The approach of summer and summer office attire can make even the most seasoned HR person weary. No one wants to tell an employee that her belly button isn’t for public viewing or to leave the flip flops at home.
Like any behavior you want to generate, it’s much easier to set clear expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable summer office attire before the season begins. So this spring, do some prevention before you have to give an employee feedback for wearing something that fits better at the beach than at work.
Most organizations have a written dress code. I recommend making it visual. Like the image here, post pictures of summer office attire do’s and don’ts in visual form. A picture makes a lasting impression employees are likely to remember; bullet points are easy to forget. If employees are wearing flip flops, tank tops, sheer blouses, spaghetti straps, wrinkled capris, etc., simply post photos of those articles in the no category. Don’t make employees guess if something is appropriate, make it visually clear.
I also recommend hosting a fashion show. Order food, have employees model summer office attire do’s and don’ts. Make it fun. Watching your peers walk ‘the runway’ in both appropriate and inappropriate summer office attire will make a much bigger impact than any ‘memo’ will.
But let’s say you already have a summer dress code violater and you know you need to say something to the person. Addressing inappropriate office attire is just like any other feedback conversation. Make it short. Tell the person why you’re speaking – because you care about him and want to help him manage his reputation – and be direct.
Here are a few examples of how to tell someone she is violating the summer dress code:
Preface each example below with something like, “I care about you and I care about your career. I’ve got some input about your summer office attire. Please take my feedback in the spirit it’s intended, which is to be helpful to you.” This language is appropriate for any type of relationship – peer, manager, and direct reports.
- Summer casual dress code scenario one: “Those are super cute shoes, but they violate our company dress code of no open toed shoes. Please don’t wear them again at work.”
- Summer casual dress code scenario two: “I can see your bra straps under that shirt. Please wear an additional layer under the shirt, the next time you wear it.” Women should have this conversation, men should not. If a man manages a female who needs to alter her summer attire, ask another female she has a good relationship with to have that conversation for you.
- Summer casual dress code scenario three: “Those pants are too tight for work. Please wear looser fitting clothing.”
Effective feedback is short and clear. You can do it. Unless you hire and manage life guards, simply tell the people you work with the truth about the impression their clothing makes and why that’s important. But it’s always easier to set clear expectations before challenges occur, so start there.
Nothing will help you with time management more than having a baby. Since having my son, deciding what to say yes and no to has become very easy. I do just what I have to and really, really want to, and say no to everything else. Work that wasn’t where I should be spending my time is now done by someone else. Social events that I didn’t really want to attend get declined.
Time is the only thing in life you can’t get back. You can make friends and lose friends. You can make money and lose money. You can gain weight and lose weight. But you never ever get back your time.
So where is your time going? What are you doing that you know someone else should be doing? What are you doing out of obligation that is devoid of enjoyment? Where do you invest more time than you need to, requiring you to give short shrift to another priority?
It may seem odd that a communications expert is writing about time management. I don’t speak or train on time management. But I am knowledgeable and passionate about people loving the work they do, where they do it. And it’s hard to love what you and do your best work when you don’t allocate your time well.
Here are five time management questions:
Time management question one: What are you doing that you know someone else could or should do?
Time management question two: If you invested a few hours training someone, what could you give up to create room for something new?
Time management question three: What personal relationships do you invest time in because you think you’re supposed to?
Time management question four: Which family events are you attending out of obligation?
Time management question five: What do you give 110% percent to that 70% would be more than sufficient, leaving more of your time and energy for something more important?
You only have so much time and energy. Where are you going to put it – on the things that matter most or on distractions that seem important?
I’m not suggesting you skip every family event you don’t want to go to. But perhaps go for less time or skip every third event. I’m not advocating cutting corners or doing mediocre work. But sometimes we spend much more time on things than we need to, when investing less time would deliver the same result.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by 70% being more than enough:
- You spend 25 hours on the formatting of a presentation when the content is what’s really important. You create gorgeous tables and graphs when five bullets were what the client really wanted.
- You host a party and make hand painted table tents describing each food, when your guests will have a great time with typed descriptions or no descriptions at all.
