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Managing the Layoff Notice

The announcement by Microsoft this week of massive layoffs brought to mind my own experience at Tektronix when it began paring employees, signaling the start of its downward drift as a major employer. 

Laying off employees — whether it's one or thousands — is no fun. Communicating the layoffs is no fun either, but there are ways to make it less painful — for those losing their jobs and those staying. 

Painful Lesson #1

Let employees and other internal stakeholders (key vendors, consultants, strategic partners) know about layoffs before the general public. Nobody likes to get the news about a layoff their could affect them in a newspaper.

There are always logistical, timing and legal considerations that go into how and when a layoff is announced. But here is the painful truth — there is always, always a negative, sometimes permanent reaction when the layoff announcement is made public before it is made personally. 

Employees are not dumb. They know when layoffs are looming. They may even understand why they are necessary for the greater good of the company or organization. What they can't forget — or maybe forgive — is being the last to know.

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Learning the Language of Listening

Learning to become a fluent listener is a lot like learning a new language. It takes dedication, practice and keeping off your smartphone to check for email messages.In learning any new language, you have to figure out where to begin. That is also true for learning the language of listening.

If you belong to the "I'm the Smartest Guy in the Room" club or feel obliged to explain why everyone else is wrong, then listening is probably a foreign language to you. 

Unfortunately, there isn't a RosettaStone tape to learn to listen. You have to learn on your own, often cold turkey.

Here are some suggestions for where to start:

Watch Good Listeners 

Just as some people learn a new language by watching TV shows in that language, you can learn a lot about listening by watching good listeners. You may not have to go very far to find them. They may be coworkers or your employees. Put them in charge of a brainstorming session and see how they guide a conversation and listen.

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Entertaining Your Audience

Public speaking no longer is considered entertainment, but public speakers should know how to be entertaining — or brief.

The people who bring us TED Talks offer some valuable advice on how speakers can attract and keep an audience's attention. Here is some of that advice: 

Effective speakers weave their message into a story that helps listeners understand context and why they should care. 

Timing is everything. TED Talks speakers get 18 minutes to speak, but audiences make up their mind in far less time whether to listen. TED Talks advisers say the sweet spot for a talk is 12 minutes, but don't be fooled, people will tune out in a jiffy unless you are "funny, profound or ingenious." You better say something, and say it in a way that beats the competition of content on a smartphone.

Too many speakers turn into spectators when they use PowerPoint slides. Presentation materials are props and sidekicks, not tele-prompters or speech notes. If you have to read your slides, listeners may wonder whether you know what you're talking about. For all they know, your assistant prepared the slides that you are reading. 

In the excitement of speaking, some people talk in one long run-on sentence. A sentence never ends. There are no pauses. There is no cadence to give verbal cues to listeners about important points. Your speech is an oral blur. Stop. Take a breath. Think about your words. Give your speech some inflection.

TED Talks data indicates that you need to look the part you’re are speaking. You are, in effect, a performer. Playing Hamlet in blue jeans may not work for your audience. Dress appropriately for your talk so your audience doesn't see a buffoon not worth listening to.

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Quarreling with People Who Buy Ink by the Barrel

For a long time, people in the PR business urged clients to avoid picking fights with "people who buy ink by the barrel." It is another way of saying, "don't bring a knife to a gunfight."

But Walmart isn't accustomed to taking advice, as evidenced this week by its response to a New York Times column that accused the giant retailer of paying "humiliating wages" to its workers and being a "net drain" on the U.S. economy because its employees rely on food stamps and Medicaid.

David Tovar, Walmart's vice president of corporate communications, decided to apply his red pen to Tim Egan's column, with this note attached: "Tim, Thanks for sharing your first draft. Below are a few thoughts to ensure something inaccurate doesn't get published." 

Walmart posted the Tovar editing job on its website, then let the fur fly. The "Fact Check" post quickly attracted media and blogger attention in a way that a press release or ordinary rebuttal would never have achieved. 

So does this mean that the advice about avoiding fights with guys that buy ink by the barrel is no longer valid? Not quite. 

First off, Walmart, which is the frequent target of a wide array of critics, is a special case. When other people routinely use you as a punching bag, you might be entitled now and again to punch back. Especially if you punch with some flair, as Tovar did.

However, for most companies and organizations, staging a public quarrel with the media usually doesn't turn out so well. You appear defensive. And you often don't get the last word. Depending on your ability to project your protest, you might not even get noticed.

There are constructive avenues to express concern or correct facts. Most publications will afford someone the chance to rebut an editorial or respond to a major story aimed at them. A well-reasoned op-ed becomes a valuable PR tool well beyond its publication date. It can be shared with stakeholders and customers, and it can be posted on a website. It even can be the basis for a special-purpose website that tells your side of the story in more detail, with supportive validation.

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Make Your Apology Faultless

People make mistakes, sometimes really big ones. Owning your mistakes is one path to redemption. Compounding your mistakes is the road to perdition. 

GM is a perfect case in point. After failing to notify GM car owners of faulty ignition switches for nearly a decade, which resulted in numerous deaths, GM compounded the problem by sending belated recall notices to the survivors of victims. Its careless follow-through generated more ire, louder congressional hearings and car buyer doubts.

