Rethinking Six Management Mantras for Better Innovation

But what does it take to build innovation capacity, and how can nonprofit leaders set the right conditions for innovation to flourish? During a series of two-day innovation summits last fall, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities brought together more than 300 people to participate in a condensed human-centered design process we developed in partnership with Greater Good Studio, a design firm committed to working with social sector changemakers. The goal was to use human-centered design to examine longstanding challenges and new opportunities through a different lens. We aimed to build our “innovation muscles” so that we could begin to tackle old challenges in new ways.

In the process, we realized that the creative problem-solving methods we were applying were breaking some of the typical management mantras that have dominated our organizations’ cultures. We came to understand that if we’re serious about moving from lip service to action on innovation, we need to rethink six management mantras:

Management Mantra #1: Our CEO [and/or any other members of the C-suite] is the visionary and responsible for innovation.

Innovator’s Mantra: All of our staff are visionaries and responsible for innovation.

Charging only the CEO or executive team with innovation creates unrealistic pressure on one or a few individuals to continually drive the organization forward, as compared to a culture where every staff member feels a sense of responsibility and permission to solve problems and create better solutions at whatever level and in whatever role they operate. Because the culture assumes everyone has insights and expertise that can contribute to solutions, all employees become owners.

In addition, considerable evidence suggests that innovation is most likely to occur and originate with the people who are closest to the work, and closest to the consumer or end user. When organizations seek to invite people who have firsthand and direct knowledge of the systems they seek to improve, the problems they desire to fix, or the new solutions they want to offer communities, they will find the best solutions—and likely faster than if they limit this work to a select few leaders.

Organizations should create formal channels for employees at all levels to identify challenges and opportunities, and develop recommendations and ideas to observed problems, customer needs, and other challenges. They should also give staff opportunities to pick solutions, test them out, and report back results, and create incentives for employees to contribute solutions to business problems.

Management Mantra #2: We just need to get our brightest staff in the room to solve this problem.

Innovator’s Mantra: If you want the most successful solution, keep your end user (or key stakeholder) at the center of everything you do.

While most nonprofits intend to deliver the best services, programs, and results for communities, their approach is too often driven by staff beliefs, mental models, and ideas of what people need and how people behave. While it is natural to look at the world through one’s own perspective, it is problematic because organizations are likely to develop a solution that works for their staff and organization versus the end user.

One of the core principles of human-centered design is to develop empathy for the end user. In addition to typical surveys, nonprofits should get close to and observe the people for whom they are innovating to understand their hopes, their challenges, their motivations, and their actual behaviors. In short, they need to become anthropologists, and walk alongside children and families as they navigate their programs, services, and systems. Centering innovation around families and communities will make solutions more viable, valued, and sustainable.

In addition to quality and satisfaction surveys, organizations need to ask staff, community residents, and funders about their biggest challenges and, if possible, observe people as they engage with services to identify inefficiencies or potentially harmful steps.

Management Mantra #3: We need to define the problem we are trying to solve.

Innovator’s Mantra: We need to define the positive goal we seek to achieve.

Identifying problems is important, but it shouldn’t be the final step before identifying solutions. To conduct a productive idea generation process and motivate employees, it’s important to define an aspirational North Star for every innovation effort. In human-centered design, this is called a “positive goal statement,” and it articulates the person or group you seek to influence and the behavior you want to see occur.

This is important for a few reasons. First, an organization that defines the specific behavior change it wants to see doesn’t have to guess about what success will look like. And second, by defining the desired future state, it can look for examples where these behaviors are already occurring. When studying a problem, organizations can become fixated and overwhelmed by what’s not working, but when they define the desired solution, they can seek out and study the examples where things are working and seek to understand the contributing factors that make this positively deviant behavior occur.

For every “innovation” or problem-solving initiative, organizations should create a positive goal statement that clearly articulates who it seeks to impact and what behavior change it seeks to achieve.

Management Mantra #4: We need a really big idea! Go big or go home!

Innovator’s Mantra: We need a sound solution to a routine problem! Go small for big results!

