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Working with Difficult People – When to Give Up

Working with Difficult PeopleUnless you never interact with other people, there’s probably someone in your life who repeatedly engages in a behavior that annoys you. You’ve probably made requests about what you’d like to the person to do differently, and hopefully you’ve given feedback. But the behavior hasn’t changed.

At some point, we have to accept that people are who and how they are. People can and will change certain behaviors, if their motivation is high enough. But other behaviors won’t change. They are what they are. And if you want to have the person in your personal or professional life, you have to accept the behavior and the person as they are. And doing this can be very difficult, at least it is for me. I admit, I often have this conversation myself, “Why won’t he…? I don’t get it. It’s not that hard. How many times do I have to ask?”

Here are five strategies for working with difficult people:

Working with difficult people strategy one: Become very clear on the behavior(s) you expect.

Working with difficult people strategy two: Make a request and ask the person to do what you want. Be sure you are being explicitly clear in your request. For example, “Please include me in meetings” is too vague. Instead, try, “Please invite me to all client meetings so I can stay connected to the clients and projects.”

Working with difficult people strategy three: Make requests at least three times. With each successive request (nicely) remind the person that you’ve made this request in the past and it still isn’t happening. For example, “We’ve talked about this in the past and it isn’t happening. Help me understand what’s happening?”

Working with difficult people strategy four: If you’ve made a request at least three times, give feedback as to what isn’t happening and why that causes challenges. For example, “We’ve talked about inviting me to client meetings a few times. It’s still not happening. I’m getting calls from clients with questions I can’t answer because I’m not included in the meetings. Can you help me understand why I’m not being invited to meetings?” Read chapters nine through eleven and chapter thirteen of How to Say Anything to Anyone to get more examples of how to give clear and specific feedback.

Working with difficult people strategy five: Know when to give up and accept the person and behavior as they are. If you’ve made a request and have given feedback three times, you likely aren’t going to get what you want. The person either can’t do what you’re asking or doesn’t want to. Now you have a decision to make.

Decide how important this behavior is. Is it a deal breaker? If it’s a deal breaker, you can’t work or live with the person. If it’s not a deal breaker stop expecting the behavior to happen and accept that it won’t. When you accept that you won’t get what you want from someone you’ll suffer less.

Strategy five is really the crux of this blog. Knowing when to stop expecting something and coming to peace with that decision will give you great freedom. In order to let go of the expectation you have to decide that it’s really ok for you not to get what you want. Ask yourself, “Can I live with this behavior as it is?” If you can’t, you have a hard decision to make. If you can, then stop expecting and asking for the behavior. Truly let it go. You’ll feel better.

Working with Difficult People


Honored to be Quoted in Fast Company – Shari Harley

I’m honored to have been quoted in Fast Company’s article on how to give negative feedback.  Check it out.

fast company shari harleyEVEN WHEN YOUR INTENTIONS ARE GOOD, IT CAN BE TOUGH TO GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM.

Constructive criticism also brings out defensiveness. “Human beings are hardwired to defend themselves when receiving negative feedback,” says Shari Harley, founder and president of the management-training firm Candid Culture and author of How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships That Really Work. “You can’t eliminate people’s defensive reactions to negative feedback, but you can reduce it, making feedback easier to hear and act upon,” she says.

4. Don’t “save up” your negative feedback

People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up, says Harley. “Because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.”

Instead, make it a practice to give small amounts of feedback at a time—one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time, says Harley.

5. Be timely but not immediate

Give feedback close to the time of an event, but not when you’re upset, says Harley.

“The time to fix a problem is when no one is upset,” she says. “I call this practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week rule: Wait 24 hours to give feedback if you’re upset, but not longer than a week after an event occurs.”

6. Finally, be discreet

“Praise in public, criticize in private,” says Harley. Make sure all negative feedback discussions happen behind a closed door.

Click here to read the entire article at FastCompany.com.


