Make a Positive Impression During Phone Meetings

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Chances are you’ve seen this TV commercial for pretzel snacks where a young man working from home is on the phone while his colleagues across town wait in an uncomfortable silence listening to the man’s loud snacking over the intercom. Until one  of the colleagues finally suggests that he should disconnect the line.

I imagine somewhere in the world, someone has made that mistake during a phone meeting. That kind of mistake probably doesn’t go over very well with employers or clients. The young man probably could have spared himself much embarrassment if he used common sense and followed certain meeting prep guidelines.

With more remote workers and better technology, phone meetings are becoming more commonplace. When participating in phone meetings, it can be tempting to do your own thing. No matter where you work – at home, in an office, hotel room or co-working space – it’s important to present a positive image, even when the other meeting participants can’t see you.

Good impressions in telephone meetings are important for several reasons, writes Darlene Price, author of Well Said: Presentations and Conversations That Get Results in a recent Forbes interview. Phone meetings are more common because of newer technologies, so it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get key individuals into a phone meeting at one time.

Second, phone meetings often serve as the initial introduction to a company or potential client. As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first 10-15 seconds of a meeting can make or break your chances for success. So make sure you are ready from the get-go. If you miss the opportunity to make a good impression in the introduction stage, you may not get another chance.

Finally a positive phone presentation can lead to better opportunities and career advancement, says Price.  When you speak confidently, people take notice because you come across as a strong, confident leader. They are more likely to listen to what you have to say. You’re able to persuade others to a call for action, such as support a cause, fund a project, negotiate a pay raise or win a new client.

A professional phone image is more than just your voice. It’s also the way you dress. Business meetings are still business, so dress appropriately as if you were there in person.

Numerous other factors can make or break your meeting. Here’s a quick rundown to help you prepare for your phone meeting to ensure a successful outcome.

1. Do your homework. If this is the first time you are speaking with the other person or with this company, find out more about them ahead of time. Check out the person’s LinkedIn profile and find out what organizations they belong to. Browse their company website to find out its history, mission statement and latest accomplishments. The more you know about who you are dealing with, the more comfortable you will feel during the phone meeting.

2. Be prepared. Compile notes, and keep them nearby so you can refer to them easily. Make a list of questions you want to ask and key points you want to cover. If you plan to use your cell phone and laptop, keep them fully charged and ready to go. Keep a glass of water nearby too in case you get thirsty and sip it quietly between questions. If you have a tendency toward allergies and nasal congestion, it might help to gargle with salt water to clear your throat beforehand.

3. Find a quiet place to converse. A small sitting room, your living room, even a closet will work. I would avoid coffee shops because they can get too busy and noisy, especially if they play music overhead. You want to be able to converse without distractions.

4. Get comfortable. Find a comfortable seat wherever you are. Sit up straight and practice good posture. Don’t slouch. I know I sound like your grade school teacher saying that, but it’s true. When you slouch, you lose energy. When you sit tall and straight, you breathe more easily through the body and you feel more energized.

5. Be on time for your meeting. Don’t linger in the bathroom to practice your speech. Being on time shows you take the meeting seriously and that you are prepared.

6. Be succinct with your answers. When others in the phone meeting ask questions, be brief and to the point. Don’t give long-winded answers or go off topic, which can give the impression that you aren’t prepared

While these are the most important things to consider when planning for your phone meeting, here are a few other things you should NOT do, according to Glassdoor.

1. Don’t talk about your personal life. Unless the client or other party asks about your weekend or ask how you deal with stress, keep your personal life out of the conversation.

2. Resist the urge to multi-task. Don’t try to write a proposal during a phone meeting which can only distract you from the conversation. Give the meeting your full attention and take notes. If your mind is elsewhere, you might miss an important detail.

3. Never talk over the interviewer. Allow the interviewer to finish asking their question before jumping in with your answer. In fact, wait one or two beats before answering. Those few seconds allow you to absorb the meaning of their question and gather your thoughts.

