Each time we go to the pediatrician’s office, my son’s doctor tells me to relax and enjoy my son more. And each appointment, I’m surprised. “What do you mean,” I ask? “Don’t all parents come to each appointment with a typed list of questions?” Apparently not.
It’s unfathomable that last year at this time, I was getting ready to have a baby. Grayson’s first year has flown by, but not without a lot of lessons. The learning has been fast and at times painful.
Working parent lesson one: Stop trying to be perfect. I’m annoyed with myself, in all aspects of my life, for not being perfect. Regret is amplified with my son. Tonight he fell and shed blood for the first time in his young life. And I was standing right there. He hurt himself on my watch. As I replay the incident in my mind, all I can think is, “How did I let that happen and how do I prevent it happening again?” My family reassured me that every kid hurts himself and it will happen again and again. Intellectually I know this, and yet, I’m in denial about it, thinking if I’m vigilant enough, I can protect Grayson, ensuring that everything is always…perfect.
Working parent lesson two: Go to bed earlier. When Grayson was born I was given the sage advice, “Sleep when he sleeps.” I didn’t. And I’m writing this when I should be asleep. I’m more patient and present when I sleep. I’m a better parent, manager, leader, and business owner when I sleep.
Close out the email. Get off the internet. Go to sleep.
Working parent lesson three: One of my friends told me that most babies’ emergency room visits are for things the parents didn’t know the child could do. Yesterday Grayson crawled out of the tub unassisted. I didn’t know he could do that. He’d never done it before. Each time he does something he’s never done before, I’m caught off guard. He’s fast, agile, curious and smart. I can’t underestimate him. And this isn’t too different from work.
Don’t underestimate the people you work with. They’ll do great things, if you let them. Set big goals. Be clear in your expectations. Coach, support, and get out of the way.
Several people have asked me about my greatest surprise in parenting. I have to say, it’s the love. The huge, limitless, crazy love. Perhaps I need to extend it to myself, and stress less and enjoy more.
Happy first birthday to Grayson. My greatest love and teacher.
If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magic words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.
The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.
There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.
Here are two key to make giving feedback easier:
Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything. Do a quick plus/delta on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?
I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make appropriate adjustments.
When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.
Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.
Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is on edge that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.
The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.
Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.
The first time my now eleven-month old son stood up in his crib, I didn’t see it. I was sitting in his room watching him at the time. I was literally watching him in his crib, and yet I didn’t notice when he stood up for the first time. I wasn’t looking at my phone or talking with someone else. It was just he and I in the room, and yet I was so distracted with whatever I was thinking about, I didn’t ‘see’ him stand up for the first time.
When he was born, I was given the advice to stay present. And I scoffed at that advice. Of course I would stay present.
Living in the present sounds so simple. When you walk, walk. When you eat, eat. When you work, work. We’ve all heard this advice, and yet, it’s so hard to do.
Before having a baby, I would lie awake in bed at night worrying about the vendor who wasn’t the right fit, a decision I needed to make, or something I needed to finish. Now I think about those things when I’m ‘with’ my son – watching him, but not seeing.
If we’re thinking about anything other than then what we’re doing, we’re not living in the present moment. Instead, we’re focused on either the past or the future. And this is where stress and anxiety live. If we only think about what’s happening now, it’s impossible to be stressed, anxious, or worried. The question is how to stay present when our brains want to do anything but.
Here are seven strategies for living in the present moment:
Live in the present strategy one: Write down everything you need to do, so you can free your brain from thinking about it.
Live in the present strategy two: Don’t over commit or over plan. Plan days with a schedule that you can easily achieve. Over committing causes stress and worry.
Live in the present strategy three: Only commit to do things you really plan (and at least in your personal life, really want) to do.
Live in the present strategy four: Give yourself a limited and prescribed time to talk about a problem and/or to worry about it. When the time is up, let it go and think about something else. Ask the people around you to help hold to this time limit. If you bring the topic up in conversation, ask your colleagues to point out that you’re still focused on the problem and refuse to have the conversation with you.
