Living In The Grey #3: The Damage of Social Media

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As a quick recap since it’s been a minute, what I mean by ‘living in the grey’ is to accept the nuances and complexities of the world, without reacting with hostility anytime something impinges on your worldview. In this series, we are particularly talking about the consequences of our general failure to live in the grey, on our ability to communicate with one another.  

When discussing the disruptive, aggressive, unproductive place that we’ve gotten to in communication as a society, there’s really no discussion without diving into the topic of social media. As a completely unprecedented way of bringing people together, social media, with its mantra of connecting the world, has achieved this goal, but not with the intended results.

Sure, there have been major successes, such as 2011’s Arab Spring movement, but these positives are overshadowed several fold by things like Russian bot scandals, Facebook’s role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, and the often horrific tone and content of the dreaded comments section. Social media is as black/white of a space as we have in our society, so diagnosing why this is, through looking at three of the primary issues with social media, can teach us a lot about how we’ve gotten to this place.

Issue #1: A Lack of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is as key of a skill as we have for communication in a society as complex as ours, yet it is lacking on large scales on social media. We need to understand diverse viewpoints and deep topics, which is why opinions distributed to the masses have been previously left up to experts, who would think through a situation before responding.

The immediacy of social media, and the need to always be first and fast with comments, means that critical thinking is quickly swept aside by our emotional reactions. People are putting their feet in their mouths at an unbelievable rate, because of a lack of critical thinking, and this is only exacerbating our communication problems.

Issue #2: A Lack of Personal Responsibility

One of the other main issues with communication on social media is how easily it allows people to shirk responsibility for the things that they say to others. Whether through anonymous profiles, or by a sheer refusal to take account for the humanity of the other people involved, many social media users feel free to unleash on others in ways they never would in person, because they don’t expect the consequences that come with this behaviour.

This lack of personal responsibility also manifests in the online issue of sharing articles based on headlines. Many media companies and publishers use blatantly outrageous headlines to increase the sharing of their articles, and this leads to people forming opinions that aren’t aligned with facts, or even worse, are aligned with outright lies or conspiracies. This proliferation of misinformation has made people suspicious, incredulous, and hateful towards those who disagree with them.

Issue #3: A Lack of Appreciation for the Power of Social Media

This final issue brings together the prior two, and compounds them through the massive reach of social media platforms, and the ability for just about anyone to garner an audience, regardless of their credibility. Gone are the days when a comment could be dismissed as ‘only a Facebook post,’ or ‘just a tweet,’ because we’ve seen the devastation that these communications can bring. People’s lives are being altered and ruined by social media everyday, and at the heart of this is the black/white, us/them, left/right communication that this series hopes to diagnose and cure.

Social media has gone from a Utopian tool aimed at bringing the world together, to an echo chamber generator, filled with hate, misinformation, and emotional reactions. Without critical thinking, personal responsibility, and an appreciation of the power of social media, these trends will only get worse, and become more damaging.

On a personal level, implementing these solutions, and discussing them with those in your social sphere, can go a long way to fixing the bad habits we’ve developed online, and help us all ‘live in the grey.’ While this won’t always be easy, making a concerted effort to get a little better each day will lead to extensive changes in the long term!

For the next piece in this series, we’ll take a look at how generational differences have played a role in dividing us through communication, especially in the workplace.

How to Spot an Uncoachable Employee

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The business world is challenging enough as it is, but what happens when your business depends on employees who might not be that open for cooperation? If you don’t react in time to stop a disaster, you are potentially looking at your business suffering a significant loss, both financially, and concerning your company morale.

If you’re looking to gather the best possible team around you, here are a few things to be on the lookout for when coaching your new employees, to help you avoid getting stuck with an uncoachable group.

They Can’t Take (Negative) Feedback

One of the first clues you are stuck with an employee who’ll give you headaches is that they get defensive in feedback situations. Usually, they’ll become overly emotional, tune out, and try to “explain” and “justify” their poor performance by finding excuses irrelevant to work (e.g., their cat got sick, and they’ve been so stressed lately.)

They Find Blame Elsewhere

Finding blame in everyone and everything outside yourself is usually indicative of a poor performer. They often aren’t interested in doing much for their personal growth, whether individually or as part of your team. They’ll won’t take accountability for their mistakes and, when criticized, they’ll take it as a personal offense, rather than an opportunity for improvement.