Reduce Work Overload – Ask for Help

work overloadIt’s not easy to admit when we’re overwhelmed and need help. In fact, it’s such a hard thing to say that instead of asking for help, most of us either work harder or longer or job hunt.

Admitting work overload isn’t a weakness and it isn’t bad. It’s all in how you handle it.

If you find yourself with work overload and you aren’t sure what to do, consider taking these four steps.

Eliminate work overload step one: Every time you find yourself doing something that someone else could and should do, write it down, including how much time the task took. Doing this will create awareness of how much time you spend doing things that may not be the best use of your skills and experience. Then work with whomever you need to in your organization to align that work where it belongs. This practice isn’t to make you sound like an entitled prima donna. It’s an entrepreneurial way to approach your work.

The highest and best use of my time at Candid Culture is talking to current or future clients, writing new material, and delivering keynote presentations or training programs. I really shouldn’t do anything else. I can do a lot of things – like talk to vendors, count inventory, order supplies, and pack product orders – but none of those things add value to the business the way speaking, training, writing and spending time with clients does.

The business owner’s mantra is, “If I can pay someone less than I get paid to do something, I should do that.” Consider how you can apply that practice to your workplace, without appearing to be someone who won’t ‘wash windows.’ Meaning, you don’t want to be or appear to be someone who isn’t willing to do grunt work. Every job has it. But those lower level tasks shouldn’t be where you spend most of your time, unless your job description and annual goals say so.

Eliminate work overload step two: Watch out for and eliminate time suckers. This includes people, problems, and processes. If you find yourself in meetings all day long, consider which meetings you can skip or send someone else on your team. If someone in your office swings by daily to have personal conversations, tell the person, “I’d love to talk with you and I’m working under a deadline. Can we catch up later?”

Lots of people are at work longer than they need to be because of time spent talking with coworkers they don’t know how to ask to go away. You’re doing everyone a favor when you end conversations that are distracting. If you really want to talk about what’s happening with your coworkers’ kids, mother-in-law, and home renovation, go to lunch or happy hour.

Eliminate work overload step three: Sometimes doing 110% percent isn’t important. Notice when you’re doing more than you need to and when that additional work doesn’t add significant value. I.e., you put together a PowerPoint presentation and then spent five more hours printing and stuffing folders to put the presentation in. Next time, focus on the content and worry less about the aesthetics.

Eliminate work overload step four: Lastly, know when and how to ask for help. The last organization where I worked, before starting Candid Culture, was very fast paced and lean. I worked all the time and consistently felt overwhelmed. I eventually went to my boss to ask for help. I made a list of everything I was working on and asked him to rate each item based on how important he saw the project/task. He put an “A” next to the things that needed to get done first, a “B” next to the things that came next, and a “C” next to the things that were the least important. He told me to do the A’s first, then the B’s, and if I got to the C’s, great, if not, no problem.

The meeting was eye opening for me. I assumed he thought everything on my list was an “A” and that left me stressed with an inability to prioritize. Hearing how he perceived my workload reduced my anxiety and gave me permission to ease up on projects I’d previously considered timely.

Don’t suffer in silence. But do approach reducing work overload in a positive way. Rather than whining to your boss and coworkers, end conversations that you know are a time drain, limit work that doesn’t add significant value, and ask for help prioritizing when you can’t do it for yourself.

work overload


How to Change Your Reputation at Work – Eight Steps

How to change your reputation If you took my advice last week and asked your boss who impacts the decisions made about you at work and what those people think of you, you probably got some feedback. The question is, what should you do with the feedback?

We know impressions are made quickly and are hard to change. But it’s not impossible to repair your reputation. If you want to change how people see you, I’d suggest being very overt about the changes you’ve made. Don’t simply alter your behavior and wait for people to notice. They likely won’t.

Once people have formed an opinion about you, that’s often their opinion for as long as they know you. For example, if you have a tendency to be late, even if you periodically show up on time, your friends and coworkers will think of you as the person who is always late. If you work with someone who tends to miss deadlines, even if she periodically turns work in on time, you’ll think of her as someone who misses deadlines.

