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Work emails: Judgement required

From a formal “Dear” line and asking about your weekend, to one-word messages and emojis, to swear words and jokes that toe the line into being NSFW. There are many different approaches to how people write emails at work.

A friend and former colleague, Amanda, recently sent me a hilarious video from CBC’s TV show, Baroness von Sketch, on the topic of work emails. In addition to being just plain funny, she thought the video, which you can view here or by clicking on the screen cap below, was particularly relevant to me given the theme of Pencil Skirts & Punctuation.

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The manager in this video is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to email etiquette. She is informal and unprofessional in emails, and expects staff to act similarly. Although her unprofessionalism is taken to the extreme because it’s *~hilarious~* in the sketch, it’s also relevant for work emails in the real world.

“There’s nothing wrong with throwing in an ‘exclamaysh’… It lets people know that you’re not gonna skin us alive.”

Let’s think about what a real professional work email looks like. In my opinion, it includes a clear subject line, a greeting (such as “Hi Mary,”), short sentences and concise writing, one exclamation mark at the most if required, a clear request or action item, finished with your name and email signature. Don’t forget to proofread. Pretty simple!

As a general rule-of-thumb, being professional (or “profesh”) in emails is important. Why?

  • You may know the person you’re sending an email to, but others CC’d on an email thread – either immediately or in the future – may not know you as well and may not interpret an unprofessional tone in a favourable manner.
  • An attempt to be informal or to make a joke could be risky, because emails lack the nonverbal cues that often make jokes land as intended.
  • An email may be filed for future reference. It would be unfortunate to have an unprofessional email as part of a thread that’s in an official record.
  • Whether you’re starting out in your career or are a seasoned veteran in an industry, email is a tool that helps communicate the type of person you are and your work style. Using a professional tone communicates that you’re polished, dedicated to quality and serious about your career.

That said, know your audience. If you’re emailing a close contact at work, it could be appropriate to include something lighthearted and funny in your email – just make sure it’s suitable for work, and that you think the recipient will be okay seeing it. Showing your personality is an important part of fostering positive interpersonal relationships with colleagues.

What guidelines or rules of thumb do you use for writing work emails? Please share in the comments.

Thanks again to Amanda for inspiring this post!

 

 

 

 

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Kick-off your long weekend with some inspiring videos

The next long weekend here in Ontario is just around the corner, and I can’t wait for time outside of the city, taking in some sun, fun and relaxation. What better way to start off the long weekend with some food for thought in the form of videos?

Below are three videos that have inspired me. The folks sharing information in them are brilliant, highly-motivated and successful. Check them and let me know what you think in the comments!

Entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk talks about making the most of your talent, working hard and getting advice.

Next, life and business strategist Tony Robbins weighs-in on why and how taking 10 minutes each morning can help you prime yourself for having an optimal day.

Lastly, organizational psychologist Adam Grant shares the habits of thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world.

Managing career challenges: Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg

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Photo via CBC.ca (Matt Albiani/Penguin Random House)

I was inspired by an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling book Lean In. As a seasoned strategic business person, Sandberg is well-suited to provide career advice, so I was interested to hear her professional advice.

But this interview addressed a different issue. Sandberg talked about her new book, Option B, which discusses how she dealt with the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. She talked about how she and her children faced the loss and how she learned to turn grief into joy. She was candid and provided personal anecdotes.

I thought about how the lessons she shared can apply when facing professional challenges. The research and advice that went into her book has far-reaching applications, beyond the type of personal loss that Sandberg faced.

You might find that you’re faced with a professional “option B” if a project has failed, you’ve been laid off or lost your job, or you’re struggling to adjust to a new job. Since work is the biggest stressor for Canadians, it’s likely that any of these work-related situations were to occur, the effects would be far-reaching into one’s life.

The three take-aways that apply to these types of professional situations include:

  1. Build your resilience – The ability to endure tough times is an attribute that can help one both professionally and personally, as with Sandberg’s experience. Sandberg describes a key step in building her resilience as when she and her children set out to play and enjoy a favourite board game, despite their feelings of grief four months after he passed away. Continuing to perform and be productive when faced with a professional challenge, no matter how small, is important for building your ability to be resilient. Making a resiliency a habit will be beneficial in case you face adversity in your career.
  2. Your feelings are impacted by your actions – By changing your actions and your circumstances, your feelings often follow suit. For Sandberg, her feelings of grief changed over time after actively learning how to manage her grief. Facing a professional challenge may evoke feelings of anger, frustration, stress or anxiety. However, taking actions to find solutions can alleviate these feelings. Seeking advice from a mentor, dedicating your time to managing a poorly-performing project, or making (and abiding by) a job search action plan are all positive actions to take.
  3. Rebuild your confidence – After facing a challenge, you might lose confidence in doing things that you once excelled at. For example, after returning to work after bereavement leave, Sandberg lost confidence in her work. She confided in her boss, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder), that she felt she wasn’t performing as she once did in meetings. She reported that told her, “you said two really important things today and here’s what they were. He built me up.” This example demonstrates how small steps (such as speaking up in meetings), getting feedback, and engaging a trusted support network are important for building confidence.

