Harness the Power of the Visual

  • More Ways To Say Thank You

    Readers share their approaches for saying thank you to colleagues, co-workers, and clients. These suggestions followed the post “The Imperative to Say Thank You.”


    I posed the question to a community of people who care about healthy workplaces: How do you express sincere thanks to colleagues, co-workers and clients? Here are some responses:

    • ...Take that person out for breakfast or lunch. (C. Gosenheimer)
    • ...Taking someone out to lunch to thank them is a nice treat…for both the sender and the receiver. (M. Best)
    • Lovely cards…food, of course that matches the individual’s tastes… (C. Compton)
    • The “TY” award. This is an object that denotes “thankfulness” or something special that symbolizes the group. Pass it around at each team meeting as a special “thank you” to a team member. For example, the TY object could be a trophy with a special team inscription on it. Sue received the trophy last week for something special that she did. Sue now passes it on to someone she thinks deserves it. Everyone gets involved and it encourages everyone to look for special things about team members that should be recognized. (G. Pursell)
    • Have self-stick notes printed with a customized message or picture and space for a personalized message that you can use for special “thank you” notes. For example, the message I used was “For all you do…” (at the top of the note) with “This bud’s for you” and a graphic of a rosebud at the bottom of the note. My personal message was written in the middle (G. Pursell)
    • Whenever I’m in contact with an employee, subcontractor or vendor, I always try to be in an “upbeat”, “everything is possible”, “we’re in this together” frame of mind. We all respond better to sunny people. We all hate to let a sunny person down. If they have bad news or make a mistake, I let them know the impact without overreacting or belittling them. I help them look for options to make things right. I make mistakes, too. I know how it feels to make an unintentional or silly mistake. I let them know when they do a good job because I like my work to be appreciated, too. I show appreciation by learning about and showing interest in their personal lives. I try to remember special events in their lives as well. I, also, show appreciation through work lunches, flowers, small gifts, birthday dinners and special vacation bonuses. But these are worth nothing without a liberal use of the words “Thank you”.... (M. Webster)
    • I have trained myself to be cognizant of the greatness of others. I have found that acknowledging and thanking people for their efforts is most powerful when said right in front of them and looking into their eyes. I let those in upper management know the people responsible for our team’s successes as well as celebrate with my team in meetings where we are all present to share triumphs. (D. Lautenschleger)
  • The Imperative to Say Thank You

    If we really believed that our success at work depends on other people being successful in their jobs, what would we do differently?

    I ask this in the context of exploring our interdependence as people working within the same organization. We Americans have a dim sense of our interdependence with each other and with the rest of the world.

    Yet, no matter what our role is, we are supported by many other people of whose work we may know nothing. How many times do we think about the people who are on the roof fixing the leaks or the people who deliver the products or the people whose job it is to find resources for the organization or those who ensure that everyone gets a paycheck?

    When I ask audiences what we would do differently if we really acknowledged our mutual dependence, an answer that comes up is this—We would say “thank you” more often.

    I sometimes go to the other extreme and end a phone call with an absent-minded, “Thanks.” There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it’s more a nicety than an authentic expression of gratitude.

    So what are some authentic expressions that really say “thank you” to co-workers? Here is a list of ways to thank others for a job well done or just because their work every day makes your work (and your success) possible.

    1. A face-to-face “thank you”
    Say why you appreciate what was done for you. “I appreciated your referring that client. I would not ordinarily have had an opportunity to work with him/her and it’s an area I’ve been wanting to get into.”

    2. A hand-written note
    A hand-written thank you note or card will stand out. Very few people take the time to write a message in their own hand. A card or note will last longer than an E-mail. When I visited a client, I felt humbled and happy to see a card I had sent displayed on her desk. (Remember to include the details of why you are appreciative.)

    3. A hand-written card from the whole work group or staff
    This is nice for the times when the whole office has received special help or consideration. Having each person write a few lines and sign the card is a thoughtful gesture and brings every employee into the process. It can also get people into the habit of thinking and behaving appreciatively. It makes my day when I receive one of these.

    4. An E-card
    Many E-greetings are free of charge and all of them enable a personal message.

    5. Custom cards automatically created and sent
    You can send real paper cards (with stamps) that are generated automatically through http://www.sendbettercards.com/ This is a web-based service that prints, stuffs, stamps and mails cards for any occasion from you. (You create your own messages and can even have the card message generated in your own handwriting.) Try out the service free.