Live in the present strategy five: Remind yourself (from moment to moment) to be present. When I’m with my son, I remind myself to really be with him and not thinking about or doing something else.
Live in the present strategy six: Compartmentalize your time. Determine how long you’re going to do something, and only do that activity during that time period. When the time is up, move on to something else. When I’m not with clients, I spend half of each workday with my son. And when I’m with him, I don’t have my phone so I’m not tempted to check my email. When I’m with him, I’m really with him.
Live in the present strategy seven: Leave your phone some place you can’t see it. We are addicted to these little people separators. I find that one of the only ways I don’t check my phone, is not to carry the phone with me.
Being in the present moment requires discipline. If you want to feel more peaceful and less stressed, think only about what you’re doing. Let everyone else worry about the rest.
When I had knee surgery a bunch of years ago, the surgeon told me, “I didn’t fix your knee. I altered it.” He was trying to set the expectation that my knee wouldn’t be perfect, it would be different.
Violated expectations are at the root of disappointment, frustration, and broken relationships. We think, “I expect you to do or be a certain way and you’re not, so I’m unhappy.” If you want to be more satisfied and less frustrated, change your expectations. I don’t mean lower your expectations. I really do mean change them.
I had a baby last year and had no idea how difficult it would be have someone I barely knew (our new nanny) take care of him. It was tortuous until I got the sage advice, “You’re not going to get everything you want. Pay attention to the big things and be ok with good enough.” That’s hard for me. I have high standards and I want things done a certain way (my way). But I also don’t want to do everything myself. So I find myself altering my expectations and being ok with good enough. And it’s very, very difficult.
You likely want each of your employees, coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors to do things a certain way. Sometimes they’ll meet those expectations and sometimes they won’t. Decide what you must have, communicate those expectations (repeatedly if necessary), and let the rest go.
Here are four steps for setting expectations at work:
Setting expectations step one: Consider everything you need or want from a person. Make a list, even if it’s just for you.
Setting expectations step two: Determine what that person is capable of providing. What’s realistic given who they are and the constraints they’re under (financial, time, skills, experience, etc.)?
Setting expectations step three: Reset your expectations, if necessary.
Setting expectations step four: Ask for what you want and be specific about your request. Telling someone, “This needs to get better,” will get you nothing. Telling someone, “I’d like to be included in each meeting that relates to this project and cc’d on all pertinent emails,” may just get you what you need.
As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, be hard on the problem and easy on the person. When you address violated expectations, simply share what you expected to have happen and what actually did happen. That could sound like, “I thought we agreed I would be invited to each meeting pertaining to this client. There was a meeting last week I wasn’t invited to. What happened?” Watch your tone of voice when asking this question. Be neutral and curious.
Changing your expectations will likely be a daily occurrence. People won’t necessarily do things your way or even in the way you hoped. Decide what you must have, and let the rest go. Just think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save.
Breakdowns happen. There will be days people won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. And you will look bad. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?” I see myself as accountable for whatever breakdowns occur.
It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do her job, but it’s just easier. I can’t control anyone else. But I can control me (admittedly, some days I do a better job at this than others). When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.
It’s like getting off a highway versus sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The alternate route may take longer, but at least I’m moving. I feel like I’m doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.
There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re always accountable.” Terrible acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.
Here are four practices for improving difficult situations, even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).
1) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask more questions. If you’re not clear about what someone is expecting from you, ask. You’re responsible for doing good work, regardless of the type of direction you receive.
2) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Tell people what you think they’re expecting and what you’re planning to do, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. Clarifying expectations beats doing several weeks worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.
3) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.
4) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Say “thank you” to whatever feedback you receive versus defending yourself. People will be pleasantly surprised and their upset will dissipate more quickly. That could sound like, “That’s good feedback. I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me.”
5) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.
I am always asking the following questions:
“What could I have done differently?”
“What did I do to contribute to this situation?”
“What can I do now to make this situation better?”
I encourage you to ask these questions, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.
There are two purposes of giving feedback and only two purposes – to encourage people to either replicate or change a behavior. Providing input for any other reason doesn’t actually qualify as feedback and only serves to damage relationships.
Sometimes we provide input because we’re frustrated or simply don’t like someone. Consider the purpose of your comments before you make them. If your intentions are pure – to help someone replicate or alter a behavior, then ask for permission and give feedback once given the green light. If you’re ‘just talking’ to talk or vent, say nothing.
Here are five criteria for when to give feedback and when to say nothing:
Giving feedback criteria one: You have the relationship to do so. You’ve built trust. The recipient will know your motives are pure – to add value and help.
Giving feedback criteria two: You’ve asked for permission to give feedback. Even if your title grants you the permission to give feedback, asking if the person is open to the feedback can increase receptivity.
Giving feedback criteria three: You’re not upset. Wait to give feedback until you’re calm, but don’t wait longer than a week (max two).
Giving feedback criteria four: Four months haven’t passed since the incident happened that you want to address. If the purpose of feedback is to encourage someone to replicate or change a behavior, the feedback needs to be given shortly after the event occurred. If you wait, the feedback is unhelpful and creates suspicion of other things you haven’t said.
Giving feedback criteria five: You have a specific example to provide. No example, no feedback. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. Telling someone they’re “doing a great job” is nice to hear but isn’t specific enough to be helpful or sincere. Likewise, telling someone their work isn’t “detailed oriented,” isn’t helpful without a specific example or two.
Evaluate your motives before you speak. Are you attempting to encourage someone to alter or replicate a behavior, or are you just sharing your unsolicited opinion? Give feedback for the right reasons, and retain your relationships.
I think Instacart is a brilliant idea. I make a grocery list online, someone else goes shopping for me, and drops my groceries on my porch. What a great way to save time, unless I want a certain brand of canned tomatoes with no rosemary, and two green bananas and three that are almost ripe and one that is ripe right now. Meaning, if I want my groceries a certain way, I need to go shopping myself. No one else will pick precisely what I would. And delegating work and managing people is the same.
No one will do something just like you will. They might do it better or worse, but either way, work won’t be done just as you would do it. If you want something done precisely your way, you’re likely going to need to do it yourself.
There is little more demoralizing than working hard on a document and having your manager red line it with edits that aren’t wrong, they’re just not her way. This kind of feedback makes employees wonder why they bothered doing the work in the first place. Employees find themselves thinking and possibly saying, “If you’re going to change my work to be more your way, you should just do it yourself.”
This isn’t to say that if you have a vision for how work should be done that you shouldn’t delegate. Managers need to delegate work or they will be focused on the wrong things, exhausted, and resentful, and employees won’t grow, develop, and be properly utilized.
Managers need to set clear expectations, follow up to review work, provide regular feedback as the work is in process, and then expect and accept that completed projects won’t look just like what they would have done. Employees might produce great work, but it likely won’t be a mirror image of what the manager would have done herself.
If getting work that is slightly askew from what you would have done works for you, delegate the work. If work produced must be a certain way, you should likely do it yourself, or risk both you and your employees’ frustration.
Here are six steps on how to delegate, a skill I think most managers can strengthen:
How to delegate step one: Provide clear instructions to the person to whom you’re delegating. If you have an image of what something should look like, provide a sample document.
How to delegate step two: Ask the person to whom you delegated to tell you what you’re expecting. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” The right answer to that question is, “No,” and gives you no insight about the person’s understanding of your expectations. Instead, ask, “So I know I’ve been clear, what am I asking you to do?” Or you could ask, “Based on what I’ve said, what do you think I’m looking for?” There are lots of ways to assess a person’s understanding. You simply need to get the person talking.