People often think innovation has to be a big, new, wild, exciting idea. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A frequent comment made by participants at the summits was, “But these ideas aren’t really big ideas. They seem like things we should just be doing.” Well, if it’s something “we should just be doing, and we haven’t,” let’s start there.

Innovation is rarely a magical “eureka” moment; rather, it’s often an iterative process of solving problems—sometimes very small ones. Instead of trying to eat the whale in one swallow, organizations should tackle smaller, incremental challenges. Practicing problem solving on a small scale is valuable because it builds the skills and confidence for the times when organizations need to tackle the bigger, more complex challenges. It teaches us to break complex challenges into manageable pieces. The other benefit of taking on small problems is that it reduces the risks of failure.

Organizations should incentivize and encourage micro-innovation. They should invite staff to take on specific, manageable problems and reward all solutions (even if they are not successful). They should help staff break down large, systemic challenges into smaller components to tackle individually.

Management Mantra #5: Let’s start innovating, but we are looking for practical solutions. Because we’re a nonprofit, we can’t afford to entertain ideas that are too “out of the box.”

Innovator’s Mantra: Let’s start exploring the weird, wild, and wrong ways to do things. There’s plenty of time to get practical.

It’s very hard to generate unique solutions when the ideation process focuses on practicality. But when organizations invite people to explore weird, wrong, or unorthodox ideas, there’s a good chance they will generate unique solutions that can, over time, be made practical.

In human-centered design, ideation is catalyzed by “how might we” questions that invite people to consider possibilities for approaching challenges in novel ways. Conventional questions (How might we apply self-care principles in the workplace?) lead to more-conventional ideas; alternatively, improbable or abnormal questions (How might we make work feel more like going to a high-end spa?) lead to more-original ideas.

Inviting people to consider what work would be like if the organization did the exact opposite of what’s expected is the fastest path to uncovering desired “out-of-the-box” ideas.

Organizations should generate a set of common rules that govern the issue it is trying to tackle (for example, staff works nine to five at their desks, Monday through Friday, and hate Mondays) and then break those rules, inviting staff to brainstorm “how might we” questions to match the rule-breaking scenarios (How might we make Monday’s as fun as Fridays?).

Management Mantra #6: We don’t have time to waste; let’s figure out the best idea and start executing.

Innovator’s Mantra: We don’t have time to waste; let’s figure out the fastest way to test our ideas and fail fast, fail cheap.

Perhaps because resources are limited in the nonprofit sector or because the stakes are very high, organizations tend to rush to identify and implement a single “right” solution. This is problematic because rushing to find a singular, practical solution causes them to short circuit a very important process—first generating many solutions. In innovation processes, there is a rule that quantity breeds quality. Generating a big funnel of ideas before narrowing down to a singular idea has multiple advantages:

  • It fosters a culture that makes it OK for everyone to contribute ideas, and reduces fear and stigma associated with sharing “bad ideas.”
  • It normalizes the act of idea generation and displaces a common tendency for staff to automatically accept the ideas of the CEO, board member, or top donor as the best. (Maybe they are the best ideas, but it’d be better to determine that by picking from a lineup of multiple ideas.)
  • It reduces the tendency to fall in love with an idea out of fear that if the idea isn’t successful, there is no fallback option to explore.

Innovators don’t rush into large scale implementation without first subjecting their ideas to multiple iterations of testing to uncover potential pitfalls. If an idea doesn’t work during testing, it isn’t at the cost of a major commitment or outlay of resources. And if the idea has legs, testing and repeated cycles of feedback will only make the idea better, stronger, and more likely to succeed.

Instead of settling on one idea, organizations should select, say, the top three and invite staff teams to test each one. They should challenge them to figure out the cheapest and fastest ways to get user feedback, and uncover the concept’s benefits or death threats, and celebrate the process of testing and learning all new information.

Innovation doesn’t have be fancy or gimmicky, but it sometimes requires that we cast off deeply held notions of how to lead people and organizations, and adopt new norms and behaviors.

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Polina Makievsky (@pmakievsky) is senior vice president of knowledge, leadership, and innovation at Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (@alliancenews).