- You maintain friendships you know should have ended long ago because it seems like the right thing to do.
- You avoid calling friends if you don’t have an hour to talk instead of calling and saying, I only have ten minutes but really want to talk with you.
Invest your time in what produces the greatest results and maximizes your enjoyment. Work hard, do great work, invest in your family and friends, and know when “no thank you” is the right answer.
People sometimes leave feedback training confused. Armed with the skills to be candid, they think they have the right to say anything they want. Not the case. Feedback isn’t a weapon or a license to barf your opinion on people. Unsolicited and unwelcome feedback is like fish you left on your counter top for too long. It stinks.
You have the right to ask for and accept the feedback you want and reject the feedback you don’t, from peers and customers. Help people know the difference by providing clear parameters on what type of input you do and don’t want. You are not a dumping ground.
Follow these steps to manage the feedback you get from others:
Giving and receiving feedback tip one: Don’t ask for feedback because you think you’re supposed to. There are lots of leadership books and training programs that tell leaders to be open to and ask for others’ input. Only ask for input you want. If you’ve made a decision or don’t want others’ input, don’t ask for it. While you might get more buy in by asking people for their input on decisions that impact them, you’re allowed to decide without forming a committee.
Giving and receiving feedback tip two: When you ask for input, be very specific about the type of input you want. Guide people. Tell them, “I’m specifically looking for input on ____________. I’m not looking for input on ____________.” And if you still receive unwanted feedback, remind people about the input you are and aren’t looking for. In the spirit of being helpful, people can overstep their bounds.
Giving and receiving feedback tip three: Don’t be afraid to shut people down who provide unsolicited feedback. The words, “Thank you for your concern. I’m not looking for input on that at this time” will do the trick. Yes, you really can say that.
Giving and receiving feedback tip four: Don’t take feedback personally. While most people don’t think about it in this way, giving feedback subtly tells you that you’re doing something wrong, or at least not how the other person would do it. There are lots of ways to skin a cat. Their way may or may not be better than yours. To “skin a cat” is a terrible expression, by the way.
Giving and receiving feedback tip five: Trust yourself. You likely know what you want to do a lot of the time. If you find yourself asking for input when you know what you want to do, stop asking. Listen to your gut and decide.
Feedback has a time and a place. I ask for and listen to a lot of feedback, but not all the time and not about everything. If I listened to everything everyone in my life suggested, I wouldn’t own a business or have a baby. Sometimes you know best.
Last week I was talking with a friend who works for a large investment bank. He said, “I don’t believe in the premise of your book. There is no place for negative feedback in the workplace. It’s just not possible.” And I’m seeing firsthand how hard it is for people to receive negative feedback. All kinds of people – sensitive people and less sensitive people, Type A and laid back types. No one wants to hear she made a mistake, could have done something better, or any other type of negative feedback. It’s just too hard.
This is a massive conflict for me. At Candid Culture, we teach people how to give and receive feedback and yet, here I am wondering if it’s even possible.
We need to be able to tell people what they can do better. And the truth, is, while people may not want to hear negative feedback, most people do want to know what they can do to improve their performance and get ahead, hence the quandary. Give negative feedback and evoke others’ defensiveness or say nothing and put up with whatever isn’t working? I, of course, would prefer that you give the feedback, believing that it empowers people to make better personal and professional choices. The question is how?
Here are six steps to make giving negative feedback possible:
- Set the expectation at the onset of working relationships that you will give and receive balanced (positive and negative) feedback regularly. If you’ve worked with people for years and have not set this expectation, it’s not too late. Simply say, “I realized we don’t give each other a lot of feedback. In the spirit of continuous improvement, I’d like to implement a weekly debrief during which we talk about what’s working and not working. We’ll give each other feedback during the meetings.”
- Assess candidate’s openness to feedback when you interview, and don’t hire people who don’t accept negative feedback. We do practical interviews at Candid Culture. We give candidates a chance to do some of the work they’ll be doing on the job and tell candidates what they can do to improve, during the interview. Then we see how they accept our feedback. We also ask interview questions that help elucidate whether or not candidates are open to feedback and we ask candidates’ references how well the person accepts negative feedback.
