Friday, February 27, 2015

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome in An Organization

When's the last time that you had an offensive, rude or snarky email in your inbox? If you don't remember then consider yourself lucky. If you're looking at one right now then maybe your organization suffers from Toxic Email Syndrome. Luckily we have a cure for that and it isn't so difficult to apply.

Toxic Email Syndrome seems to occur spontaneously in many workplaces. One person has a bad day and sends a mean-spirited email that they might regret later. Others respond to that in the same way and even more are influenced by the tone to follow in the same style. Over time the culture of sending toxic emails becomes sedimented in the company culture. But there is no reason for this to start and once it has started it can actually be stopped simply by following three best practices:

MANAGEMENT HAS TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. People don't do what you tell them to do, they do what they see you doing. When the management is sending impolite and disrespectful emails to each other and to employees this sets the tone for the communications in the entire organization. So the management has to be trained or at least advised to reflect carefully before clicking send. Management can also help by making sure that employees who send an offensive email are told by their direct supervisor that this is not the right way to do things and that they don't want to see emails like that again. When the response of management to a hostile email is always swift and negative people quickly learn the new company culture.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER SEND A TOXIC EMAIL. Employees should all be trained in some way that toxic emails are strongly discouraged by management -- which they will see in action if you are doing the first point. They should also be trained that toxic emails are also ineffective. In most cases they worsen the problem and, more importantly, they fail to achieve results. Remind employees that they are measured on results like sales booked, lines of code written and so on. Nobody gets a bonus for winning flame wars. Once employees realize that their work becomes easier in a non-toxic email environment it gets easier to convince them to follow policy.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER RESPOND TO PROVOCATIONS. Even if you apply the second point there will still be the occasional email that is out of line, perhaps coming from a newcomer or from outside. Every employee has to be taught how to deal with this. I have covered this in more detail in Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails but the key learning is that you respond to the substance of a message and ignore all the parts that you perceive to be rude, hostile or just snarky. Answer the factual questions and ignore all the rest. Not only does this help work get done, it also de-escalates conflict and makes people feel better.

Once a workplace email system has been purged of toxic emails employees will be more productive and less stressed. The negative consequences of toxic email syndrome are often underestimated so this small effort can yield impressive results. When people are no longer afraid to open emails, when they don't feel their blood boiling when the email notification appears then the are able to focus more energy on constructive work.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures and workshops about effective email and effective email in a global business contact me on or by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also find more contact details on my website at 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Simple Ways to Record a Natural Sounding Speech

Maybe you are a pretty good speaker but when you try to record speeches they always sound wooden, hesitant or just plain boring. Luckily there are some simple methods that anyone can apply to make recordings sound better, and perhaps also easier to make, using no more than a laptop and free sound recording software.

Before you start recording, though, make sure that you have practiced the delivery of the speech so that it sounds as natural as possible. Avoid reading a script, using instead a list of keywords to jog your memory about the key ideas. Unless you are a highly-trained actor it is very unlikely that you will be able to deliver a convincing performance from a written script.

Then when you have mastered the content use these best practices to capture a good recording.

RECORD THE SPEECH USING SOFTWARE THAT ALLOWS EDITING. Record your speech using a laptop with digital audio workstation software like the free Audacity package, which you can download free from or the new ProToolsFirst free version of the industry-standard ProTools package. You can also use audio recording tools like Hokusai on a tablet or even on a smartphone in an emergency. The advantage of these tools is that you can very easily cut pieces out of the recording, adjust levels, adjust speed and otherwise improve the recording. You don't need much skill in sound recording to do the basic editing; with tools like Audacity you can literally cut and paste chunks of sound with your mouse.

WARM UP YOUR VOICE BEFORE YOU START. If you start from cold and speak for a few minutes you'll notice that your voice probably doesn't stabilize for the first minute or two. If you try to warm up the voice then pause before the actual recording there will still be a brief time when your voice is still warming up. The way to avoid these problems is to talk for a few minutes then segue smoothly into your speech with just a short gap. Start the sound recording software before you start the warm-up and leave it running until you have finished the recording of the speech. Later you can trim the recording to remove the warm up. You can warm up saying anything you want, though I usually just use the introduction of the speech repeated a few times until it feels smooth.

RECORD IN ONE LONG, CONTINUOUS TAKE. A professional actor can record a speech then go back later and record additional words to correct an error with a voice that matches exactly the tone of the original recording. Normal speakers rarely have that skill so it is much easier simply to avoid the problem. Instead you should start the recording, then the warmup and then the speech in one long continuous take. Don't start and stop the recording because that can be distracting. What happens if you make a mistake? Simple, just repeat that section again. You can always delete all the bad sections later using the editing tools. To make this easier for yourself it helps to mark bad sections by making a loud click which can be seen very easily in the recording.

These best practices will help you to make a better recording, but you will still need to make sure that the delivery is good even to a live audience. There are some things that you can fix in the editing and post production, but if the speech sounds boring there is no ProTools or Audacity plugin that can fix that.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about public speaking and other communication topics you can reach me by email at, by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website

Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Personalize LinkedIn Connection Requests

Networking experts never tire of telling people that they should always personalize LinkedIn connection requests. Many people ignore standard "I'd like to add you to my network" requests or at least are more reluctant to accept them. What the experts often don't tell you is that over the years personalizing these requests has become more difficult.

Back in the noughties when you clicked on the connect button you were taken to a dialog box where you have had the option to change the standard message to something more personal -- and more effective. More recently the connect button has been changed to send the request immediately. At first you could personalize requests from People You Might Know and user profiles. Today the only place where you can do this is from a user's profile.

What this means is that the connect button that you see in the People You Might Know section today is a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's People You Might Know section. This is a one-click automatic request with no personlization.

In the same way the connect button you find next to people in the search results is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message:

The Connect button in LinkedIn's search page. This is also a one-click automatic request with the standard message.

But when you visit the personal profile of a user there is an identical connect button near the top of their profile:

The Connect button on LinkedIn's user profile pages looks exactly the same but opens a dialog box.

But in this case when you click instead of sending a standard request LinkedIn gives the dialog box which allows the text of the connection request to be personalized.

In the dialog box you can include a personal note, which you most definitely should do if you want the request to be accepted.

Connection requests with a personalized text are much more effective than standard requests so I would recommend that people always send requests from a user's profile page. This also has the useful side effect that just before someone receives the request they see that you have looked at their profile. I am always suspicious of people who want to connect to me but have not even read my profile.

Exactly why LinkedIn makes it so hard to personalize connection requests when this is so important is a mystery to me. In the past I have contacted LinkedIn to point out this problem but so far they never seem to go beyond acknowledging my suggestion. Here is one Twitter exchange on this topic from 2013:

Perhaps one day LinkedIn will address this problem. Meantime, remember that you should always send requests from a user profile page and personalize the text.

More about professional networking

There's much more about professional networking in my book Payforward Networking on the Amazon Kindle bookstore. There will also be a paperback edition soon.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking or other communication topics you can contact me by email at, by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through my website