Atherton Training Consultants Ltd
Useful tips for managers and others
Aircraft maintenance engineers alleged replies (in italics) to fault reports left by pilots (first statement):
Sorry this letter is so long, I didn't have time to write a shorter one
That statement is normally attributed to Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw. Apologising for writing a long letter because of shortage of time sounds crazy. But it's true, it is harder and more time consuming to write well than to write poorly. Too often, time pressures mean that we do not check our written documents carefully or edit them properly.
Editing is essentially good customer service. It should have three objectives: 1. making things clear - often by using simpler words; 2. making things concise - by removing unnecessary words; and 3. making things correct - by getting the grammar, spelling and punctuation right.
Think of all those reports and proposals you've read which have bored you to death. A little time spent shortening and polishing your writing will help to turn rough diamonds into sparkling gems.
Count the number of times the letter 'F' occurs in the following sentence
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS
So, how many F's did you count? Most good readers see only three, whereas there are actually six. They miss the three of's. Why? The answer seems to lie in the fact that as good readers we skim read much of the time. We take short words like of for granted whereas we give a little more attention to longer, less common words.
There is a clear lesson here about the need for proofreading our documents. Editing is not proofreading. Editing is mainly about improving and shortening the writing - making sure the meaning is clear. Proofreading is more about checking the typing, layout, fonts, etc. Most writers ignore proofreading, sometimes to their cost.
Acknowledgement: Reading example from - Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? New Scientist, Profile Books, 2006.
Please Bare with Me
Poor English in emails
Hello, how are you toady? What do u think. Does it realy matter if your speling, punctation and grammer is poor if e--mails? i no u asked me that but please bare with me n i'll get back 2 you.
Does that sort of writing make you cringe, or do you see it as just about okay in an email and perfectly normal in a text message? A common reaction in business circles to such poor English in emails is that if writers can't be bothered to get it right, can I trust them to give the necessary attention to detail when doing the job? It's not necessarily a logical reaction but it is a common one.
And the person who thought he had been addressed as 'toady' (misspelt 'today') was very annoyed.
Nine and ten, and 10 and 11
I was running a course on report writing when several delegates questioned their own organisation's guidelines on how to write numbers. There are many points in written English over which people can quite legitimately disagree and how to write numbers is one of them.
Most corporate style guides suggest normally writing the numbers one to nine (some choose ten) as words and writing numbers 11, 12 and upwards as figures. If you have two or more of each type close together, then most style guides suggest writing both as figures. So I would write, the children were aged 4 and 14, rather then, four and 14. It just looks better.
Other common exceptions include using words for any number that starts a sentence - Forty-four illegal immigrants were found... and using figures for any page numbers, references, percentages, money and so on: page 3, Ref 5, 8% and £3.50. Common sense prevails.
Me and Myself
The very term 'reflexive pronoun' is a turn off, isn't it? It's got a sort of scholarly, almost exam-like, ring to it. Yet, misusing reflexive pronouns in business writing can be very noticeable, even if you can't say what they are. Misuse can irritate some people. Thankfully, we don't need a lot of grammar to get them right.
Ordinary pronouns are used to replace nouns. They save repetition; I can say he instead of Peter, or it instead of the report. A reflexive pronoun is one that refers back to someone or something already mentioned, such as I did it myself, He said it himself. They are often used for emphasis.
Misused they lead to silly, but unfortunately quite common, mistakes. Please return completed forms to myself was one I saw recently. The writer was asking others to return the forms to him, he was not returning them to himself. So it should have been Please return completed forms to me. On the other hand, myself would have been correct if he was collecting the forms, I will collect the forms myself. Reflexive pronouns include: myself, yourself, himself, herself, etc.
To boldly go...
Are there grammatical terms that you have heard about but are not quite sure what they mean, let alone if they matter in this day and age?
In English, the infinitive (the basic part of a verb) always consists of two words: to and the rest of the verb - to go, to walk, to ride, etc. English is unusual in this respect. For example, in French to go is aller, one word. Splitting the infinitive is simply putting another word between the two, such as in Star Trek's to boldly go.
