Archive for the '1. Professional Development' Category

Business Writing Tips – Part 2

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

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Click Here for the January 2010 Issue

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By Gina Barrett

There are a number of tips that can change your writing from confusing to clear, from mundane to motivating. This is the second of two columns telling you how to accomplish that.

Fifty years ago, a man died instantly from a heart attack. Twenty five years ago, his son experienced chest pains and received a bypass operation. This year, his grandson was diagnosed with high cholesterol and is on statins. What does the future hold for his great-grandson?

Thus begins the NIH FY09 President’s Budget – not a document one would normally think of as a page-turner. The paragraph in its essence is saying “There have been many advances in the treatment of heart disease over the past fifty years.” Yet it does so in a manner which provides clarity, engages us, and entices us to read more. Much of this is due to its specificity.

This column will deal exclusively with:

Tip #4 – Use Specifics

Using specifics when we write:

  • helps readers understand abstract or vague concepts
  • keeps readers from misunderstanding
  • helps readers mentally and emotionally engage with our material

Use specifics to help readers understand abstract or vague concepts

Years ago, the cartoon “Sally Forth” showed Sally’s husband Ted asking why she was not using the new purse he had given her. Sally launched into an explanation about the process of getting used to a new purse, but then stopped when she saw the mystified expression on his face. “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” she asked.

“I’m afraid a sports analogy is your only hope” he replied.

She paused then said, “Remember what it’s like when you’re breaking in a new baseball glove…?”

“Of course!” he replied.  “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

Breaking in a purse was an abstract concept outside of Ted’s range of experience. However, when Sally gave him a specific example – one which he could relate to – he immediately understood. Using specifics made the abstract concrete.

Use specifics to keep readers from misunderstanding

If someone said they received a “football” as a gift, what picture would appear in your head?

Most people in the U.S. would picture an oval brown sphere with pointed ends.  But around the world, not all people would envision this object upon hearing the word “football.” Some would think of a round white soccer ball, or a similar round white Gaelic football.  Some would think of the slightly-less-pointed Canadian football or Rugby ball. (I once had a “football” which was a small ball made entirely of tiny rubber feet!)

We often assume that the pictures that others have in their heads are identical to the pictures in ours, and that the words we are using have the same meaning to everyone – but that is not always the case.

So when we write, it is important to be specific unless we are sure our readers do not need the clarification. If there is a reasonable chance that the audience for whom we are writing could have a different mental picture of our words than we intend, then adding qualifiers (such as “regulation NFL football”) or including more details can help insure that we are accurately conveying what is in our heads to our readers. It insures that we are “all on the same page.”

As someone once said, “It is not enough to communicate so that we can be understood. We must communicate so that we cannot be misunderstood.”

Use specifics to help readers mentally and emotionally engage with your material

Along with preventing misunderstanding, using specifics can help readers become mentally and emotionally engaged with your material.

The film Schindler’s List provides a good example of this.

The movie was shot in black-and-white, with one exception: the red coat worn by a little girl being taken to a concentration camp.  A later scene showed the body of the girl with the red coat lying among those who have died in the camp.

Millions thus died, yet the sight of this one child moves us in a way that the millions cannot. Why? It is because while we cannot develop an emotional attachment to abstract millions, we can become attached to a concrete one.  Mother Theresa described this phenomenon when she said,   “If I look at the mass I will never act.  If I look at the one, I will.”

In the same way, the specific example from the NIH report connects us to the plight of one family dealing with heart disease, which then motivates us to care about heart disease writ large. Only from our attachment to the one can we extend our caring to the many. Using specifics gives readers someone or something to connect with and care about, and from that, helps them care about the concept we are trying to communicate.

So use specifics – in order to prevent readers from misunderstanding you, and to help them understand abstract or vague concepts and mentally and emotionally engage with your material.

To recap our writing tips thus far:

Tip # 1 – Use simple words and sentences
Tip # 2 – Use Jargon Appropriately
Tip # 3 – Use Active Voice

Tip # 4 – Use Specifics

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Also in the January 2010 issue

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for Supervisors
SOM Management Certificate Programs

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Develop Your Staff’s (or Your) Leadership Skills

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

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Click Here for the October 2009 Issue

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Do you have a stellar staff member? Someone who merits a significant investment in their development?   Or would you like to increase your current effectiveness and learn how to prepare yourself for a more complex or senior position in the future?

The SOM’s Office of Organization Effectiveness (OE) is currently taking nominations through October 9th for LeadingSuccess™, a first-level program for leadership skills development. 

Here’s what past attendees had to say:

The LeadingSuccess™ program has helped us to transform our team into an effective, productive, happy, hard working group….I would highly recommend this program. It was a transforming experience.
Nancy Wintering
Clinical Social Worker

As a self-reflective person, the LeadingSuccess™ program gave me unparalleled opportunities to examine my strengths and weaknesses.  I really valued the resources that were available for self-improvement. 
Ben Adams
IT Project Leader

We are asking managers to identify outstanding individuals on their staff who have strong potential. These staff members must currently supervise or be in a full-time project manager role that involves others (e.g., running a project team).  

If you would like to participate yourself, talk to your manager about nominating you.

Nominating managers must be committed to supporting the staff member’s attendance at the program over a period of nine months. The Program will include participant assessment, classroom sessions and coaching.

The content of LeadingSuccess™ differs from the Supervisory Certificate Series (SCS) in that it dives more deeply into skill development than the SCS. There is not significant overlap between the two programs. The SCS is not a prerequisite for LeadingSuccess™, and graduates of the SCS are eligible.

For more detailed information about the LeadingSuccess program, go to: http://www.med.upenn.edu/oe/leadership.shtml.
You can download the nomination form at: http://www.med.upenn.edu/oe/word/LeadingSuccess_Nomination_Form.doc

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Also in the October 2009 issue

Business Writing Tips
LeadingSuccess™ and Supervisory Skills Certificate Graduations
New Resources for Hiring and On-boarding New Staff
Knowledge Link Help Desk

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Business Writing Tips

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

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Click Here for the October 2009 Issue

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By Gina Barrett

You’re preparing to write a [report/email/article/other.] You want people to read it, understand it, and act on it. How can you make that happen?

There are a number of tips that can change your writing from confusing to clear, from mundane to motivating. This is the first of several columns telling you how to accomplish that.

Tip # 1 – Use simple words and sentences
Some writers seek to impress people by using long, complex or obscure words. This makes their writing sound…as if they’re trying to impress people. Keep it simple. If a short word will be as clear as a long word, use the short word.  It will be easier for the readers to understand.

C.S. Lewis, professor at Oxford and Cambridge and best-selling author once said, “I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot translate your own thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts are confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood your own meaning.” Lofty language is sometimes a smokescreen for fuzzy thinking. Distilling your ideas into simple language is a good way to test them for soundness.