They Exploit Personal Relationships

Everyone has been in this situation. A friend’s daughter needed the job, so you were kind enough to let her join your team. After all, you’ve known the kid her whole life, so how could she not be right for the job, right? Ah, the naivete.

If the person you gave this opportunity to keeps ditching responsibilities and shunning the advice you give them, their work should speak louder than existing relationships. Furthermore, if you hear them acting superior with their colleagues because they know you, you’ll have a problem in the long run. If you want to hire someone you know, have a serious talk with them before they start working, and explain they’ll be treated just like any other employee.

They Are Unwilling to Be Vulnerable

To truly progress at work (and in life!) you need to be humble and vulnerable. This requires an openness to admitting your mistakes, asking for help, experiencing discomfort, and having difficult conversations. These are the ingredients that make up your professional and personal relationships. If your employees are too proud to communicate and show their true feelings, they most likely don’t have the potential for growth, and won’t be able to take your coaching seriously.

They Have a Hard Time Changing Their Perspective

As human beings, we are mostly driven by our unconscious mechanisms and “pre-programmed” beliefs. Employees who are open to “re-programming,” i.e., learning new ways of looking at a situation, or being wired for success, are real keepers! In opening up to new perspectives, knowledge, and information, they are expanding their overall understanding of things at work and outside of it, and learning to detect behaviors and beliefs that could potentially sabotage them. Employees who are stubborn in their views are likely the same employees that’ll give you a headache in the long run.

They Think They Are Better Than They Are

The job market is beaming with applications of people looking for jobs of all kinds. This means that plenty of “overqualified” employees take a job that pays rent, while hating every single moment of it. Such an attitude will lead to them feeling superior,not only to other employees, but their leaders as well. Letting these attitudes linger can cause uncomfortable situations and an unproductive work environment.

No matter how intelligent, educated, and smart your employee is, they also need to be adaptable to coaching. And for the C-suite leaders and managers reading this - that includes you. It’s important for companies to think twice before hiring a person who believes they are better than the job they are doing.

Building a team that functions like a well-oiled machine can be tough but if you have uncoachable, ego-driven and stubborn people on the team, you’re going to experience constant friction. When you spot the above signs in employees, you need to take a step back and do an honest assessment of the negative impact that this individual can have on the team, and the company’s growth. After all, your team is the foundation of your business, and one bad apple might just ruin the bunch.

Employee Engagement: Beyond Beer, Wings, and Bowling

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Every reputable company should understand the importance of company culture. The way you communicate your company’s values, vision, belief system, habits, and employee treatment mirrors your company’s culture and captures the essence of your business.

In today’s competitive marketplace, employee engagement has emerged as a critical factor for business success, and is observed as a direct result of the company’s core culture, i.e., its attitude towards the employees it hires. The employee equation of your workplace is simple: if your employees aren’t happy, your business will suffer.

According to Gallup’s 2013 study on the State of the Global Workplace, “only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work” which translates to just one in eight employees contributing to their organizational goals or outcomes. The study further notes a staggering 63% of employees who altogether lack motivation in their workplace. Gallup concludes that “people spend a substantial part of their lives working,” meaning that “the quality of their workplace experience is inevitably reflected in the quality of their lives.”

Employees Need More

Organizing team building activities like a karaoke night, wings, beer, or poker tournaments generally sounds fun, but they don’t cut it anymore. These days, we have a highly disengaged workforce because people aren’t satisfied. They need to feel like their work is valued and that they are a part of a team they can trust and rely on. A sense of security plays a huge role.

No one wants to feel threatened for communicating their thoughts differently than others, asking for their rightfully-earned benefits, or feeling ridiculed for having a different approach to work than their colleagues. Soft skills are taking dominance in the workplace, and smart leaders are embracing tolerance, inclusion, and understanding as their core leadership mottos.

Encourage Two-Way Communication

Airbnb has managed to create a fantastic company culture due to its unrelenting belief in honest, two-way communication. As one of the owners, Levy, explained, “our rule of thumb is that nobody should hear about anything externally until we’ve told them internally.” The company organizes bi-weekly world meetings outside of San Francisco and joins everyone on a live stream.

