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You feel like nobody listens to you at work, and—aside from just yelling—you're unsure of how to get people to actually consider your ideas and input. Here are some tips to make sure your voice is heard and your suggestions are valued in the office.

5 Phrases You Need to Banish if You Want to Leave Work on Time

We have a problem with how we talk about time. We like to think our requests are easy, but because we never get specific on how much time we need, everything ends up taking longer than expected. So, if you want to start leaving work on time, you need to stop letting people say these five things.

The right framing and questions lead to productive conversations

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros.

Imagine trying to lead an organization or team without words or conversation. Impossible, right? Everything leaders do is mediated through conversation. So, what are you doing with your conversations?

What if you had the keys to ensure your conversations would fuel productivity and engagement? Keys that would inspire creativity, motivate collaborative action, and generate innovative possibilities for resolving complex challenges? Think of how and where you might be able to take your team or organization empowered with those keys!

There are only two keys. They will help you do all of the above, and we're going to give them to you right now: Positive framing and generative questions.

The first key is to frame your conversations to talk about what you want, to focus on desired outcomes instead of on problems and deficits. Then, use the second key: powerful generative questions. Ask questions that indicate you don’t have the answer. Questions that invite diverse perspectives, new information and disruptive ideas related to the outcomes you’re after. The conversations that will evolve will allow you to collaboratively discover ways to move towards those outcomes.

Here’s an example. A leading Fortune 500 company had a serious issue with sexual harassment. Leaders, anxious to do something about it, began a root-cause analysis and conducted surveys to clarify the extent of the problem and solicit solutions. The more they looked into it, the worse the problem became. It seemed sexual harassment was rampant and tension in the organization grew even as they attempted to find solutions.

A curious consultant asked, “What do you want?” Leaders replied, “An end to sexual harassment.” The consultant pushed forward. "OK. If there is no sexual harassment, what will there be?”

After consideration, one replied, “Well, of course, we want high-quality, cross-gender relationships in the workplace.” 

After leadership began to ask questions about where those kinds of relationships were occurring, the solutions began magically to appear. Many people had examples of such relationships and from their stories they co-developed a strategy for teams and leadership to reinforce and ensure high quality, cross-gender relationships going forward.  Two years later, the organization won an award from the National Organization for Women as a Best Place to Work for Women.

Leadership at this company used the two keys to resolve a complex and seemingly overwhelming problem. The first key, positive framing, shifted the focus from sexual harassment to high-quality, cross-gender relationships (from problem-focused to outcomes-focused). The second key, generative questions, allowed these leaders to ask questions about high-quality, cross-gender relationships. When they did, they discovered many such relationships already existed and people were eager to talk about them.

As leaders analyzed those relationships, they discovered patterns, behaviors and practices they could implement as policy. It changed the way people worked across the whole organization.

Sound simple? It is, but it’s not easy to make these two adjustments in our daily conversations. As leaders, we are constantly in our own way. Deep down, we believe we should know the answers or be able to figure things out (we’re the leader after all).

Preconceived ideas, our expectations and our habits of thinking conspire to limit the chances of creativity and divergent thinking. Judgments and emotions cloud our capacity to see potential in people and situations. Discomfort with discomfort makes us revert to the known, limiting the odds we’ll catch a glimpse of what’s possible.

If you want to use the keys, get comfortable being uncomfortable and not knowing. We now live and work in a world of ambiguity and uncertainty, where complex challenges demand collaborative and disruptive thinking. Adopt an attitude of curiosity about almost everything: Are you sure you know? Could you be missing information? Are your perceptions skewed by your beliefs and worldview?

You can’t be sure. So be a leader-explorer. Look in the direction you want to move -- into the fog of uncertainty. Invite others to look with you. Then ask powerful questions that generate a pathway into a future that is co-created!