In the same way, avoid overly-long sentences.  A good rule: if you get to the end of a sentence and have to re-read it because you can’t understand it, it’s too long. Trim excess words; bloated sentences are tedious. If it’s still too long, see if you can divide it. Don’t chop up everything, however, or it will read like Dr. Seuss. A mixture of short and long sentences will create a varied, engaging rhythm.

Tip # 2 – Use Jargon Appropriately
Jargon is a special language used by a specific group, often for the purpose of streamlining communication. Terms such as “pharma,” “BRB,” “HIPAA,” and “Anat-Chem” are examples of jargon which you may use here at the SOM.  In fact, to write out the words in full would seem almost awkward unless it is for a formal communication.

We cause confusion, however, when we use jargon with people who don’t “know the language.”  In that situation, one alternative is to avoid jargon altogether. Another is to state the entire word or phrase with the abbreviation or definition in parenthesis beside it the first time you use it in a communication, then use just the jargon for the rest of the communication. For example, if writing for an audience outside of Penn, you might write “I work at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (SOM). The SOM was the country’s first medical school.” This defines “SOM” for those unfamiliar with this acronym, and allows you to use just the acronym for the rest of the communication.

Tip # 3 -Use Active Voice
(except in limited situations)

What is the difference between active and passive voice? See if you can guess from these examples:

Passive: “The boat was sailed across Lake Winnipesaukee.”  Who sailed it?

Passive: “The boat was sailed across Lake Winnipesaukee by Bob.” Bob sailed it, but in this sentence the boat receives the emphasis.

Active: “Bob sailed the boat across Lake Winnipesaukee.” Bob sailed it, and Bob receives the  emphasis.

Passive voice exists when we emphasize the receiver of an action and de-emphasize or ignore the doer of the action.

Why is using active voice important? For one thing, passive voice is vague.  In the first example, we have no mental picture of the sailor(s), since we don’t know their identity. In the second example, although we know the sailor’s identity, the sentence is now unnecessarily longer by two words. Fuzzy imagery and bloated sentences bore readers and cause them to disengage. On the contrary, active voice can make sentences vivid, direct and specific, engaging the reader.

So use active voice as a rule. Use passive voice only in instances where the doer of the action is negligible, unknown or obvious.  If you are writing a history of the boat mentioned above and you do not know who sailed it across the lake, or if the sailor’s identity would be an unnecessary detail that would bog down the flow of the narrative, you may choose to use passive voice.

Note:  Scientific writing often uses passive voice, although there are some journals which prefer active voice.

Using active voice, simple words and sentences, and using jargon in an appropriate manner will collectively make your writing more readable, understandable and compelling. The next issue of SOM@Work will explain how word pictures can help readers connect intellectually and emotionally with your information.

How well do you know SOM jargon? Test your knowledge:

 

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Also in the October 2009 issue

Develop Your Staff’s (or Your) Leadership Skills
LeadingSuccess™ and Supervisory Skills Certificate Graduations
New Resources for Hiring and On-boarding New Staff
Knowledge Link Help Desk

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SOM E-learning Module Wins Award

Friday, January 9th, 2009

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Click Here for the January 2009 Issue

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A online training program created by the SOM’s Office of Organization Effectiveness placed third at the 2008 Pennsylvania Distance Learning Association (PADLA) e-Learning Excellence Awards in November. Several SOM staff members lent their voices to the project.

Ryan Frasch explains the SOM’s module at the PADLA e-Learning Excellence Awards program.

Ryan Frasch explains the SOM’s module at the PADLA e-Learning Excellence Awards program.

The program, “Sexual Harassment Awareness for Supervisors” was created at the direction of Christopher P. Kops, Vice Dean of Administration, to ensure that the school’s managers and supervisors knew their responsibilities to create a work environment safe from sexual harassment.  It was designed by Senior Training Specialist Gina Barrett and Training and Instructional Technology Specialist Ryan Frasch, and developed by Frasch.

PADLA  is the regional chapter (representing Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) of the United States Distance Learning Association, an organization which promotes the development and application of Distance e-Learning for training and education.

 Ryan Frasch accepts the award from PADLA President Louis Stricoff.

Ryan Frasch accepts the award from PADLA President Louis Stricoff.

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Also in the January 2009 issue

Seven Tips to Writing Effective Emails
LeadingSucces Nominations Open Up
Supervisory Skills Certificate Deadline
Resource Spotlight
Knowledge Link Help Desk

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Seven Tips for Writing Effective Emails

Friday, January 9th, 2009

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Click Here for the January 2009 Issue

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Seven Tips for Writing Effective Emails
By Megan Maxwell

We’ve all received emails we thought were confusing, annoying, or just plain rude. Follow these seven tips to make sure that you’re not on the “Send” end of one of those emails:

1. Should You Email at All?
Communicating via email can become such a mindless habit that we can find ourselves using it for messages which would be best delivered through other means. It’s important to always step back and ask the question, “Should I be communicating this through email?”

Avoid email for sensitive issues where correct interpretation is crucial. It lacks the added layers of communication that voice and body language add, and thus can be more easily misconstrued than face-to-face or even phone conversations.

Email is also a poor candidate for communications that require confidentiality or security; emails should be seen as having the visibility of a postcard. Don’t send anything you wouldn’t want forwarded or viewed by others.

And finally, sometimes other methods of communicating are just more practical. After laboring for some time over an email, one woman thought, “I wish I could just talk to them.” Then it occurred to her, with a blinding flash of the obvious, that she could pick up the phone and call. (How retro!)

2. Hello & Goodbye
Be sure to greet the recipient of your message. It would be rude not to say “hello” to someone before requesting something of him in person, and the same goes for electronic communication. Include a salutation as well as your contact information at the end of your message. Practice professionalism and show the same courtesy you would in a letter or face-to-face interaction.

3. The ABCs of CC, BCC & Reply to All
Be careful when using these options. Make sure that those individuals being Carbon Copied are aware of why they are receiving the message. If a message does not need to be seen by all on the original list, then only reply to the necessary individuals or groups rather than crowding inboxes unnecessarily with a “Reply to All.”

4. Don’t Get Too Attached
Attachments take up space; only send them when necessary. Make sure to send them in a format the recipient can open.

5. Right Write
Writing like THIS, this, or this can be seen as aggressive and may cause misunderstanding or conflicts. Limit or eliminate your use of ALL CAPS as well as language that may come across as demanding or rude. Instead use words that are courteous and respectful.

Take the time to use proper spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. These practices help to promote a positive and professional image of yourself and your organization as well as deliver a clearer message.

6. Clear, Concise, and Complete
To communicate effectively, make your email concise, complete and easy to read.

• Use active words, lists, or bullets to describe tasks
• Separate information into small paragraphs with short sentences.
• Try to anticipate questions your email may generate, and answer them.
• When writing a reply, be sure to answer all questions.

7. Thanks But No Thanks
While expressing gratitude is an important concept to remember in all interactions, sending an e-mail for this purpose only may be more of an annoyance to individuals with crowded inboxes. Try to say thank you in advance when you request what is needed in an initial e-mail. A phone call or handwritten note for a job well done are more personal and will not take up unnecessary space and time.