Every new movement within the company is distributed broadly, and “people really appreciate knowing what we’re talking about, asking questions, and sharing thoughts and ideas.” Levy further noted, "that stems from our communication philosophy that we want to have an honest, open and two-way dialogue between everyone in the company." Similarly to Airbnb, Google and Apple encourage the same type of communication that lets the employees in on everything going on within the company, treating them more as “partners in crime” than “regular employees.”

Build Your Culture Through Belonging

The modern office should no longer cultivate nor encourage the climate of employee fear, dissatisfaction, and frustration. Like Bill Gates put it, “...leaders will be those who empower others.” No matter how fun a workplace you build, if your people don’t feel like a part of your business structure or aren’t comfortable around people they work with, they’ll create cliques that will further lead to the deterioration of your office structure.

Introducing mindfulness, awareness, and understanding in the workplace before organizing a joint field trip to the nearby amusement park could be the way to go.

Rethink the Concept of “Employee Engagement”

In the words of Josh Bersin, “the days of the annual engagement survey are slowly coming to an end, to be replaced by a much more holistic, integrated, and real-time approach to measuring and driving high levels of employee commitment and passion.” Hopefully, things are gradually moving towards understanding the importance of employee happiness and working to build a supportive environment that will make them feel safe and wanted.

Create a Homogeneous Environment

Titles do matter, but do they matter more than the employees themselves? It is not uncommon for the title-chasing enthusiasts to climb up the corporate ladder faster than the others, leaving “the less enthusiastic” employees behind and, in doing so, creating a very uncomfortable work environment.

Big companies might want to consider eliminating official titles to encourage their unlimited creativity and commitment. "The minute people start talking about job titles, or are more interested in equity over changing the world through connecting people …, we know that they are probably barking up the wrong tree," said Levy of Airbnb.

Create a Culture of Fandom

The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, created a culture of fandom, turning it into possibly the best employment strategy ever. Honestly, who would make a better employee for your company than an admiring fan? Add company discounts, gifts and other company-related goodies handed out to the employees for free, and you get a group of enthusiastic and encouraged employees who are over the moon to come to work.

Focus on Employee Encouragement and Development

At Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson encourages an atmosphere of positivity and employee encouragement: “I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers and that people flourish when they are praised.” Apple also focuses on their employees’ contribution (i.e., the number of projects they’ve worked on) rather than the longevity of their employment at the firm, encouraging them to feel like part of the Apple family.

It is no surprise that engaged employees are fostering customer loyalty, promoting retention and improving organizational performance. The more involved they are, the more likely they are to put in the extra effort. To keep your employees happy and turn your business into a thriving unit, make employee engagement your business imperative.


Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in  behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.

How to Avoid Being Rude in an Email

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As convenient as they can be, emails, like any form of written communication online, can be a breeding ground for misunderstandings and awkward situations. Let’s examine a brief exchange:

Federal Agent: 'Hillary, we can't have these emails being sent back and forth through your personal account. We need them moved to our official address ASAP!' May 12, 2016 09:14

Secretary of State: 'Got it. I'll try to move them over there in the next couple of weeks.' May 12, 2016 10:23

Federal Agent: 'Not good enough! There's a lot at stake here, don't muck about!' May 12, 2016 10:24

Secretary of State (leaves the computer and storms into the Fed's office with a tearful eye.): ‘A 'please' wouldn't kill you, James! You really hurt my feelings there. Never mind moving the darned emails about. I'll just delete them altogether.’ 

See how little it takes to set off an explosion? By simply concocting a curt email, disregarding the emotions of the recipient, and clicking Send, this kind of communication can become quite the recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, coming across as unprofessional or downright rude in an email (even if you didn’t mean to) is a pretty common problem in the workplace.

In contrast to talking in-person or over the phone, email excludes some fairly essential aspects of communication, such as the color and the tone of someone's voice.

When we speak, our emotions, authority, and even the degree of our urgency, are conveyed through our voice. Capturing all of these in written form can be tricky, if not impossible at times.

The Power Of A Misinterpreted Email

Consider the phrase “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” In the absence of an email recipient not hearing your tone and voice, your message is open to way more interpretation. That’s the main reason why/how emails can cause huge blow-ups.

When it comes to emails, your wording is vital. If you’re not careful, you can believe that you’re saying something a certain way, while the person on the other end will sense you as being pushy or rude. Something as simple as a short, abrupt sentence can make someone feel like you don’t care enough, or that you’re being disrespectful.

