Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

Managing Up

Monday, August 4th, 2014

I’m almost finished with Stanford Manager Academy, a professional development program for managers at the university. Interestingly, many of our conversations during the classroom sessions commonly found their way to the topic of strategies around managing up – it’s an area where people find themselves at a loss and where work gets roadblocked.

Many definitions exist for managing up, and I like the one from Alison Green, the prolific mind behind Ask a Manager. She states that “managing up is about…working with your boss in the way that will produce the best possible results for your team, while at the same time making both your and your manager’s lives easier.”

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve recently run across in this area; a couple of my supervisors have let me know they appreciate my ability to manage up and it’s taken me awhile to fully grasp what that means.

Stanford Webinar: Managing Your Boss

If you work at Stanford, Learning & Organizational Effectiveness offers a free webinar on Managing Your Boss. Don’t let the 1990s appearance of the course fool you – the program is self-paced and has some gems in it. Particularly if you’re new to the workplace or figuring out why your manager seems to ask you about particular things with frequency – this webinar is for you! What I liked most was the concept of thinking about your supervisor’s communication style and how that should feed into your relationship approach – especially if the two of you fall into different categories.

Six Key Principles of Managing Up

Alison Green wrote this piece in Intuit’s The Fast Track blog centered on the following ideas:

  • Focus on what’s within your control.
  • Get aligned.
  • Make your manager’s job easy.
  • Pay attention to what your manager really cares about.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be emotionally intelligent.

Earlier in my career, I used to get incredibly frustrated when my supervisor continued to bring up something that seemed resolved to me. Now I’ve learned that means I haven’t closed the loop or made her feel comfortable enough that we can move forward. Overall, your relationship gets better when you try to see the world from your manager’s perspective and see how you can fit into their bigger picture.

How to Get Your Boss to Read Your Emails

Of course, sometimes you’re not focused on ongoing frustrations, and you simply want your boss to respond to an e-mail or deadline. Alison focused a short blog on how to get a good response – tips that can help you when you’re trying to get a reply from anyone, really.

In my job, I work with incredibly busy Stanford faculty and have 3 main principles for my e-mail correspondence with them:

  • Use obvious and action-oriented subject lines. For example: “Seattle: your availability for faculty meeting” and “Reunion CWOQ: your talk information” For co-workers, I always add “FYI:” in front of the subject line to let people know there isn’t an action item associated.
  • Make it easy to reply. If you are attaching a document, why not include it in the body of the e-mail? If you are going to a survey client with 1-2 questions, allow the respondent to reply with their answers in an e-mail. Sometimes it’s more work on your part, but you’re also more likely to get your answer. If you need a decision, have you clearly delineated each option? Also, always include a deadline!
  • Try to limit your e-mail to one request.  This is just good common sense in a world of short e-mails. I don’t always practice what I preach out of necessity, but when you really need particular information by a certain deadline, focusing on one thing will increase your chance of getting a reply.

Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life

I’m currently in the middle of a great book by Patty Azzarello. On the subject of managing up, she focused on thinking about how your manager represents you to senior leadership. A lot of her concrete ideas are in the LOOK Better portion of her book around building credibility. She reminds you that doing good work isn’t always what moves you forward in the organization (especially if no one truly grasps your contribution!)

One of my big takeaways was around presenting to senior leadership. If you’re introducing a lot of new terminology and ideas, as opposed to speaking in their language around existing priorities, you aren’t communicating what they understand as core organizational values and business.

In GoodReads, you can find this book on my Working Smart shelf.

I hope these ideas get the gears turning in this area. I can’t emphasize enough how important this skill is – and the best part is that managing up isn’t only about making your manager’s life easier. When you do it right, it produces great benefits for you in the relationship (happiness and career trajectory), as well as your whole team.

summertime is great for reflection

Friday, June 13th, 2014

50 waysI found this great tool online around where you are in your job search. The title is a bit misleading, since I think the exercise of thinking about some of these questions isn’t just for people on the market, but for anyone wanting to take a moment to reflect upon where you are and where you’re going. That’s not an easy place for me to go. I’m constantly into self-improvement and thinking about what I want to grow, but not always about fixating on a goal ahead – my tendency is to stay in the day-to-day.