3 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself on a Daily Basis

Salary requirements: Expressing your minimum salary requirement

Research the going rate for your target job now so you’re prepared to answer salary requirement questions during the interview.

Q: When asked about my salary requirements, I never know what to say. If I say a low figure, they have no reason to offer more money. If I give a figure that’s too high, they may disregard me as a candidate. What’s the right response? – Deb H.

A: The first rule of salary negotiation is to avoid discussing numbers until the company has extended an offer. This is when you have the most power to negotiate. But as any job seeker will tell you, this is no simple feat. Recruiters typically try to pull this information out of you as early as the initial phone screen, if they didn’t already request your salary requirements as part of the application process.

Here are a couple phrases you can use (courtesy of Jack Chapman, author of the book How to Make $1000 a Minute ) to deflect questions about your salary requirements:

  • “I’m sure we can come to a good salary agreement if I’m the right person for the job, so let’s first agree on whether I am.”
  • “I have some idea of the market, but for a moment let’s start with your range. What do you have budgeted for the position?”

You can try to deflect the questions upfront once, maybe twice, but if the recruiter is insistent, you’ll need to be prepared with some figures.

First things first, do your research. Use Ladders’ Job Market Guide and Companies pages to discover the going rate for your targeted job with respect to your relevant years of experience and educational background, as well as the industry and geographic location of the jobs you’re targeting.

You can start by looking up how your current role compares to the market rate, and then also change some of the variables to match those of the companies you’re applying to. If the roles you are targeting are in different industries or locations, or the size of the company is very different, this could have an impact on what salary you can expect to make.

Once you’ve done the research, come up with three numbers:

  • What’s the ideal dollar amount you want (and still have the recruiter take you seriously)?
  • What dollar amount (given the going rate) is reasonable and would still make you happy?
  • What is the lowest dollar amount you’d accept?

These three numbers make up the compensation range that is in alignment with the going rate for your targeted role, and that would make you happy. If you’re forced to state your salary requirements upfront, use the researched number you found to be the fair market value (the same goes for an online application that demands a numeric response).

Again, the most important thing you can do is delay the compensation conversation as long as humanly possible so you have time to build a rapport with your interviewers; monetize what you can do, and how you can personally affect the bottom line at the company; and move them from what Chapman describes as the “budget” state of mind (How much is this person going to cost us?) to the “judge it” mindset (We need this person! She’d be such a great asset to the company – how can we get her to join us?).

By Amanda Augustine for

What to Do When You’re Feeling Left Behind

Change may be the only constant in business—but that doesn’t make it any easier to embrace.

Question: I’m not a change agent. But everything is changing around me. How do I reinvent myself and my skill set without seeming like my old skill set is irrelevant? – Unchanged Agent

Dear Unchanged Agent:

You’re not alone in feeling like you’re scrambling to keep up. The digital revolution, artificial intelligence and other types of innovation are changing the way we work at an unprecedented pace—and most of us must learn new skills on the fly. Even for people who want to add to their professional toolkit, as you do, all of this learning can sometimes feel like a sprint that never ends.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to get comfortable with reinventing your skillset and stay relevant:

Get out of your own head. Many of us have built our professional identity around being competent in certain skills. Learning new skills can make us feel incompetent, until we master them. Many of us fear that we’ll look foolish in front of our colleagues if we can’t perfect new skills quickly enough.

That’s normal. Most of the people around you have to learn new skills, too, so they’re probably more focused on their own progress than yours. If you feel so self-conscious that it’s keeping you from doing the work that’s necessary to pick up new skills, set aside some time in the evenings or on weekends to work on it in privacy. It doesn’t matter where you learn things. What counts is that you actually do it.

View it as an investment in yourself. With many careers—or parts of them—subject to automation, you may wonder how all of the work you’re doing to help your employer run things more efficiently will impact your job.

The thing is, you can’t stop change at your company or in your industry. By embracing technology and devoting any time you’ve freed up through automation to high-value activities like finding ways to bring in more revenue or cutting costs, you’ll give yourself job security.