    6. A single flower
    If you can manage it, include one of those little plastic tubes that keeps the stem in water. This could mean the difference in the flower making it through the day. When I was an assistant principal in a high school, I put a red rose in a teacher’s mail box as part of an apology. It made a difference.

    7. A favorite candy bar or a piece of really good chocolate or a perfect piece of fruit
    Noticing what people particularly like or never eat helps here.

    8. A gift certificate to a movie for two

    9. A special award created for a special project
    I once produced a video for an event called the Showcase. Taking a cue from the Oscars, my colleagues created and presented me with a “Showscar” which is a gold statuette flanked by a CD. My “Showscar” stands proudly on my bookcase.

    10. Leave a brief message on someone’s answering machine
    “I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your doing XYZ. Thanks so much. We were able to get it done on schedule thanks to you.” And that’s all you need to say.

    11. Home-baked cookies, bars, muffins, cupcakes
    Anything you bake yourself is almost always appreciated, although few would turn down a bag of cookies from the bakery tied with colorful ribbons.

    And these last two are from Jo Condrill who suggests:

    12. A small certificate of appreciation. As Jo says, it doesn’t have to be a full-size. A smaller size framed certificate will be eye-catching and easier to fit in most office spaces.

    13. A U.S. Flag
    Give a U.S. flag that has flown over the Capitol. It is a unique gift and costs range from $9-$25. depending on how much personalization you want. A certificate of authenticity is included. Call or check the web site of your U.S. congressman or congresswoman to order.
    How do you say thanks to the people you work with? Please let me know.

    If this idea of interdependence in the workplace interests you, read “Declare Your Interdependence,” Chapter 3 in Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice

  • Soft Skills—Call Them What They Are

    It grates on me when I hear people talk about “soft skills.” Although definitions vary, soft skills generally refer to the ability to communicate effectively, knit a group of people together toward achieving a goal, and create a sense of shared community and purpose. CareerBuilder.com’s Kate Lorenz describes these as “interpersonal skills and leadership qualities to guide teams of diverse professionals.”

     “…Firms today are having a very difficult time finding managers who have superior ‘soft skills’,” says John P. Kreiss, president of SullivanKreiss, a recruitment and placement firm for design and construction professionals.  Based on my own consulting practice, I would have to agree that most workplaces could do with more soft skills.

    Our language is part of the problem. By calling them “soft,” we are demoting this constellation of abilities and skills to something frilly, mushy and largely unimportant. Let’s find a more fitting term for them.

    We use the term “hard skills” to describe technical expertise such as ability to read balance sheets, conduct market research, create computer programs, diagnose engine troubles, perform surgery, conduct research, design skyscrapers. These are all essential skills. What if we called them “soft” skills? It wouldn’t fit. They are too important to be called soft.

     This same argument can be made for what we now call soft skills. If we have learned anything from the last half of the twentieth century, it’s that language is important. It matters what we call things. Language frames expectations. Working women were called “girls” around the time I was born. Anyone calling a woman in the workplace today a “girl” would be instantly perceived as an oaf. If you call a paramedic an “ambulance driver” you will surely incur that person’s wrath. During the 2008 Democratic Primary race, pundits who don’t like Senator Hillary Clinton called her “Mrs. Clinton” and referred to Barack Obama as “Senator Obama” in the same sentence. For telling ethnic jokes in the workplace—fill in the blank for which group is the target—those in search of a cheap laugh risk getting scowled at, shushed, or fired. Peter Senge says, “Words do matter. Language is messy by nature, which is why we must be careful in how we use it.”

     “Emotional Intelligence” was added to the modern lexicon by Daniel Goleman. Much of what he called Emotional Intelligence would be considered soft skills and includes self awareness, self regulation, self motivation, social awareness and social skills.

    Goleman reports that in work performance, large variations exist between “average” and “high performing” employees.  He found that only a third of this difference is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds is due to emotional competence–those soft skills.  In top leadership positions, he says, emotional intelligence accounts for over four-fifths of the variation between average and high performance.

    There is a business case for what we call soft skills. So let us call them what they are—higher order skills.

    Updated 10-31-08


    Kate Lorenz, “What Are Soft Skills?” CareerBuilder.com, 2005,<http://msn.careerbuilder.com/Custom/MSN/CareerAdvice/532.htm?siteid=cbmsn4417&sc_extcmp=JS_js5_may05_advice&cbRecursionCnt=1&cbsid=124f22b59ba543bfb98781df040bd9a1-255822427-r2-4> (February 11, 2008). 