I suggest you explore the site, 50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good. It reads like there is a path from starting to happy (who wouldn’t want to get there?)…yet, it’s easy to pick a square and see where it leads you.

I haven’t gone through them all, but some of my favorite rectangles include:

I think Friday’s a good day for you to start playing around with it, so get going!

on likeability and having a yes attitude

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Regular readers of my blog might be surprised to see the word yes, since in a past post, I focused on saying no. It’s a reminder that there’s always a time and a place for everything! I came across two of these articles by Guy Kawasaki in the same week, so I knew it meant that I needed to cover the topic.

First, he focused on how to achieve likeability – mostly on accepting others and smiling. He starts with an Oscar Wilde quote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” 

I met one of these happiness causers during my Stanford interview more than 8 years ago and we remain good friends to this day. If you work at Stanford, you might know who I’m talking about – NaSun Cho. When I first moved to California, I didn’t know many people. NaSun is known for taking new people under her wing and making introductions and connections to everyone she comes across. She embodies this idea of accepting others, always bringing out the best in people and finding commonalities. I’m glad we’ve remained close, as she’s a constant reminder of how that positive energy feels infectious.

I like to think of this idea as expecting the best from people. If a colleague misses a deadline, doesn’t return a phone call, doesn’t understand what you’re requesting from him/her…the best response is always to expect the best from your team. That moment where you choose how to respond to a misstep is very important in building relationships. We all have bad days and each of us makes a choice on how to respond in various situations, let’s make the choice to be positive.

Smiling is a no-brainer for me. I’m lucky because I tend to smile a lot when I’m nervous, uncertain, etc – it basically covers my bases!

In my organization, the yes attitude certainly means you’re more liked and perceived as someone willing to partner on new ideas and it signals you’re a team player. We’re a matrix organization and it’s easy to put up walls or act defensively as a default during times when you’re short on resources or the scope of an idea feels overwhelming.

I wouldn’t call myself a yes lady, but I strive to embody the idea of “yes, tell me more.” Of course, I can be cautious in the beginning, but when it comes to action, I try to maintain a positive attitude and not say no from the beginning. If you keep saying no, people will stop coming to you with ideas.

In his LinkedIn post on a Yes Attitude, Guy Kawasaki notes that, “A “yes” buys time, enables you to see more options, and builds rapport….By contrast, a “no” response stops everything. There’s no place to go, nothing to build on, and no further options. You never know what may come of a relationship, and you will never know if you don’t let it begin.”

So let’s all try to say “yes” more often this week.

consider a meeting checklist

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which focuses on creating and implementing medical checklists for surgical procedures to increase success rates. It’s interesting timing since this week I attended a training on Leading Effective Meetings, essentially based around a checklist.

Although not life-saving, the meeting checklist is certainly time-saving – for yourself, your colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Here it is in full:


  • Do I really need to call a meeting?
  • Am I clear on the purpose of the meeting?
  • Have I thought through who needs to be there?
  • Have I considered the best time, place and other logistics?
  • Do I have a clear agenda?
  • Have I sent out effective meeting notifications?
  • Have I planned how I will lead the meeting step-by-step?
  • Have I planned how I will manage meeting “derailers?”


  • Am I following my step-by-step meeting plan?
  • Am I managing “derailers” to keep the meeting on track and on-time?
  •  Are decisions, action items and open issues being documented?


  • Have minutes been distributed?
  • Have I followed up on my own commitments to meeting members?

Now that you have a snapshot of the meeting checklist, I’ll comment on a few relevant to my experience at Stanford. In the training, our facilitator stated that the average worker is in meetings 5.5 hours per week, so poorly run meetings can be a huge wasted expense for companies in terms of salary. I’ve time tracked an average work week for myself and I can be in meetings between 10-20 hours, depending on the time of year. I know you are now wondering how I get anything done, but let’s move onto some tips…

Thinking about the purpose of your meeting is so important.

It’s easy to be complacent and continue to attend standing meetings without wondering if they are still effective or why they exist. When I get invited to random meetings and I’m not sure why I’m there, I don’t hesitate to go back to the meeting organizer to find out the purpose. As an aside, how much time do you actually need for it? I have a regular meeting for reunions I attend, and I find we expand to fill the time allotted. Sometimes our 30 minute meetings feel much more focused and useful.