Cheri Torres is a senior consultant at, partner at Innovation Partners International, and an associate at the Taos Institute. She works with organizations to support effective leadership, team excellence, and culture change. She authored numerous books and articles, the newest is "Conversations Worth Having" co-authored with Jackie Stavros.

Stavros is a professor at College of Management, Lawrence Technological University; appreciative inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute and an associate at Taos Institute. She’s recognized for creating SOAR, a positive approach to strategic thinking, planning, and leading. 

The book "Conversations Worth Having" can be accompanied by a training program and product. To learn more visit

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The Question Smart People Ask When They’re Confused About an Assignment

Your boss sat you down yesterday and outlined your next project. The problem? You’re completely confused about the direction you’re supposed to take it in. Don’t stress! The key is to catch your confusion early on and address it—here's how.

Communicate clearly and openly

In my previous post about understaffed leaders, we spoke of the importance of pulling understaffed teams together to ensure that they are cohesive and that work gaps do not remain unfilled. This essay focuses on how to communicate more clearly and openly.

All leaders need to communicate clearly and openly. But strong communication is particularly important for those who lead understaffed teams. And great communication starts with great listening.

In your conversations, focus mainly on listening rather than speaking. This will open up the communication lines and deepen trust.

You may think that you are communicating well. I did, too. But the only way to know for sure is to ask.

Start with this simple question: Overall, how would you rate my/our internal communication?

People I work with will ask this to their people and get many responses. I help them to figure out how to process and prioritize the information that they get and develop a communication plan.

A communication plan details what needs to be shared with whom and how that communication will be delivered.

Lilly began as a part-time bookkeeper for a medium-sized nonprofit. After demonstrating great capacity, she was soon promoted to the post of executive director.

But when she got started in her new role, she quickly realized that there were few systems in place in her office and she needed help pulling things together.

Communication in particular was weak, and the organization desperately needed a system overhaul, in terms of hardware/software and policy changes (who to reach out to for various issues, reasonable timetables for responses, etc.)

The communication plan that we developed helped information flow more smoothly through the office and to constituents both in and out of the building. 

Great communication also involves cross-communication among team members.

Get team members talking by scheduling (brief) weekly team meetings. Make sure everyone is on board with the team’s priorities and where their own efforts should be focused. These meetings are also a good time to recognize the progress your team has made. 

Use two-way feedback to help promote continued improvement, upward progress and ultimately, better performance. Additionally, an honest conversation where you seek and accept feedback without defensiveness or excuses builds trust and your relationship with your team.

As part of your plan, seek to cut down on time drains. Time is a most valuable resource. It needs to be treasured and used most effectively. Leaders who manage email, meetings and other time-consumers well find ways to get important information across while freeing up their people for their most important tasks.

Other ways to maximize time around the workplace:

  • Schedule no-interruption work periods. Problem-solving and deep work demands thinking time to concentrate on tasks. Your people don’t get it when their days are packed with meetings or other disruptions. Set aside a few hours each day (or each week) as a no-meeting time. You also might suggest -- and try yourself -- ignoring your email and letting your phone pick up messages during that time. 
  • Plan on downtime. Workers immersed in solving some problem may not think to surface for air. But everyone needs breaks when working long hours over several weeks or months. If you make time to get out for lunch or take at least a half day on weekends, your employees will feel comfortable following your lead. You’ll all come back refreshed and better prepared to tackle the next job.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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14 ways to improve interdepartmental communication

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC has also launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q: How can you improve communication between departments that don't typically interact much?

