Connect Consulting Group

What will it take for business to adopt plain language, easy-to-read documents, and lean communications®

They address a business problem right in front of our faces. Even though this problem hurts our performance by sucking our time, draining our energy, and making us cranky, we tend to discount its impact.

Yet the problem of bad writing costs businesses billions of dollars—almost $400 billion.  

Technology analyst and professional writer Josh Bernoff estimated in The Daily Beast article that we workers – and leaders — are wasting 6 percent of total U.S. wages on bad writing.

That’s the value of the time we spend during our work day slogging through confusing and convoluted business documents trying to decode their meaning and figure out what actions we need to take.

By Bernoff’s calculation, this adds up to $396 billion of our national income. He considers it a tax that we all pay. By comparison, Bernoff says this amount is more than half of what we spend on Medicare.

The difference though is that seniors receive health care for our Medicare dollars. The inefficiencies related to bad writing is total waste.

Besides costing us time and money, the inefficiency of bad writing can be a health hazard too, especially with the proliferation of mobile devices. Many of us now read a majority of our emails on our smart phones as well as reports and other documents.

Even though the devices are convenient and the non-business content can be especially engrossing, reading on a mobile device is more physically and mentally challenging than reading a computer screen or paper.

Reading on a mobile device requires greater concentration and discipline to avoid distractions.

Plus, when we’re looking at a small screen, we’re often squinting and hunched over. Our eyes tire quickly, and our neck and back muscles can ache.  

If you write for others – even if it’s just a few email messages — try to reduce their pain. These three actions can help:

1.Put yourself in your readers’ shoes before you start writing and figure out:

  • What? (What’s the point?)
  • So what? (Why should they care?)
  • Now what? (What do you want them to do?)

This 3-question lean communications® tool will help you be as concise as possible, which is critical for comprehension on mobile devices.

2. Check and double-check dates and times to make sure they’re accurate. Are you really asking someone to participate in a 5 am call, or is it 5 pm? And is it obvious which time zone you’re using?

3. Watch out for “wordos,” the correct spelling of a real word that’s used incorrectly in the context. You can inadvertently baffle people when you refer to a “toll” instead of a “tool.”

The bad writing problem has been infiltrating business for a number of years, even before President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 for government.

While government writing has improved since then, it’s going to take a lot of work to reduce the degree of inefficiencies in business. (In Bernoff’s survey of business people who write at work, 81% agreed with the statement: “Poorly written material wastes a lot of my time.”)

Others, including Harvard Professor and Author Steven Pinker, also have spoken out as well as written about how bad writing is a drain on the economy. (See my blog post Help the economy; improve your communications!)

Here’s hoping that Bernoff’s stab at quantifying the problem along with his latest book, Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean, will prompt some of us to reduce the waste and pain we’re causing others.

Are you ready to help decrease the inefficiencies of bad writing?

Why and how to be more vulnerable

by Liz Guthridge on January 9, 2017 · 0 comments

Can you try to be more vulnerable?

Being vulnerable may be the positive self-disrupting move you need to become a better version of yourself.

After all, in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, what got you here won’t get you there.

Why do you want to view vulnerability more as a strength rather than a weakness?  

First, consider the definition of vulnerability that behavior scientists use.

Vulnerability is the capacity to experience both physical and psychological harm. When you’re vulnerable, you expose yourself to possible suffering from mental, moral, or spiritual threats.

From others’ perspectives, when you’re vulnerable, you show the courage to admit that you’re not in control. And let’s face it; it’s hard to be in control in our VUCA world.

Instead, you’re open to what’s happening and you’ll roll with the punches, even though you may be feeling uncertain, anxious, or emotionally exposed – or all of the above and more.

If these sensations sound unappealing, you’re not alone. We are hard-wired to fear feeling threatened, which is what vulnerability is all about.

Furthermore, being threatened socially feels just as painful as getting hurt physical. The same neural circuits are involved. Worse, social pain can stick with you longer than a physical ache.  (See Why performance improves when you avoid inflicting social pain.)

Second, even with all of this discomfort, you can reap major benefits when you are vulnerable.

When you show vulnerability, such as admitting that you’re nervous, that you’re not sure what you’re doing, or you’ve made a mistake, they see that you’re human like them. You’re not a robot or some other machine.

You come across as more human. You also can be considered more trustworthy. You’re like them!

Vulnerability also makes you more open to learning and optimal problem solving, according to Hal Shorey, a psychologist and associate professor for the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University. (For an interview with Dr. Shorey and other experts, check out this recent Wall Street Journal article, You Took an Emotional Risk, Now What?)

Third, if you’re now willing to experiment being more vulnerable at work, how do you do it?

The Wall Street Journal article You Took an Emotional Risk, Now What? includes some helpful, actionable tips, especially for practicing vulnerability with intent.

In my experience, I’ve also discovered these three ways can work well to show your vulnerability.

