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Surviving friendly fire

Five tips for dodging bullets when dealing with employees.


Within virtually every organization, employees from different departments will have to interact. No one having direct authority can easily lead to conflicts and bruised egos. That’s why, when I coach teams on how to enhance internal customer satisfaction, I remind them it’s not just what they communicate to other departments, but how they do so.

To ensure you and your team are seen as value-adding assets rather than interruptions, keep these five tips in mind:

1. Talk in person. Too often, we communicate with other departments in writing rather than having face to face conversations. When you have a new request or procedure that requires explaining, begin by talking in person to that department’s key influencers. Ask for their advice. That helps generate buy-in. Ask who else you should be talking to, including any naysayers. Finally, when you decide upon the most likely accepted course of action, send a short written summary; more as a confirmation than as a proposal or directive.

2. Be a straight talker. Write the way you speak. Your communiques to coworkers should sound like a conversation; not a press release, essay or legal document. Sprinkle in some self-effacing humour. That makes you sound more like a real person and less like a bureaucrat.

3. Make your communications RACI. An engineer client of mine explained that on every construction project, team members from all departments agree upfront how the communications will be handled using the acronym RACI. The only people who will be copied on emails about the project will be: R – the one person who is Responsible for overseeing the project; A – the senior person who will be held Accountable for the project; C – people outside the project who may be Consulted for input; and finally, I – who should be Informed throughout the project. By clarifying how communications will be handled in advance reduces confusion and prevents others from becoming annoyed when you copy them (or don’t copy them) on a message.

4. Nix the self-promoting. Any announcement that remotely sounds like patting yourself on the back is going to be met with scorn and derision. Take the generous approach when announcing a success, and go to great lengths to recognize the others who helped make it happen. Ironically, the more you heap praise on others while leaving yourself in the background, the more likely you are to be appreciated and respected for your generosity and humility.

5. Forget becoming a BFF. Some employees try too hard to fit-in with co-workers in other departments. A boomer-aged accountant in a suit will have a hard time being seen as “just one of the guys” with young millennials clad in coveralls out in the field. Nor should he try. He’d be better off viewing his role as the field department’s trusted advisor from accounting. He should be quick to express admiration about the amazing things operations folks are doing in the proverbial trenches. Colleagues in the field will appreciate that he respects them while he’s also comfortable in his own skin. In fact, they may even become protective of him, especially when he arrives on site to talk to them in person. Sure he’s an accountant; but darn it – he’s their accountant.

Bottom line – providing support and advice to internal employees requires competence and street-smart communication skills. With just a bit of training, co-workers can avoid preventable battles and instead become valued – literally, as trusted advisors.

This article is based on the bestselling book, Influence with Ease by customer service strategist and Hall of Fame motivational speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com.



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