4. Don’t assume your phone reception is good. No matter where you are, even at home, you may get spotty reception or the Internet service goes does. Test the connection beforehand by either calling your cell phone from a landline or asking a friend to call you.

One final thought: Don’t chew gum or eat during the phone meeting. This is a no-brainer. Just because other participants can’t see you doesn’t mean you can start snacking away. Don’t be that guy in the TV commercial. Phone meetings are no time to get complacent.

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

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Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.

 

 

How to Fire an Employee: Text, Email or Meeting?

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It’s no fun being fired from a job, especially one you’ve enjoyed for many years. Neither is it fun to be the one who has to fire someone. Just ask anyone who has ever been in that position.

There is no good way to tell someone that they no longer have a job or end a working relationship. With the prevalence of texting, email and social media, it can be tempting use these tools to do the job for you. It might be easy and convenient, but is it wise? And is it professional?

Texting and emails have become commonplace in the office, especially for routine tasks like scheduling meetings, confirming appointments and sharing ideas. At the same time, in-person meetings and phone calls are losing favor, especially among millennial workers.

When it comes to being fired, millennials prefer getting the notice by email or text. A recent survey by software company Cyberlink finds that one in eight workers between the ages of 21 and 31 said they prefer getting fired by text or instant message. (I suppose the other seven out of eight surveyed still prefer in-person meetings, phone calls or some other method.)

Despite the increased popularity of texting and emails for firing people, in-person meetings are still the best way to go, according to millennial expert Dan Schwabel in his book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.”  Today’s workforce yearns for personal communication in the office, he says in a recent story in the New York Post.

While it might be easier to shoot out a quick email or text message to fire someone, it can come across as cold, impersonal, and in some cases, downright cowardly. Are you too busy to meet with the individual in person, or simply want to avoid confrontation? In-office meetings to fire someone, regardless if that person performed poorly on the job or is being downsized, is more appropriate for the situation and shows more respect for the individual. It is more crucial if the individual has worked with your organization for some years, since you have already established a relationship with them.

Whether you choose to dismiss an employee by email, text or in person, a lot depends on the type of relationship you have with that person, how long they’ve worked at your organization, your age and your communications style. Still you want to treat them respectfully and professionally, no matter how lackluster their performance has been on the job.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one being fired, how would you want to receive the message? Do you really want to get that notification in a text message, or would you prefer an in-person meeting so you can ask questions and iron out all details?

There is no kinder, gentler way to tell someone they’ve lost their job. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But meeting with someone in person, rather than hiding behind a text message or email, I believe, is more personal and sincere.

Texting, emails and social media have their place in the workplace. But there’s a time and a place for them. When it comes to firing someone, meeting in person is still the best option.

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Spice Up Your Business with Laughter

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter how stressed or worried you may be about what is happening at your job or in your personal life, studies show laughter has been known to boost mood and release tension.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has both short-term and long-term effects on the body. It increases the intake of oxygen, which stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. It improves the immune system, relieves pain, improves mood while lessening anxiety, and makes it easier to cope with difficult moments in your life.

So why aren’t more people cultivating more humor and laughter in their lives, especially at work?

For starters, they may be perceived in the workplace as not being truly serious about their work, as being a goof-off, or not being promotable. So they keep their humor in check rather than risk reprisals at work.

But studies show that humor and laughter can boost work productivity. According to this Forbes article, humor can be key to business success in several ways:

* Humor, when used wisely, can help win friends and influence people. People enjoy working with people they like. But don’t be snarky, say experts, which is not good for team building, and don’t offend others.

* It boosts morale among team members. People who share a good laugh form a bond over a shared experience.

* Humor can make your company differentiate itself from competitors. If you can make customers laugh, it makes your company more memorable, and it can be part of your branding.

* Humor helps create an upbeat office environment that encourages interaction among team members and brainstorm new ideas, which lead to greater productivity and greater product innovation.

* Humor is a stress-buster, puts people at ease and builds trust.