How to delegate step three: Don’t assume people know what to do. We have all left someone’s office with a new project thinking, “I have no idea where to start.” And then that project goes on the bottom of the pile.
Ask the person, “What are you going to do first?” If they give you an answer that tells you they know what to do, step back. They’ve earned some freedom. If they give you an answer that will not lead to the results you want, step in and offer help.
How to delegate step four: Ask to see work as the work is completed versus reviewing all of the work when the project is done. Giving a lot of upgrade feedback after work is completed is demoralizing to employees and wastes a lot of time. Tell employees, “I’d like to see your progress every Friday (or whatever interval is appropriate depending on the length and complexity of the project). This isn’t to micromanage you, it’s to ensure you don’t do a bunch of work that I will want changed. I don’t want you to waste your time.”
How to delegate step five: Give candid feedback when you review work. Don’t say something is fine if it’s not. Make changes while the work is in its early stages versus when it’s almost complete.
How to delegate step six: Resist the temptation to edit work or give feedback on work that is correct but wasn’t done your way. Remember, if you want something done your way, sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself.
When it makes sense to do something yourself: When you must have something a certain way and you’re the only person who can and will do it that way. If you’re ok with things not having the same words, formatting or flavor you’d put on them, delegate. If you need your bananas to look a certain way, go pick them up yourself. And both options are right answers. It’s ok to want what you want.
I had a colleague at my last job, prior to starting Candid Culture, who was a peer and a friend. We were at a similar level and would periodically sit in one of our offices, with the door closed, engaging in office gossip, talking about the bad decisions our company’s senior leaders made. One day I realized that these conversations were exhausting to me. They were negative and didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they made me feel worse.
Some people distinguish between office gossip and venting, asserting that venting is cathartic and makes people feel better. It doesn’t. Venting and office gossip are one in the same and both will make you tired and feel worse about your job and organization.
I’ll use an analogy I read in one of Deepak Chopra’s books. When you put a plant in the closet and don’t give it light or water, it withers and dies. When you put a plant in the sunlight and water it, it grows. And the same is true for people. Wherever you put your attention will get bigger and stronger. Whatever you deprive attention will become smaller.
In addition to draining you of energy and ensuring you focus on the things that frustrate you, office gossip kills organizations’ cultures. If employees can’t trust that their peers won’t talk about them when they’re not there, there is no trust in the organization. And this lack of trust feels terrible. It makes employees nervous and paranoid. A lack of trust sucks the enjoyment out of working because we feel we have to continuously watch our back.
Office gossip isn’t going anywhere. It’s a human phenomenon and is here to stay. But you can reduce office gossip.
Here are five steps to reduce the office gossip in your workplace:
Reducing gossip in the workplace step one: Address the gossip head on.
Tell your employees, “I’ve been hearing a lot of gossip, which is not good for our culture.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step two: Hold regular town hall meetings, and give employees more information than you think you need to about initiatives, organizational changes, profitability, etc. Employees want to know how the organization is doing and what they can do to contribute. In the absence of knowledge, people make stuff up, not because they’re malicious, but because they have a need to know. Employees don’t have to fill in the gaps with office gossip when you inform them.
Reducing gossip in the workplace step three: Create a no-gossip-in-the-workplace policy.
Tell your employees, “We want people talking directly to each other, rather than about each other. As a result, we’re putting a no-gossip policy in place.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step four: Draw attention to gossip.
Perhaps suggest, “Every time you hear gossip, wave two fingers in the air (or something else that’s equally visual).” This will draw attention to office gossip without calling anyone out.
Also, ask your peers and friends not to gossip with you. End conversations that contain gossip. This will be hard to do, but if everyone does it, it will become much easier.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step five: Have an agreed-upon consequence for gossip.
Tell employees, “Every time we hear gossip in the workplace, the gossiper owes a dollar. Every quarter the gossipers will buy the office lunch from the office gossip jar.”
