I’ll never forget a coaching meeting I had about two years ago. I gave the manager I was coaching some tough feedback and he replied by saying, “I know I do that.” So I asked him, “If you know this is an issue, why are we having the discussion? He told me, “I just figured this is the way I am.” And I realized that knowing a behavior is ineffective doesn’t mean we know what to do to make things better.
The people you work with want to do a good job. They want you to think well of them. Yes, even the people you think do little work and/or are out to get you. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are doing the best they know how to do. And when you don’t get what you want, make requests.
There are two ways to give feedback. One way is very direct.
Version one: “You did this thing and here’s why it’s a problem.”
The other way is less direct. Rather than telling the person what went wrong, simply make a request.
Version two: “Would you be willing to…” Or, “It would be really great to get this report on Monday’s instead of Wednesday. Would you be willing to do that?”
It’s very difficult to give direct feedback without the other person feeling judged. Making a request is much more neutral than giving direct feedback, doesn’t evoke as much defensiveness, and achieves the same result. You still get what you want.
When I teach giving feedback, I often give the example of asking a waitstaff in a restaurant for ketchup. Let’s say your waiter comes to your table to ask how your food is and your table doesn’t have any ketchup.
Option one: Give direct feedback. “Our table doesn’t have any ketchup.”
Option two: Make a request. “Can we get some ketchup?”
Both methods achieve the desired result. Option one overtly tells the waiter, “You’re not doing your job.” Option two still tells the waiter he isn’t doing his job, but the method is more subtle and thus is less likely to put him on the defensive.
You are always dealing with people’s egos. And when egos get bruised, defenses rise. When defenses rise, it’s hard to have a good conversation. People stop listening and start defending themselves. Defending oneself is a normal and natural reaction to negative feedback. It’s a survival instinct.
You’re more likely to get what you want from others when they don’t feel attacked and don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Consider simply asking for what you want rather than telling people what they’re doing wrong, and see what happens.
I will admit, asking for what you want in a neutral and non-judgmental way when you’re frustrated is very hard to do. The antidote is to anticipate your needs and ask for what you want at the onset of anything new. And when things go array, wait until you’re not upset to make a request. If you are critical, apologize and promise to do better next time. It’s all trial and error. And luckily, because most of us aren’t great at setting expectations and human beings are human and make mistakes, you’ll have lots and lots of chances to practice giving feedback and making requests.
Surveys are a great way to gather data. They’re not a great way to build relationships. In addition to sending an employee engagement survey, ask questions live. Employees want to talk about their experience working with your organization. And employees will give you real, honest, and salient data, if you ask them and make it safe to tell the truth.
Here are a few methods of gathering data, in addition to sending written surveys:
Managers, ask questions during every one-on-one and team meeting with employees.
Managers, consider asking:
- What’s being talked about in the rumor mill?
- What do I need to know about that you suspect I don’t?
- What makes your job harder than it has to be? What would make your job easier?
- What meetings are not a good use of time?
Listen and be careful not to defend. Employees want to be heard. Respond if you’re able, but don’t deflect the feedback you’ve received.
Leaders, conduct roundtable discussions with small groups of employees throughout the year. I’d suggest discussions with groups of six employees. Have lunch or coffee. Keep the meetings informal.
Leaders, consider asking:
- What’s a good decision we made in the last six months. What’s a decision we made that you question?
- What would need to happen for you to be comfortable referring your friends to work here?
- What’s something happening in the organization that you’re concerned about?
How to Get the Truth:
- Share as much information as you can. Trust your employees.
- Ensure there are no negative consequences for people who tell you the truth.
- Give positive attention to the people who risk and give you negative information.
- Tell employees what you learn during these discussions and what you will and won’t be doing with the information.
- You don’t need to act on every piece of data you receive. Just acknowledge what you heard and explain why you will or won’t be taking action.
Employees are loyal to managers and organizations they feel connected to. And connections are formed through conversations. So in addition to sending surveys, ask questions during every conversation and make it clear that you’re listening to the answers.
The fear of saying what we think and asking for what we want at work is prevalent across organizations. We want more money, but don’t know how to ask for it. We want to advance our careers but are concerned about the impression we’ll make if we ask for more. Instead of making requests, many employees assume they won’t get their needs met and choose to leave their jobs, either physically or emotionally.
