5 Reasons to Take a Breath Before Responding

I’ve been reminded of a very valuable lesson in my current role.  It seems so easy when you think about it, but in observation, few people seem to practice it.

Every day (for the great majority of us) we communicate with others. 

In communicating, there are a number of elements involved in order to be successful.  For example, you need to listen, use proper tone, and use the right words to clearly convey your message.  While these elements (and others) are all important, I want to focus in on one today:  “taking a breath”.

What am I talking about?  Taking a proverbial breath amounts to nothing more than pausing before you respond to someone.

Why is this important?  Taking a breath will:

  • Ensure you heard the whole message.  If you respond to someone without taking a breath, chances are that your mind was formulating your response while they were talking, which means you may not have heard their full message.
  • Formulate a better response.  By understanding the full message and giving yourself a moment to think, your response will likely be more thoughtful, clear, and pertinent, which in turn will be more readily accepted, which will lead to a better overall conversation.
  • Help you not say stupid things.  Pausing to formulate a better response keeps you from filling the empty space with rambling or stupid comments.  Don’t say dumb things.
  • Demonstrate maturity.  Having a thoughtful response and not saying dumb things helps others see you as a more mature communicator and thinker.  It also demonstrates respect to the person that you are communicating with in showing that you are really giving thought and consideration to your response.
  • Calm you down.  Pausing and taking a real breath will help you physiologically.  Taking a breath introduces oxygen in to your body and brain, which will help you stay calm and improve your thinking processes.

The interesting thing about this ‘proverbial breath’ is that it applies not only to face to face verbal communications, but to just about any form of communications.

Email is a good example.  While it definitely depends on the situation, email is generally not an urgent form of communication.

So, why is it that people feel the need to respond urgently to an email?  This is a topic that we could spend an entire blog series on, but for the purpose of this post we’ll say that you can apply the same “breath” here.   Take the time to think through your response.  It may be that your “pause” lasts several hours and you don’t respond until the next business day.  Be thoughtful and avoid the urge to always reply immediatley. 

Now, if you are worried about the “sun down rule” you can always respond with an acknowledgement of their communication followed by expectation setting.  Example, “Thank you for your email.  I will get back with you on this tomorrow.”

Two bonus points –

If you’ve paused, thought and still don’t know what to say, don’t be afraid to say, “Let me think about that and get back with you.” Or “Let me take that back and look in to it.” Or some variation thereof.  This gives you additional time to formulate a proper, educated response, which is usually appreciated more than an immediate half-formulated, somewhat coherent answer.

If your communication is heated or emotionally charged, don’t respond until you’ve calmed down.  If you’re face to face, try to separate from the situation as politely as possible.  If you’re on email, don’t respond.  This is a really good time to “sleep on it” or talk with someone first to gain perspective.  Nothing good comes from emotionally charged responses that perpetuate a situation.

Granted, there are exceptions to all of the above concepts, but as rules of thumb, they’re pretty solid.

Learning to take a breath before responding will definitely help you as a leader and will improve people’s perception of you as a leader.

What stories or examples do you have of “taking a breath” or “not taking a breath”?

7 Tips for Interacting with Employees on Social Media

Here’s a leadership challenge.

What do you do when an employee sends you a “friend request” on Facebook?  What about on LinkedIn?  Or if they follow you on Twitter?

This is today’s reality and it can be very troubling for a leader.  You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but where is the line between public and private life?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of Social Media and You (the Leader) we covered some tips on (1) the general landscape and (2) navigating the minefield.  In Part 3, we are going to look at interaction with employees on social media.

By this point, you should know that HOW you engage on social media is really up to you, but that you should have a plan.  Also up to you is how you interact with your employees on social media, but this is one of those places that you really have to weigh the pros and cons.

Unfortunately, as I researched this topic, I found just about as much evidence ‘for’ as I did ‘against’, which wasn’t very helpful.  I did find one private practice legal website that I liked though.  While they took a fairly neutral stance, they certainly provided a little more ‘meat’ than other articles I read.  For your benefit, I am providing the pros and cons that they listed on their website below.