At one time, many people regarded this as bad grammar, a sign of illiteracy and the end of civilisation. Today in business writing we stress that the purpose is to get the correct meaning across to the reader as quickly as possible without worrying much about split infinitives and the like. General advice is to avoid them if you notice them but not at the expense of having a convoluted sentence.
Starting a Sentence with And
And so it came to pass...
This is a hoary old chestnut. Can you start a sentence with the word And?
The simple answer is 'Yes!' There is nothing in English grammar to prevent you from starting a sentence with the word And. And it has been used in that way in English literature for many centuries. And if you look carefully at what you read in books, magazines and newspapers you will see it is used that way today by professional writers. So what is the fuss?
The fuss, I guess, lies in two issues. First, it is used too often in a sloppy way when there is no need for it, and second, many of us were taught at school not to do so - probably to try to prevent sloppy writing. Its main use should be to show that this sentence emphasises or extends what went before. Personally, I would normally avoid it in business writing. Why? Because (there's another word people argue about) it's usually unnecessary and many readers might wince when they see it.
Clichés in Business Writing (Again)
Clichés are hackneyed phrases that are commonly used with little thought and often inappropriately, such as conspicuous by its absence, grind to a halt, at this moment in time and so on. Used well, clichés add interest and vitality to writing, but far too often they are a boring substitute for real thought. There are rather a lot of them in business writing, especially in letters and emails. Consider some of the following - and others - and ask yourself if you overuse them.
A can of worms, agree to disagree, active consideration, acid test, all things considered, as a matter of fact, at a loss for words, attached hereto, back to the drawing board, bite the bullet, bottom line, confirming our conversation, do not hesitate to ask, enclosed herewith, exception that proves the rule, eyeball to eyeball, feedback loop, fine tune our plans, give the green light to, in the nick of time, in the same boat, irreducible minimum, last but not least, leave no stone unturned, left up in the air, matter of life and death, method in his madness, more than meets the eye, open secret, own worst enemy, part and parcel, pie in the sky, play it by ear, play hardball, sadder but wiser, please find enclosed, selling like hot cakes, shot in the arm, stick to your guns, thanking you in advance, tough it out, tower of strength.
There are many more! Clichés can add interest to writing if used carefully and in moderation. Try not to use them indiscriminately.
Negotiation Skills Tips
Having an alternative - a negotiating tactic
Is there any single factor in negotiations that could be described as the most important one of all? If any has such universal importance then it is the ability to walk away from the deal. As a buyer, if I can easily get this product or service elsewhere then I am in a strong position. But, as a seller, if my product or service is unique then you have nowhere else to go and I am in charge. Look at the opposite case: if I must have this deal then I have an inherent weakness that may take some hiding. Of course, not many services or products are truly unique. There is nearly always competition. Nevertheless, sellers will usually try to show uniqueness whereas buyers will insist that they can buy elsewhere, even if they don't want to.
To establish uniqueness, sellers often need to bring things other than the product into the equation; things like their relationship with you, their company's reputation, service and so on. Occasionally a product becomes iconic. Why is the Apple iPod such a success story whilst similar products are not? You can think of several reasons and its apparent 'uniqueness' will be one of them.
Making Offers Conditional
If you will... then I will...
This tip is included in all my negotiation courses. All of us find ourselves in positions where we are trying to influence others, haggle or negotiate with them. Often this is very informal during conversations or at meetings, or the setting may be a more formal negotiation. The Tip - something that is not used as often as it could be: Make your offers conditional.
In other words, if someone wants you to do something for them - stop and think to see if there is something (however large or small) you might ask for in return. Naturally, you will not want to do this on every occasion but there will be many times in meetings or in negotiations when perhaps you should. Worth thinking about? If you will do this for me then I will do that for you!
In the Dragons’ Den
If you have watched the BBC programme Dragons' Den you will have noticed the very different ways in which the average Bidder and the Dragons make their proposals. Every day we make offers at work, usually we call them suggestions or ideas but many are proposals nevertheless.
So what's the secret of making a good proposal, whether it is simply an idea put to a colleague or a formal proposal made in a big negotiation?