The key to keeping the best employees engaged and doing their best work is to ask more questions and make it safe to tell the truth.
- Do you know why your employees chose your organization and what would make them leave?
- Do you know your employees’ best and worst boss?
The answers to these questions tells managers what employees need from the organization, job, and from the manager/employee working relationship.
Can your manager answer these questions – that I call Candor Questions – about you? For most people, the answer is no. Most managers don’t ask these questions. And most employees are not comfortable giving this information, especially if the manager hasn’t asked for it.
It’s easy to mistake my book, How to Say Anything to Anyone, as a book about giving feedback. It’s not. It takes me nine chapters to get to feedback. The first eight chapters of the book are about how to create relationships in which you can tell the truth without fear. You can read all the feedback books you want and take numerous training classes on coaching, managing people, giving feedback, and managing conflict, and you’ll still be hesitant to speak up, because a formula for giving feedback is not what you’re missing. What’s missing is being given permission and knowing it’s safe to tell the truth.
Managers, tell your employees:
“I appreciate you choosing to work here. I want this to be the best career move you’ve made, and I want to be the best boss you’ve had. I don’t want to have to guess what’s important to you. I’d like to ask you some questions to get to know you and your career goals better. Please tell me anything you’re comfortable saying. And if you’re not comfortable answering a question, just know that I’m interested and I care. And if, at any point, you’re comfortable telling me, I’d like to know.”
Then ask the Candor Questions during job interviews, one-on-one, and team meetings. We’re always learning how to work with people. So continue asking questions throughout your relationships. These conversations are not one-time events.
If you work for someone who isn’t asking you these questions, offer the information. You could say:
“I wanted to tell you why I chose this organization and job, and what keeps me here. I also want to tell you the things I really need to be happy and do my best work. Is it ok if I share?”
Your manager will be caught off guard, but it is likely that she will also be grateful. It’s much easier to manage people when you know what they need and why. Most managers want this information, it just may not occur to them to ask.
If the language above makes you uncomfortable, you can always blame me. You could say:
“I read this blog and the author suggested I tell you what brought me to this organization and what I really need to be happy here and do my best work. She said I’d be easier to manage if you had that information. Is it ok if I share?”
Yes, this might feel a little awkward at first, but the conversation will flow, and both you and your manager will learn a great deal about each other.
The ability to tell the truth starts with asking questions, giving people permission to speak candidly, and listening to the answers.
When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.
I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, many years ago. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.
If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.
Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old technique, but still very effective.
People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.
Click here to download five free questions from our box of Candor Questions for Sales and Customer Service. Use the questions
You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’. Similar to when people roll their eyes at you, when you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.
Tone is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.
When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.
The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.
Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:
• Tell me more about…
• Help me understand what happened here…
• What are your thoughts about…
• What’s the history behind….
• Why do we do it this way?
Any of these questions will lead to good discussion, if you manage your tone.
If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of over loading people with data, ask questions which evoke discussion. Through discussion you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as he does and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off putting.
It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.
Conference calls taken on speaker phone, listening to music without headphones, and a posse of visitors, make some people sitting in nearby cubes want to permanently work from home.
The key to being able to ask your coworkers to move the conversation to a conference room is the same as giving any type of feedback –set expectations and ask for permission to speak candidly.
Here is some language to make it easier to ask your coworkers to pipe down:
Get the people who sit in your work area together to talk about your working environment.
That conversation could sound like this, “It’s often pretty loud in our work area. I was wondering if we could set some guidelines of how we’ll manage our workspace, so it works for everyone? What do you think of establishing some practices we all agree to follow? For example, when making or taking phone calls, everyone will either use the handset or a headset. We won’t take or make phone calls on speaker phone. We’ll always use earphones if listening to music or watching videos. If a conversation in a cubicle lasts longer than five minutes, people will take the conversation to a conference room. And when these guidelines are broken, and they will because we’re human, it’s ok to say something.
We could even have a system to let people know it’s getting loud and that a guideline is being broken. With everybody’s agreement, we could throw a nerf ball into the loud cube, put a note in front of the person, or simply walk over and ask the person to take the conversation elsewhere. I want our work environment to work for everyone and make it easy for us to speak up without being concerned that we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings or damage relationships. What do you think?”