  • Pro: Friending employees can help you discover common interests with your staff and can build camaraderie between people in your workforce.
  • Con: Access to your employees’ Facebook (or other) pages may reveal their personal problems or issues and can introduce “drama” into your work environment.
  • Pro: Allowing your employees access to your Facebook (or other) pages may show your more personable side, which can make you more “approachable” to employees.
  • Con: Connecting through social media may make managers too “approachable” and can blur the line between supervisor and subordinate.
  • Pro: Friending employees may provide insight on how best to motivate employees, which can lead to new, more effective ways of relating to your employees.
  • Con: Reviewing an employee’s Facebook (or other) page may result in discovering an employee’s religious affiliation or health problems, which can be pointed to if claims of discrimination are ever raised by the employee.
  • Pro: Friending your employees may uncover their hidden talents and hobbies which could be useful to your business.
  • Con: To avoid “playing favorites,” if you accept a friend request from one employee, you probably need to accept friend requests from all your employees.

So what do you do?  Here are 7 tips for interacting with employees on social media:

  • KNOW THE RULES.  Know if your company has a policy against being “friends” with subordinates on social media sites.  If they do, then don’t do it.
  • SET BOUNDARIES.  YOU have to make a decision on whether or not you will be friends with employees on social media sites (also bosses, co-workers, colleagues, etc.).  It’s up to you.  But you need to make a decision and set those fence posts.
  • STICK TO YOUR GUNS.  Once you’ve made that decision, apply it consistently.  Don’t treat employees differently (there is a huge opportunity for misperception there).  Treat them all the same.
  • PLAN FOR THE CONVERSATION.  Social media is incredibly personal to some people and they WILL get their feelings hurt if you choose not to “accept” them.  Be prepared to have the conversation with them (usually following the friend request denial) that you have a personal policy of not interacting with employees on social media sites.  This may sting a little at first, but will be better in the long run because it will remove speculation and diminish curiosity as to why.
  • CORRECT THE MISTAKE.  If you start out accepting employees, but figure out that you don’t want to do that anymore, then make the change.  Just know that this too may sting for a little bit, as people associate “unfriending” with not being personally accepted.  Ripping the band-aid of may be the best in this situation.  Just make sure that you communicate it appropriately.
  • DON’T INVITE.  Do not ‘invite’ or ‘friend’ your employees.  Again – social media is very personal.  A boss initiating the invite may make the employee feel like they have to accept and you may be invading their personal space.  This includes asking your employees to “recommend” you on LinkedIn.  Don’t invite or ask.
  • BE NICE, NOT NAUGHTY.  If you decide to be friends with employees on social media sites, take a ‘neutral to nice’ approach to the content you post.   Don’t be negative (in any sense of that word).  Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss or HR to see.  You may think that this doesn’t allow “you to be you”.  But if you want to be “you” without censorship, then don’t invite your employees to the party.

Two more things.

  1.  Watch out for the PROMOTION.  When you promote and the people that you used to call “peer” are now your “subordinates” your relationship changes.  This includes how you engage with each other from a social standpoint, which includes social media sites.  This means one of two things. First, if your policy is not to be “friends” with employees on Facebook, then you may need to ‘unfriend’ your former peers, which is a tough one.  OR, it means that you may need to modify how you use that social site.  Not doing either could be a recipe for disaster (see bullets 4, 5, and 7 above).
  2. You don’t have to have a one size fits all approach to social media sites.  You may NOT want them to be your friends on Facebook, but LinkedIn may be OKAY because it is a professional networking site.  Know how to use the sites, know your purpose, and engage accordingly.

I’m sure this has spawned lots of questions for you.  But this was a great starting place.  Ultimately, the decision is yours.  Just make sure you are making an educated and informed decision.  If you are still unsure, you can always seek advice from your company’s legal counsel.  They should be able to provide you with additional insight and perspective.

Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Should a boss be friends with their employees on social media sites?  Why or why not?