Have you read Option B?

Are there any other lessons from this book that apply to a professional setting?

 

 

Cultivating your personal brand

Have you ever thought about creating a personal brand for yourself? If not, you’re in the right place! I’m going to explore what a personal brand is, and provide some tools and tips to get you started on building yours.

Taking a step back, the concept of a brand is something that you’re probably familiar with. The shoes you’re wearing, the store that you bought your latte from this morning, and the smartphone or computer that you’re reading this post on probably all have brands associated with them.

Some examples of products with well-known brands.

Although brands themselves are unique, the overarching concept of a brand means they all have something in common. A brand makes a product greater than its tangible attributes. Brands stand for something. By standing for different things, brands differentiate one product from another in the minds of consumers.

So, what is a personal brand? Your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others. Usually, in the professional domain, this includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

By positioning your work or career as a brand, you can help others to easily identify what makes you stand out, and what you are considered the go-to expert or resource on.

How do you determine your personal brand? Is this all new to you? If so, I got you fam. I’ve found a few tools and tips to get you started.

  • PwC has a built robust workbook that you can use to determine your strengths, understand your values, highlight your passions and define what drives you. Doing this legwork will ensure that your personal brand will reflect who you truly are – both inside and outside of the workplace. Think of the time spent on this as an investment in your future self!
  • Entrepreneur provides some timely tips on personal branding as well. They suggest that being authentic and visible, knowing your industry and giving back are among the essentials for sustaining a healthy personal brand.

Live your brand. Once you define and refine your brand, bring your vision to reality. Fast Company provides some tips for walking the walk (rather than just talking the talk) so that you can leverage the power of “word of mouth marketing”. Increasing the visibility of your brand can boost its validity, making you more marketable as a professional.

The article suggests trying the following activities to increase your expertise and thought leadership:

  • Teach a course at a community college
  • Join a panel discussion or conduct a presentation at a conference
  • Highlight your expertise using a consistent voice through your social media profiles, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn

What tips to you have for building your personal brand?

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What makes you feel good about your work?

In his TED Talk, behavioural economist Dan Ariely shares what motivates us to go to work every day. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just a pay cheque or bonus! Other things, like ownership of tasks, attaining goals and being challenged, play roles in making work meaningful. These factors continue to be important, even in the knowledge economy.

Check out his Ariely’s TED Talk below.

As I’ve mentioned, I work as a PR and communications professional in the health and life science industry. I feel fortunate to manage projects from start to finish, giving me a sense of ownership over my work. Further, I find my work meaningful because I am playing a small part in contributing to the health of others.

What makes your job meaningful to you?

How to set SMART goals for PR pros


As I’m in the process of writing my professional goals for the next year at work, it’s now a good time to focus on some best practices for goal-setting. Rather than just shooting blindly for the stars, I’m going to set SMART goals that will allow me to prove I’ve delivered against them at annual review time.

What are SMART goals? Each goal includes the following “SMART” elements, resulting in goals that can be tracked, evaluated and benchmarked.

Specific – Call out the who, what, when, where and why. What exactly do I need, or want, to do?

Measurable – Numbers are everything! Without metrics, I won’t be able to know if I’ve achieved a goal, or how far I need to go to get there.

Attainable – The end result needs to be attainable based on my skill set and experience level.

Realistic – Goals can be hugely motivating, so I’ve got to be honest with myself about what I can achieve. I’ll need to consider my workload and available time to set goals that are actually do-able in the next year.

Time-bound – Calling out the milestones between now and next year will enable me to make sure I’m in good shape in achieving my goals once my annual review comes along.

I’ll share learnings through the goal-setting process as my SMART goals crystallize.

In the meantime, do you have any other tips for goal-setting?

 

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What’s behavioural finance and how can it help me save more?

A few years ago I watched this TEDTalks video by economist Shlomo Benartzi, entitled, Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow. Although it’s a few years old, and is based on US data, there were a lot of key messages that really resonated with me and still do.

Benartzi discusses how the general population’s lack of saving is a result of behavioural challenges related to self-control, loss-aversion and immediate gratification, and presents a solution to help increase savings – all related to an area of his expertise, called behavioural finance. In fact, a Bloomberg article discusses the growing influence of behavioural finance in many different, and even unsuspected, industries, and how it’s changing the way organizations reach their target markets.

I thought it was particularly interesting when Benartzi discusses a study of people who contributed to their retirement savings following the “save more, tomorrow” strategy, at 12:00 in the video above.

Keeping in mind my recent post on career transitions, I hope that many of you are progressing in your careers in a positive trajectory. As you move up in your roles – and your compensation moves up accordingly – I think it’s a great idea to keep this “save more, tomorrow” strategy in mind and “pay yourself first” by contributing more to savings incrementally.

What did you think of the tips in this TEDTalks video?