In the newspaper world, there was a standing order for staff to pay special attention to any correction going into print. You would be surprised how often corrections are muffed, enraging people who already were miffed. Correcting a correction is the work of fools. 

Nothing undermines an apology more than an apology followed by another faux pas. The second flub tells people your apology wasn't sincere, or at least sincere enough to bother to double-check your words. What you intended as remorse comes across as indifference or insensitivity.

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Getting Stupid to Get Smart

Few blogs start with the assertion: "I'm really stupid," then go on to defend stupidity as a way to get smarter.

"I used to think when I added stuff to my brain, I'd get smarter," writes James Altucher, author of the recently published Choose Yourself! "But this is not true. For instance, if I look up when Charlemagne was born, I'd just add a fact to my brain, which I will forget tomorrow. This won't make me smarter."

Altucher says the way to get smarter is, in effect, to get dumber. "Subtraction, not addition, is what makes the window to the brain more clear, wipes away the smudges, opens the drapes." 

It isn't just facts that require subtraction. Altucher says the greatest obstacles to optimal thinking are feelings, such as paranoia, resentment, regret, guilt and perfectionism.

"I'm imperfect. The shame of imperfection takes at least 20 percent of my intelligence away," he claims. 

Trying to maintain control is another brain blocker. "I want to control everything around me," Altucher says, "But some times things are bad and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you have to surrender. Then a great weight lifts off your shoulders." That can be valuable, he adds, because your brain is already a great weight on your shoulders.

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In a Crisis, Snap a Selfie

What better way to clear up confusion or go on the offensive in a crisis than to snap a selfie and post it on Instagram.

Jill Abrahamson, after her firing as executive editor of the New York Times, captured herself with boxing gloves and a punching bag.

Beyonce and her sister Solange documented themselves on Instagram skipping together following release of elevator video showing Solange in a punch-out with Jay-Z.

Does this mean Instagram is the new magic wand of crisis management? Hardly. But it is interesting.

Rule one in crisis response is to get out your story as quickly as possible – and to keep talking as long as the crisis lasts. Letting the story line get ahead of your story can be disastrous.

Ask former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki who was engulfed with a deepening scandal over delayed medical care for veterans and manipulation of wait time reports by local VA officials to cover up the truth and tune up their stats to receive incentive pay.

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Don't Equivocate; Tell Your Story

The nagging question that won't go away is whether it is too risky to tell your side of a controversial story before someone else tells theirs. It is a question that has already been answered and punctuated by the realities of social media and 24/7 news cycles.

Hesitating to share your narrative leaves the door wide open for your opponent or antagonist to share his first. That automatically puts you on the defensive. You have to tell your story around the corners and crevices of your opponent's story.

"I know, but I don't want to ignite a story that may never see the light of day if I say nothing" is a common concern. The "lie low" strategy has a long and pocked history. It works sometimes, or at least for some time. Eventually the dirt under the rug is unearthed.

The unearthing process has become a whole lot more prevalent with the advent of smartphones that can capture your words or actions when you think nobody is listening or watching. They can be accidental captures or intentional, but when shared on social media they can become embarrassing moments for the whole world to see. 

Instead of fretting over whether to tell your story, spend your energy deciding how best to tell it. What should you say that will convey your facts in a credible context? Where should you say it? What additional information or links can you provide that reinforce your story? 

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Making Yourself a Ruthless Copyeditor

Oftentimes the only thing standing between you and abject embarrassment is your copyeditor. For most people, you can say hello to your copyeditor in the mirror.

It is a luxury to have an actual copyeditor to look over your writing, correct spelling and grammar, tighten sentences and point out incomplete thoughts. But most people don't have a copy editor. They just have a laptop or smartphone — and a deadline. 

Writing, for many people, is a chore or even a burden. For others, it is a breeze, accomplished seemingly without much exertion. The tortoise and the hare writers can both suffer the same fate — missing words, tangled sentences and jumbled thinking. Here are a few tips that can help:

1. Before writing anything, know what you want to say

The best writing is writing about what you know. That includes knowing what you want to say — What's your main point? Why it is important? What do you want your reader to take away? Create an outline, record your thoughts or just scribble notes. If you have a basic idea of what you want to say, the writing part is a lot easier.

2. Write what you want to say quickly

Once you have decided what you want to say, sit down and write, as quickly as possible to complete your full thought. Now you have something to work with. It's not a polished final product, but it is a full expression of your idea. 

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Insider Dope on Digital Health

Leaked New York Times report provides insight into how to achieve digital health by finding an audience, making a personalized connection and pursuing a strategy based on viewers, not you.Many people puzzle over how to prosper online and now a leaked internal report from the New York Times provides useful insight on "digital health."

Some of the key insights include the need to go find your audience, the value of fresh content and the importance of packaging your material. There also is a section on drawing back the curtains on your operation to establish a more personal connection with viewers. Perhaps the most fundamental insight is that digital outreach will flounder without a clear strategy.

None of these insights represent radical revelations. But they add weight to the importance of these actions to digital success based on the direct, high-profile experiences of one of the major digital content generators in the nation. 

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