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How to Keep Communication Quality High When Things Head in the Wrong Direction at Work

Not surprisingly, it’s easy to engage with coworkers and project team members when things are going great. People are in good moods. Disagreements are readily laughed off and agreeable solutions easily discovered

Yes, it’s easy to be a communication superstar during the good times. The real question is what happens to your effectiveness as a communicator when the train rolls off the tracks and the you-know-what hits the fan? What follows are some approaches to keep your communication quality high and rolling along smoothly when everyone and everything around you is on the brink of derailing

1. Look for the Warning Signs and Take Action

Much like a change in barometric pressure indicates a coming shift in the weather there are always clues to a changing communication situation. Escalating opinions on decisions or, the frustration expressed by a stakeholder or boss about a project’s progress almost always foreshadow rising tensions and challenging communications situations.

When the fingers start pointing, and the excuses start flowing, you’ve lost control. Deft communicators recognize the leading indicators and jump in immediately to salvage these situations before they go too far.

One project manager under extreme pressure from top management let...

One State's Proven Strategy for Civil Service Reform

Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam initiated civil service reform in 2011, the first year of his two-term administration, and under his leadership the initiative was a solid success that is relevant at all levels of government.  The Republican former Mayor of Knoxville was a business executive prior to entering politics. His Cabinet included a couple of former executives from large companies. That’s important to the story.

The state’s circumstances mirrored those of the federal government. Tennessee’s civil service law dated to 1939. The state was known as a laggard in moving away from archaic employment practices. When Haslam was inaugurated, 40 percent of the state workforce would be eligible to retire within five years. State hiring was mired in extended delays. Pay and promotions were based on seniority. The skills shortage, declining interest in government careers and an aging workforce portended future performance problems.

One of Haslam’s announced goals was to build a “winning” workforce.  As he commented in a speech, “Whether it’s in business, government or sports, the team with the best players wins. Unfortunately, in Tennessee state government . . . the rules don’t allow us to go out and recruit great players.”

Defining the...

Just 16 Minutes Of Sleep Loss Can Harm Work Concentration The Next Day

  • By Soomi Lee, David M. Almeida, Orfeu M. Buxton and Ross Andel
  • May 6, 2019
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Have you had a less-than-stellar performance review lately? Do you daydream, or are you making bad decisions?

It might not be about your job but about your sleep. And it’s not all your fault.

We each study different aspects of health and aging. A recent study we conducted found that poor sleep may inhibit judgment and lead to off-task and distracting thoughts at work. Making sleep a priority can improve cognitive performance at work.

Less sleep, less concentration

Sleep loss of about a quarter of an hour can affect work performance. fizkes/

Using eight-day diary data from a sample of 130 middle-aged workers in a U.S. IT firm, we found that a previous night’s sleep characteristics predicted next-day “cognitive interference,” or the experience of off-task and distracting thoughts.

To measure this, we used a 5-point frequency (0=never to 4=very often) and averaged responses on nine items that measure the experience of off-task and distracting thoughts than usual. For example, one of the questions was “How often did you have thoughts that kept jumping into your head today?”

On days following shorter and poorer quality sleep than usual, workers reported more cognitive interference. Across...

In The U.S., We Still Sit Way Too Much

Most Americans continue to sit for prolonged periods despite public health messages that sitting increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed surveys of 51,000 people from 2001 to 2016 to track sitting trends in front of TVs and computers and the total amount of time spent sitting on a daily basis. Unlike other studies that have looked at sedentary behaviors, the new study is the first to document sitting in a nationally representative sample of the US population across multiple age groups—from children to the elderly—and different racial and ethnic groups.

“In almost none of the groups we analyzed are the numbers going in the right direction,” says senior author Yin Cao, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of surgery in the public health sciences division at Washington University in St. Louis. “We want to raise awareness about this issue on multiple levels—from individuals and families to schools, employers, and elected officials.”

“We think a lot of these sedentary habits are formed early, so if we can make changes that help children be more active, it could pay off in the future, both for children as...

Find Greater Success By Embracing ‘Soft’ Deadlines

The work offers a way to peek under the hood of deadlines, map out their uncertainty, and fold it into a project management system.

“Our society tends to think of deadlines as less flexible than other aspects of a project, but in reality, that’s often not the case,” says Tom Logan, a doctoral student in industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan. “When we recognize that, it enables us to do some really novel things.”

Success Rate 

Logan worked on the project with Robert Bordley, professor of practice and program director in Integrative Systems + Design at the University of Michigan College of Engineering.

In a series of experiments testing the team’s technique, it improved the success rate of projects by up to 40 percent. That improved success rate can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including more timely completion, projects that better fit the original requirements, and improved profitability.

“A deadline is just another stakeholder requirement and we all know that stakeholder requirements hold a certain amount of uncertainty,” Bordley says. “We can’t eliminate that uncertainty, but we can often quantify it. And I’ve found that the value of doing that is very...