5 Suggestions for Avoiding Social Media Blunders

Social Media.  Personally, I’m a big fan and huge user!  Wrong or right, it is shaping how we communicate as a society.  More importantly for us, it’s shaping how we communicate as leaders.  Being leaders means that people watch our actions closely and social media now gives those watchers a magnifying glass.

As Part 2 in our series Social Media and You (the Leader), I wanted to get a little more personal and talk about how to avoid some of the missteps.

For myself, I’m engaged on lots of different platforms (e.g., Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.).  You may be different, but chances are, you’ve ventured out and tried at least one platform (most likely Facebook or MySpace).  I’m generally pretty open in my use of social media, but am extremely cognizant of whom I’m engaging with and how.  I also know how to use the features and tools on the sites that I participate on.  AND, I am very mindful of the content I post.

Leaders be ready!  How you engage is really up to you, but navigating the social media minefield requires a little bit of thought and discipline.

Here are 5 practical tips to help you out:

  • LEARN TO DRIVE.  Think of social media platforms like a car.  Every car is different (so are social media platforms).  Every car has different features (so do social media platforms).  You have to learn the ‘rules of the road’ to drive successfully (the same is true for social media platforms).  You can crash in a car and can cause injury or damage (as you can on social media platforms).  A car can provide great freedom, efficiency, and opportunity in one’s life (as can social media platforms).   The key is to learn how to use your “car” effectively.  Doing so will improve the chance that you don’t make inadvertent mistakes (like posting things to the wrong audience).  Learn how to set the privacy and security features.  Learn what other’s see when you post.  Learn how to use filters and groups.  Learn how to retract posts.  Learn how to use the features of the platforms correctly.  When you learned to drive, you probably had someone instruct you.  Social media platforms all have tutorials – use them wisely.
  • DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE for using social media.  Know why you are there.  Are you using it for professional purposes (e.g., job hunting, networking, relationship management, etc.)?  Are you using it for sharing your latest personal thoughts and ideas?  Are you using it to promote your business?  Keep in touch with friends and family?  Whatever your desire, be disciplined in your use and be cautious in mixing purposes.  Sharing the wrong content with the wrong people can have disastrous consequences.  For example, posting a rant about how bad [insert your rival college football team here] did this last year on Linkedin, probably won’t help you get that new job (especially if the recruiter went to school there). Define how you want to engage and why and then stick with it!
  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.  Hopefully, from the previous point, you’ve defined the people that you want to engage with.  Once you’ve defined how you want to use a social media site, only invite and accept invites, friend requests, or whatever else from those that fit that definition.  If you want Facebook to be a place for you to share info with family and real friends, then do that.  If you want LinkedIn to just be business contacts, then do that.  But be prepared to “ignore” or “reject” some friend requests from people that don’t fit “the profile”.  We’ll tackle this in the next post.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN.  Treat anything that you want to put in to Facebook or any other social media site like it is PUBLIC information!  Don’t ever think otherwise.  Even with the strictest of privacy settings in place, don’t ever think that you’re only sharing information with your “best buddies”.  Others that have access to your info can share, retweet, repost, link to, copy, or “screen shot” your information and may unintentionally (or intentionally) share information that you don’t want shared with others.  This is one of the most frequent landmines that I see on a regular basis.  Rule of thumb:  Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your parents, pastor, or boss to read.
  • QUARREL NOT!   For all the reasons listed in the last point, Facebook or other sites are not the place to “air your dirty laundry” or someone else’s.  Just like in any other form of communication, there are right and wrong ways to do things.  Personally, I’m a believer that if you and I have an “issue” then I am going to come and talk to you about it.  Not email it, voice mail it, text it, or heaven forbid – post it on Twitter.  Plus, it makes you look like a jerk.  If someone goads you, then let it go or take care of it “offline”.  Don’t fall in to the trap of public self-destruction.

In the next post, we’ll talk a little about how employees and co-workers play in to your social media use.

What tips do you have for avoiding social media blunders?

Enjoy!

~J

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