 

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Also in the January 2009 issue 

SOM E-learning Module Wins Award
LeadingSuccess™ Nominations Open Up
Supervisory Skills Certificate Deadline
Resource Spotlight
Knowledge Link Help Desk

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Preventing Communication Breakdowns

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

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Click Here for the September 2008 Issue

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By Gina Barrett

My three-year-old daughter wriggled as I pulled her hair through an elastic band to make a ponytail. “Hold still,” I teased her, “I don’t want it to pull so tight that I make your eyes pop.”

“Ice pop!?” she exclaimed, visions of popsicles dancing in her head.

Her misinterpretation was comical – but most communication breakdowns are not. In the workplace, they can cause mistakes, hard feelings, and an unpleasant work environment.

Many communication breakdowns occur because of faulty listening. Here are three things we can do to help us listen more effectively:

Focus on the Message

We are a multi-tasking culture, talking on our cell phones as we drive down the highway with our radios blaring. When we are bombarded with distractions from a variety of stimuli, the message becomes Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo?” cartoon. It is easy to lose focus and miss some of what is being communicated. Controlling auditory and visual “noise” and consciously focusing on the message can help us to best hear what is really being said.

Check Your Interpretation

Periodically check in to make sure you are interpreting the message correctly. We often listen selectively, presuming that we know the whole of the message when we’ve only heard a piece of it, or like my daughter, hearing what we want to hear. You can check in by asking questions for clarity, or by restating the speaker’s position to make sure you understand the message.

Use Appropriate Listening Styles

Have you ever shared a problem with a co-worker, looking for support, and instead found them offering unsolicited advice or making a joke out of what you’ve told them?

Everyone has preferred listening styles, but sometimes people apply the wrong style to the wrong occasion. It helps to be aware of our own preferred listening style, and be conscious of what listening style is best to use for any particular situation, rather than just defaulting to our preferred style.

One person may listen in order to evaluate and make decisions. Another person may listen in an attempt to see “the big picture.” Another person may listen in order to support the hearer. Someone else may listen looking for the humor or entertainment value in the message. Yet another person may listen to comprehend all of the facts and details.

So for instance, if evaluative listening is our default, and a stressed-out subordinate is expressing their frustration about a work situation, we need to resist our natural temptation to automatically start analyzing the situation and offering advice. If all they need is an opportunity to vent, empathic listening may be the best style for that situation.

On the other hand, if they come to us to bounce an idea off of us to see if it has any flaws and our default listening style is empathic, we need to resist the temptation to just give them support and rubber-stamp their idea. If what they really need is for us to play devil’s advocate to their ideas, then an evaluative style may be what is called for.

In order to help prevent communication breakdowns at work, it’s important to exercise good listening skills. Focus on the message, check your interpretation of what is being said, and vary your listening style according to the occasion. Doing so can help you to increase accuracy and productivity, and create a more positive work environment.

The Department of Organization Effectiveness will be offering a seminar on Listening Skills this semester.
Listening Skills is for general staff, and will be held December 9, 2008, 9:00 am – 12:30 pm.
To Register: You will be registering for the program through Knowledge Link.
1. Login to Knowledge Link using your PennKey and Password
2. On the left navigation bar click “Optional” (under “Training”)
3. Find the course titled “Listening Skills – SOM
4. Click “Enroll”

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Also in the September 2008 issue

SOM Staff Lend Voices to Online Sexual Harassment Training
Supervisory Skills Certificate Deadline
Leading Success™ Program Members Selected
Harnessing Strengths
Workplace Q & A
Knowledge Link Help Desk

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Training Help Has Arrived!

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

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Click here for the June 2008 issue
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Your department submits a protocol to the IRB, but approval gets delayed because not everyone has their required training. They had been unaware of the specific training they needed, and now are frantic to get it completed. How could situations like this be prevented?

University faculty, staff and students need training in a variety of topics in order for the institution to meet federal and regulatory compliance requirements, and for people to work with various systems. Yet knowing who needs to be trained in what can be confusing to sort out and manage.

One way to handle it would be to make blanket assignments across the board. For example, since some Research Specialists are involved in Human Subjects Research, the University could require that all Research Specialists take training required for that work. However, if you are a Research Specialist who isn’t working with Human Subjects, such training would waste your time. So how can the University sort out what training you need – and what you don’t?

The Penn Profiler survey was designed to do just that.

This 5-15 minute survey helps to identify critical, job-specific, required training you need and assigns that training to you in Knowledge Link.

The Penn Profiler began rolling out at the SOM on June 9. You will soon be receiving (if you haven’t already) an email with instructions on how to take the survey.

The Penn Profiler is a university-wide initiative under the auspices of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, and was developed in conjunction with the Division of Finance, Information Systems and Computing, and the School of Medicine.

The rollout of Penn Profiler is being supported at the SOM by the Office of Organization Effectiveness. For any questions about the rollout, email oe@mail.med.upenn.edu.
For more information you can go to http://www.upenn.edu/VPR/profiler/.

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Also in the June 2008 issue:

Powerful PowerPoint
LeadingSuccess™
Supervisory Certificate Series
Information You Need – When You Need It
Knowledge Link Help Desk
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Powerful PowerPoint

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

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Click here for the June 2008 issue
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We’ve all seen them: bad, boring PowerPoint presentations.  It doesn’t have to be.

The secret to success with PowerPoint or any other visual aid can be summed up on one sentence, a sentence as profound as it is simple. Write it on a Post-it note and stick it in front of your computer. Chant it as a mantra as you prepare your presentation. Use it as a test for each and every slide.

Are you ready? Here it is:

A visual aid should be visible, and should aid.

“That’s it?” you ask.  “That’s common knowledge.”

Common knowledge, perhaps, but not common practice.

Think about this: is 12 pt. type on a slide visible? No. Is lime green text on a white background visible? No. Have we all seen slides like this? Yes.

Does having every line of text fly across the slide aid? No; it causes the pacing of a presentation to drag and saps it of energy. Do five hundred words of text on a slide aid? No, they distract from the speaker.  (What should we as audience members do when we see this? Read the slide and ignore the speaker? But the speaker may say something important that’s not on the slide! Ignore the slide and listen to the speaker? But the slide may contain something important that the speaker isn’t saying! What to do? Slide or speaker? Speaker or slide? Whoops, too late, they’ve gone on to the next slide…

So here are some tips that can help your PowerPoint both be visible and aid:

Slide Design

The overriding principle is rapid readability. People need to read slides fast, so they can get back to listening to you. Pretend your slide is a billboard on I-95 and you audience is zipping by late for work.