Whether you work from home alone without co-workers or work in a not-so-fun office, there are ways to bring laughter into your work life. Here are a few ideas:

* Sign up to receive a joke of the day or cartoon of the day from any number of websites. My personal favorite is Savage Chickens by cartoonist Doug Savage. (www.savagechickens.com). Each morning during the week, I receive a cartoon in my email inbox, and I start my day with a smile with minimal interruption to my work day.

* Post a few funny cartoons at your desk so you have something to laugh at throughout the day.

* Recruit colleagues to participate in a skit that encourages them to express their humorous side.

* Set out games that team members can work on throughout the day, such as a crossword puzzle or chess board.

* Away from work or in off hours, indulge in a comedy-a-thon, playing back-to-back-to-back episodes of your favorite comedy or movie series.

* Visit a comedy club, or take an improvisational class.

* Spend a few minutes (and I do mean a few minutes, not hours) on YouTube videos. Just don’t spend so much time on the site that it interferes with your work.

* Enjoy a comedy festival, like the Cat Video Festival that tours the country each year.

Laughter is good for your heart, mind and soul. Take the time each day to put a little more laughter into your life, and share it with someone else. It just may improve your work life.

How You Converse By Phone Speaks Volumes about Your Business

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Have you ever stopped to consider how you sound on voicemail messages or on telephone calls? What does our vocal manner suggest about you and about how you conduct business with others?

A case in point: I received a voicemail message earlier today from a nurse at my doctor’s office. I had expected her call, but I was busy at the time, so I let it go to voicemail. When I heard the message some time later, several things about the way the nurse left the message made me think about my opening questions. Her manner of speaking was rushed and somewhat disjointed, making it hard to follow her train of thought. As a representative of the doctor’s office, she came across as inefficient and disorganized, though I’m sure that was not her intent, nor her regular practice. It’s just the impression she made.

As much as we strive to be polite and professional when communicating by phone, sometimes that doesn’t always happen the way we imagine it does. Seriously, how often have any of us listened to our phone conversation? Not often, if at all. The only way we would know that we did not communicate well would be if we got feedback from our listener.

But back to my nurse. After listening to her message several times, I made several observations about how she spoke that we all can learn from. Here’s what we can do to project a professional image through our phone messages and conversations.

1. Keep a steady pace. The first issue I had with the nurse was the pace of her speech. The nurse spoke rapidly, her words tumbling out of her mouth almost as quickly as her brain could process them. It made me wonder how many cups of expresso she had consumed this morning. She came across as rushed and overly busy. In fact, I had to listen to her message several times to make sure I got all the details right. If you suspect you speak too quickly, slow down your speech. It may seem slow to your own ears, but it may be the right pace for your listeners. You want to make your listener understands your message completely so there is no communication issues later on.

2. Keep the message brief and to the point. In the nearly one-minute message, the nurse provided a fairly detailed list of instructions to make follow up appointments. For something so detailed and important as medical tests and doctor appointments, I think it might have been better if the nurse simply asked that I call her back so she could go over the instructions with me personally rather than leave them on my voicemail. For example, she could have said, “I have completed and processed all your doctor’s orders. Please call me at your earliest convenience so I can go over all the instructions for your follow up tests.”

3. Stay focused on the conversation. Give your listener your full attention. When I called her back to ask a few questions, I could tell she was multi-tasking, frantically looking up information on the computer and print out a document from the printer while talking with me. Granted, this happens often in the business world. But as the computer program slowed and the printer stalled, she grumbled on the phone about how slow everything was taking. “I can’t believe how slow the printer is today. It’s like working in a black hole.”

It’s okay to make small talk. It’s also okay to apologize for any delays in getting information to the listener. But don’t dwell on how slow the new computer equipment is operating. No one really cares about that, and in fact, that kind of conversation can make you, or the nurse in this case, come across as disorganized and ill-prepared to deal with problems.

