Phrases that annoy you at work

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You all know those trite phrases that people trot out at work that irritate you.

Here are the latest from a survey by Glassdoor:

Touch base – this has been around for decades. Is it enjoying a revival?

No-brainer – same with this. Obvious really?

Punch a puppy – picking on soft targets like puppies. Check that workplace for bullying

Game changer – a bit old-fashioned. Paradigm shift anybody?

Pick it up and run with it – let’s just get on with it shall we?

Lipstick on a pig – is this a polite way of using Boris Johnson’s recent comment?

I want to leverage your synergies – someone’s been on an MBA course

Reverse engineer – this is an actual technical term so what’s the problem?

Low hanging fruit – another old favourite.

Nothing really hits me as being OTT or particularly creative. I wonder what happened to “singing from the same hymn sheet” or “let’s run it up the flagpole”? And the phrase that has irritated me most in recent years “going forward”.



Firms say school leavers are unemployable

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business_figure_with_clients_400_wht_10680Tell me something new! This has been a recurring complaint, usually by the CBI or the IoD. This time it’s the British Chambers of Commerce.

What are they actually saying?

School leavers and even some university graduates are unemployable because:

  • they cannot speak confidently to adults
  • they can’t turn up for work on time
  • they speak abruptly to customers
  • they don’t look people in the eye
  • they fiddle with their phones all the time
  • they are unable to perform simple maths
  • they are unable to write clearly (presumably more comfortable with text speak)

John Longworth, the Director General of the BCoC has called for schools, and employers, to do more to help teenagers develop the “soft skills” demanded by employers and prepare them for interviews.

He also wants schools to enhance their careers services by forging better links with employers. (Do schools still have careers services?)

The chambers of commerce produced a survey showing that over 2/3 of employers thought that schools were not effective at preparing teenagers for work. Approximately the same proportion wanted improved literacy and numeracy and almost 90% wanted better communication skills. Over half wanted better computing skills and teamwork.

Mr Longworth said “It’s a scandal that we have nearly one million under-25s unemployed in the UK. Communication skills are a real problem both at interview and in the workplace where students cannot speak articulately and don’t know how to deal with people in a polite way. Then there is the whole business of punctuality where they won’t turn up for work on time and they don’t think that’s a problem

DSCN1502As career coaches my colleague and I have delivered workshops to prepare graduates for employment for several years – but in Lithuania where they realise how important this aspect of their education is.

My colleague has also worked with a number of UK universities, on a voluntary basis, preparing students for interviews via mock assessment days. He has experienced most of the above things plus inappropriate dress and lack of preparation.

It’s good to talk – or is it?

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P1010013An analysis of over 20 years research into team effectiveness revealed that talkative teams are less effective (Journal of Applied Psychology Vol 94 No 2, 2009).

Teams which talk more aren’t necessarily sharing useful information and are not therefore getting better outcomes. And more introverted types will feel entitled to think “I told you so“, because what you talk about is more important for teams than how much you talk.

The researchers also found that teams communicate better when they are told to come up with a correct or best solution rather than a consensus.

This is yet another report which shows teams aren’t always as effective as people believe.

A report in the Quack Quack column – “We debunk the myths behind the headlines” – in The Times – cited research from the University of Arizona, reported in Psychological Science, which shows that the more people engage in superficial communication, the lower their morale.

This followed criticism of the report that you could measure the happiness levels of celebrities by analysing their tweets, some not very convincing research from the University of Edinburgh!

So like many things in life it’s the quality, not the quantity, that is important.

Originally posted on SGANDA

Flattery & Ingratiation works – if you have class

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networking_people_text_15380Flattery generally gets a bad press.

Abraham Lincoln said “Knavery and flattery are blood relations“, Dante said that their words were the equivalent of excrement, in the 8th Circle of Hell, and Dale Carnegie said that flattery; “is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself“.

But the evidence is that flattery can actually work – even when it is obviously flattery.

For example a new department store in Hong Kong sent out flyers to would-be clothing shoppers which said they were receiving them because they were stylish and fashionable. Even though an impersonal approach it created implicit positivity about the store and swayed them into choosing that stores over others.

The Hong Kong experts put the susceptibility to flattery down to our need for self-enhancement and wanting to feel good about ourselves. The fact that we like to get positive feedback, even when we know it’s not sincere, is a human trait.

