Posted by & filed under Communication.

If you are like many Americans, you probably studied a foreign language or two when you were in high school or college and have not used it much since. You may remember a handful of useful phrases in French or Spanish that help you get by when you travel, but you aren’t confident conversing extensively. You might even think you are too old to become proficient in another language, but it’s not too late.

Learning to speak another language not only improves your communication skills, it can also be very beneficial for job development. If you organization has clients or vendors or other contacts in foreign countries, speaking their native tongue is an invaluable asset. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to take classes or travel abroad; there are plenty of useful language resources you can use right here at home.

3 Foreign Language Resources to Try

1. Chat through interactive language websites.

The key to improving your proficiency is practice, practice, practice. Even if you are just starting to learn a new language and aren’t very confident in your skills yet, it is essential to use it as much as possible in conversation. Sometimes it can be difficult to find native speakers to interact with, but luckily, the Internet is making the world a much smaller place. Sign up for Livemocha, an online community of 8.5 million people worldwide, and learn from native speakers while you teach others who want to learn English. You can also use Skype to find people in foreign countries to have live video chats with.

2. Find an in-person conversation partner or group.

If you live in a larger town or city, you may be able to improve your foreign language communication skills in person. Sign up for meetup.com and join or start a group for people who want to practice a language. Often, at these meet-ups, there will be a good mix of native speakers and foreign language learners for you to practice with. You can also use Craigslist, MyLanguageExchange.com or other websites to find a language exchange partner– you can learn Italian or Japanese or Mandarin (or whichever language you are interested in), while your partner practices English.

3. Practice at home on your computer.

There are a wealth of different options for at-home language learning, from the free BBC Languages website to the immersion method of Rosetta Stone technology. Find the program that best suits your needs and schedule several blocks of time a week to practice your communication skills.

Do you speak a foreign language? How has it helped you in your job?

Learn more about EDSI’s diversity courses.

Posted by & filed under Leadership.

Part of being an effective leader and a good manager is honing your ability to give negative feedback in a productive way. It can be challenging to give constructive criticism in a manner that helps an employee learn and grow, rather than becoming defensive or hurt. Use these tips to communicate your message clearly and kindly.

1. Include positive and negative feedback.

If you have noticed positive aspects of the employee’s job performance, say so. Show genuine appreciation for actions that have benefited the team or the organization. Tell him you appreciate the way he took the initiative to research new sales leads. Praise her on a job well done at the last client meeting. Lead with something positive if you can and then talk about the issue that needs improving.

2. Be sincere and direct.

Don’t shy away from the issue at hand but address it honestly and clearly, focusing on information, facts and concrete examples. Be careful when you choose your words, making sure to phrase your constructive criticism in a way that does not seem like a personal judgment or attack. Start the conversation with a sentence such as, “I have noticed that in the last few weeks, your Friday reports have been coming in late and I wanted to check in with you…”

3. Follow up.

Feedback should be an ongoing process, not a one-time occurrence. Follow up with your employee after giving constructive criticism, offering support where needed and checking in on progress. Make feedback a part of your relationship with all of your employees so it doesn’t feel like a punishment. Stay aware of ongoing issues and keep the lines of communication open.  Communicating to manage performance is critical to a manager’s role.

How do you manage giving constructive criticism with your employees? Share your tips in the comments section.

Learn more about EDSI’s Assertive Communications course.

Posted by & filed under Work Life Balance.

When you are having a bad day at work, your natural reaction may be to put on a happy face and fake a good mood for the benefit of your colleagues. No one wants to be around a grouch, and maybe if you pretend to be happy, you will actually become happier, right?

Not true, according to a study published this month in the Academy of Management Journal, which studied a group of bus drivers for two weeks to observe their happiness at work under certain circumstances. The drivers were selected because their jobs require them to interact frequently and courteously with a large number of people.

From the New York Times:

The scientists examined what happened when the drivers engaged in fake smiling, known as “surface acting,” and its opposite, “deep acting,” where they generated authentic smiles through positive thoughts, said an author of the study, Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

After following the drivers closely, the researchers found that on days when the smiles were forced, the subjects’ moods deteriorated and they tended to withdraw from work. Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent.

For the drivers in the study, trying to mask their feelings backfired and actually made their bad moods worse. On the other hand, workers who attempted to smile as well as cultivate pleasant thoughts and memories were more successful and were able to improve their overall moods and increase productivity.

Small Ways to Improve Happiness at Work

If you find yourself having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” take these small steps to make that smile on your face a genuine one.

1. Take a break.

You can only stare at a computer or talk to customers or sit in meetings for so long before you need a rest. Take 10 minutes and walk away from your desk and get some fresh air if you can. Breathe deeply and slowly, and let yourself relax away from the chaos of your workday.