  • Use the “Rule of Six:” no more than six bullet points, no more than six words across each line. More than that, and there’s too much competition between the slides and the speaker. Along with that…
  • Don’t try to put all your speaker notes on the slide; use note cards or paper or the Presenter View in PowerPoint for your notes. If you want the audience to walk away with a large amount of data, don’t put all the data on the slides; make separate handouts and keep the slides sparse. Yes, it’s more work, but better that than the PowerPoint be unreadable. If it’s unreadable, it’s not visible and it doesn’t aid.
  • Type size should be no lower than 18 pt. (28 or 32 pt. preferred). Lower than 18 pt. is too difficult to read, and if you have to shrink down that low it’s a tip-off that you have too much text on the slide.
  • Use upper and lower case, NOT ALL CAPS. (Readability studies show that people have a harder time reading text that is all capitalized; in addition, it looks like you are SHOUTING.)
  • Use no more than two font styles. More than that looks cluttered and confusing. You can have one in a serif style (these have little details on them – examples are Times New Roman and Century) and one sans-serif style (these are plain, such as Arial and Tahoma)
  • Avoid overly-ornate type. Lucinda Calligraphy is great for an invitation, but takes too long to decipher for a slide.
  • Left-justify text. Don’t center text, except for headlines or key ideas of no more than two lines. Again, readability studies show that left-justified text is easier to read.
  • Keep graphs and charts simple and clear. Avoid 3-D and anything that doesn’t directly support the message (what information design guru Edward Tufte refers to as “chartjunk”).

Delivery

  • Remember, PowerPoint is there to aid you, not replace you. Keep the focus on YOU:
    - Keep lights up high enough so that the audience can see you, while not making them so bright that the screen image is hard to see.
    - Face the audience, not the screen. (After all, how do you feel when someone turns their back on you?)
    - If your talk diverges from the slides for awhile, it’s helpful to black out the screen so it isn’t a distraction. Simply hit the “B” key while the slides are in Slideshow mode. To bring the image back, toggle the “B” key again.
  • Have a backup for your presentation. Better yet, have two or three. The types and numbers of backups depend on the type of presentation and how high the stakes are if your original plan doesn’t work. A backup plan could be as simple as working from the notes if the slideshow fails. If you absolutely need the slideshow, ways of backing it up include saving it on a thumb (flash) drive, saving it on a CD, emailing it to yourself, uploading it to the web, and bringing it on a laptop. While you’re at it, make sure there is a LCD projector with working bulb.

So take advantage of the above design and delivery tips in order to use PowerPoint to your best advantage. Remember, if PowerPoint isn’t visible, if it doesn’t aid, then it has no Power, and therefore what’s the Point?

How to Communicate Effectively with Your U.S. Co-workers

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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Click here for the January 2008 issue
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By Gina Barrett

If you are an international staff or faculty member at the School of Medicine, this article is written for you. If you are a U.S. native working with international staff or faculty, read How to Communicate with Your International Co-workers instead.

As she walked down a hall in Anatomy-Chemistry, Tomoko saw her co-worker Brenda coming towards her.

“Tomoko, glad I bumped into you,” said Brenda. “I’ve been meaning to tell you my husband is throwing me a big birthday bash in a few weeks, and we’re inviting everyone from the lab. It’s the last Saturday of the month. Do you think you can come?”

Tomoko realized that would be during her vacation, when she would be back home in Japan visiting family. Not wanting to offend Brenda, she smiled politely. “Thank you. I will be in Tokyo that day,” she said. “But perhaps I can come.”

As Brenda said goodbye and moved on, Tomoko sensed that Brenda seemed unhappy with her answer. “I wonder if I have offended her by not coming to her party,” Tomoko thought.

This scenario highlights one of the communication challenges between cultures. Although Tomoko had tried to tell Brenda (in the indirect manner expected in Tomoko’s native culture), that she couldn’t come to the party, Brenda was confused. And although Tomoko had been polite so she would not offend her, Brenda was annoyed. The reason?

Brenda had expected for Tomoko to either accept the invitation or to say directly, “Sorry, but I won’t be able come,” which is considered a polite answer in Brenda’s native U.S. culture. Brenda was annoyed because she felt Tomoko had not answered her question, and because she did not know whether to plan on Tomoko being at the party since she did not understand Tomoko’s reply.

The issue of Direct vs. Indirect communication styles is one of the communication dichotomies which can cause problems between international and U.S. co-workers. Each of these styles has its own intrinsic, often unspoken, rules. When a person used to communicating under one set of rules is thrust into a situation where another set of rules is being used, it’s like trying to play chess using the rules of Go. Ultimately, it leads to frustration.

Some cultures, such as in the U.S., Germany and the U.K. generally value a direct style of communication. They like to “get down to business,” “cut to the chase,” and “get to the point.” They do not feel offended or shamed by the kind of direct statements that might be considered offensive in indirect cultures such as in Asia. In fact, when things are not stated directly, people from direct cultures (such as your U.S. co-workers) can become confused and frustrated, and might not understand the message at all. They are used to communicating with people whose mantras are “say what you mean, and mean what you say” and “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’”  In these cultures, being direct is how people show respect.

In cultures that use an indirect communication style, such as China, Japan, and other Asian cultures, it is very common to encounter situations where people communicate in a way that would not cause someone to lose face. Thus, communication happens indirectly. Messages are subtly implied rather than explicitly stated, and people are accustomed to reading between the lines for the message. Words such as “perhaps” and “maybe” are often code for “no,” since saying “no” could risk shaming someone. In these cultures, being indirect is how people show respect.

While saying “I would love to come, but I’m afraid I can’t.  I’ll be in Tokyo visiting my family.” can sound blunt or offensive to people from indirect cultures, it is considered polite in direct cultures. So, depending on which rules you are playing by, the same words could be an expression of politeness, or an expression of rudeness.

With these differences in mind, it’s easy to see how communication problems can occur.

“In China, where I am from,” says Dr. Patricia Tsao, Senior Research Investigator in the Rheumatology Division, “if your experiment failed and needed to be redone, your manager would not actually say that. He would drop hints, and you would pick up on them and re-do the experiment.”

So imagine a U.S. manager saying matter-of-factly to a Chinese subordinate “Looks like your experiment didn’t work; run it again and let me know how it goes.”  A person used to indirect communication might feel shocked by such a direct statement (especially from someone in authority), and feel they need to defend themselves. The manager would not realize he/she had offended their subordinate, and would think that the subordinate was over-reacting and becoming “touchy” if the subordinate became upset or defended himself/herself.

Those from indirect cultures think of their own style as polite and face-saving, and sometimes see direct communication as rude, blunt and overly-aggressive. Those from direct cultures think of their style as open and honest, and sometimes think of indirect communication as “beating around the bush” and a sign that the communicator is trying to be difficult, shifty, or maddeningly vague.

Akio Morita (co-founder of SONY) once said that when Westerners “ask questions or express an opinion, they want to know right away whether the other party agrees or opposes them. So in English, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ comes first. We Japanese prefer to save the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for last. Particularly when the answer is ‘no,’ we put off saying that as long as possible, and they find that exasperating.”