- Observe performance regularly and provide balanced feedback from the start. Don’t wait until a problem occurs or until you have time to give feedback. Begin the practice of meeting weekly to review and discuss work, setting the precedent that this is the way you do business.
- Provide positive feedback regularly so people know the good stuff and aren’t solely focused on the negative feedback they receive.
- Ask for and be open to feedback. When you demonstrate being open to feedback, you earn the right to give feedback.
- Lastly, don’t underestimate how hard it is to hear negative feedback. When some people receive negative feedback, they begin to question themselves, their skills, and their value. So tread lightly. Pick your battles. Address only what you really need to and say things gingerly, remembering that you’re talking to a sensitive person, no matter how tough he may seem.
When I was leading Leadership Development for OppenheimerFunds I told my boss, the head of HR, that one of my career goals was to be an HR generalist. He said, in his lovely British accent, “Shari, you’re very good at what you do, and you would be a terrible generalist. You will never be a generalist here.” At the next company, I also told the head of HR that one of my career goals was to be an HR generalist, and he too said, “You would be a terrible generalist. You won’t have that role here.” I could have left that company and chased my desire to be a generalist, or I could have listened to people who saw something I didn’t. I listened.
Sometimes others can see things we can’t and it makes sense to listen. That’s actually my definition of a coach – someone who can see things that we can’t, and they’re willing to tell us.
If you’re serious about achieving your career goals, consider these six practices:
- Identify what you want to do.
- Share your career goals with people who can help you achieve them.
- Ask people you trust and those in a position to help you achieve your career goals what may prevent you from having what you want. Obstacles might be organizational (i.e. the job you want doesn’t exist at your company) or they might be personal (i.e. you don’t have the skills, acumen, or temperament for the job you want).
- Work to develop skills you’re missing.
- Accept things that might prevent you from getting what you want. I.e. I don’t have the temperament to be an effective HR generalist, and I never will.
- Decide when to stop pursuing a goal. Make peace with that decision. And move on to something equally, if not, more compelling.
Most of us were raised to believe that quitting is taking the easy way out and that to quit is bad. I don’t know about that. Sometimes you have to listen to the feedback the world gives you and act accordingly.
When I was pregnant, I worried that I would gain sixty pounds and never take the weight off. Well, that’s not what happened. I gained 18 pounds (amazing) and most of it was gone when Grayson was a week old. Six months later, I’m fourteen pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. I can’t explain it. It certainly isn’t a result of eating well or exercising, because I’m doing neither. But it has left me with a problem that’s impacting my professional image. None of my clothing fits. This is a good problem to have, but nonetheless, it’s a problem.
Last week I was at a networking event wearing a suit that was huge. When I put it on, I hoped no one would notice. And they might not have. For all I know, I was the only person who knew I was wearing ill-fitting clothing. But more important than what others saw, is how I felt in the suit. I felt unprofessional, unpolished and silly. Aka, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t trust my appearance and it had me doubt myself. So instead of networking, which was the purpose of the event, I went to an empty room and made phone calls.
We feel more confident and do better work when we feel good in what we’re wearing and know we look good.
Here are four things you can do to elevate your professional image:
Elevate your professional image tip #1: Take photos of yourself wearing your ‘go to’ outfits. Look at the photos and assess how you look in your favorite clothing. I’m often dismayed at how I ‘really look’ in my favorite pieces of clothing. Then start taking photos of how you look in pieces of clothing before you buy them.
Elevate your professional image tip #2: Ask a friend whose judgment you trust to weigh in on your clothing. Specifically ask, “What’s the first impression I make in this outfit? Where should I wear this? Where shouldn’t I wear it?”
Elevate your professional image tip #3: Get a good haircut. You get what you pay for. Utilize the same practice as above. Ask a friend who always looks great to share the first impression your hair makes. Then make friends with your blow dryer. This might be the part of the blog when men check out. Stay with me. This applies to you too.
Elevate your professional image tip #4: Try on old items in your closet and get rid of everything that doesn’t pass the photo and friend evaluations. If you can’t bear to get rid of things you love, box them up so you won’t wear them.
