Minimizing the Impact of Electronic Messages

It is bad enough that a person may not focus on someone that is speaking to them, or on a topic that they should be focused (whether to be informed or provide support). Has there ever been a time when you took time and careful attention to crafting a written message and you find out that the recipient merely glanced at it, but didn’t capture the entire message?

With the busy-ness of today’s world, there are several individuals that never seem to fully read an email. Either they read the first line or two or maybe only the last line, and respond. Better yet – what about no response at all! That’s a real punch in the gut.

Granted, everyone has a ridiculous amount of papers and electronic messages that come across their desk each hour. Whether these messages fall into the delete, file, quick response, or thought-required response, there always seems to be a consistent flow of messages in and out. It can be difficult to stay out of the inbox when someone knows that for every item reviewed or worked, there are likely to be 10 or more to replace it soon after.

Instant gratification – more so with the advent of enhanced technology, has resulted in an acceleration of the flow of messages, and therefore an increased feeling of busy-ness. For managers, I imagine this is the worst, as there may be numerous members of the manager’s team, as well as peers, senior leaders, and business partners, pinging the crap out of the manager at any given time. Makes me visualize someone ducking for cover and waiving the white flag to surrender to the madness. Instant messaging and texting are amazing technological advances, but can be intimidating if you allow them that control. Have you ever sent a message and tried to patiently sit there, waiting for the little pencil or the three dots to show on your screen, reflecting that the recipient is writing a response? Think about that moment when you see the response starting, and then it stops, and doesn’t start back up within a minute or two. Arrrh!!!

When it comes to electronic messages, what can you do to minimize the impact on others and increase your chances of getting a response?

Here are a few tips for electronic communication to others:

  1. Consider who your audience is and whether they are primary to the information / request (include in the To: line), or secondary and maybe just need to have an awareness of the information / request (include in the cc: line). Identify your audience prior to writing the e-mail, but I highly recommend waiting to put their e-mail addresses in the To: and CC: lines until after your e-mail is crafted and ready to send. Think about this, how easy could it be to accidentally hit the send button amid drafting the e-mail. Even if you are doing a reply or reply to all, you can easily cut and paste the To: and CC: line addresses into the top of the e-mail body, then cutting and pasting them back up there once you are ready to send. This may be super precautious, but it could just save your butt some day!
  2. Make sure your subject line or header is clear. If you are requesting approval, consider putting ‘PLEASE APPROVE: [Topic] by MM/DD’ or ‘FEEDBACK REQUESTED: [Topic] by MM/DD’ in the subject line so that the person can quickly identify the need and urgency before the communication is opened or reviewed further.
  3. The body of your communication should be clear, simple, and to the point. Think about how many e-mails or paper documents people receive, and how great it would be if you were in their shoes, to receive a message that was simple to understand. Use short paragraphs, spacing, bulleted or numbered lists, etc. Also make sure a reminder at the end of your message as to your request or ‘ask’ (if there is one).
  4. Is an attachment needed? If so, limit the number and size of attachments. In addition, after you attach, and before you send the e-mail, open the attachment to confirm it is the correct document and most updated version of the document.
  5. For the love of all English teachers out there, run a spelling and grammar check on your message before sending. A default option would be to copy and paste the text into a Word document and run the check. Better safe than sorry!
  6. Last, if you are preparing an uber important communication, consider having a trusted source review it prior to adding your audience and sending. I don’t recommend this all the time (you are an adult and should be responsible enough to do the work you need to do), but it doesn’t hurt when there is something big and crazy important, and may be seen by leadership or many eyes, to get a second opinion before sending.

Are there other tips you would recommend when it comes to ensuring a clear understanding and response to an electronic message? Click over to my FaceBook group and share on the blog post comments there!

Visual Learning Saved My Dissertation

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In 2013, Forbes referenced the Social Science Research Network’s finding that 65% of the population consists of visual learners.1 This is reassuring to me, as both a professor and a visual learner myself. In this post, I’ll share two ways in which the use of visual learning techniques decreased my frustration and increased output.

Pin the Research Article on the Venn Diagram

When I worked on the first chapter of my dissertation, I developed a Venn diagram to reflect my area of focus. This provided insight into the three large bodies of literature, as well as where they intersect.

The visual above was extremely useful to me in developing the foundation for my dissertation research, and served as the springboard necessary to launch me into writing Chapter 2, the literature review. I drew the diagram on large poster board and hung it above my desk. As I went through several articles in my reference library (EndNote) and additional articles in the school’s on-line library resources, I wrote a brief note, author, and year on a small post-it note and put it in the area of the diagram it most closely related, as well in an area on the board based on its relevance (e.g., closer to the intersection, middle, or on the outer rim of the circle).

This exercise made for a much simpler process in developing the framework and fill in the details and support within the literature review.

Post-It® Note Wallpaper

In addition to using the Venn Diagram, I also found the use of extra-large matrices beneficial (see below). After I collected all of the data from my research participants, there were pages and pages of transcriptions. Thinking about next steps – analysis and synthesis, was overwhelming to say the least.

Both my living room and kitchen had one wall each wallpapered with paper (using huge poster size rolls). I then created rows and columns with marker and sheets of paper and labeled them. As I identified a theme, it was written as a column header, whereas the rows were already pre-determined by the stage of the process I was researching. Using different colored regular sized Post-it® notes for each research participant, I went through the transcripts word by word, and noted specific responses. I would adhere the Post-it® to the wall matrix once I completed each transcript.

At the end of that exercise, I was able to see what themes emerged, which of those themes was most significant, what theme appeared in what stage of the process, etc.