In the meantime, view what you’re learning as an investment in yourself and your career. Next time you ask for a raise or look for a job, the new skills you’ve picked up could be a great talking point!

Prioritize. It can be overwhelming to try to learn two or three new skills at the same time. Choose one new skill to master at a time and block some time in your calendar every week to moving ahead with it.

  • Get clear on what skill matters most. If you don’t already know what new skill you should learn first, tell your supervisor you want to keep your skills current and ask which one would be most valuable to your department.
  • Tap workplace benefits. Your employer may be willing to pay for classes or training, so it doesn’t hurt to ask HR if there are any programs you might sign up for.
  • Make the most of online resources. If your employer won’t pay for your training, find an economical way to do so yourself. There are many great online courses today from providers like and edX that will help you get up to speed quickly, so check out their offerings. Ask around among your professional network for recommendations, too. Your colleagues are probably being asked to learn similar things.
  • Budget time. Set aside one hour a week to sharpen your skills. For many people, choosing the slowest day of the week is a good way to ensure they stick with it. One hour may not seem like a lot, but by the end of a year, you’ll have logged a good 50 hours of training, assuming you take a two-week vacation.

It’s all about embracing lifelong learning. Once you get into the groove, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy it—and how it helps your career.

– Browser, Protech Associates. Published in Associations Now, a publication of the American Society for Association Executives.

CMCA Recertification – Oct. 1 Deadline

CAMICB sent reminder notices to CMCAs who need to recertify and/or pay their annual service fee by October 1, 2018. Here are a few helpful links:

A few things to note:

1.    It is the responsibility of each CMCA to provide documentation of their 16 hours of continuing education at the time of recertification. CAMICB does not track your CEs. If you took a class with CAI, please go to to print out a certificate of completion.

2.    Only courses completed between October 1, 2016 and October 1, 2018 count as continuing education.

3.    An active AMS, PCAM, FL CAM, NV CAM or NAHC-RCM satisfies the continuing education requirement. Check option 1 on line item #4 of the Recertification Application to receive credit.

4.    Credit hours may be earned only for education that pertains to community association operations or management and/or contributes to the professional development of the CMCA.

5.    The CMCA Annual Service Fee is $105.00. Oftentimes this fee is confused with CAI’s individual manager membership. While CAMICB maintains an affiliate relationship with CAI, we are an independent credentialing body: separately incorporated, governed by an independent Board of Trustees, and guided in the administration of our program by the standards of our accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. We are not a membership organization; we do not collect membership dues. We assess our credential holders an annual maintenance fee which is used to support the development and delivery of our core exam and the operation of our program in accordance with best practices in professional credentialing.

Still have questions? Contact CAMICB at or take advantage of the upcoming program CMCA Recertification Notice – Free Webinar on September 6, beginning at 2:00 p.m. EST. Register Today


10 things smart people never say

Just like the word think, try sounds tentative and suggests that you lack confidence in your ability to execute the task. Take full ownership of your capabilities. If you’re asked to do something, either commit to doing it or offer an alternative, but don’t say that you’ll try because it sounds like you won’t try all that hard.


“This will only take a minute”

Saying that something only takes a minute undermines your skills and gives the impression that you rush through tasks. Unless you’re literally going to complete the task in 60 seconds, feel free to say that it won’t take long, but don’t make it sound as though the task can be completed any sooner than it can actually be finished.

“I hate this job”

The last thing anyone wants to hear at work is someone complaining about how much they hate their job. Doing so labels you as a negative person and brings down the morale of the group. Bosses are quick to catch on to naysayers who drag down morale, and they know that there are always enthusiastic replacements waiting just around the corner.

“He’s lazy/incompetent/a jerk”

There is no upside to making a disparaging remark about a colleague. If your remark is accurate, everybody already knows it, so there’s no need to point it out. If your remark is inaccurate, you’re the one who ends up looking like a jerk. There will always be rude or incompetent people in any workplace, and chances are that everyone knows who they are. If you don’t have the power to help them improve or to fire them, then you have nothing to gain by broadcasting their ineptitude. Announcing your colleague’s incompetence comes across as an insecure attempt to make you look better. Your callousness will inevitably come back to haunt you in the form of your coworkers’ negative opinions of you.

