As we close the old year and look forward to a new one, it’s time to look at a few habits that seem to have made a comeback in 2018. Whether you are new to the workforce or have a wealth of experience, sometimes, old habits need to go. Times change and as we develop professionally, it’s always smart to review tactics and freshen your approach. Here are a few things we need to freshen up for 2019.
- Talking about how busy you are. We get it. You’ve got a lot on your plate. But please stop using it as an excuse for why you didn’t get sometime done, return a phone call, or answer an email. No one wants to hear an endless litany of projects, trips, and crises as an excuse for why you didn’t even acknowledge a request. We are all busy juggling work, travel, homes, families and volunteer commitments and sometimes we just don’t get something done. However, the best professionals are not in the habit of excuses. Constantly talking about how busy you are is a crutch. What to do instead? Accentuate the positive. Acknowledge you’ve received a call or email and set an expectation of when you might respond. Or try this: “I know I’m a little late returning your call, but I wanted to move you up my priority list because you and your call/project/concern are important to me.”
- Bad conference call etiquette. Audio conferencing isn’t new technology, but every time I’m on a call, it seems there are attendees who don’t know the basics. Every phone has a mute button. Learn how to use it. When you don’t, we hear every side conversation you have with colleagues, traffic noise from your car, and crunch from that snack you’re eating. With modern audio technology those sounds come through to everyone on the call. What to do instead? Take a few minutes to figure out how your mute button works on your home line, mobile phone or car speaker. Better yet, figure out how to utilize the features on your favorite headset. On those long, late afternoon “take them from home” calls, I’ll never know you’re snacking and you’ll never hear the pop of the cork on my wine bottle.
- Text auto-responses. Email and text apps have made it easy for us to feel like we’re acknowledging people as soon as they contact us, but the technology can leave people cold. I recently texted a friend and her auto-responder immediately replied “Sorry I can’t talk right now.” Later in the week, another colleague had replaced their out-of-office auto-reply with “I’m in the office but I cannot respond to you today.” Wow. What a way to tell anyone trying to contact you that you don’t have time for them. Impersonal and unnecessary. Why not just wait until you’re finished to respond to your messages? Or prioritize and personalize a few more appropriate responses to use as needed? Many sales consultants these days suggest you immediately acknowledge people who have contacted you, but bots can do more damage than good when it comes to making your friends, colleagues and customers feel valued. What to do instead? Turn off the auto-response and turn on your ability to make someone reaching out to you feel valued. If you’re in the middle of a project, set aside 10 minutes every couple of hours to appropriately respond to emails and set expectations of when you can reach out again.
- Misspellings and typos. I can be the worst offender when it comes to proofreading. However, four years in journalism school taught me the importance of getting names, websites, and organizations spelled correctly. You should know how to correctly spell the names of your co-workers, partners, colleagues, and clients. Continuing to spell them incorrectly in documents and emails shows a sloppiness and disrespect that, after time, can look purposeful. (I once worked with a smart and powerful Dean who misspelled my name for four years! I’m still mad at myself for not saying something to her about it.) What to do instead? Keep a list of names you frequently misspell next to your screen so you can double check them. If you must, practice typing them 100 times so your fingers can learn a new muscle memory. Take the time to get it right. It really does make a difference.
- Complaining about political correctness. This one may warrant a blog post all its own, but it’s something that needs to change. Stop complaining about having to be politically correct. The future is here! Language matters. So, when a younger member of the team speaks up and asks if a term or descriptor should be changed to show sensitivity to a stakeholder community, listen to them. DO NOT dismiss their idea out of hand and complain that it’s just out-of-control political correctness. Have a reasoned discussion. Their concern may or may not be valid, but simply ismissing it as “PC crap*” is completely unacceptable in today’s organizations. What to do instead? Listen to the concerns and offer a reasoned opinion. Ensure you ask everyone in the discussion their thoughts. You may find that more people than you expect are also interested in showing how your organization can move into the future, not fight the past.
*actual term I’ve heard used in a meeting