Many superiors take it for granted that their direct reports are always available for their issues and don’t consider that their calls or sudden visits might interrupt someone else. If such behavior is typical for your boss, you can try to change it actively by talking to him and proposing a regular meeting or briefing.

1) Talk to your boss

Your boss might not be aware of how much he is disturbing you. The first step is to tell him in an appropriate manner that you wish to structure the way you interact in a different way. Please check my article on how to criticize other people. You can also tell him that he is disturbing himself too each time he come to you. If you had a regular meeting it would not only save your time but also his time.

2) Ask for a regular meeting

Ask your boss for a regular meeting. Depending on how closely you work together a weekly meeting or daily briefing is appropriate. This meetings purpose is to quickly exchange information on what is coming up, receive tasks from your boss and return deliverables from previous meetings. This meeting ideally takes place early in the morning, so that there are less surprises for the rest of the day.

3) Carry something to work on with you

If you regularly are called to your boss or to a meeting and often have to wait outside until it is your turn, take something to work on with you. You can convert this waiting time into productive time. It also makes a good impression and improves your image in the company.

Of course there always will be some sudden and urgent matters coming up. Depending on what kind of business your company is in you will have to cope with a certain amount of interruptions from your boss. However, the above mentioned items should help you to significantly reduce such interruptions. If there is no change in the behavior of your boss you might have to consider changing position or company. 

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When dialing into teleconferences it is quite frequent that it takes a minute or more until all participants are in. Although the chat during this period can be quite funny, this remains unproductive time. 

If you have an assistant it is wise to have general rule that she will first dial in and transfer the call to once everybody else has joined the teleconference. When you come in you can immediately start with the subject of the conference without wasting time.

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If you supervise other people you might get interrupted frequently by your direct reports. If this is the case you need to take some action to improve communication and reduce interruptions.

1) Do you have regular meetings?

If there is a regular team or one to one meeting people collect not so urgent items for discussion during the meeting. You only get disturbed for urgent matters. Without such regular communication opportunity there is no other choice than coming to you to ask and most people then tend to go for each single item.

2) Do you empower your subordinates?

Are your direct reports allowed to make their own decisions? Do they know their limitations and are these large enough to work autonomously? Otherwise people have to come to you all the time to confirm each action or decision. Slowly increase the responsibility the delegate and you will usually see that people react positively. 

3) Did you establish communication rules?

It sometimes is a good idea to establish basic communication rules. These rules define when to better write a mail, pick-up the phone or coming in for a meeting. You should also make clear how you prefer to communicate with you team.

4) Do you respond quickly?

Do you respond quickly to your emails or do employees only get a response if they personally come to you and clarify the item on the spot. If this is the case you first have to improve your response time. It will require a little bit more time in the beginning but it will quickly pay of through a reduction of interruptions.

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Instead of procrastinating did you ever consider delegating some tasks you do not like to colleagues or to a vendor? Of course this strategy does not always work but another person eventually does not regard this task as unpleasing.

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Nov

10

Delegation is a very powerful way to get more things done in the same time. There is a misconception that only managers have the power to delegate. It does not matter if you are in a project, doing simple desk work or are part of a family. There always are tasks that should better be done by others.

Sometimes asking another person nicely to help you can already be a way of delegation. Or do you have a problem is saying “no”? Then your way of delegation is to start refusing so that other people have to do their jobs. Ask yourself which person is the most best suited to complete a job and delegate it to this person. Another method of delegation is to outsource a task. Of course is does not apply to every task but it sometimes is an option which has not been considered yet.

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A few years ago I had a revelation that entirely changed my attitudes to superiors and other people who want to influence me through power. This principle of my life can be summarized in a simple sentence:

Nobody has power on you unless YOU give them the authority!

Of course some people have the power to influence things that matter to you such as your job or money. But I think that it is very important to distinguish between direct power on you compared to the power of influencing your life. Even if they might influence your life you are still free to make your own decision.

If this sounds abstract to you, let’s try to make it more concrete with some examples:

1) Your boss at work:

Your boss has the authority to fire you. In some large organizations he might not even be able to address this without having good reasons to explain to the union or labor’s council. If you feel comfortable in finding a new job elsewhere easily this is not a threat anymore and you can talk to your boss in a different way.

2) The guard or policeman:

These people have no power as a person. Usually we accept the authority of their function because we believe that the rules of our society make sense. In a democracy we can influence the rules of our society through regular elections. The separation of legislation and executive also aims at protecting us against inappropriate power.

If you decide to act against the rules of your society police has the authority to put you away in prison. If you do not care you can feel free to do whatever you want. If you don’t accept the rules of your society you are free to find a place on earth, where no rules or other rules exist.

3) Your family:

Your family gives you a lot of responsibility. But we are not able to choose most members of our family since we are born into it. For husbands and spouses there should be no power either, but responsibility. In case a relationship does not work anymore, each one is free to terminate the agreement - at least in most societies. Don’t let anyone exercise power on you.