  • Share your foibles. We all make mistakes. Reveal yours too. For example, over the holidays, one of my clients forgot about a call she had scheduled on her conference line with me. After about 15 minutes past the start time, she hadn’t called in and I was worried as she’s always so dependable. I called her on her cell phone, and she apologized as soon as she answered. I responded “No worries. You’re not the only one. I realized this morning that today is my nephew’s birthday and I totally forgot to mail him his birthday card. I feel horrible.” She immediately thanked me for confessing and said she felt better.
  • Admit you don’t understand something, especially in a group setting. If you have the courage to acknowledge that you are either clueless or unclear about something that you and everybody is expected to know, you’ll probably discover that others are in the same boat. They too will appreciate the pause to regroup and relearn. Often times, you, the individual who’s explaining and everyone else will get some new insights too, which makes the digression even more useful.
  • Say “I don’t know.” When you concede that you don’t know in a direct and straightforward manner, you build a stronger bond with people. You show that you’re all in this together, and collectively you can find the answers. These three little words also help you listen better and engage more deeply.

If you’re willing to practice being vulnerable at work, you can build stronger connections with others and enjoy richer conversations. Those actions can contribute to greater success for you, your colleagues, and your organization.

Are you ready to feel some social pain that will make you a stronger, better person?

What do teeth flossing, meeting agendas, and meeting ground rules have in common?  And why should you care about them?

They’re examples of “keystone” habits, as explained by author Charles Duhhig in his best seller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Keystone habits work as a launch pad to influence how you “work, eat, play, live, spend and communicate,” according to Duhhig and confirmed by those of us who study and work with habits.

Once you adopt even one keystone habit and stick with it, you can be on your way to building more good habits. Pretty soon, you can be on your way to making several life-transforming behavior changes.

Because early January is such a popular time to focus on new habits, you may want to join the crowd and commit to doing something new for 2017.  (To set yourself up for success, choose habits over resolutions. Habits, keystone and otherwise, are much easier on your brain. For the reasons why, check out Be kind to your brain; resolve to build habits.)

Yet, don’t feel a need to do what everyone else is doing or even to adhere to the “science.”

Rather, take into consideration your personal preferences and experiences for what positive change you want to make and how to integrate it into your life. And then look into what the experts advise.   

That’s not to say you should ignore the science. Or, you should avoid actions that aren’t backed up by research.

Instead, you need to be clear about the relationship between scientific research, evidence and experience. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck, not getting the outcomes you want.

For example, take tooth flossing – the habit I adopted five years ago thanks to BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits® program. I had spent 10 years trying as my dentist and dental hygienist nagged me. (See Success! Adopting 3 tiny habits about my experience.)

Last summer a report came out questioning the value of flossing, based on 25 studies that compared tooth brushing and flossing with tooth brushing alone.

Why did flossing get a bad rap?

It seems that there haven’t been enough randomized controlled trials – the highest standard for scientific research – to prove that flossing works.  And there probably never will be because of the difficulty, cost, and ethics of doing such evidence-based research. (For a great description of this situation, check out this New York Times article Flossing and the Art of Scientific Investigation).

The lack of flossing research doesn’t really matter though from a practical purpose.

Dentists know best on this topic, based on their clinical experience in examining patients who regularly floss and those who don’t. The dentists, experts in their field, will tell you that when patients floss properly, flossing works well, including contributing to better oral health. (So I’m still proud that I’ve flossed at least once a day since Dec. 19, 2011.)

In the work world, there are similar processes that work well, yet we don’t have results from definitive research studies at our fingertips to prove it.

Two great examples are preparing meeting agendas and using meeting ground rules.

These two useful tools are absent from so many meetings. When I ask why – especially when individuals complain about their awful, inefficient meetings that don’t get the results they need, I get lots of excuses.

Meeting leaders tell me they don’t see the benefits, especially compared to the time it takes to prepare; they find it too hard to do, or whatever.

Yet experts – namely those of us who have spent more than 10,000 hours in meetings – can speak to the value of the habit of agendas and ground rules.

These tools get everyone on the same page, improving outcomes, including better decisions; reducing the time spent meeting; and increasing satisfaction among participants.

But just because I and others love agendas and meeting ground rules doesn’t mean you should adopt them as habits this year.

Until you learn the skill of building habits, you need to focus on things you want to do, not should do.

And if you have any questions, take a moment to query experts, including me. We experts may be under attack on a number of fronts. Yet, we can still be helpful – especially on subjects we’re passionate about, such as habits.

Happy New Year! And good luck with your 2017 improvement plans!

How to be intentional and trigger good behavior

by Liz Guthridge on December 19, 2016 · 1 comment

Who needs another morning chore, especially when you’re already feeling rushed getting out the door and to the office?  

But if you’re a parent with a child who’s hooked on Elf on the Shelf, you’re expected to find a new perch for the Elf each morning.