1. Lay the groundwork first, explain then propose.
2. Be very clear, in your own mind, what you are proposing.
3. State the proposal clearly without stumbling, hesitating or waffling.
4. Avoid justifying or explaining it - you did that in the groundwork.
5. Wait for the response; silence can push the other person into a response that you can then deal with.
A lot more can be said on this vital negotiating skill - but watch how the Dragons do it and take from them the tips you like - and discard the ones you don't!
The Either-Or Tactic
A useful negotiating tactic
This is a negotiating tactic that tries to reduce the other party's options by restricting them to a choice: either this or that. On a negative note, it might be used against you to prevent you exploring other possibilities. On a positive note, it can open up a discussion when negotiations are getting a bit stuck. Offering a choice at least gives you both something to discuss. If they are not keen on either of your options you can ask which is better and why, what they like and not like about them, so gaining information. That can lead to a changed offer that meets both their needs and yours better.
It’s even used in the High Street. Buy two, get one free simply means either buy one at list price or buy three and get a big discount. In commercial negotiations, just as in the High Street, it can be used to try to restrict your chance to bargain: either buy now and get a discount or buy later at full price (typical double-glazing sales) – our offer is so good you should bite our hand off.
Parents have used it for generations: Either behave or go to bed! With different wording (preferably), line managers use it with staff: Would you prefer to work late tonight or tomorrow?
Bear it in mind next time any negotiation does not seem to be going anywhere. Restrict their options and see where it leads.
The Russian Front
A variation on the Either-Or negotiating technique
We have described the common negotiating tactic known as Either-Or in which one party tries to restrict the other party to a straight choice – either this or that. It can also be a useful tactic to open up discussion along the lines of, "Which would you prefer and why?" This can lead to a solution that’s better for both parties.
The Russian Front is a strong-arm variation of that tactic that you may need to recognise and deal with. In the Russian Front, one of the choices is deliberately chosen to be so unattractive that you feel forced to choose the other. No choice at all, really. It is named after the choice of postings that some German soldiers faced in WW2.
Defend against it by finding other options. Perhaps explore and modify the other choice until it is more to your liking, or make your own counter-offer. Whatever you do, don’t be bullied into grabbing their alternative to the Russian Front.
Negotiating in Teams
The power of two!
Most business negotiations are conducted by individuals working alone: sellers, buyers, etc. However, there are advantages if you can operate as a team of two. Obviously, even bigger teams are needed for large-scale negotiations.
When operating as a team of two the basic roles are the leader and supporter. The leader conducts the negotiation, makes and answers proposals and counter-proposals, answers questions and, if necessary, asks for adjournments. So what is left for the supporter to do?
Supporters can perform a number of roles. First, they should keep track of all the toing and froing that can happen in a negotiation. Sometimes this can be quite complex. Second, they should provide occasional neutral summaries of 'where we are now' to help both parties. These objective summaries - avoid point scoring - can be invaluable. And third, they can occasionally take some pressure off the leader when he or she needs some breathing space, some time to think, perhaps by asking pre-arranged questions or by volunteering a summary. All in all, it's a valuable role that can help you gain a little more from your negotiations.
The Iran Hostage Crisis
A model negotiation?
What did you make of the negotiating during the crisis when 15 British naval and marine personnel were held hostage by Iran? I'm sure many people have been tasked with analysing all that happened and identifying the lessons to be learned. At the risk of rushing in where angels fear to tread - on the basis that we don't know the full story - here are my thoughts, looking at it from a negotiating viewpoint.
Agreement when Negotiating
Agreeing what has been agreed
Never mind business negotiating, how many times have you agreed something with someone and then one of you has got a bit muddled about it. Did we say we'd meet outside M&S or was it Next? Did we say three o'clock or four? I got a kindly phone call from my optician earlier today to remind me of an appointment tomorrow at 3.15pm. Except I have their appointment slip - printed directly from their computer - which says it is at 3.05pm. No big deal, but it would be very important in a business agreement if one of us thought the deal was for £305,000 and the other thought it was for £315,000. One of us just might start to wonder if the other had made a genuine mistake or was trying to pull a fast one. Trust is easily lost. A simple solution: make sure that you agree what it is you have agreed!