2. Don’t force it.

If you are in a bad mood, don’t beat yourself up about it or go overboard on false cheer. Everyone is entitled to have a few off days, and this one will run its course soon enough. Avoid unnecessary interaction with others and tell yourself tomorrow is another day.

3. Think happy thoughts.

Focus on positive aspects of your day or anything you are looking forward to in the near future. Reflect on spending time with your family after work or the client call that went smoothly earlier in the day. Give yourself encouragement to keep going.

How do you improve your happiness at work when you’re in a bad mood? Share your suggestions below.

Get more helpful tips and resources by signing up for EDSI’s monthly newsletter.

Posted by & filed under Personal Effectiveness.

With so many websites out there that can serve as distractions from your work, it is easy to forget that online resources can actually improve your productivity. The Internet offers a wealth of helpful sites that make it easier for you to manage your time, organize your to-do list and improve your personal effectiveness in general. Sign out of Facebook, put that YouTube video on pause and check out one of these fantastic websites instead.

1. TeuxDeux
If you are the type of person who has a dozen scraps of paper scattered across your desk with reminders of tasks you need to complete, you need a simple, user-friendly way of organizing your to-do list. TeuxDeux is a bare bones, easy-to-use organizing tool that you can access through your regular Internet browser and your iPhone. Simply add your tasks to a date, then you can edit, move, check off or delete them as you progress. You can review a week at a time, as well as jump to a future date and maintain a “someday” list for tasks or ideas that aren’t time-sensitive.

2. LeechBlock
Sometimes you need to stay one step ahead of yourself to maintain your personal effectiveness. If you have a tendency to get pulled into certain websites that derail your productivity, such as social media sites, online newspapers and personal email accounts, there is a new Firefox application that will keep you focused and disciplined. You can specify up to six websites that you would like to block from your Internet browser during certain hours of the day (for example, from 9 to 5, if those are your normal working hours), eliminating the temptation to waste time.

3. Action Method
Use Action Method to organize your professional and personal life by separating every project into action steps (specific tasks), references (links, notes or other info), backburners (great ideas you aren’t ready to pursue yet), discussions and events. Download the free basic plan and create up to 50 action steps at once, as well as collaborate easily with colleagues who are working on the same projects.

4. Evernote
If you have a hard time keeping up with your thoughts, ideas and plans, Evernote can help you keep it all neatly organized in one place. Capture written notes, computer screen shots, photos, web links and then tag them an organize them into different notebooks. Everything is searchable by keyword, tag and title so you can always find what you need and can maximize your personal effectiveness.

5. iGoogle
Instead of trying to sort through a long list of bookmarked websites or keeping 20 browser tabs open at a time, use a personalized iGoogle homepage to keep track of the information you use most frequently. Customize different widgets– including Gmail, news alerts, blog RSS feeds, weather forecasts, world clocks and word-of-the day calendars.

What websites do you use to increase your personal effectiveness? List your suggestions in the comments section.

Learn more about EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.

Posted by & filed under Accountability.

When you have a bad day at work, how do you cope with your frustration? Perhaps you run your anger off at the gym or vent to your significant other or go to happy hour with friends. It is healthy to find a release for your negative feelings, but you may want to think twice before you release them on a blog or social media site. Professionalism in the workplace dictates that you not use social media for venting.

Natalie Munroe, a high school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia, is learning the hard way that nothing posted online is private, even if it is just intended for family and friends. Munroe has been suspended without pay by the school after administrators learned of the existence of her personal blog, which contains insults toward her students and colleagues.

Her blog has now been taken down, except for a few posts about the scandal, though media outlets have been publishing quotes from old posts, including:

  • “My students were particularly hateful this week, annoying me with their attitudes, their sense of entitlement, and their know-it-all behaviors.”
  • “There’s no other way to say this: I hate your kid.”
  • “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”
  • “Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS.”

Murnoe defended herself in a blog post last week:

What bothers me so much about this situation is that what I wrote is being taken out of context. Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work. Of the 24 that mentioned it, only some of them were actually focused on it–others may have mentioned it in passing, like if I was listing things that annoyed me that day and wrote without any elaboration that students were annoying that day.

Munroe may lose her job over the blog, and her story has sparked a national debate over everything from human resources policies on social media and First Amendment rights to education reform and challenges faced by teachers. Her supporters applaud her for speaking out about her frustrations of being an educator and for giving “tough love” to disrespectful students. Her critics chastise her behavior as immature, unprofessional and inappropriate for a person in her position.

Whether or not you agree Munroe should be fired over her writing, the scandal is an important reminder that you need to be cautious before posting anything on the Internet, especially it is about work. If you are not comfortable with the general public reading what you have to say, save the venting for the privacy of your own home.

What do you think?

 

Read EDSI’s best practices for social media.