The keys to reducing office gossip are to draw attention to the gossip, have a consequence for gossiping, and over communicate so your employees don’t have to fill in the gaps themselves.
Venting and office gossip are the same. If you’re talking about someone else, unless you’re planning a conversation with a coworker or friend to address a challenge or problem, you’re gossiping. And talking about what frustrates you will only make you more frustrated.
My advice: Do something about the things you can impact and let the other stuff go. Talk about the things that matter to you. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about the people around you. And know that anyone who will gossip about someone to you, will also gossip about you.
When I was in college I wrote a paper making the case that most of the decisions we make are based on fear. My professor told me that I wouldn’t want the grade she’d put on the paper and told me to rewrite it. Clearly, she disagreed. Many years later, I still believe the premise of what I wrote. Much of our decision making is fear based.
We make decisions based on fear of what will and won’t happen.
Is that a good decision? What will happen if I say or do that? Will I get in trouble? Will I get what I want, or will there be negative consequences? Will we make or lose money? Will I lose my job? What impression will that decision make on other people?
Fear is pervasive. It hides in our brain and guides our decision making, without us even being aware of its presence.
I’ll never forget driving up to an ATM machine with one of my closest friends from high school. We were 30 at the time, long past high school, and were in a very quiet and safe neighborhood. And yet my friend told me not to go to the ATM machine after dark because it wasn’t safe.
Says who? A long time ago, someone told her that it wasn’t safe to go to an ATM machine at night. And she believed that she’d be robbed at night, at any ATM machine, anywhere, throughout her adult life. Not sound decision making nor a rationale fear.
Regarding decision making, who is running the show, you or your past?
When decision making, you know what’s best for you. When you quiet the noise in your head and listen, you know what to do. Trust yourself.
Tap into your real desires. When desire overtakes fear, the world will be at your feet. But it can take a lot to even identify that fear is running the show and to know what those desires are.
Trust yourself. Not your fear. When fear rears its head, go to a quiet place, literally and figuratively, and ask yourself:
What do I really want? What should I do? You’ll know. Don’t ask 100 people what you should do. Or do ask other people for advice, but be careful with the answers you get. Underneath all that worry and concern, you know what you want. The key is to listen and be willing to trust yourself.
As crazy as it sounds, your manager is afraid of you – afraid of your defensive reaction to feedback.
The normal reaction to feedback is to get upset. The problem is, no one wants to deal with our upset. It makes them uncomfortable. So managers and peers alike start to pick and choose what to tell us. Not wanting to deal with our reaction, they start to pick their battles. The more defensive we are, the less feedback we get. The less feedback we get, the less information about our performance we have. The less information we have about our performance, the less control we have over our career.
All of us have been passed over for an opportunity at work – a promotion, raise, project, etc. – and for the most part, we have no idea why, because no one wants to risk our defensive response to tell us. This lack of knowledge makes it hard to manage your career. And to be frank, defensive people are extraordinarily difficult to work with. Having to watch every word, walk on egg shells, and be choosy about what to address and what to avoid is exhausting. Be receptive and thus easier to work with.
I teach managers to screen out candidates who aren’t coachable and receptive to feedback. Work is hard enough without hiring people who aren’t coachable. Being open to feedback makes you easier to work with.
Here are three ways to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness:
Tip one to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and the intrinsic drive to defend yourself when receiving feedback. Not defending oneself is extremely challenging. And even the most minor reaction sounds defensive. I.e., “Thank you for the feedback. Here’s why we did it that way…”
Tip two to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Wait a few minutes, hours or days, and respond to feedback when you’re calm. That could sound like, “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry that happened. I’m going to think about what you said and get back to you by the end of the day.”
Tip three to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Come from a place of curiosity when seeking feedback versus thinking “there’s something wrong here” and “I’m bad.” Be curious about how you impact others and the impression you make. Seek feedback to understand both.