Each of us intrinsically feels that our style is the “right” style, and the other is the “wrong” style, but in the end, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but of getting on the same wavelength.

So the keys to effective cross-cultural communication are to:

  • try to understand the rules by which people are playing
  • play by their cultural rules as much as possible when we communicate with them, and
  • give them grace when they have trouble understanding and playing by the rules of your culture.

If Tomoko is aware of the direct/indirect communication difference between their cultures, when Brenda invites her to the party she could say, “Thank you for inviting me, you are so nice! I wish I could come. If I wasn’t going to be in Tokyo that day I would be there. I’m so sad I can’t be!” As impolite as that may sound to her, she can be confident knowing that it has not offended Brenda. In fact, it has helped Brenda, since now that she clearly understands that Tomoko will not come, she can tell her husband how many people to expect at her party so that he can make proper preparations for the guests.

If you are from an “indirect” culture and your “direct-culture” supervisor asks you to re-do an experiment, remember that the supervisor doesn’t mean it as an accusation. If your manager addresses you directly like this, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad worker on the verge of being fired, or that your manager doesn’t like you. It’s important to remember not to take things personally.

The ancient saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is popular in the U.S.A.  People here expect internationals to learn English and learn the native cultural rules if they are going to live here. (This may seem ironic considering U.S. natives don’t always do the same when they travel and live abroad!)

The rules by which any culture operates are often complex and unstated, and often there are sub-cultures within the general culture that have different rules. (For example, in the Philadelphia area and much of the rest of the U.S., it is considered polite for children to answer “yes” or “no” when adults ask them questions. In many parts of the Southeastern U.S., however, adults expect children to add the honorifics “sir” or “ma’am.”)

All of these nuanced customs take time to learn, and it is a tremendously stressful endeavor when combined with all of the other challenges you have in being an expatriate.

On the other hand, the majority of U.S. natives have never traveled internationally and are often unaware of the rules of other cultures. They can offend you without meaning to or even realizing it.

So if you are from an indirect culture working at the SOM, it will help to give your U.S. co-workers (or co-workers from any other culture that communicates directly) a break. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that their intentions are good when they don’t meet your cultural expectations. It can go a long way towards positive working relationships.

Learn to communicate clearly and directly with your U.S. co-workers and supervisors. Dr. Rodolfo Altamirano, Director of the International Student and Scholar Services (formerly the Office of International Programs) states, “Here in the U.S. it is very, very critical to share what your issues and challenges are immediately. Don’t wait. Americans often have a hard time guessing. You have to communicate; don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t wait until it is too late.”

If you feel that you are having communication difficulties, it is VERY important to get in touch with the International Student and Scholar Services to ask for their advice. Sometimes internationals will lose their positions at Penn over cultural miscommunications that could have been resolved if the International Student and Scholar Services had gotten involved.

 

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For International Staff who want more information on working successfully with U.S. staff and faculty, the SOM’s Office of Organization Effectiveness is holding two upcoming lunch-and-learn seminars:

Cross-Cultural Communication for Internationals at the SOM

Penn is a multicultural institution, with students, faculty and staff from all over the world.  This makes for a very diverse, vibrant community, and at times, a rather confusing one, especially when the U.S. is not your native culture.  This workshop will provide internationals with general advice on how to successfully bridge cultural gaps in the workplace.

Date: February 27, 2008
Time: 12:00 pm- 1:30 pm
Place: Biomedical Research Building (BRB) 251
Conducted by: Dr. Rodolfo Altamirano, Director of the Office of the International Student and Scholar Services

To register go to: http://knowledgelink.upenn.edu/ and look for desired course in the “Optional” page

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Survival Tips for Internationals at the SOM

  • Are you frustrated your boss just doesn’t get what you are trying to tell him?
  • Do you feel your coworkers misunderstand you all the time?
  • Are you so sick and tired to explain yourself over and over again?
  • Do you wish you can get around at work with more ease and grace?

Then come to the cross-culture communication workshop for practical tips on how to improve these issues!

Date: March 19, 2008
Time: 12:00pm - 1:30 pm
Place: Biomedical Research Building (BRB) 251
Conducted by: Dr. Patricia Tsao, Senior Research Investigator at the SOM

To register go to: http://knowledgelink.upenn.edu/ and look for desired course in the “Optional” page

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[i] Thomas D. Zweifel, Ph.D., “The Ten Most Costly Sins When Cultures Clash,” The Leadership in Public Affairs Program at The College of New Jersey, http://publicleaders.tcnj.edu/culture_clash/sins.htm (Accessed January 8, 2008)

Photo of Go board used by permission under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Go-Equipment-Narrow-Black.png)

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Also in the January 2008 issue:

How to Communicate with Your International Co-workers
Newest Supervisory Skills Certificate Graduates
Teambuilding
Workplace Q&A
Knowledge Link Help Desk
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How to Communicate with Your International Co-workers at the SOM

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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Click here for the January 2008 issue
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By Gina Barrett

If you are someone raised in the U.S. working with international staff or faculty, this article is written for you.  If you are an international staff or faculty member at the School of Medicine, read How to Communicate with Your U.S. Co-workers instead.

As she walked down a hall in Anatomy-Chemistry, Brenda saw her co-worker Tomoko.

“Tomoko, glad I bumped into you. I’ve been meaning to tell you, my husband is throwing me a big birthday bash in a few weeks, and we’re inviting everyone from the lab. It’s the last Saturday of the month. Do you think you can come?” said Brenda.

Tomoko smiled. “Thank you. I will be in Tokyo that day,” she said. “But perhaps I can come.”

Brenda said goodbye and continued down the hall, confused and somewhat annoyed. “What an odd answer!” she thought to herself.  Why would Tomoko say that “perhaps” she could attend a party in Philadelphia when she would be in Tokyo? Is she coming or not? If she can’t come, why didn’t she just say so?

This scenario highlights one of the communication challenges between cultures. Tomoko was saying she couldn’t come, using the indirect communication style expected by the Asian culture in which she was raised. Brenda was looking for a direct answer, which would be expected in the U.S. culture in which Brenda was raised.

Direct vs. Indirect communication styles is one of the communication dichotomies which can cause problems between you and your international co-workers. Each of these styles has its own intrinsic, often unspoken, rules. When a person used to operating under one set of rules is thrust into a situation where another set of rules is being used, it’s like trying to play Monopoly using the rules to Clue.

In China, Japan, and other Asian cultures, it is very common to encounter situations where people communicate in a way that would cause someone to not lose face. Thus, communication happens indirectly. Messages are implied subtly rather than explicitly stated, and people are accustomed to reading between the lines for the message. Words such as “perhaps” and “maybe” are often code for “no,” since explicitly saying “no” is considered to be rude.  In these cultures, being indirect is how people show respect.

While saying “I’d love to, but I won’t be able to come.” sounds polite to people in the U.S., directly rejecting an invitation would be considered rude in many indirect cultures, because it would cause the host to lose face. Tomoko would have felt uncomfortable saying this because she would have  felt that she was breaking rules of etiquette and shaming Brenda. Tomoko wasn’t trying to be cryptic; she was trying to be polite.