You DON’T need to be a manager to do this. Take control of your working environment by asking for what you want. Initiating this conversation may feel odd and uncomfortable, but I assure you most of the people you sit with will be grateful you had the courage to start the conversation.
You can say anything to anyone at work when you have permission to do so. Suffering is optional. Make requests today and follow up when things get loud. You can do it!
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone and get the words to make even the hardest conversations easy!
I could give you a list of fifty things you could do to improve employee performance, engagement and retention. But the truth is, there are really just four things you must do. Employees may appreciate the other 46 things but don’t necessarily need them to stay with your organization and do their best work.
The Colorado Society of Human Resource Management hosts an annual Best Companies competition, and organizations of all sizes compete. Last year I led a workshop before the awards ceremony. The purpose of the workshop was to share the things that make an organization a great place to work. While researching the program, the things that separate the great companies from the less desirable places to work became very clear. I’ll share those few things here.
Employees ask themselves these questions at work:
- Do I trust the leaders of this organization?
- Does my opinion/voice matter in this organization?
- Do I have a good relationship with my manager?
- Is my manager invested in helping me advance my career?
Employees enjoy yoga, concierge service, espresso, and social events at work, but these perks don’t necessarily improve retention or performance. The only perk known to improve employee loyalty and commitment is a flexible schedule. Everything else is nice to have, but not essential.
This is what’s really important to your employees:
- I trust the leaders who run this organization.
- My opinion means something. I am listened to.
- I feel respected (by my manager) and have good relationships in the organization.
- My work is challenging and interesting.
So what should you do if you want to be a best place to work?
Four Actions Leaders Can Take to Create Relationships with Employees at All Levels:
1. Know employees’ names, talents & career goals.
2. Be visible. Talk to employees.
3. Give more information than you think you need to. Employees want to know how your organization is performing.
- Hold town hall meetings. Give financial updates.
- Use ‘Ask the CEO’ boxes to encourage questions and feedback.
- Encourage senior leaders to conduct small, roundtable discussions with employees at all levels.
4. Align leaders’ words and actions.
- Organizational guidelines are applied consistently among all employees.
- Don’t gossip or chuck other leaders under the bus.
- Be consistent. Don’t say, “The CEO says this, but we’re going to do this instead.”
Four Actions Managers Can Take:
1. Meet one-on-one with employees and have meaningful discussions about employees’ performance and career goals.
2. Ask employees for their opinion and demonstrate that you’ve heard them.
3. Provide opportunities for employees to do work they enjoy.
4. Ensure employees who want to advance in your organization are learning and growing.
Read about our Be a Great Place to Work leadership training program designed for Senior Leaders and HR Professionals.
You’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Get there first, and create the first impression of what happened.
Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let her know before the call comes in. You will create her perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change. Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.
It could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call. Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”
Or, “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”
Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action. It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if she’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way. What do you think of me doing that? Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires and you get a call.”
Manage your career assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!
Too many people sit at their desks doing their minimal best, while begrudging their boss, organization and current job, hoping that something better will come along. Or people do good work and think that someday someone will notice and they’ll get the role and recognition they deserve.
If you want to advance your career, ask for more.
You may be rolling your eyes thinking, “More? I can’t do more. I already work evenings and weekends. I sleep with my phone and haven’t taken a vacation in two years, and you want me to do more?!?!?” Actually I want you to stop sleeping with your phone and take a vacation. But that’s a post for a different day.
When I say do more, I don’t mean do anything anyone asks nor anything your organization needs. Offer to take on more work that is aligned with what you want to do AND is important to the leaders of your organization.
Before starting Candid Culture, I ran an operations unit for a career college. Four years into my tenure with the company, one of my peers left, and his role wasn’t refilled. I felt his department was important to our organization’s success, so I offered to run it, in addition to my already big job.
My new department was a change agent’s dream. I outlined a strategic plan and long and short term goals. I re-wrote job descriptions and org charts. But six months into taking on the department, I couldn’t get one change approved. I was confused and frustrated.
I had initially been hired to turn another department around, and I’d been very successful at getting changes approved. Yet this time, I could get nothing approved. After six months of banging my head against a wall, I finally ‘got it.’ The owners of the company didn’t see the department as valuable, thus they weren’t willing to invest in it.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to see this. When my colleague’s senior level job wasn’t refilled and there was no freeze in hiring, I should have known the department wasn’t seen as important.