Remember that every individual has a different innate sensibility, so a certain etiquette of writing can appear casual to one person, but completely pushy and disrespectful to another. Poorly-written emails can snowball into full-blown conflict among teams, and can even cause customers to stop doing business with you.

So how do we manage email etiquette? Here are five simple tips to guide the next words that you type into an email, especially if it’s an important one.

How to Sound Respectful in an Email

1. Be Direct but not Curt - Beating around the bush to avoid sounding too pushy can come across as patronizing. If something needs to be done, you shouldn't feel reluctant about being direct.

On the other hand, intentionally writing curt messages is also quite rude. A curt email shows disrespect and disinterest in the person on the other end. A direct email shows that you trust the person on the other end, and feel free to communicate the gist of things in an efficient manner.

2. Take Your Time - More often than not, messages sent through email tend to sound awkward or downright rude if they've been put together in haste. We’re not talking about the ones that say, “Sure, that location works for me,” or “Hey Jane, wondering if you’re able to join this week’s lunch n’ learn?” We’re referring to the ones that address an important question or issue that has to do with the person themselves.

For example, you might want to be extra careful (and take extra time) when writing to an employee who’s having some problems at work, and needs your help. 

To avoid getting misinterpreted, take your time when writing an email and make sure you've expressed yourself fully before clicking 'send.' It may also help to reread your message once or twice before sending it, as a precautionary measure.

3. Be Polite - All things considered, nothing beats a little politeness. When concocting an email, make sure to start with a greeting, such as a simple 'Hey Jane.' Also, make sure to add a 'please' when making a request. These little bits of kindness can go a long way towards avoiding misinterpretations. 

4. Avoid using these words - When it comes to creating an email, some words should just be avoided. We’re not saying you should censor yourself by any means , but if you’re writing an email, try to exclude these where possible. Here are five common examples: 

  • No - (in the sense of correcting someone) There’s no use correcting someone’s info via email. If you want to present the recipient with some information that differs from what they said, simply say it without the initial negation.
  • Sorry, but… - Ever received an email that feels like the ‘sorry’ is an excuse? If you’re sorry about something, apologize with sincerity, and admit your wrongdoing. Inserting the word ‘but’ after the ‘sorry’ diminishes the value of the apology. In some cases, it might actually cause the other person to become more upset, because no one wants an insincere or fake apology.
  • Actually - Saying ‘actually’ in an email sounds patronizing. It’s like the other person doesn’t know their stuff, so you need to present them with what’s actually going on.
  • Fine - ‘Fine’ is pretty much a ‘meh’ in written form. Using it will make you seem uninterested and rude.
  • Swear Words - It’s tough to come across as serious and professional when your email is filled with swear words. It doesn’t matter how much rapport you’ve established with the other person, it’s best to err on the side of caution here.

If you’d like to see more words that you should avoid when writing emails, check out this article. *Spoiler alert* There’s six more where those five came from, for 11 in total. All of which are very rude, no doubt. 

5. Be Empathetic - Always remember that, when you’re writing an email, there is a human recipient on the other end. While maintaining an official tone and a certain degree of etiquette at first is the safest bet for starting off your conversation with someone (especially if they’re new to you), you should always be ready for a more cordial exchange if the other party initiates it.

For example, if the person you’re talking to tends to use smiley faces, following suit shows that you mean well and are comfortable with a more casual style of communication. Tactics like this makeup for some of the communication that you lose without facial expressions and hand gestures.

Writing an email shouldn't be rocket science. To avoid sounding rude as a person in a leadership position in your business, it’s important to be precise, explain what you want in detail, and reread it before sending. By following these few simple steps, you'll be considered a respectable and kind co-worker.

According to some research on the topic of incivility, being respectful towards your employees is considered one of the most important qualities of a leader. If you believe that you are clumsy when it comes to writing emails, getting it right will benefit you in more ways than you’d think. 

At the end of the day, email is just one form of communication, and there’s no reason why you should restrict yourself to it exclusively when it comes to your business dealings.

Sometimes simply picking up the phone and making a call can be a much more effective solution. Also, your colleagues and business partners will see you as more of a three-dimensional character if they see you trying to reach them in various ways. 

Writing emails is a great alternative to meeting someone or giving them a call. It’s got a connotation of ‘officialness’ and distance to it, so as long as you use it wisely, and are always respectful and kind when you do, you should be able to avoid miscommunication.




Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.