Bringing it all together

These phrases have a tendency to sneak up on you, so you’re going to have to catch yourself until you’ve solidified the habit of not saying them.

Travis Bradberry is the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmartThis article first appeared at LinkedIn.

This is why successful people are unhappy in middle age — and what to do about it

Writing a book about age and happiness brought many surprises, but none surpasses this: High-achieving professionals seem especially vulnerable to dissatisfaction in midlife.Typical is Simon, one of many I interviewed. In his mid-40s, he has achieved success and prominence in his chosen field, to the point of becoming a media figure in a major city. “I’ve done everything I want to do, for the most part,” he told me. So does he feel content? “No. Exhausted. I feel at times like an amazing f–k-up who has gotten away with stuff. I’ve thought of running away to Brazil. Changing my name and becoming a hotel clerk.”
Objectively, his dissatisfaction seems to make no sense, especially to him. “Maybe there’s something deeply psychologically wrong with me,” he mused.

I had many versions of that conversation with successful professionals. It was as if doing well in life puts high achievers at additional risk of discontent. Which, it turns out, is exactly the case.

The (surprising) effect of time on happiness

To understand why midlife can be such a hazardous and perplexing time for high achievers, begin with a recent scientific discovery: For happiness, time matters — but not in the way you probably think.

We generally assume that time is an emotionally neutral background to life: that the clock just ticks along, and our circumstances and personalities determine our satisfaction with life. (By happiness, I mean not cheerfulness or elation or any such positive mood, but the larger, more important concept of well-being — feeling satisfied and fulfilled by our lives as a whole.)

The reality turns out to be quite different. Data from millions of people in countries and cultures around the world show that time is not neutral at all. It is more like a river current, with an independent effect on happiness all its own.

Hearing this, our next assumption may be that time works against happiness. After all, as we age, we have fewer years of life to look forward to, and more years of decline and disability.

Wrong again. When researchers factor out all the circumstantial vagaries of life — everything from income and employment to marriage and education — time’s independent effect on life satisfaction turns out to be U-shaped, with the nadir (in the U.S.) at roughly age 50.

In other words, time fights life satisfaction through midlife, but then it then turns around, helping us feel grateful and fulfilled right through old age. At the bottom of the curve, we often experience a multi-year funk.

When high-performing people hit the bottom of the U-shaped curve

The happiness curve is not unique to professionals. In fact, it is not even unique to humans; a version of it has been observed in chimps and orangutans. But successful professionals seem to be more likely to feel it.


High achievers are wired to be dissatisfied when we meet goals — that is the evolutionary motivation to do the next big thing — but the result is often cumulating disappointment. Year after year of finding success less fulfilling than we expected makes us pessimistic about ever attaining satisfaction. So we are simultaneously disappointed in the past and gloomy about the future.

Remember, the happiness curve is only one of factors shaping life satisfaction. People who face painful hardships may feel unhappy, but at least they will know why. By contrast, if you are a successful professional with everything to be grateful for, feeling disappointed in middle age will make no sense to you. Like Simon, you may blame yourself.

Or you may invent something to blame. When people feel dissatisfied, they naturally seek a reason. But human beings turn out to be quite poor at attributing our unhappiness, and we face a special challenge with midlife malaise, because although it is often an artifact of the aging process, it nevertheless feels as if it must be about something.

High-achieving professionals tend to make a heavy emotional investment in their careers. Faced with inexplicable discontent, they may do what Simon does (and what I did), namely fantasize about throwing away their job and starting life anew.

As if all of that were not enough, high-achieving professionals face social pressure to seem masterly and invulnerable, especially in their 40s and 50s, at or near the supposed peak of their career. If they are feeling restless, dissatisfied, or trapped, they often tell no one, not even their spouse. But isolation only makes the problem worse.

And so successful professionals get hit from three sides: Their success makes an age-driven midlife slump both conspicuous and baffling; they mistakenly blame the slump on their careers, and they hide their feelings. Each of those tendencies can reinforce the others.