Who need to be there?

Have you ever attended a meeting and the clear decision maker is late or not present? It’s such a frustrating experience because the group can go nowhere without basic information from this key person…and it essentially leads to another meeting. It’s important to make sure that key stakeholders/decision makers are present for particular meetings. And if you have someone in the room just as an FYI, let him/her know it’s optional. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want an hour back.

Did you plan the meeting?

If I’m running a meeting, you had better believe that I put 10-45 minutes into planning that time wisely. A one-hour meeting with 6 people is 6 hours of organizational time. It’s worth the investment to consider your goals and it’s respectful to your colleagues’ time. It’s obvious to most people in the room when the meeting organizer hasn’t brought an agenda or clear outcomes to the table, and also frustrating.

Meeting Minutes

My two cents on minutes is that they are essential for project meetings and not in a long form. Honestly, if someone sends you two pages of notes, are you going to read them? And…if it’s an attachment and not in the body of the e-mail, forget about it – that’s an extra click! The best kinds of minutes come out within 48 hours and just include bulleted lists of decisions, topics discussed (overall) and action items with the assigned person. They shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to type up, and brevity increased the chances that your meeting attendees will actually read them.

Follow up

After a meeting takes place, when I see co-workers actually follow up on their action items, that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace. It shouldn’t be impressive since that’s our job, but nowadays with overflowing work plates, getting deliverables to colleagues before a deadline can be a rarity. I usually have a side column on my agenda with my to dos. Some of those are from the meeting and others are just items that pop into my head when I’m in the room. At the end of the day, I make sure to tackle those items, add it to my calendar to block out time to work on it or write it down on my primary task list so it doesn’t fall off my radar.

Final thoughts

I talk a lot about meetings (since I’m in them all of the time!) It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually think they can be highly productive and brainstorming meetings are especially fun. I do get frustrated when lack of planning or purpose wastes the time and talents of people in the room. It’s great practice to scan over this checklist – especially when running large meetings – so we can all grow to love them a little bit more.

the lost arts of closing the loop, saying i’m sorry, handwritten notes and sleep

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Lostclearly, it’s been awhile since my last post, so with that, i thought i’d focus on lost arts in the professional world.

closing the loop

i’m not sure where this has gone, but i find that an inordinate amount of time is spent in short back and forth e-mail conversations, because someone has left something out. for instance, you run into someone in the hallways who says, we should have lunch some time. if you say yes and s/he emails you asking if you want to grab lunch, it’s not closing the loop if s/he doesn’t throw out some dates that work so you have a starting point. that’s a pretty simplistic situation and answer, but it’s worth thinking about when you need something at work, how you are approaching it that helps close the loop. that’s just being a solid project manager.

read more: What Great Bosses Know About Closing the Loop

apologize when it’s important

acknowledging a problem at work is vital. it helps build trust in relationships, can red flag a problem before it gets too late and builds a communication pipeline. if you know you’re going to miss a deadline or truly messed up on the job, calling it out shows maturity and the acceptance of responsibility. pretending like there’s something wrong or making excuses for yourself is not want people need from you in a professional environment. saying “i’m sorry” can feel like a difficult task, but it’s really quite easy. you are vulnerable for about 2.5 seconds and most colleagues will respond positively to your admission.

read more: The Most Effective Ways to Make It Right When You Screw Up

sleep! really, you need 7-8 hours

i’m not sure that i’ll ever be a morning person or get to bed before midnight – it’s just how i’m wired. at the same time, i am surrounded by highly productive morning people, and many of these strategies work for them. we’re all more productive and pleasant to be around when we’re getting enough shuteye on a day to day basis. there are some great tips to help you jump start your day or move towards being a morning person in this lifehacker piece. my favorite is the last one: J.F.D.I. (click through to find out what that means)

read more: Why You’re Not a Morning Person (and How to Become One)

the importance of handwritten notes

i really don’t believe in using a lot of paper at work and try not to keep files, since everything should be saved on shared drives or scanned so we don’t have paper accumulating in our offices. despite that fact, i firmly believe in the handwritten note. i personally hand-write all faculty thank yous for stanford events where professors speak on behalf of the university. even if it’s something quickly discarded, a handwritten note these days is a gesture of the thought and time you put into considering that person. i wouldn’t hand write something when i’m expecting a response, since that puts a burden on the letter receiver to go out of his/her way – if you want a reply, e-mail away.

read more: Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever. 