Finding the Variables
Worth searching for
One of the Golden Rules about negotiating is to find the variables. What are the items in this negotiation that we can change to help make the deal better? In some ways, the more the merrier. You can trade anything you lose on one variable to gain something on another. Good negotiators are always looking for more variables, not just the obvious ones of price, discount, delivery, etc. What other variables are there in your negotiations, even family negotiations?
Suppose one of your children wants to borrow the car. What are the variables? They could include things like the timing - when they have to be back, distance, not driving in the dark, who can be a passenger and so on. But you could become more adventurous: if they wash it, pick you up from the pub tonight, tidy their room, do the shopping and so on - you could have quite a list. There are always more variables. What are yours?
One of the oldest tactics still in use
If you watch the TV programme, The Apprentice, you will have been privileged to see a classic example of one of the oldest and most successful negotiating tactics around. It is usually known as "You'll have to do better than that," but has also been called the "Noah's Ark" because it is as old as that, if not older.
In The Apprentice, a group of three people were trying to sell a service to make, deliver and hand out canapés at an evening event for an international law firm in the City of London. The group leader, who was not present, had done some market research and had instructed his team to get not less than £60 per head. Although they, themselves, believed that to be far too high, they opened at £65. The response was a classic Noah's Ark: "I think you seriously need to rethink that," they were told. And they did. Offering to be more realistic (in other words, yes, we both know I was being silly and just trying it on, it's my team leader's fault really) the seller dropped from his opening £65 right down to £35 per head in one go.
However, the buyer had now learned that if he pushed even gently he would be rewarded with success. He was merely tempted to stonewall again. He shook his head. "No?" asked the seller. "Not in the least," said the buyer.
The price fell to £17.50 but "I'm still unimpressed," said the buyer. They settled on £15 per head, 77% below the original asking price.
What would you think? Have you just won a great deal? Or are you dealing with a shark who should not be trusted an inch? In negotiating, this tactic is popular because it is simple, needs little skill and it tends to work. What should the seller have done: held his ground better, asked what specifically the buyer did not like about the offer, or remodelled his product to suit the new price? Or a combination of all three?
Time Management Tips
Time is Money
The cost of your time
Have you ever tried to work out the cost of your time to your employer? It's more than just what they pay you.
Let's take a round figure, a salary of £10,000 per annum. That £10,000 covers 365 or 366 days, but far fewer work days. You have to take off 104 days for weekends, 8 public holidays and, let's say 26 days annual leave, and that leaves something like 228 working days. That's £43.86 a day or £6.27 per hour assuming an eight-hour day less a one-hour lunch break. That's your pay. Overheads now need to be added and, depending on the nature of the business, they can easily take the total to about £10 per hour.
So you cost your organisation about £10 an hour for every £10,000 of gross salary. Mmm... Better stop reading this and get working!
Make Prime Time
Get time to do the important things
We tend to lead very busy lives at work. The whole week can be tied up doing things for others so that we hardly get time to do the really important things we are supposedly here for. The solution - a simple concept called Prime Time.
Prime Time is a period of an hour or so that you deliberately schedule for doing the things that are truly important. Set aside an hour or so every day, every other day if that seems impossible. Tell others that you are not to be disturbed, divert the phone to a colleague (or answering machine if you must), ignore the emails, lock yourself away and make progress at something approaching twice the speed that you would otherwise achieve.
It can be done and you may find it makes a big difference!
The Pareto or 80/20 Rule
80% of results come from just 20% of causes
Ever felt that life is unfair? It is and Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), an Italian economist, figured it out over 100 years ago (1897 to be precise). Pareto's rule is a truism - things are very lopsided.
Some examples: Probably something like 80% of your turnover comes from around 20% of your customers; 20% of staff cause most of the personnel issues; 80% of crime is committed by a few hard-core criminals. 80/20, 90/20, 80/30 - all are lopsided!
Lessons? Make use of this natural lopsidedness by focussing on the minority of causes that have mega impact. Using the 80/20 is an important part of good personal time management. So, what can you focus on today that will bring unusually big rewards?
The 'C' Drawer
A useful time management technique
We all have lots of 'C tasks' to do, things we 'could do' if we had the time. Some are hardly worth doing and should be ignored; some need doing but can wait.