4) Your friends:

The opinion of our friends is important to us and it is a part of friendship to openly share thoughts and do things together. But friends do not have any authority to make you do things you do not want. You have the authority to choose your friends and to look for new friends in case you don’t feel comfortable anymore.

5) Your colleagues:

The people you work together in your company usually are your colleagues by random. There are some you like and some you might not like. However, nobody there has any power on you. This is very important to understand when it comes to harassment or political games.

6) Your banker:

In case you have loans your banker has the authority to take away your home if you are in default and as long as he follows the rules in your agreement. This might be a threat for your family but there always are other options in life.

7) Someone with a weapon in his hand:

I am sorry to admit this - but in this case the person has power on you, unless you do not mind being dead. As far as I can image this is the only situation where someone really can apply massive power on you against your will.

I do not say that we should not accept rules and give authority to others on us. A functioning society needs rules and the authority to enforce them. If you believe that the rules of your society make sense you will deliberately give away the authority to exercise power on you.

But be reminded that this decision can be revoked anytime in case your government turns to become undemocratic or you need to stand up to protect your people for whatever reason. You are the one who gives other people power on you.

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When other people impose dealines to you it sometimes is worth questionning these deadlines during very busy times. Especially when you have a reputation of delivering on time, you might get more time since the buffer for those who are always late does not apply to you.

If you have a boss or peers who come to you frequently with requests without delay, I recommend to take an appointment to discuss this pattern. Such behavior creates permanent interruptions to you and makes it impossible to plan your time.

Where this is a frequent pattern a weekly meeting with those people might lead to significant improvements. During this meeting you will review the upcoming tasks and you can also agree on realistic schedules.

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One of the most difficult and discussed questions in management is when to delegate and when to do things yourself. I once found a model, which proved very useful to me.

1) The situation is critical and your staff does not have the right skill set:

In such a case you have no other choice than taking the initiative and do things by yourself. The criticality of the situation does not allow mistakes and you do not have the time to coach and educate or exchange the people. However, such situations should be the exception.

2) The situation is critical and your staff has the right skill set:

You should be involved since the situation is critical but as a member of the team with your special set of competence. Listen to the others and only act as the final decision maker. Together you can get through the critical situation and everyone in the team is a great contributor including yourself.

3) The situation is not critical and your staff does not have the right skill set:

This is a good environment where you should not do things by yourself. It is a good opportunity to coach and educate your direct reports. Let them go to make their own experiences but make sure you have a few controls in place so that no serious damage can occur.

4) The situation is not critical and your staff has the right skill set:

In this case you have nothing to worry about and the best you can do is to let the people do their job. On request you might help or assist. If you try to get too much involved you might rather reduce motivation.

I used these four cases to also determine how many meetings and how much control I wanted to dedicate to each of my direct reports. It worked out quite well and it also gives you the flexibility to reduce or increase your attention depending on how the business and the people develop.

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Oct

02

How to criticize

by Nicolas

When you work with other people and delegate to others you inevitably will be in situations where you have to criticize other people. This is a very important task in communication so that they understand your expectation and can improve their performance in future. 

If you do it the wrong way people might not accept your critic and rather resist than changing their behavior. Using a few simple principles can help turning criticism into something positive which can initiate change:

Give critics timely

Giving feedback on a recent example makes it much more concrete and it will be much easier for your counterpart to understand what you mean. Don’t wait until the annual review session initiated from HR since things might be too far away by then.

Criticize only one thing at a time

Imagine a situation where someone is telling you what is all wrong with you listing up more than a dozen of items. As a result you will feel like a complete fool and your motivation to change will be very low. In a working environment this might even turn worse and if your receive such feedback from your superior you might even fear for your job.

It is therefore important to criticize one item at a time. My experience is that generally most people want to improve themselves and they can focus on changing one item successfully at a time but not a dozen. If you want many things to be changed you better prioritize and go step by step.

Do it in a four eyes situation

Never criticize someone in front of a group if you expect it to be constructive and motivating to change. Sometimes - of course - this might be done for political reasons…

Offer solutions

Before you go into this session it is very helpful if you also already thought about a few ways to improve. Although the ways to improve should be developed by your counterpart, so that the acceptance is there, you can play the role of a coach by also offering solutions if necessary. It might also soften the criticism and help to turn it into something positive with focus on improvement.

Be open to be receive critics yourself

You might not be right and your own behavior might be questioned as a result of your criticism. You therefore must listen actively to your counterpart and be ready to accept that you also might have to change your behavior.

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On some days you might be very busy running from one meeting to another with almost no time in between. During these important meetings you also might not want to be disturbed through call on your mobile phones unless they are really important.

I heard of some managers who on such occasions pass their mobile phone to their assistant who will then take the calls. In case of urgency, she will know how to find you and you can fully concentrate on your meeting. For other calls she might be able to delegate the task to someone else so that you don’t even have to bother anymore.

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