Posted by & filed under News.

Centennial, CO – Business owner Suzanne Updegraff has been honored as an Inscape Publishing Ruby Award winner.

“In a time of high unemployment, many organizations are spending less on workforce development. The fact that Suzanne Updegraff set a sales record during this difficult time is really quite remarkable,” says Jeffrey Sugerman, president and CEO of Inscape Publishing. “We are proud to have Suzanne Updegraff as a leader in our Inscape Publishing community.”

Ruby Award status is Inscape’s third-highest award level. In 2010, fewer than 1 percent of Inscape’s independent consultants worldwide earned the honor of Ruby Award.

About Employee Development Systems, Inc.

Employee Development Systems, Inc. is a Colorado-based training and assessment firm that was founded in 1979 and offers employee development, management development, leadership and professionalism courses and accompanying behavioral style assessments, surveys and other tools. Employee Development Systems, Inc. provides services worldwide to Fortune 500 clients as well as small to medium-sized businesses.

The organization’s mission is to enhance the interpersonal skills needed to perform at a more productive level, to develop a workforce that adapts to change, and is creative and innovative, and to make the client organization the employer of choice. This is accomplished through establishing trust, building relationships and fostering behavioral change. Employee Development Systems, Inc. training and development initiatives address employee engagement, multiple generations in the workplace, and the ramifications of social media and collaboration.

Inscape Publishing products are sold exclusively through an elite network of over 2,000 independent consultants, trainers, and coaches. For more than 30 years, Inscape’s DiSC® products have been used worldwide in thousands of organizations of all sizes, including major government agencies, local and regional businesses, and Fortune 500s. Every year, over a million people learn to work more effectively with others using Inscape Publishing products.

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Posted by & filed under Accountability, Personal Effectiveness.

In any given workday, you probably make dozens of decisions before you head home for the evening. Some are small: how to respond to a quick question from a colleague or what time to take your lunch break; others are much more important: what information to include in a presentation for a client or which job applicant to select for an open position in your organization.

Strong decision-making skills are essential to your success and personal effectiveness as a leader, and it is important to find the perfect balance between being too hasty or too indecisive. Use these guidelines to make thoughtful, well-informed choices while minimizing your stress.

1. Get in the right mindset.

If you are frantically trying to meet a deadline or struggling to stay awake first thing in the morning before you’ve had your coffee, it is probably not the best time to make life-altering choices. Wait until you are calm, focused and levelheaded before you do anything you may regret later.

2. Recognize different types of decisions.

Sometimes it is appropriate to make a split-second decision and trust your judgment without overthinking the situation. Other times, you should allow yourself plenty of time to consider all of your options carefully, as well as any risks, rewards or repercussions, before choosing a path of action. In general, don’t overanalyze the small choices in your day-to-day life but give serious thought to major decisions that will have long-term effects. Practice distinguishing between the two extremes, and your decision-making skills will become sharper.

3. Analyze the pros and cons.

When preparing to make a difficult resolution, come up with a list of possible or probable scenarios that could occur with each option. Write down your responses, dividing the page into a traditional two-column pros and cons list if it helps you organize your thoughts. Ask yourself questions that begin with, “What if…?” For example, “What if I take on this big project?” What are the possible outcomes, both positive and negative? For instance, if you take on the project and it’s successful, you would help your organization as well as demonstrate you are ready for new challenges and responsibilities. Now do the same exercise with the opposite scenario. Try to be as honest as you can without selling yourself short.

4. Listen to your instincts.

Often, you will have an inexplicable gut feeling about a decision you have to make, even if you can’t quite say why. Maybe you just know a particular job applicant would be a better fit for the team over another equally qualified person. Maybe you understand that a creative idea that is good in theory will never work in real life. If you have a constant nagging feeling about a decision, listen to it. Sometimes honing your decision-making skills means simply following your instincts.

What are your tips for making good decisions?

Learn more about the EDSI Powerful Choices course.

Posted by & filed under News.

We all have an influence on the people around us, whether it’s in the span of a few minutes or over the course of a long-term relationship, and it’s up to us to decide whether that influence is positive or negative.

It is important to realize that each individual likes to be treated in a particular way that complements his or her behavioral style. This may not be the same way we like to be influenced, so it is essential to be able to recognize these differences in our relationships and adapt our own style to meet the specific needs of others.

What style do you have? What style do your colleagues have?

Download the “Influencing Others” booklet for free and learn more about the four style types and how this knowledge can strengthen your work relationships and increase your personal effectiveness.

Posted by & filed under Work Life Balance.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air… and the office is no exception. Dating a co-worker used to be frowned-upon or forbidden in many organizations, but workplace relationships are becoming more common and less taboo in the modern world.