Some cultures, such as in the U.S., Germany and the U.K., generally value a direct style of communication. We like to “get down to business,” “cut to the chase,” and “get to the point.” Subtle implications can confuse us or go right over our heads because we’re used to communicating with people whose mantras are “say what you mean, and mean what you say” and “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” In these cultures, being direct is how people show respect.

So, depending on which rules you are playing by, the same words could be an expression of politeness, or an expression of rudeness.

With these differences in mind, it’s easy to see how communication problems can occur.

“In China, where I am from,” says Dr. Patricia Tsao, Senior Research Investigator in the Rheumatology Division, “if your experiment failed and needed to be redone, your manager would not actually say that. He would drop hints, and you would pick up on them and re-do the experiment.”

So imagine a U.S. manager saying matter-of-factly to a Chinese subordinate “Looks like your experiment didn’t work, run it again and let me know how it goes.” A person used to indirect communication might feel shocked by such a direct statement (especially from someone in authority), and feel they need to defend themselves. The U.S. manager would then become perplexed at how “touchy” and “defensive” their subordinate’s reaction is.

Those of us from direct cultures think of our style as open and honest, and sometimes think of indirect communication as “beating around the bush” and a sign that the communicator is trying to be difficult, shifty, or maddeningly vague. Those from indirect cultures think of their style as polite and face-saving, and see direct communication as rude, blunt and overly-aggressive.

“We perceive things in many ways.” says Dr. Rodolfo Altamirano, Director of the International Student and Scholar Services (formerly the Office of International Programs) “Let us be willing to think outside the box.”

Each of us intrinsically feels that our style is the “right” style, and the other is the “wrong” style, but in the end, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but of getting on the same wavelength.

So the keys to effective cross-cultural communication are to:

  • try to understand the rules by which people are playing
  • play by their cultural rules as much as possible when we communicate with them, and
  • give them grace when they have trouble understanding and playing by the rules of our culture.

If Brenda is aware of the direct/indirect communication difference between their cultures, when she invites Tomoko to her party she could frame it as “accepts-only”  – in other words, ask Tomoko to let her know if she can come, but tell her she doesn’t need to reply if she is not coming. That way, Brenda would avoid putting Tomoko in the position of having to reject the invitation. Or, she could just understand that the seemingly-odd answer is Tomoko’s polite method of declining.

The lab manger who wants the experiment re-done might try to be especially polite and affirming in making the request.

It’s easy to think “‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’  -  if someone is coming to the U.S. to work or study, they need to learn our cultural rules. Why should we have to learn theirs?”

True, anyone who travels to a different country should work at learning the cultural rules and language of the place to which they are traveling. However, the rules by which a culture operates are often complex and unstated, and often there are sub-cultures within the general culture that have different rules. Sometimes one doesn’t know the rule exists until one violates it: witness the tempest that occurred recently when Richard Gere grabbed and kissed a Bollywood actress at a charity event in India. Gere probably didn’t know that public displays of affection were taboo in India until after he violated the taboo and ignited the uproar. He later admitted that his action was “a naive misread of Indian customs.”

All of this takes time to learn, and it is a tremendously stressful endeavor when combined with all of the other challenges of being an expatriate. So it helps to give internationals a break and give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that their intentions are good when they don’t meet cultural expectations. It can go a long way towards positive working relationships.

If you do have cross-cultural communication problems with international staff, it is important to contact the International Student and Scholar Services for assistance. They may be able to help resolve situations that otherwise could end in the loss of talented international staff.

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For PIs, BAs and Managers who want more information on working with international staff and faculty, Penn’s Learning and Education Department is holding a half-day seminar on the subject:

Cross Cultural Communication in a Global Penn: For PIs, Business Administrators and Managers: What You Need to Know to Support Your International Scholars and Staff

This session will help you develop a greater understanding of the behaviors and practices international scholars and staff may bring with them from their home cultures. Having a “global” understanding will help you better support the international scholars and staff in your department.

Topics will include:

  • how values, perceptions, and expectations differ between cultures
  • how to manage conflicts and problems with international scholars/staff
  • what you need to know about the workplace dynamics, behaviors and practices in international cultures
  • practical tips for working with international staff.

Date: February 22, 2008
Time: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m
Place: 3624 Market Street, Suite 1B South
Conducted by: Dr. Rodolfo Altamirano, Director of the International Student and Scholar Services, and Dr. Patricia Tsao, Senior Researcher Investigator at the SOM

This session cannot be found in Knowledge Link. To register, go HERE.

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Also in the January 2008 issue:

How to Communicate with Your U.S. Co-workers
Newest Supervisory Skills Certificate Graduates
Teambuilding
Workplace Q&A
Knowledge Link Help Desk
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Creating Persuasive Presentations

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
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Click here for the October 2007 issue
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By Gina Barrett

You’re staring at the charts and graphs littering your PowerPoint presentation. You’ve got the data. You know what you want to tell the audience. You know what you want the audience to do. Now how do you get them to do it?

There are three main elements that influence your ability to influence. Those elements are credibility, content, and connection. (Or as Aristotle called them over two millennia ago: ethos, logos and pathos.)

Credibility

We are more likely to adopt ideas from people we deem credible – people we trust. Who do we trust? Those who demonstrate good will towards us – who aren’t merely using us to get what they want. Those who demonstrate knowledge, experience and good judgment.

In this respect, your presentation starts before your presentation starts. Laying the groundwork for influence should be a regular part of your routine, through acting with integrity, building relationships, demonstrating expertise.

Anything you can do to establish your credibility before the presentation will help put you on firm footing. If possible, meet one-on-one with key decision-makers before the meeting. This gives you the opportunity to show interest in their views, lay the groundwork for your message and know how to better tailor it to meet their needs.

Otherwise, seek to establish credibility at the beginning of your presentation. If it’s a forum where speaker introductions are appropriate, have a respected individual give an introduction that establishes your good will and expertise. They will be lending you some of their own credibility, and your credentials won’t sound self-serving coming from them as it would coming from you.

If that isn’t possible, begin by saying a few words about yourself to establish your credibility, and be conscious of weaving examples of it into your presentation if applicable.

When teaching presentation skills to MBA students, I illustrated one concept by talking about a situation that occurred when I was a communication coach for the rising CEO of a software company. The primary purpose of the story was to illustrate the concept. The secondary purpose, however, was to establish my credibility as an expert with this group of future CEOs, so that they would more readily accept the information I was giving them.

Content

The backbone of a persuasive presentation is the content.

It’s said that everyone is tuned to station WII FM – “What’s In It For Me?”

So as you assemble the content, put yourself in their mindset and ask yourself – what’s in it for them? Why should they care? Why should they want to believe/do this? Then focus the presentation on how what you propose can benefit them.