    [ii] John P. Kreiss, “In Search of Soft Skills: Creative and Technically Skilled Employees Can Have Trouble Learning Good Management Skills,” ASLA Business Quarterly, June 20, 2005,< http://www.asla.org/businessquarterly/softskills.html> (February 11, 2008).

    [iii] Peter M. Senge, “The Practice of Innovation,” Leader to Leader 9 (Summer 1998): 16-22.

    [iv] The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, “The Emotional Competence Framework,” 1998, <http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/emotional_competence_framework.html> (February 11, 2008). 

    [v] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, (New York: Bantam, 1998).

  • Wordle Has Me Enchanted

    This amazing “word cloud” was created by Wordle at http://wordle.net. The site creates customized word clouds from any text that you provide. Words that appear more frequently in the source text show up relatively larger. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The resulting images can be printed, shared on a BLOG. Heck, you can even put the images on T-shirts. You can put your Wordles in the on-line gallery which is open for the universe to see which is why so many of them are anonymous.

    I entered my entire 170-page book, Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™, and this is the picture I got. I was thrilled because it captured my book which is about what people can achieve in their work life. And when I write my next book, I will “Wordle” it to make sure the themes that are most important have the biggest presence.

    Wordle is being used is to create word clouds of speeches of public figures and candidates. You can see at a glance what the speakers focused on most. It can be scary actually. Although the brilliant man who created Wordle, Jonathan Feinberg, calls it a “toy” it is really a tool for cutting to the core of what’s being said. I could imagine Wordle pictures of candidate speeches influencing the presidential election.

    I like the idea of communicating visually. It’s a very nice change from the usual.

  • Stay Emotionally Healthy While you Work

    My book Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™ launched on Labor Day, 2008.  The aim of The Clover Practice™ is greater peace of mind and reduced stress.

    The Clover Practice™ comes from my 20-plus years as a management consultant and, like a clover, consists of three principles:

    • Tell the Truth, Always
    • Speak for Yourself
    • Declare Your Interdependence

    All three of these principles are simple, but not easy to live. If peace of mind is the aim, we need to be truthful even when it’s not convenient and even when we don’t look too good. White lies even compromise our integrity and the degree to which others trust us. This doesn’t mean we say everything that comes to mind. We don’t have to share our opinions on everything. They are just our opinions, after all, and not eternal truths.

    Talking to others about how things look from your perspective based on what you have heard and seen and experienced is a much better way to be heard than telling people they are careless, uncooperative, clueless, unprofessional, incompetent, etc. If you make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and are willing to entertain other views, you are more likely to be heard. In any work situation, there are as many ‘truths’ as people in the room.

    Declare your interdependence is the third leaf of The Clover Practice™. is a hard sell in a country that celebrates its independence every Fourth of July. Our personal success at work depends on other people in the same organization being successful. No one succeeds alone even if they think they do. Organizations aren’t machines, they are living fabrics. What happens in one part of the organization affects many other parts of the organization. It is difficult for us to see how what we do affects others in ways we would never dream of. It is also difficult for us to see how we have a hand in creating our own problems. When we wake up and see these connections more clearly, we can choose different behaviors which can ultimately mean less conflict and stress and more peace of mind for us.

    Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice™ may be ordered from Amazon.com.

  • Scolding Employees Like They Were Children

    A friend invited me to her new home today to see the place and to enjoy lunch outside on the patio. The conversation turned to her experience working as holiday help for a department store. She described a communication encounter with a supervisor that still stings even though it took place several years back. She was helping a customer with a large order and was not in the location her supervisor expected to find her.

    This supervisor could have asked if there was a reason my friend was not at her assigned post. Instead the woman scolded my friend as if she were a child goofing off. When my friend tried to explain that she was helping a customer, the supervisor merely continued the scolding with a more imperious tone. My friend quit soon after. The store lost a vivacious, customer-centered, quality-focused worker. What would make this supervisor think that treating employees like errant children is an effective approach to getting good work done?

  • “How to Lead Effective Meetings” Site Wins Award

    Kathleen’s web site How to Lead Effective Meetings was selected as the winner in the web category in the 2007 Information Mapping (IMI) international competition. The site which provides tools and techniques for productive meetings was co-designed by Les Howles, UW-Madison Division of Information Technology. The meetings site was created for a higher education audience using principles of Information Mapping, although the approaches work for meetings in any organization.

    Information Mapping method is a research-based approach to the analysis, organization, and visual presentation of information based on how the human mind actually reads, processes, remembers, and retrieves information.

    Kathleen provides professional development activities and workshops on how to make the most of meeting time.