1. Avoid silos

Our team started developing silos at eight people. Silos are pervasive and toxic, limiting the flow of best practices and feedback. Ours formed around project teams. To combat this, we pushed project team formation back several weeks and instead pulled *everyone* into initial project planning. We find doing so establishes a foundation of communal interest in projects, in which silos can’t form. -- Giles Ochs, Prospect Bio

2. Make them interact

I would make the two departments interact once a week at a set time and location. Then introduce the likes of Slack or Voxer or whatever communication platform and create a room for those departments to stay synced up. If the conversation still isn’t flowing you could always throw some heat into the chatroom or put them right next to each other or in the same room. -- Engelo Rumora, List'n Sell Realty

3. Hold weekly leadership meetings

We keep a weekly leadership meeting on our calendar that we never cancel just so every team leader can have time together in the same room once a week. As your company grows and scales, it is crucial that you find time for every department to interact and discuss problems and solutions that affect everyone. -- Jennifer Mellon, Trustify

4. Make it contextual

Collaboration or communication between departments can be a challenge when team members don’t understand the effect they have on the big picture. Give every department a holistic view of the company and let them partake in a common goal. Encourage sharing of information around the shared objectives by having interdepartmental meetings headed by the leadership of all teams. -- Derek Robinson, Top Notch Dezigns

5. Set company-wide, high-level goals

A great way to improve communication is to maintain a few company-wide, high-level goals. By creating tasks and goals with fewer borders, employees are more likely to think of about a project from various perspectives rather than just their position and further engage with others outside of their department. --  Zohar Steinberg, token

6.. Form cross-departmental teams

Pulling a cross-functional team together to tackle a project is a great way to get departments to interact. When individuals from different departments work together towards a common goal, it can go a long way in fostering communication between the groups. -- Douglas Baldasare, ChargeItSpot

7. Hire someone to act as a bridge

One way to increase communication between departments that don't usually interact is to hire somebody whose job is split between the two departments. For example, between the marketing and business development teams, hiring someone that does both increases communication on both sides because that person needs to go to marketing and communication meetings. -- Joel Butterly, InGenius Prep

8. Use general channels

Whether you use Slack, Telegram or an in-house chat system, it's important to create a space where different teams can interact with each other. Beyond talking about productivity, this channel should enable teams to talk about general topics and build a rapport. There are various tools now that facilitate this, Slack and Telegram being two of the strongest. -- Marcela De Vivo, Mulligan Funding

9. Create clubs

Clubs are great ways to meet different people in the company that you don't work with on a daily basis. Come up with a short process to create a club and let your employees decide which clubs get formed. Before you know it, you'll have a variety of clubs, from books clubs to gamers' clubs, there will be something for everyone. -- Jared Atchison, WPForms

10. Throw social events

To open up communication between departments with suboptimal interactivity, organize social events -- from happy hours to offsite lunches to beach days -- that employees will voluntarily attend and that will allow attendees to organically develop relationships and friendships with one another. When you have friends in another department, you will be in communication with that department regularly. -- Adam Mendler, Beverly Hills Chairs

11. Set up quarterly retreats

Our company has a distributed workforce that spans three continents. We are constantly facing the challenge of getting our departments to communicate, challenge which is exacerbated by the fact that the team members are separated by thousands of miles. We solve this by organizing retreats where people spend time together having fun; this breaks down barriers and gets people talking. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

12. Hold team lunches

When I organized company-wide complementary lunches every Friday, I was surprised at how many employees would show up and interact with each other. The promise of free food brings people together who would never otherwise interact in a professional setting. Once individuals from different departments began to eat together, communication improved immensely. -- Bryce Welker, CPA Exam Guy

13. De-compartmentalize workshops

In the world of SEO, we deal with multiple departments, from tech to development to PR, which don’t typically interact with each other. In order to get everyone in the room and collaborate on an SEO strategy, we hold workshops and bootcamps. Our professional certifications result in high the participation and attendance since the teams perceive it as a benefit, not another “boardroom” meeting. -- Matthew Capala, Alphametic

14. Schedule face time -- literally and figuratively

If communication is breaking down, it's a result of relationship breakdown. Audio conference calls do not build relationships. Human beings believe very little of what they hear. We believe more of what they see. As a result, get your people on video conference calls and insist that their camera is on. Visual cues and body language make people human, and only humans can fix a relationship. -- Paul-Anthony Surdi, Academy of Responsible Tattooing, LLC