Your opening statement should entice the audience to listen. Tell a pertinent story, ask a question or make startling statement. Then briefly orient the audience to the purpose of your presentation and give them a bare-bones outline to serve as a guide to what you’re going to talk about.

From there, develop a logical argument for your case. Use data to support your argument. Explain how adopting your ideas or following your proposed course of action will benefit them.

Anticipate major questions, counterarguments, or reservations the audience may have. Then raise them yourself and answer them in the presentation. For example, “You may be thinking that we can’t afford this. That’s a legitimate concern. Let me show you how we actually can fit this into the budget….” In communication lingo, this is called “inoculation against counter-persuasion.” Being proactive gives you the opportunity to control the dialogue and frame the information to your advantage.

At the end of your presentation, summarize your key ideas and give them specifics on how they can do what you are asking them to do. If appropriate, drive home your main idea using a quotation, story, or other vivid device.

Connection

Finally, in order to persuade an audience, we need to be able to detect the audience’s feelings and connect with them on an emotional level.

Sounds odd for business or scientific presentations, doesn’t it? We’d like to think that decisions we make are made based entirely on cool, rational logic.

Yet think about this: a beverage company trying to improve sales invented an improved version of their product. They spent $4 million in taste-tests with over 200,000 consumers, which determined that consumers preferred the new formula better than the old. Yet when they introduced the new formula, numerous people expressed outrage and the company eventually reverted back to the old formula.

In the wake of the failed initiative, Coca-Cola president Donald Keough stated:

”All of the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola,” 1

So how does this underlying emotional influence on decision-making play out in a presentation?

“Good persuaders,” wrote Jay A. Gonger in the Harvard Business Review “show their own emotional commitment to the position they are advocating….have a strong and accurate sense of their audience’s emotional state, and…adjust the tone of their arguments accordingly.” 2

Come alongside the audience and establish common ground – remind them of what ideas and goals you do have in common. Then introduce your ideas, always asking yourself how the audience will feel about them, and calibrate your approach accordingly.

An important way of getting the audience to buy-in to your ideas on a gut level is to make them vivid, concrete and compelling through the use of demonstrations, stories, similes, metaphors and quotations that have meaning to the audience.

A recent example is from legendary corporate communicator Steve Jobs when he introduced the i-Phone to an audience of thousands. He could have tried to persuade his audience of the value of an i-Phone by listing the technical features of the phone. Instead, he demonstrated its usefulness by mapping and calling a Starbucks…and ordering four thousand lattes. (Click HERE to see the clip.) Jobs made the abstract features of the phone come alive for the audience. He demonstrated how it could benefit them. And using a style of humor his predominately young audience would appreciate, he warmed them up to him (and his cause).

So while those graphs and charts on your PowerPoint slides can help bolster your arguments, that’s not all you need. To get the results you want, develop the elements of credibility, content, and connection.

A number of years ago the pharmaceutical industry was going through some dramatic changes. Speaking to an industry group, the CEO of a pharmaceutical company sought to persuade his audience of the importance of adapting to those changes. After sharing facts and figures, he ended by quoting I Ching: “Resisting change is like holding your breath – if you persist, you die.”

He made his point.

1 Anne B. Fisher, Wilton Woods and Robert Steyer. “Coke’s Brand Loyalty Lesson,” Fortune Magazine, August 5, 1985.  http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1985/08/05/66245/index.htm

2 Jay A. Gonger, “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.

Write Your Own Performance Review

Monday, April 9th, 2007
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Click here for the April 2007 issue
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You know you’ve done a good job this year. But will your Performance Review reflect that?

Here’s how you can improve your chances that it will: write it yourself.

Along with actually doing a good job, “writing your own performance review” – or at least, helping in its creation - is a good way to help your supervisor review your efforts favorably.

By “write your own performance review” we mean to write a comprehensive self-evaluation that includes data, examples, and any positive results you have accomplished. This will make it easy for your supervisor to fully understand the scope and impact of the work that you do. It will also make it easy for her to write a thorough and complete (and favorable) performance review for you. When your busy supervisor is provided (by you) with the data and examples, the easiest thing for her to do is to use some of your information data in her own review of you. Thus, in a sense, you end up writing your own review – or at least, influencing it.

“Wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “Isn’t that my supervisor’s job? Why should I do her work for her?”

First of all, we are all responsible for mapping our progress and performance in the job. But even if you would rather just leave that to your supervisor, why…
    …leave it solely in his hands when you have the opportunity to exert your influence?
    …hope that she’ll have the time to pull together more than just a sparse recounting of all you did?
   ¦…depend on his memory to recall the vast array of things you accomplished?

So here’s how:

TRACK YOUR TASKS

  • An easy way to do this is with whatever type of calendar system you use. Your log of appointments and “To-Do” list will help you reconstruct the previous year.
  • Another easy way to do this is with a specially designated folder. Whenever you come across something that will be helpful to remember at performance review time, toss it into the folder.

Did you work on an unusual project? Note it on a scrap of paper and toss it into the folder. Did you receive a letter of praise from a patient or from a colleague whom you assisted? Into the folder. You’ll be amazed at the things you did during month two of the cycle that you’ll forget by month twelve.

PULL IT TOGETHER

At performance review time, gather:

WRITE!

Sharon Aylor of Human Resources says when writing your self appraisal you should:

  • Cite specific examples of how you achieved established goals
  • Describe results of your efforts
  • Note areas where you took initiative and made improvements
  • Explain how you enhanced your skills and abilities [Note: this is where that copy of your training transcript can help.]
    •  
        EXAMPLE: Took initiative to learn MS Project, then used it to create a new workflow process for our XYZ research. This resulted in a 15% reduction in error in the months after implementation.

Along with increasing your chances of getting a good performance review, taking responsibility for “writing your performance review” can:

  • Demonstrate your initiative.
  • Help your supervisor to become aware of the scope of what you do.
  • Be a powerful way of marketing - you! Not in order to get pats on the back (although that may happen), but in order to strengthen your influence and credibility.

Performance reviews are right around the corner – start the process now!

Our thanks to Sharon Aylor, Director of Staff and Labor Relations for providing information for this article.

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Also in the April 2007 issue:

Four Steps to Writing Performance Appraisals
Meeting & Retreat Design and Facilitation
Workplace Q & A
Knowledge Link Help Desk
Opinion
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Capitalize on Your Strengths

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

In order for you to create positive relationships with your supervisor, co-workers or staff, it’s critical to understand their personality styles. Here are five tips to help you appreciate and deal strategically with different styles in order to get things done.

Use a personality assessment instrument. Looking at yourself and others through the lens of an instrument such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) can help lead to better understanding and better relationships. An instrument like the MBTI® provides an objective way to describe different personality styles. This type of assessment is non-judgmental (there are no right or wrong answers). When you use it with your staff, it gives everyone a common language which can help them talk about the issues that result from the interaction of different styles.

Understand your own personality. Once you have a way to describe different personalities, it is important that you understand your own. This helps you to see how it influences your perception of yourself and others.