On February 10, 2011, CareerBuilder released the results of its annual office romance survey. Out of the 3,910 full-time U.S. employees surveyed in November and December 2010, nearly 40 percent have dated someone they worked with over the course of their career, and 30 percent married the person they met in the office.

The CareerBuilder survey also found:

  • Of those who have dated colleagues, 10 percent reported dating someone at work within the last year
  • 65 percent of workers said they aren’t keeping their relationship a secret
  • 12 percent of workers’ relationships started when they saw each other outside of work
  • 18 percent reported dating co-workers at least twice in their career.
  • 8 percent of workers said they work with someone who they would like to date

With employees spending 40 or more hours a week in the office, it is no wonder that workplace relationships occur frequently. As a manager, it can be a delicate situation for you to stay aware of any problems that arise from a dating couple in your organization without interfering with the private lives of your employees.

Educate your employees.

Does your team know the organizational policy about sexual harassment? Is there a policy that addresses workplace relationships? A 2008 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that only 14 percent of respondents said their employer had a policy on workplace romance. More than half (about 57 percent) said there was no policy in their organization, and 29 percent didn’t know if one was in place. Make sure your employees know any rules (for example, a prohibition against dating a direct supervisor) and the consequences for breaking them.

Keep it professional.

Dating couples must be responsible for conducting themselves professionally when they are at work and not letting their relationship interfere with office productivity or morale. In general, encourage them to use common sense and avoid any overt romantic gestures at work. If workplace relationships start to affect the organization in a negative way, it is your job to intervene and troubleshoot the problem.

Curb the gossip.

Office romances can often spark rumors and speculation among other colleagues. Most of the gossip is harmless chatter, but stay alert for any conversations that are inappropriate or disruptive to the work environment.

What is your advice for managing workplace relationships? Share your suggestions in the comments.  Culture management is a must in the modern workplce.

For more resources on professionalism and leadership, subscribe to the EDSI monthly newsletter.

Posted by & filed under Career Development.

If you are back on the job market and looking to land the perfect career opportunity, an in-person interview is your chance to wow your prospective employers and convince them you are the right fit for the position.

It only takes a few seconds to make a lasting first impression, good or bad, and you want to make sure you let your professionalism, leadership and competence shine through from the moment you walk in the door. Use these job interview tips to put your best foot forward and get your dream job.

1. Do your homework.

You wouldn’t take an important exam without studying first, so why would you go to an important interview without researching the company first? Find out everything you can about the organization’s mission, goals, employees, history, milestones and accomplishments. Ask yourself why you want to work for this company and why you think you would be a good fit, questions you are likely to receive from the interviewer. Know who is going to be interviewing you, and learn what you can about him as well.

2. Know your stuff.

Review your own resume, educational background and work history so you are prepared to discuss dates and other specifics with the interviewer. Type up a fact sheet with this important data, as well as the contact information of your references, in case you need to fill out a job application. Be comfortable talking about your previous employment and the daily responsibilities you held. If you have any gaps or inconsistencies in your history, be prepared to answer questions about them.

3. Practice your talking points.

Familiarize yourself with common interview questions and practice your responses out loud. Better yet, ask someone you trust (who won’t go too easy on you) to do a mock interview with you beforehand and ask for feedback on improvement. Speak clearly, concisely and avoid using slang or too many “ums” and “likes.” If you tend to get nervous, take a few deep breaths to calm down and remember to slow down and be as natural as you can. Remember that the interviewer is a person who has probably been in your shoes many times before; relax and try to relate on a human level. Studying job interview tips is helpful for preparation, but ultimately, your performance relies on how well you can communicate your personality and qualifications.

4. Look the part.

Sometimes what you communicate non-verbally is even more important than what you say. Dress impeccably in a professional and conservative outfit, and refrain from smoking or eating garlic or other strong flavors before the interview. Start with a firm handshake, a smile and direct eye contact. Turn off and put away your cell phone before arriving, do not chew gum or drink coffee and be aware of any nervous habits you have so you can avoid them (playing with your hair, fidgeting with your feet, etc.).

5. Listen and ask questions.

When the interviewer is talking, practice active listening skills and don’t interrupt. Keep eye contact and nod your head occasionally to show you are engaged in the conversation. If the interviewer asks if you have any questions, have a few thoughtful and relevant questions in mind. Listen to the responses carefully and show that you are interested in what she has to say.

6. Say “thank you.”

One of the most commonly overlooked job interview tips is sending a thank-you note after the interview. Immediately after the interview, send a gracious handwritten note addressed specifically to the interviewer, thanking him for his time and reaffirming your interest in the position. It may seem old-fashioned, but it is a small courtesy that will make you stand out from the rest of the pack.

What job interview tips do you have for prospective employees? What do you look for when hiring someone for your organization?

Learn more about the EDSI Professionalism in a Casual World course.