Three steps to take to get past the bottom of your happiness U-curve

How to cope, if you or someone in your life is struggling in these coils?

First, reaching out to friends, mentors, and coaches does not come easy, especially to high achievers who worry about showing vulnerability, but it can really help. Isolation is not your friend.

Second, beware of disruptive change, because age-driven malaise simply accompanies us to the next place. Change may be warranted in midlife (as at any other time), but make it logical and incremental, building on proven strengths and accumulated connections. Step, don’t leap.

Third, be patient. Often, the best thing to do is the simplest. Wait it out. As we age past midlife, our expectations, our values, and even our brains readjust in ways that help us find new heights of contentment in our 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Finally, be reassured. If you have feelings like Simon’s, there is nothing wrong with you. You are passing through a natural, albeit unpleasant, transition. On the odds, you will be surprised by the rebirth of contentment that lies around the bend.

Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, just published by St. Martin’s press.

What not to do when writing email subject lines

You log into your work email, only to be greeted by an email titled “REQUEST.”*Gulp*  You’d much rather move it to the “Trash” folder than open it.
Certain subject lines really have the capacity to throw people off — especially in a professional setting. That being said, don’t make these mistakes the next time you’re about to send someone an email message.


Did your heart rate go up while reading the sub-heading above? I know mine did— it sounds like I’m screaming into a technological abyss.

Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases, writes about why you shouldn’t use all capital letters in subject lines.

“Some people mistakenly believe that using all capital letters in their subject line is a great way to get the attention of the recipient. What they fail to realize is that using all caps is a great way to trigger SPAM filters, and even if your message gets through, it’s annoying, makes you look shady, and just isn’t professional,” Kennedy writes.

Forbes also cautions against taking the “WeIRd CaPs SPelLInG” approach.

Don’t write ‘URGENT’

If it’s such a pressing issue, why didn’t you just pick up the phone and give the recipient a call?

“You’re really only hurting yourself when you use ‘Urgent’ or its cousin, ‘Need an answer ASAP,’ in your subject line. If a matter is truly urgent, your best chance of getting ahold of someone quickly is via the phone, text, or instant message. If it’s not —well — you’re just crying wolf for the next time there’s an actual fire to put out,” Inc. explains.

Imagine if they found your message days later, sitting in their inbox, gathering dust?

Don’t use a bunch of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yesware’s data scientists took a look at a staggering 115,886,636 emails sent across 356 days, and put the results in an ebook called Email Subject Lines That Actually Work. It shows why using exclamation points isn’t a good idea.

The open rate for average email subject lines was 51.9%, but for ones with an exclamation point, it was was 45.5%.

The reply rate for average emails was 29.8%, but the one for emails with an exclamation point is 22.2%.

“Chances are that email didn’t even make it to their inbox in the first place. Research shows that exclamation points in subject lines lead to lower than average open rates because this type of punctuation is actually a trigger for spam filters,” the ebook says.

Don’t only write one word

I mean, really? You didn’t have it in you to provide a little more context?

The recipient might just reply to you with the same amount of effort. So be brief and to the point — just don’t be one-word-brief.

By Jane Burnett

5 rude emails you send without realizing it

Photo: gajman via Flickr

During a conversation, you adjust your tone, facial expression, gestures and posture in order to fit the mood of what you’re conveying. You do this because people tend to be much more responsive to how you say things than to what you actually say.Email strips a conversation bare. It’s efficient, but it turns otherwise easy interactions into messy misinterpretations. Without facial expressions and body posture to guide your message, people look at each word you type as an indicator of tone and mood.Most of the mistakes people make in their emails are completely avoidable. The following list digs into these subtle mistakes and hidden blunders.

The compulsive CC And Reply All

CCing people all the time is one of the most annoying things you can do via email. I’d say it’s the most annoying, but this honor is bestowed upon the excessive “reply all.” If someone sends an email to you and a bunch of other people, do you really think every recipient needs to get another email from you saying “thanks”? They don’t, and when you do this, it sends people climbing up a wall.