E-mail by consensus? Avoid Reply All

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a great opinion piece last month, Radical Academic Advice: Think Before Hitting “Reply All.” When it’s not the best method, this happens to be one of my office pet peeves. I mean, didn’t we all learn from #replyallcalypse last year?

Some tips I would offer up, especially in this age where we deal with hundreds of e-mails a day:

  • Are you actually trying to make a decision using reply all over e-mail? If so, do you think this is the most effective method?
  • If you don’t want people to reply all, explicitly mention that s/he should only reply to you.
  • If you simply want to notify someone, BCC instead.
  • Do you want feedback from everyone on the e-mail? Sometimes I’m copied on e-mails asking if anyone sees errors and it’s unclear if you should reply if it’s approved. It can be more effective to send to 8 people and add something like, “If you have any changes, please send them to so-and-so by March 8 at noon, or otherwise, I’ll consider this copy final.”

I’m not sure that there’s a way to stop the madness of replying all. I am on a small listserv for a staff organization board of about 30 or so people. I noticed that in asking for RSVPs, everyone was constantly replying all. One e-mail was sent and I would suddenly have 15 pointless e-mails in my inbox. Instead of hitting delete, I first contacted the list administrator to see if that was the listserv setting. It turns out that wasn’t the problem, and I simply sent a polite e-mail to all asking folks to only reply to the sender. The behavior immediately stopped and hasn’t started up again, which was a huge success in my book. It was just a bad habit that people weren’t thinking about.

And I’ll leave you all with that note for all work matters in general. Working smart is about promoting best practices across the workplace, and a big part of that is providing feedback when a collective behavior isn’t working. Seize the day and take the time to make the workplace better for everyone!

This holiday season, let’s be less distracted.

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Smart phones have taken over our lives. I recognize it on a daily basis and when I came across Please Stow All Electronic Devices in The Chronicle of Higher Education, I knew this was going to be the subject of my next blog post.

It’s common to see couples on a date at a restaurant staring at their phones instead of each other…on vacation and at performances, the audience is more concerned with documenting their experience than actually experiencing it, and this behavior carries into the workplace. Especially if I’m in a meeting with five or more people, chances are that someone is on their laptop or phone, as opposed to paying attention to the meeting. It wastes everyone else’s time in that room.

What all of this means for humanity is that feeling focused and present is harder than ever these days. For the holiday season, give yourself the gift of increased presence in your life. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, as opposed to focusing on the next thing ahead.

Yoga helps me with continued practice, since instructors consistently bring you back to breathing and focused on what’s happening on the mat.

Currently, I’m reading Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct. Although she concentrates on how to cultivate willpower in your life, she spends a chapter on dopamine and the promise of reward, which I found fascinating.

In this chapter, she chronicles how we spend more time on the promise of happiness instead of the direct experience of happiness. We’d rather play the lottery instead of getting a sure amount of money; we’ll eat fatty and sugary foods that make us feel bad later, we’re always on Facebook checking updates – even when we’re currently with a group of friends and we respond to buy-one-get-one sales even when we don’t really want what we’re buying. Instead of being present, we’re focused on that feeling of trying to attain something greater. This ultimately means we feel unsatisfied.

McGonigal offers several exercises to help us figure out what does actually make us happy, and in her book, states, “according to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby.”

I offer up her advice in helping us all get re-centered and focused on what matters to us most in life – ultimately, that’s what the holidays are really all about. When we are fully present with one other, everyone benefits from the attention.

Saying Yes and No in Your Life

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

What better time than elections to focus on what kind of agency we all have in our lives. More and more it seems like everyone feels inundated with work and overwhelmed by all of the details that go into living our daily lives. On some level, I think this is true. On another level, it’s a mix of first world problems and the inability to gain perspective about how much control we actually have over our own existence. We all make choices and those decisions lead into what makes our days what they are. I urge you all to recognize that you have power over your life and you can make changes…pretty easily, actually.