4. Complete any supplemental paperwork before conversing on the phone. The nurse’s original message conveyed a sense of urgency to make appointments for a follow up test. The only problem was, when I called to make that test appointment, the doctor’s order had not been faxed over and it was not in the system yet. Moral of the story: make sure all accompanying paperwork is complete before finalizing plans with the patient. Another glitch in the process that came across as disorganized.

This is just one example of how a simple phone conversation or voicemail message can convey different meaning than what we intend. Perhaps this nurse is new to this doctor’s office and is still trying to keep up with the work load, or perhaps she’s just having an off day. While she may intend to come across as efficient and productive, her messages were anything bu.

As you go about your own day-to-day business, think about how you come across in your telephone communications, especially if you conduct business for yourself or on behalf of someone else. Even a simple voicemail message or phone conversation can cause confusion for clients, patients or vendors. Slow down, keep your message brief and to the point, and make sure your listener understands everything you are trying to tell them.

Is It Time to Declutter Your Facebook News Feed?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Have you seen your Facebook news feed lately? I mean, really take a good, hard look at it? What do you see?

Whenever I browse my news feed, I notice several trends:

* I have more Likes of businesses and personal interests than I do Friends.
* Updates are negative, offensive or just plain depressing. This is true for both business updates and those from personal contacts.
* I see fewer and fewer updates from family and friends who have either gotten too busy to post updates, lost interest in Facebook, or found another way to connect with their friends.
* There are more updates from businesses promoting their products than there are updates from my contacts.

The reason I joined Facebook in the first place was to stay in touch with friends, former and current co-workers and old classmates that I had not seen in a while. Little did I know my constant Liking of companies and news organizations would develop into an avalanche of information that I am now trying to dig myself out from.

Obviously, in my line of work as a writer, I do a lot of reading and research. So it’s important for me to follow multiple news organizations covering the latest trends in the industries I cover – real estate, health and fitness, writing, and career development, as well as current social and political news. Naturally, my news feed is filled with updates, almost to the point that updates from my friends and family are getting buried in the “noise.” If it wasn’t for Facebook’s practice to list posts from my family and friends when I first open the platform, I probably would not see their updates at all.

The only problem is I wind up scrolling through my news feed twice – first to browse the updates from my personal contacts, then a second time through (after selecting the Most Recent in the News Feed menu in the left side bar) to see stories in chronological order. Going through the feed twice is a bit of a pain, but the news junkie in me wants to be sure I don’t miss any potentially important news items.

Add to that the retailers I have Liked over the years, and I’m overloaded with advertising and new product offers. It has all gotten to be too much, so now I am taking steps to declutter my Facebook news feed. Here’s how.

Problem 1:  Too many angry, offensive posts from friends. They mean well, but let’s face it, you aren’t going to see eye to eye with everyone you know. And people are free to express their different viewpoints. But if someone posts mean, spiteful memes about others, shares articles from questionable sources or spouts angry rhetoric, you don’t have to put up with it.

Solution: Hide their posts. The next time you see their update, roll your mouse over the upper right corner of the text box. A little downward arrow will appear. Click on the arrow to display a menu of options. You have the choice to Unfollow them, which means you will no longer be connected to them,  or Hide Posts, which means you will still be connected but won’t see their updates in your news feed. Or you can go to their page, click on the downward arrow on the Following button, and select Hide Posts. It will accomplish the same thing.

Problem #2: Declutter the advertisers and news sources in your feed. If you are like me, you probably Liked quite a few businesses for their products and services. It may have been awhile since you Liked them, which means it might be a good idea to review your list of Likes to see if you still want to follow them.

Solution: Unfollow or hide posts of businesses. Much like you did for your list of friends, you can also hide posts from businesses you know longer support or haven’t posted updates in a while. An easy way to do this is to go to your profile page. Under the main menu by your profile photo, select the More option. On the menu that appears, select the Likes option. It will open a page with all the businesses you like. As you scroll down the list, you’ll notice that each business has two buttons: Liked and Followed with a check mark next to each. Selecting those two buttons will remove the check mark, and you will no longer be getting updates from them in your news feed.