That way, the elf can watch the child (or children) from a new vantage point. Then after bedtime, the Elf flies to the North Pole to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures so Santa can better manage his naughty and nice lists.

How does a busy parent manage this responsibility reliably?

By creating a short-term habit so you can dependably move the elf every morning through Christmas Day.

Five years ago this week I learned the skill of building habits when I experienced Tiny Habits®  for the first time with the psychologist Dr. BJ Fogg.

Since then, I’ve been practicing and studying habits, especially the neuroscience behind them.

In fact, for my research project for my NeuroLeadership program, I immersed myself in the science of habits, including how to master habits by taking advantage of the brain’s plasticity. (For more on this, see Plastics. Brain benefits, present to future.)

As background, habits are a set of behaviors that we do so regularly that they become automatic and repetitive. According to the researcher Wendy Wood and others, about 40% of our day-to-day activities are habits.

Research also shows that most of us fall into daily habits, though, some good, some bad and some in-between.

However, if you intentionally adopt new positive behaviors, you improve your ability to turn these actions into dependable good habits. They then can serve as a springboard for more positive behavior change.

The skill of learning how to build good habits comes into play here.

To show how this works, let’s take the challenge that one of my clients has of moving the Elf on the Shelf to a new location each morning.

You want to make the task as easy as possible to remember and do. That way you don’t have to rely on willpower, motivation, or extra effort. You just do it!

You look for a trigger—something you’re already doing that you can use to remind you to do the new task.

For example, my client told me she opens her window blinds immediately after she gets up in the morning so her indoor plants will get natural light.

The opening of the window blinds is now her trigger to delight her son. After she opens the window blinds, she next goes to find the Elf and move him to a new location where he’ll be waiting for her son when he gets up.

While this tiny habit may sound trivial, it’s a huge help to my client and her son. It adds minimal time to her morning routine. It reduces her stress. It both pleases and reassures her son.

That’s one of the many reasons why I advocate the value of habits and help clients and others learn how to take control and build positive habits.

Back in December 2011 when I signed up for Dr. BJ Fogg’s free Tiny Habits® online program, he had just started it.

Five years later, more than 40,000 of us have “graduated” from the program, and the results continue to be life transforming for many of us. Check out Take tiny steps to make big changes for more about my experiences with Tiny Habits®.

Thank you, BJ, for developing this dynamite, dynamic way to learn how to build habits and introduce positive change more easily in your life.

Meanwhile, if you have an idea about a positive change that you would intentionally like to make, either consider signing up for Tiny Habits® or contacting me for help. Now is as good a time as any.

Happy holidays!

5 favorite new books on influence, empathy, and growth

by Liz Guthridge on December 13, 2016 · 0 comments

Want to encourage someone to do something?  

You’ve got to figure out the best way and time to influence them.  

It also helps to be empathetic and vulnerable, as well as make it easy for them to take action.  

And if it’s been a while since you connected with them, they first need to even remember their encounter with you and your message.    

These are the themes of the most helpful business books I read during 2016 – all backed by science.  

Here are my five favorites in no particular order. Like last year, the list is intentionally short to avoid overtaxing your working memory and causing you overwhelm.

  • The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results by Bob Nease. The “fifty bits” refers to the brain’s bandwidth limitations for conscious thoughts. Each second, the brain processes about 10 million bits of information. However, the pre-frontal cortex (also called the executive function), which directs our conscious thinking and acting, can only process about 50 bits per second of these 10 million bits. The other 99.99995 percent of our bandwidth is allocated to our unconsciousness. This limitation is largely responsible for the gap between what you want to do ─ if you can pay attention long enough ─ and what you actually do. In other words, we’re wired for “inattention and inertia,” which makes it difficult to spur ourselves into action. “Fifty bits design” is a type of behavior design that helps people do things they already want to do. (Fifty Bits has become one of my favorite “go-to” books. See my blog post  Focus on Inattention and Inertia to Initiate Action.)
  • Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions by Carmen Simon. Using the latest research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, the author, who holds doctorates in both cognitive psychology and instructional design, has written both an enlightening and practical book about prospective memory. Recognizing that we have trouble paying attention and remembering things (Yes, we’re wired for inattention and inertia), she describes how to make the most of a difficult situation, especially from a communication perspective. She provides tips on how to influence what other people remember so they can turn their good intentions into actions that help them and ideally benefit you too.
  • An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. The co-authors of Immunity to Change and How the Way We Talk Can Change the WayWe Work propose a radical new way to unleash your company’s potential. In their newest book, they advocate doing away with everyone’s “second job,” which entails covering up your weaknesses, trying to look your best, and managing how others think of you. The book features three companies that have already adopted this approach. The authors discuss theprinciples, concrete practices, and the underlying science of these “DDO’s” – deliberately developmental organizations.  It’s a whole new way of being at work, and a much healthier and productive one.

 What are your favorite business-related books from this past year?  

 And what do you now have on your reading list? Please tell!