It starts with saying no to some things. Just take quick stock of some of the regular time sucks in your life that you aren’t getting rewards from and figure out a solution to getting your time back. I recently came across a short piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Saying Goodbye to What’s No Longer Working, even when it seems like a fun or regular thing.  As my job has moved over to alumni education responsibilities, I felt this anxiety about how some of my previous duties don’t really have coverage at this moment while we’re staffing up. When I decided to just stop attending those meetings, it was a relief. Although someone will need to make sure those areas get covered, ultimately, it’s not my responsibility, and letting go of that weight on my shoulders felt like a relief.

It’s not really fun to say no, but often it’s necessary. Your time is valuable and so are you!

It feels amazing to say yes. I love being able to help out co-workers and now that I’ve been here for awhile, many colleagues across the university still reach out to me as a resource or for advice on various things. Although this can be seen as a burden or time suck, I carve out time for it, because it feels like such a reward to me.

Check out The Huffington Posts’s piece on Be Loved: How to Get More Love in Your Life. The short synopsis is to do the following to get more love coming your way:

  • Sleep!
  • Stay inspired and creative
  • Find calmness in yourself
  • Let go and indulge in play

I think these suggestions ring pretty true. I’m hit or miss on the sleep part. I definitely stay inspired and creative. I feed my brain by reading so many books and always keep the arts in my life with dance performances and museums. Yoga helps with the calmness. Yesterday, my instructor and friend noted that it’s simple to find calmness in a dark room, wearing comfortable clothes on a mat, but we should stretch to bring that regularly into our day. And I could probably play more…who couldn’t?

I’ll leave you on that note and hope you take some time to empower yourself with agency in your life. If you’re not feeling fulfilled, make some changes!

The Six People You Need in Your Life

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

This blog is a long time coming, as I’ve been in the weeds at work. If you find yourself visiting this page to see if I’ve written something new, did you know you can subscribe to e-mail updates when there’s a new post? Just enter your e-mail address on the right hand side.

Last month, I saw this great piece in Forbes, reminding me that you can’t get anything done alone in the workplace. It’s all about finding the right people to help you stay motivated, happy and successful in your job.

This photo represents the instigator. That’s the person I strive to be, as it’s more aspirational and forward-thinking. For most people, I probably fall into the category as the taskmaster, since I manage so many projects around the Alumni Association.

I think it’s an interesting exercise to go through the list and  first consider how your co-workers might see you, especially looking at how that relates to who you think you represent in the office. Beyond that, go through the list and see if you have your bases covered for these office advocates.

  • Instigator
  • Cheerleader
  • Doubter
  • Taskmaster
  • Connector
  • Example

For myself, I think I’m missing a good connector in my work life. Anyone want to volunteer to help me out? Otherwise, I feel like I have a strong base of people that keep me energized and focused around here.

This is your brain on vacation

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I have 2 more days in the office until I’m on vacation. 4 days off and 6 days of fun in total.

I’m glad before I left, this article on Vacation Sabotage got my attention with the line, “Before I go on vacation, even for a week, I prepare as though I’m headed to the coroner. I empty the in-box, clean the piles on the desk, put away all the laundry, dust.” Matt Richtel notes that we arm ourselves for vacation as if we’re preparing to die.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but I’ve always found that the language co-workers use around vacation is a bit troubling. You hear about how stressed the week beforehand is as the person gets her affairs in order. The week of it, there’s talk about checking e-mail and the mounting load of work. Upon return, more than the memories of the trip, it’s all about the 100s of e-mails to pore through.

Why do we allow ourselves to get into this mental trap? I certainly argue that’s what it is. I like how this article identifies that we do it to ourselves. When you’re gone for 3 days, it’s not such a big deal, but adding a couple more seems to change that for some reason. I think the magical thing about vacation is when you return, processing e-mail is 10x faster than normal. Many requests have already been handled by colleagues and others are just pointless or past relevance.

So starting Saturday during my time off, I’ll take my own advice and truly get away. There will be no “cubicle in my pocket” and I won’t be thinking about my desk or my projects. Thinking from afar is never productive; it doesn’t get things done.

Even when not on vacation, I challenge you all to change your relationship with your device and not let your smartphones tempt you into working whenever you have a spare moment in line or standing around. Instead take a deep breath and remember what it was like to be bored. Remember those days, when we didn’t feel like we had to be doing something every second of the day?