If you want to know what’s important in your organization, look at where money is being spent. Who is getting resources?
When I say ask for more, I mean be strategic about what you ask for.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want to do?
- Where in the organization are there opportunities to do that kind of work – that is important to the organization’s leaders?
- Who will support me in doing this work? Who won’t?
Then tell your boss and/or department leader:
- I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry.
- I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.
- I’m interested in learning more about ________________________.
- I’d love to run ___________________________.
- I think we have some opportunities to make improvements in _____________________.
- How could I get some exposure to ____________________.
- A project is starting in ______________. I’d love to be on the team. What are your thoughts about that? Would you be comfortable supporting my participation? If yes, how can we make it happen? If not, what would you need from me in order to support it?
The work you take on does not need to be high level. Everyone in an organization does grunt work. Just be sure that whatever you offer to do is seen as integral to the future of the organization. You’re not likely to get what you don’t ask for.
Read chapter five of How to Say Anything to Anyone and manage your boss better.
There are several mistakes most professionals make while attending conferences, training sessions, and other networking events. Avoid these common practices, and you’ll get great value from networking events that will more than justify your time away from the office and far exceed the price of attendance.
Mistake Number One: Skipping meals and other social events.
Many busy professionals have a hard time leaving work to attend networking events, conferences and training sessions. We don’t think we have time and may be worried about how our absence will appear, so we spend ‘down time’ at events catching up on email.
Don’t think of time in the exhibit hall, meals, cocktail hours, and other social events as down time. Think of those events as just as important as keynote and breakout sessions. You never know who at the conference has a vendor you’ve been looking for or a solution to one of your challenges.
Mistake Number Two: Talking with the people you already know during meals and social events.
It’s natural and comfortable to sit and talk with the people you know. The problem is, you already have access to those people. You can already call them to ask questions and problem solve. You’re attending the event to expand your network. The more people you talk to, the bigger your pool of potential future job leads and problem solving peers.
Most people are uncomfortable talking to people they don’t know. When you introduce yourself to new people, they let out a sigh of relief. They are grateful that you took the risk of introducing yourself. When you feel nervous in groups of mostly strangers, remember that everyone is nervous.
Mistake Number Three: Introducing yourself by telling people what you do.
“Hi, I’m Lauren Adler. I’m an Accountant” is a show stopper, not a conversation starter. The other person replies, “I’m Mary Guest. I’m an Analyst.” Then the two of you look at each other and wonder how to get out of the conversation. Rather than introducing yourself with your title, ask a question.
Here are a few questions you can ask when meeting fellow attendees:
- What’s one challenge you’re facing in your organization?
- What’s a resource you need, that I might be able to refer?
These questions are much better conversation starters than “Hi, I’m an attorney. What do you do?”
Ask one question, listen to the answer and then ask the next natural question. Provocative questions are a great way to build new, meaningful relationships.
Mistake Number Four: Not ending conversations soon enough.
We’ve all gotten trapped in a conversation and wondered, “How do I graciously get out of here?” When a conversation is over, end it by saying, “It’s been great talking with you. I’m going to meet some other people.” Just be honest. You’re doing both of you a favor by freeing each other up to meet someone new.
Mistake Number Five: Letting groups of people intimidate you.
Break into groups by walking up to a group of people talking and simply ask, “May I join you?” They will say yes. And when you’re ready to leave the group, who probably knew each other before the event, simply say, “It was great meeting all of you. Enjoy the meeting.”
Mistake Number Six: Hanging out by the buffet, in the bathroom, or in your phone.
The buffet cannot hire you.
It’s very tempting to catch up on email or Facebook updates while waiting for speakers to begin and meals to be served. Hiding out in our phones will not get you your next client nor expand your network. It may feel safer and easier to be distracted by your phone during a networking event or to visit the bathroom more than you really need to. Risk a little. Remember that everyone is just as nervous as you are. Approach someone you don’t know, and ask a question.
Much of the reason we attend events is to tap into the collective years of experience of other attendees. Get the maximum value from events by attending all social events and meals, talking with exhibitors and fellow attendees who you don’t already know, and putting away your phone. You never know who has the solution to your greatest challenge or from where your next customer or job offer will come.