The trick for knowing when to CC someone is to treat your email as if it’s an in-person meeting. The question then becomes this: “Would it be necessary or helpful to have this person come to the meeting?” If the answer is no, then don’t waste his or her time with an email. As for reply all, just don’t do it. Even if someone else in the thread replies all, you’re still annoying everyone to death when you join the fray. If you have something to say, it’s better to send this directly (and privately) to the original sender and let him or her decide if the group should know about it too.

The way-too-brief

All too often, the cause of email conflict is an imbalance between the effort in the initial email and the effort in the response to that email. When someone types up a detailed paragraph outlining important issues, they expect you to respond carefully. Sending back “Got it” or “Noted” just doesn’t do the trick. Without knowledge of your intent and tone, brief responses come across as apathetic and even sarcastic to the receiver. This is unfortunate because this is rarely the sender’s intent.

The best way to avoid being misinterpreted in a brief response is to share your intent. Even responding with “I’m a little busy but should be able to read it later this week” comes across much better than “Got it,” which a lot of people will interpret as indifference.

The “URGENT” subject line

Subject lines that say “URGENT” or “ASAP” show complete disregard for the recipient. If your email is that urgent, pick up the phone and give the person a call. Even in the rare instance when an email actually is urgent, labeling it as such in the subject line is unnecessary and sets a strong, negative tone.

The key to avoiding “URGENT” subject lines is twofold. First, if the issue is best dealt with in any form other than email, then that’s how you should be dealing with it. Second, if this is not the case, then the issue lies in your ability to create a strong subject line. After all, people check their email frequently, so as long as your subject line catches their eye, it will get the job done. Instead of labeling the email as urgent, ask yourself why the email is urgent. The answer to this question is your new subject line. If a client needs an answer today, then simply make your subject line “Client Needs Response Today.” This maintains the sense of urgency without setting a rude, desperate tone.

The Debbie downer

Sending emails that consistently tell people what they do wrong and what they shouldn’t be doing really takes a toll. Even if you are trying to offer constructive criticism, you need to avoid negativity in your emails at all costs. Since people are unable to hear your tone directly, they read into the connotations of words and create a tone in their head as they go along. Negatives become especially negative in email form.

Whenever you find yourself using negative words like “don’t,” “can’t,” “won’t” or “couldn’t,” turn them into positives. Making this change transforms the entire tone of the message. For example, instead of saying, “You can’t complete reports like this in the future,” say, “Next time you complete a report, please…” When you must deliver negative feedback, don’t do it in an email. Just hop on the telephone or walk down the hall.

The robot

It’s easy to think of email as a way to get something done quickly, but when you do this to the extreme, you come across as inhuman. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s office and hand them a report to do without acknowledging them somehow. Jumping straight into the nitty-gritty might seem like the most effective thing to do, but it leaves a lasting negative impression.

Fixing this one is simple. Just take an extra second to greet the person you’re writing to. You don’t have to ask your recipient about his or her weekend. Just a simple acknowledgment of the individual as a human being is all it takes. This keeps the tone much more respectful than it would be if you were to simply send assignments.

Bringing it all together

The trickiest thing about emailing is making certain that people perceive your message the way you intend them to. You must be socially aware to pull this off. That is, be willing to take the time to consider how things look from your recipient’s perspective before you hit “send.”

By Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmart. This article first appeared at LinkedIn.

Why Bosses Cut Some Employees Slack for Unethical Behavior

Ego depletion can lead to unethical behavior at work.

Imagine—or perhaps you don’t have to—that you’re at work and feeling very tired. You’re nearing the deadline on an important project, and you’ve stayed late at the office every day for weeks. Perhaps because you’re feeling so fatigued, when you submit an expense report for a recent lunch, you may round up just a smidge.

Very possibly, according to new research from Maryam Kouchaki, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. She and coauthors find that we judge employees’ ethical lapses less harshly when we perceive the wayward workers to be tired. And we are particularly soft on employees who are tired for reasons outside of their control: because they stayed up to care for a family member, for instance, or had an overwhelming workload.