You’ll present yourself more confidently when you have confidence in your appearance.
Note, these suggestions only apply when you’re in front of other people. If you work from home and don’t see anyone during the day but your dog and the occasional neighbor, bring on the spandex or the jammies. There is a school of thought that says you’ll do better work, even at home, if you’re professionally dressed. This isn’t true for me. I do better work when I’m comfortable. So now you know what I’m wearing when you call me. Aren’t you glad we don’t Skype!
You may not impress everyone you meet, hit every deadline, and consistently knock it out of the park. Bad days and breakdowns happen. But there are a few business etiquette practices you can consistently do to make you easy to work with and to present yourself in a professional and credible way.
Business Etiquette tip #1: Listen to your cell and work voicemail greetings. Have you recorded a personal greeting that assures callers they’ve reached your phone? If the message says, “You’ve reached 303-863-0948, callers may wonder if they’ve called the right number and are likely to hang up and call back. And make sure the greeting doesn’t sound as if you recorded it while you were outside waiting for a bus, or standing in line at the grocery store, or under water. You get the point.
Business Etiquette tip #2: Make it easy to contact you. Include all of your contact information at the bottom of your outgoing and reply emails, in a clickable format (versus a non-clickable image). Don’t make people search for your contact information. Oh, and spell check your salutation. I’m amazed at how many spelling errors and typos I see in people’s contact information.
Business Etiquette tip #3: Turn off your out-of-office voicemail and email messages when you return from a trip. Telling people that you’ll be back on January 3rd, in March, makes you appear checked out.
Business Etiquette tip #4: Don’t wear perfume or cologne to work. It likely bothers someone but s/he won’t tell you about it.
Business Etiquette tip #5: Want to avoid people asking you, “Did you get my email?” or sending you yet another email? Reply to all emails, letting people know you received their message and letting them know when you’ll respond. That could read something like, “I received your message. I’ll reply with an answer by Friday.”
I could go on – eating smelly food in a cubicle, taking phone calls via a speaker phone from a cubicle, stealing other people’s lunches out of the refrigerator, taking up two parking spots, almost finishing the coffee, but not making more, borrowing someone’s chair and returning it at a different height, leaving conference rooms a mess, ending meetings late so a posse of people wait outside to use the conference room, flushing the toilet while participating in a remote conference call, but this is a good start. I’m looking forward to listening to your personal yet succinct voicemail greeting soon!
Leave a comment and tell us your easily fixed, work-related pet peeve!
You’re talking with someone. He asks a question demonstrating he didn’t understand or hear what you said. You let out an exasperated silent or audible sigh and say, “Like I just said…” Saying “like I just said” or “as I just explained” tells the person that you think he’s stupid or doesn’t listen. Both might be true, but saying so won’t help your relationship.
I consider myself reasonably smart. And for the most part, I listen. If I ask a question about something you said, consider the possibility that your explanation wasn’t clear and find a way to rephrase what you said the first time. Resist the temptation to tell me and the people you work with that we’re stupid.
Letting people save face is an art that takes patience, good communication, and the desire to have good relationships.
Here are five good communication tips that will strengthen you relationships versus alienate you from others:
Good communication tip number one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good. People are doing what they know to do.
Good communication tip number two: If someone doesn’t understand what you said, take responsibility for delivering unclear information. It’s easier to change your communication style than alter someone else’s style.
Good communication tip number three: Put your desire to have good business relationships above the desire to be right.
Good communication tip number four: Consider that you may not explain things in the way others learn. Vary your communication methods. Most people don’t learn solely by hearing. Make your explanations hands on and/or visual, and you’ll reach more people.
Good communication tip number five: Bring your patience to work.
It’s tempting to tell people where they’re lacking, but it won’t get you very far. Say what you need to in order to get your point across. And if people are unclear, know the easiest thing is to alter your message. Take the path of least resistance; let people save face.
A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score him points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.
If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard, or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and as you make progress.
The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.
When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:
Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?
Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?
Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?
Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?
Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?
Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?
Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I include or work with on this project?
Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?
If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”
Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.
People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.
I’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.
No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.
Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.
Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:
Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”
Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”
Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”
Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?
Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”
Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”
Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.