With your boss however it’s a different matter as that is a personal interaction. Research in America shows that empty flattery can backfire. Successful flattery takes skill and the more politically skilled you are the less obvious it is. If you are not politically skilled it becomes obvious what you are doing and it generates a negative response. If a supervisor sees an employee’s flattery as a ploy to get ahead it tends to result in lower performance ratings. If the supervisor is fooled by the flattery it results in higher performance ratings.

Research from the Kellogg School in the USA found that managers and directors who have a background in politics, sales, or law, are significantly more likely to engage in more sophisticated forms of ingratiation. Those from upper-class backgrounds are also more sophisticated in ingratiatory behaviour than people from middle or lower-class backgrounds.

This might explain why there are fewer top managers with backgrounds in engineering, accounting, or finance as compared to managers with backgrounds in politics, law, or sales (who routinely indulge in flattery and opinion forming as part of their job). So for managers from either upper-class or politics, law, or sales, backgrounds, ingratiatory behaviour is a form of interpersonal communications and is both acceptable and expected.

Flattery can be considered one form of “impression management” – showing respect, smiling, and expressing agreement, even when you’re not feeling it. Researchers in Israel think displaying initiative and dedication is also a form of impression management. They found that employees’ tactics varied according to the type of organisation.

In rigid hierarchical workplaces, such as the military, where subordinates are highly dependent on their superior’s goodwill, ingratiation is more prevalent and aimed upwards. In more flexible organisations, such as R&D groups, workers used impression management less and focus it on peers as much as superiors. They also use dedication and commitment rather than flattery.

Robert Cialdini, the author of “Influence – science and practice” talks about the difference between influencing ethically and manipulative behaviour. It seems to me that there are many shades of grey along a continuum from influencing ethically, flattery and ingratiation, to manipulation. No wonder some people find it easy to cross the line.

Originally posted on SGANDA in 2010 & 2013

Ah, the wonderful world of psychology…………………

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Politicians use gestures to strengthen the delivery of speeches, while many people shrug or move their hands wildly to make a point. Now, scientists have shown that gesticulating while talking is part of language and affects how the meaning of words is interpreted. Researchers believe that gestures form part of a communication system deeply ingrained in humans, which allow us to be understood. This might explain why many of us gesture while talking on the phone, where our actions can’t be seen.


Dr Marina Nespor, a neuroscientist at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, Italy, who carried out the research set out to explore why humans find it difficult to keep still while speaking. She thinks it’s because gestures and words ‘very probably’ form a single communication system, which serves to enhance expression and help us to make ourselves understood. ‘In human communication, voice is not sufficient:…

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The eyes have it

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Herman Melville famously said; “The eyes are the gateway to the soul”.

More importantly perhaps they are the key to establishing rapport (see “Leaders, NVC, and Charisma”) and also, along with voice pitch, for determining “turn-taking” in conversations.

On the latter point Margaret Thatcher once got into what looked like an argument with Robin Day as she appeared to constantly interrupt him.

On analysis what happened was that because Mrs Thatcher was constantly dropping her voice at the end of sentences (she had moved on from the shrill delivery she had when she was Secretary of State for Education & Science  and known as “milk snatcher Thatcher” and had been coached to cultivate a more “intensive care” voice), Day thought she had finished and moved in with another question before she had finished making her point.

Day obviously wasn’t watching her eyes just listening to her voice, and probably the producer’s voice in his ear-piece. So he probably had enough on his plate in terms of cognitive demand.

Breaking eye contact ie looking at the person, then looking away and then back again, signals that we now want to speak. If the other person is looking at you they will hopefully pick up on it and stop speaking to allow you to have your turn.

NB Avoiding eye contact can also mean people think you are shifty even though, in some cultures, it is not thought appropriate to look people in the eye.

The other benefit of breaking eye contact is to allow us to concentrate. I used to work for a boss who, whenever he asked me a question would then close his eyes and blink rapidly. It was most disconcerting at the time until I had another boss who, rather than read my reports (often quite long political policy documents), preferred me to read them out loud to him whilst he leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. He said it helped him to concentrate.

Now, according to an article in the Observer magazine 24/10/10, researchers at the University of Stirling have found that 5-year olds doing mental arithmetic performed better when told not to look at the examiner but at the floor.

Children are drawn to faces; even babies prefer to look at a picture of an upright face rather than an inverted one. But focussing on faces takes brain power and can be distracting when carrying out other mental tasks – hence the need to break eye contact.

So when teachers said to you, as you looked to the heavens for inspiration; “the answers not up there”, how wrong could they be!