From there, it was a much smoother process to begin the framework for the analysis and synthesize of data collected from research participants, and compare and contrast it against the literature I had found through the exercise I mentioned earlier.

Summary

Without the use of these visual learning techniques, I believe my frustration level through the dissertation process would have been much higher than it was. If there are concepts that become too difficult to grasp through reading, I encourage you to consider how you can visualize the information in order to develop a better understanding.

How have you benefited from the use of visual learning techniques?

Please share what you did and how it was helpful in the comments below.

Published on LinkedIn Publisher by Tracy Shroyer on April 13, 2105

A Reason to Embrace Feedback

Embracing

I remember the day I received the first draft of a portion of my dissertation’s first chapter back from my mentor. While I have never considered myself a superb writer, I thought my writing had improved throughout my undergraduate and graduate coursework. I still remember reading through my mentor’s marks and comments and experiencing a heaviness within my chest. She and I had a call to discuss a few days later and I remember hanging up from that call and sobbing. A million thoughts of “I’m not good enough” and “What the #@!% am I doing in this program?” were going through my head during that time.

The last time I had that feeling in an academic setting was during my undergrad from a professor grading my literature review papers. Even more recent was when an attorney in the organization I worked provided feedback on a contract I was helping to negotiate with a client. Across all these scenarios, that heaviness that settled in my chest – what I thought was a hit to my ego – was really a way in which that professor, attorney, and my dissertation mentor were helping me to learn and grow.

There was something about that tough love that stung. What was most beneficial for me though, is that I didn’t let it keep me down. It would have been easy to get frustrated and let anger take hold. What would that have solved though? I would have only hurt myself and regressed versus improving, advancing and possibly doing something amazing.

Throughout the three years that I had the opportunity to work with my dissertation mentor, she made a comment early on that I didn’t realize the meaning of at the time. She told me that she would know I was becoming a scholar practitioner when I started to disagree with her. There was many a time that I accepted her track changes and responded with yes, agree, or understandwhen we talked during that first year. It wasn’t until I was deeper into my research and became even more passionate about the process and my work, that I became the expert in my work and my topic. At that point, I wasn’t afraid to disagree or debate with her because I knew that I knew my stuff.

Don’t take feedback for granted. It is not meant to tear you down, but to challenge you, build you up, and strengthen your abilities. It took me over 300 drafts of my dissertation to prepare it for publication. Being open to the feedback and helped me to learn, grow, and become the successful person I am today.

When have you received difficult feedback, but later realized it was beneficial?

 

Published on LinkedIn Publisher by Tracy Shroyer on April 5, 2016

Prioritization is Key

People have used to-do lists for many years, whether on a piece of paper or electronically (I am really enjoying the Asana app right now)! While to-do lists are helpful, they can get out of hand quickly. What I mean by this is that the number of items on your list has the ability to grow exponentially. All control goes out the window and anxiety creeps in as your list(s) grow longer by the minute, hour, or day.

Prioritization aligns tasks in an orderly fashion, helping the list maker determine the appropriate order in which each item needs completed. With people holding numerous roles and taking on more depending on the day, prioritization is critical to achieving success. Without it, everything is considered equal, and each item has the potential to be both important and urgent.

To ensure I maintain my sanity, I have had to learn the art of saying “no” to some opportunities that come my way. Setting goals and prioritizing has helped me rid myself of the guilt that used to come with saying no. There have also been times when I have said no to something I would enjoy, because it would not be worth the expense of throwing off my current balance.

prioritizeBelow are a few exercises you might consider to help prioritize all that you have to do.

  • Stoplight Game: The stoplight approach is where you look at all that you are doing and drop those tasks into 3 distinct buckets: (1) what I can stop doing; (2) what can I do less of; and (3) what can I start doing? This is a helpful exercise for individuals and teams. Once you develop your goals, this exercise becomes even more helpful, as you align what you are doing to your goals and begin to see value-add and non value-add tasks appear, making it a bit easier to see what falls into each of the three buckets.

 

  • ABCs and 123s: In a planner or notebook, write down all of the items that you need to do for the day. Next to them, write A, B, or C based on how high of a priority they are (A is highest priority, B is next highest, etc.). From there, prioritize your A items by adding 1, 2, 3, and then move and apply the same to the B items, etc. Now, you are able to work from A1, A2, B1, B2, etc. to complete your action items. For some individuals, this exercise may be overwhelming, whereas it may be the perfect match for someone that is extremely detail oriented.

 

  • Top 3: In the morning, write down the top 3 action items you need to accomplish during the day. If nothing else, you need to get those items completed. One consideration is to ensure your items are not HUGE tasks, but reasonable to complete during the day. Keep this list near you throughout the day as a reminder of what your focus should be. A friend of mine uses post-it notes for this approach and puts them on the wall in front of her work station.

 

What other approaches do you use, or have you used, to help prioritize all that is on your plate? 

Episode 95 Beyond The Stone Wall with Dr. Tracy Shroyer

So excited to share an awesome interview that Gail Foley​ from One Awesome Community​ provided me with the opportunity to do this week! I had a great time talking with Gail and hope that you enjoy this podcast interview and also subscribe to get Gail’s podcasts sent via email to you daily! She is so energetic & puts a smile on my face every morning on my way to work.

Episode 95 Beyond The Stone Wall with Dr. Tracy Shroyer.

 

 

Which comes first: Success or Happiness?

 

 

Tomorrow evening the #leadwithgiants community will be chatting about success and happiness. I read an article almost a year ago that compared success and happiness to the chicken and the egg question.

My personal feeling is that you need happiness to breed success. While success can bring happiness, it will be difficult to find and maintain unless you already have a good foundation of positivity.

What are your thoughts?

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