In previous research, Kouchaki has shown that unethical behavior at work is more likely when employees are in a state of “ego depletion”—that is, when they are worn down as a result of fatigue, physical discomfort, or the exhaustion of making constant choices. For example, she has found that we’re more likely to make moral missteps in the afternoon than the morning because our cognitive resources are gradually drained over the course of the day.

“Our self-regulatory resources are limited,” Kouchaki explains. “When you use those resources, they are depleted, and you have to replenish them to be able to use them again.”

The current research shows the flip side of this. It explores how our understanding of ego depletion influences how we perceive such malfeasance in others.

“Unethical behavior that is intentional is often seen as more blameworthy.”

And while the tendency is to go easy on a depleted employee, managers risk creating a dangerous precedent, Kouchaki says. If employees rarely receive punishment for fudging their expense reports simply because they were overworked when they did it, there is little incentive to be truthful the next time.

“Judging this behavior leniently could have consequences,” she explains.

Ego Depletion and Unethical Behavior

Unethical behavior at work is tricky to study in its natural setting—after all, you can’t (and shouldn’t!) recruit experimental subjects to steal from their employers.

So Kouchaki and her coauthors, Yujan Zhang of the Guizhou University of Finance and Economics, Kai Chi of the National University of Singapore, and Junwei Zhang of Huazhong Agricultural University in China, created four videos to better understand observers’ reactions to unethical behavior and ego depletion.

In two videos, a chipper, well-rested employee named John talks to his manager about an important merger. He emphasizes that he has been sleeping well, despite in the first video staying up to work hard on the merger and in the second watching sports. In the third video, a decidedly less peppy John says working on the merger has been keeping him up late; in the fourth, he mentions staying up late to watch the NBA playoffs. At the end of all four films, John pads a lunch expense.

Each participant watched one of the four videos, then answered a series of questions about John’s behavior on a scale from one to seven. Some questions measured participants’ opinion of the seriousness of John’s transgression (“To what extent do you think John’s behavior was unethical?”) and the need for discipline (“How severely should John be punished?”). Others probed the issue of intentionality (“To what extent did John knowingly engage in fraud?”).

The results showed that cheaters might just prosper—if they’re tired.

Study participants who viewed the visibly depleted John judged him as behaving less intentionally than those who saw a well-rested John. They also advocated less severe punishment for him. And John-the-overworked-employee was punished even more leniently than John-the-sleepy-sports-fan.

The researchers repeated the same experiment with a new group of participants. These subjects read one of four scenarios similar to those shown in the videos, with one significant change. In the final scenario, instead of staying up late for a work project, John says he is tired because he was up late taking care of his sick infant son.

These changes made little difference in observers’ perceptions—they still cut the two tired versions of John some slack, as compared to the two well-rested versions. John-the-devoted-parent was given the most leniency of all. Notably, participants also viewed John’s misbehavior as being significantly less intentional when he stayed up late to care for his son than when he lost sleep after watching sports (rating his degree of intentionality an average of 4.62 versus 5.7 out of 7).

To Kouchaki, the finding has intuitive appeal. In general, “unethical behavior that is intentional is often seen as more blameworthy,” she says. Unintentional bad behavior, like a child accidentally stealing a piece of candy from a store, is viewed through an entirely different lens—and rarely punished.

The same force is at work in this research: we view tired and overworked people as behaving less deliberately, and so we are more likely to let them slide.

“People are taking into consideration the employee’s situation when making these choices,” she says.

Rested Employees Are Honest Employees

This leniency is understandable, but that does not necessarily make it good, Kouchaki emphasizes. Managers should consider the context for their employees’ behavior but must still ensure there are consequences for ethical violations, so that employees learn from their moral failures, even when those violations are small or relatively common.

Perhaps the best way organizations can do this is to make sure employees do not become exhausted and depleted in the first place.

As a leader, if you see or suspect ethical lapses in your organization, “you could make structural changes such that people could disengage from work when they got home,” Kouchaki suggests, “rather than being on call all the time and being anxious about it.”

 Based on the research of Yajun Zhang, Kai Chi Yam, Maryam Kouchaki and Junwei Zhang