This process isn’t all that time consuming, maybe 15 minutes depending on how long your list is. But by going through this process every few months, it will feel like you are decluttering your closet or cleaning out your book shelf. You’ll feel lighter and freer and open up space in your news feed for things that are most important to you, things like updates from your Facebook family and friends.

How — and When — to Communicate with Clients

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What is the appropriate medium to use to communicate with clients and colleagues? How quickly should you respond when someone contacts you about your product or service?

Recently I sent an email to the owner of a local yoga studio I belong to about launching a monthly newsletter for her clients. It took six days to get a response from her. Granted, she operates two other businesses in addition to the studio. She is a busy person. But you would think that someone who is a client or who offers a solution for her business warrants a quicker response than six days.

But my experience begs the question: as a business owner, executive or employee, how quickly should your respond to emails, text messages and phone calls? Much of that depends on the channel used, the type of conversation you’re having and what kind of relationship you have with the other person.

There is a time and place for everything, and some channels are more appropriate at certain times and for certain purposes than others. While the information presented below may seem like common sense, it helps to have a primer explaining which medium works best. Here’s how I break it down:

Text messages
I love text messaging for sending quick, brief messages. I am constantly amazed at the immediacy of this medium, the way I can send and receive messages instantaneously. It is ideal for confirming appointments, checking in with friends, confirming addresses, or just to say hello. Walgreens sends a text message to remind me when my prescription is ready for pickup, and my local hair salon uses it to confirm appointments.  However, I would not use it to carry a lengthy conversation, plan an event that requires a lot of details, negotiate a contract, or share bad news.

If texting is part of your business communications, follow your clients or customers lead. If they contact you by texting, they probably expect a response fairly immediately. The ideal response time is within a few hours, if not sooner. If you don’t respond within a short time period, those clients may take their business elsewhere.

Emails 
Studies show that many older office workers and business owners prefer communicating by email to conduct business. They use it to provide more detailed explanations, ask questions, and give more complete responses to clients’ questions. While it is still important to be brief, there’s less chance of misunderstanding with email because it is more thorough. It also provides a paper trail for conversations, so you can always go back to see what was communicated previously.

In my experience, emails have a longer response expectation than texting. I suggest responding to emails with one to two days. Even if you don’t have an answer to their question, it is better to contact them to thank them for their inquiry and you will get back to them with an estimated response time.

Phone calls
For lengthier conversations involving two people, phone calls are best, whether it’s to negotiate the terms of a contract, share important or negative news, work out details for an event and discuss test results with a doctor. The downside is that it can be more time-consuming, which may not be an option if you are a busy professional. But sometimes it is necessary to talk by phone to get to the heart of the conversation and resolve problems. Much like emails, I suggest responding to phone inquiries within a day or two.

One-on-one
In the tech-dominant world we live in, one-on-one personal meetings and conversations seem outdated. But they do occur and are necessary for business. Some conversations simply need to be done in person, such as job interviews, job performance reviews, event planning, or sharing important news about a company or business. In a one-on-one setting, the conversation may be more personal and personable. Like phone calls, they can be time-consuming, but they can be helpful to get more detailed plans in place.

Another important factor to keep in mind when choosing which medium to use for your conversation is the recipient of your message. How well do you know this person? Are they a casual business acquaintance, or a close colleague? How well you know the recipient may determine which channel you use. For example, you may be more likely to email someone you don’t know to introduce yourself, while phone calls or face time will likely be used for people you work with on a regular basis.

Your choice of communication medium might also depend on what type of medium your client prefers. Many millennials prefer text messages for communication. In that case, you probably will want to converse that way, but perhaps follow up with a phone call or email to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks.

With so many communication channels available, it can be a bit confusing to know which to use at different times. Knowing which medium to use and when to respond shows that you are conscientious and considerate in the way you communicate with clients and colleagues.