Each personality has its own unique filter. This filter determines what information gets through to you and how you react to that information. When you become aware of this filter, you can make better decisions about how to respond in different situations.

Assume positive intent from others. It is easy to make judgments about others’ intentions based on their behavior. When someone keeps asking for frequent updates and making suggestions about how to do our work, we may feel that they do not trust us. When someone does not engage in causal conversation with us, we think they dislikes us. When someone tries to plan every tiny detail of a project we see them as a “control freak.” These judgments are often wrong. These situations are common examples of people just trying to get things done according to their own style preferences. When you look at a situation from this positive perspective, you are better able to discuss ways of working together meet everyone’s needs.

Do not assume people understand you. Have you ever given what you felt like were clear instructions to someone, only to have them do something completely different? Communicating across personality styles can easily create misunderstandings because people associate different meanings or interpretations to words. Finishing your instructions with the question, “Do you understand?” is insufficient. A better question would be, “I just want to check to make sure I communicated clearly; could you summarize for me what we have just gone over?” Until you hear the other person repeat something back to you, you will not know if what got through to them is what you wanted to get across. Remember, it is not sufficient to communicate so that you can be understood; you must communicate so that you cannot be misunderstood.

Develop your ability to “flex” your style. When you learn to adapt your preferred style to that of another person, you greatly increase your options for getting results and increasing your influence. If you know someone needs extra time to consider information before making a decision, make sure they have the information in advance, prior to when the decision is needed. If someone does not like conflict, approach them in a collaborative way. If someone is highly structured and organized, plan a time to talk instead of just dropping in. Become aware of the styles of others and practice communicating from their perspective.

In order to maximize your effectiveness, it is crucial for you to understand your personality style and the styles of others. Doing so can help you to strategically manage interpersonal relationships and increase your influence.

The Department of Organization Effectiveness will be offering a seminar on personality styles this semester.

“Captitalize on Your Strengths,” is for general staff, and will be held March 6, 2007, 8:30 am – 12:00 pm.

To Register: You will be registering for the program through Knowledge Link.
1. Login to Knowledge Link using your PennKey and Password
2. On the left navigation bar click “Optional” (under “Training”)
3. Find the course titled “Captitalize on Your Strengths”
4. Click “Enroll”

Conflict Management Tips for Supervisors

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Conflict is all but inevitable in any workplace, if mishandled, it can pollute the working environment with negativity.  However, there are ways to prevent unnecessary conflict and deal with existing conflict that can promote a healthy work environment. Keeping these do’s and don’ts in mind will make an important difference in how your workplace runs.

DO:

  • Focus on task and problem solving
  • Meet your deadlines – people are counting on you!
  • Give credit to others and praise good performance
  • Be approachable
  • Be trustworthy
  • Keep your cool

DON’T:

  • Be unreliable
  • Be overly analytical and focus too much on minor issues
  • Be self-centered
  • Be abrasive, arrogant, sarcastic or demeaning
  • Exploit others or take undeserved credit
  • Focus on personalities
  • Lose your temper

Putting these suggestions in practice will have a positive effect on the workplace and on how you and your co-workers interact.  On the other hand, failing to do these things can lead to greater conflict in the workplace.

How to Manage Your Manager

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

How skilled are you at “managing up?” And why is this important to your success?

No matter which step of the ladder you find yourself on, you need to know how to deal strategically with those on the rungs above you. Effectively influencing your supervisor, manager, or Principle Investigator (PI) is critical to your career success. This is called “managing up.”

Managing up requires understanding the needs, motivations, challenges, and behavioral style of the person you report to. While it is not always easy to develop an effective relationship with your supervisor, there are five steps you can take today to help pave the way to a successful relationship that will help you reach your career goals.

Step 1: Know Their Style
Understanding your supervisor’s personal communication and behavioral style can provide key insights into how best to manage her.

  • Does she dislike hearing the details? Communicate via “executive summaries.”
  • Is he an extrovert? Be ready to engage in some social chit-chat before launching into your agenda.
  • Is she habitually late? Try creating “artificial deadlines” to give her the cushion she needs without sending you into a panic.
  • Does he like to communicate via e-mail? Put your business in an e-mail that he can electronically respond to.

While you need not mirror your supervisor’s office behavior precisely, understanding how he operates can help you tailor your interactions and get the results you want.

Step 2: Adapt to Their Agenda
What is your supervisor’s agenda? How does it connect with your own? When you are hoping to persuade her regarding one of your agenda items, ask yourself, “Why should she care? What’s in it for her?” Then frame your message in such a way as to show her how agreeing to your agenda item will help her meet her goals.

Step 3: Save Them Time
If you can organize your interactions in an efficient manner in order to save him time, your supervisor will be more likely listen to you when you do have his ear.

Think of it: every time you interrupt your manager to sign a form, answer a question, or discuss upcoming plans, it takes him time to switch gears to deal with the interruption, then switch gears back to the issue he was dealing with before the interruptions. One way around this is to schedule a brief, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor each week. You’ll save him time wasted in interruptions; you’ll save yourself time wasted in having to track them down.

Regularly scheduled departmental meetings can have the same benefit. Lisa Douglas, Project Manager with the Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Department, suggested this to the multiple PIs she serves as a way to save time, coordinate efforts and cross-fertilize ideas and resources. She keeps things efficient with a pre-set agenda. (Click HERE for a sample agenda you can use)

Another way to buy them time is to present them with solutions instead of just problems. In other words, if you hit a problem that needs your manager’s input, do some pre-work and come up with a list of potential solutions and the pros and cons of each. This will give your manager a starting point to work through the problem, save them time in doing background work, and put you in a position of influencing outcome.

Step 4: Push Back
No matter how brilliant a scientist or savvy a manager you work for, they can’t know it all. They have blind spots like anyone else. Know their blind spots, and diplomatically push back when you see them headed for trouble. Don’t underestimate the knowledge and wisdom you bring to the table. You may well keep them from going off a cliff, and win respect for your insight and courage.

When you can, enlist the help from allies in your push-back efforts. Lisa Douglas’ team meetings serve this purpose. Part of the SOM’s success is due to our PIs applying aggressively for grants. However, in a department with multiple PIs, if they are not aware of each other’s applications, a high volume of applications could result in overtaxing the staff if all the grants are awarded. Rather than Lisa having to push back at her PIs about this, when the plans are shared openly in the departmental meetings, the PIs recognize any unrealistic plans as a group and push back on each other.

Step 5: Persist
Because of how busy your manager is, she may not be able to get to things when you need her to. Keep at it. Pleasantly and persistently remind her of deadlines or outstanding issues. You can even do this on “auto-pilot” via email: some email programs give you the ability to prepare emails ahead of time and then schedule their delivery at a later date for “set-it-and-forget-it” reminders.

Though it doesn’t happen overnight, developing your “managing up” skills can help you forge a stronger working relationship and win more influence with your supervisor.