Unfortunately, they usually wait in your email inbox or on your desk - and both are places you look at many times a day. So they bug you. Possibly they bug you into doing them at the expense of something much more important. So what can we do about them?
One simple and effective answer is to hide them away and take a look at the whole job lot of them every now and again, say once a week such as late on a Friday when you're already thinking of the weekend. Just click and drag email C's to a new folder, your C folder, and put paper C's into a convenient drawer or box - out of sight, out of mind. They won't get lost, they will wait till Friday - and they won't bug you anymore.
Ivy Lee and Charles Schwab
The most profitable lesson I ever learned
If you don't know this story, it's worth reading it because it's a good one.
Sometime in the 1930s, Charles Schwab, then president of Bethlehem Steel in the USA, called in management consultant, Ivy Lee. "Show me a way in which management can get more done in a day," he said. Lee gave him one piece of advice and extracted a promise that everyone would use the advice for some weeks. The fee? "Send me a cheque for what you think it's been worth." A month or so later he got a cheque for $25,000, a very big sum in those days. So what was Lee's advice? (There is a web site that sells this advice today - and asks for a cheque for whatever you think it's been worth after a month! Here you get it for free!)
Each morning, Lee said, write down the most important things you want to do that day. Number them in order of their real importance. Then start work on the first one - and stick with it until it's done. Then do number 2, and then number 3, and so on. Don't worry if you can't do them all in one day, you probably wouldn't even get this far with any other system. (Other things have to fit in wherever they can.)
Over the next 5 years, Schwab built Bethlehem Steel into a hugely successful steel producer and, reportedly, make himself a fortune into the bargain. Later he described the advice as the most profitable lesson he had ever learned. Many have called this the start of the To Do List - and most of us can still learn from this simple bit of advice. Bet you wouldn't grumble if you made $25,000 in a few minutes, would you?
Whilst this true story is now part of management folklore, the earliest account I have seen is in R Alec Mackenzie's book, The Time Trap, published in 1972.
The Tyranny of the Urgent
R Alex Mackenzie, The Time Trap, McGraw Hill, 1972
Do you ever feel rushed off your feet at work? The following is a quote from a classic book on time management published many years ago. It's still good advice.
Urgency engulfs the manager; yet the most urgent task is not always the most important. The tyranny of the urgent lies in its distortion of priorities - its subtle cloaking of minor projects with major status, often under the guise of "crisis." One of the measures of a manager is his ability to distinguish the important from the urgent, to refuse to be tyrannized by the urgent, to refuse to manage by crisis. Strangely, one of the major reasons for the failure to plan is that putting out today's fires is given priority over planning for tomorrow, thus ensuring an ample supply of kindling to be consumed in future fires.
To Do Lists
Best thing since sliced bread
Someone once said, 'A short pencil beats a long memory.' In a way, that captures the essence of a well-planned To Do List or task list, possibly the easiest way there is to improve personal productivity. Like many good ideas it is both simple and effective. But, how can you make this simple idea even more effective. Here's how!
Hardly anyone completes everything on their list; that's not the point. They help you to prioritise and they stop you forgetting things. Only carry forward things that matter.
The Day Book
The other half of the To Do List
Many people use a 'Daybook'. A slightly fancy name for a notebook in which you write all your daily jottings whilst at work (or elsewhere for that matter). It can be any size although, if you're getting serious, A5 or even A4 may be best - whatever is convenient to carry with your diary.
A Daybook gets rid of all those scraps of paper, backs of envelopes and sticky notes that so often pass for being organised. Sticky notes should mainly be used for notes to give to other people; any that you receive could go into your Daybook. Use the book for any jottings you make during the day, except for things that obviously go elsewhere.
To get the best from your Daybook you need to be able to find any note when you need it. To help with this, simply date all the entries and use a simple cross-reference system. For example, let's say that I've taken notes today (14 Nov) of a telephone conversation with Bill Smith and we've scheduled a meeting for, say, 17 January. So, I record the appointment in my diary for 17 Jan with a note such as: Meeting - Bill Smith, see 14/11. The cross-reference tells me where my notes are that I took during our phone conversation. Easy!
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Negotiating Nuggets: Last updated 1 Mar 2013