught up in the noise.”

This explains why instant messaging and texting have grown. The percentage of people who use IM daily at work went from 31 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2017.

Instant messaging allows for live conversation in real time with either an individual or group of people. IM apps such as Slack can be used on a computer, phone or tablet.

“It speeds up your communication so dramatically,” says Jed Morey, president of Morey Publishing, a digital marketing agency in Syosset that started using Slack this year.

It allows for one-on-one communication among staff as well as group chats, and archives discussions inside the app, he says, noting it’s much quicker than searching through emails.

Internally, it has cut down the firm’s email communication by at least 50 percent, resulting in increased efficiencies because staff members don’t have to stop what they’re doing as often, Morey says.

CMIT Solutions of South Nassau, a Merrick information technology and security services provider, uses Slack as well as text messaging for workplace communications, says president Armando D’Accordo.

Because of the high volume of emails it receives, the firm is using other “layers of communication” for anything related to service delivery or urgency, he says.

Typically, if staff members are in the office, they’ll use instant messaging to communicate with each other. If they’re in the field, it’s easier to use text messaging.

CMIT also gives clients options on communicating with them, suggesting they call, chat via a link or open their own self-service tickets via email, D’Accordo says.

While all this technology makes it easier to keep in touch, it also requires careful implementation, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the Ohio-based ePolicy Institute and author of “The ePolicy Toolkit” (Wiley, $150).

“Text messaging is nothing more than mobile email, and instant messaging is turbocharged email,” she says.

The policies and procedures firms have established to govern email should also apply to text messaging and instant messaging, she says.

Flynn recommends companies have a separate policy for both email and instant messaging and incorporate a texting policy into their mobile-device policy.

Train employees on your policies and procedures, and on the risks associated with the technology, she says.

“When it comes to electronic business communication, it’s the content that will trigger a lawsuit, not the technology tools you’re using,” Flynn says.