Once people make a decision about us, that’s often how they’ll see us for the duration our relationship. So if you want to repair your reputation, you’re going to have to do it overtly. Making changes and hoping people notice, won’t produce the desired result.

Here Are Eight Steps to Repair Your Reputation:

  1. Ask people who can impact your reputation and whose judgment you trust for feedback.
  2. Work hard to manage yourself and not get defensive. Respond to all feedback, no matter how hard it is to hear or how invalid it may feel with, “Thank you for telling me that. I’m going to think about what you said. I may come back to talk more later.”
  3. Once you’ve absorbed the feedback, decide what, if any, changes you will make.
  4. Change your behavior for a period of weeks.
  5. Return to the people who gave you feedback, tell them about the behavior changes you’ve made, and ask them to observe your behavior.
  6. Tell the people who gave you feedback that you’ll ask them for feedback again in a few weeks, and you want to know what they see.
  7. Return to the people who gave you feedback and ask what changes they have or haven’t noticed.
  8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 at least quarterly. Everyone periodically does things that can damage their reputation.

Overtly pointing out the behavior changes you’ve made, asking people who are important to you to pay attention, and give you additional feedback, is key to altering your reputation. Most people working to change their reputation don’t do this. They make behavior changes and hope others notice. If you want to alter your reputation and how others see you, you need to do so overtly. Tell people the changes you’ve made; don’t make them guess. Ask people to observe your behavior, and then ask for more feedback. And no matter how hard the feedback is to hear, don’t get defensive. Becoming defensive will ensure you don’t get feedback the next time you ask.

How to change your reputation


To Manage Your Professional Reputation, Learn Who’s On Your Team

Manage your professional reputationYou will be passed over for jobs, projects, and second dates and never know why. Being passed over isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not knowing why is problematic. If you don’t know why you’re being passed over, how can you be prepared for next time?

Organizations are political. People talk. You’ve undoubtedly already experienced this.

If you want to manage your professional reputation, one thing you must know is who talks about you and what they say. How decisions get made in organizations isn’t always obvious. There are the obvious channels of decision making, like your boss and your boss’s boss. But there are also the people who talk to your boss and boss’s boss and have an opinion about you, who you may not be aware of.

Everyone in an organization has people they trust, who they listen to and confide in. Who those trusted people are isn’t always obvious. When you’re being considered for a new position or project, the decision makers will invariably ask others for their opinion. Knowing who does and doesn’t support you in a future role is essential to managing your professional reputation and career.

I don’t want you to be nervous, paranoid, or suspicious at work. I do want you to be savvy, smart, and aware.

It’s not difficult to find out who can impact your professional reputation at work, you just need to ask the people who know. Start with your boss. S/he likely knows and will tell you, if you ask.

To ensure you know who can impact your professional reputation, tell your boss:

“I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry. I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.”

Then ask:

  • Who in the organization should I have a good relationship with?
  • Who/what departments should I be working closely with?
  • Who impacts my professional reputation and the opportunities I have?
  • What skills do I have that the organization values most?
  • What contributions have I made that the organization values most?
  • What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?

Your manager doesn’t walk around thinking about the answers to these questions. If you want thoughtful answers, set a time to meet with your boss, tell him/her the purpose of the meeting – to get feedback on your professional reputation so you can adeptly manage your career – and send the questions in advance, giving your boss time to prepare for the meeting. You will get more thoughtful and complete answers if your boss has two weeks to think about the questions and ask others for input.

Don’t be caught off guard by a less-than-stellar professional reputation. Take control of your reputation and career. Ask more. Assume less.

Write a comment about this week’s blog and we’ll enter your organization to win 50 professional reputation bookmarks!

Manage your professional reputation


Four Examples of Positive Feedback – Replicate Good Behavior

Examples of positive feedback

Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.

Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.

“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.

The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell her what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.

Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:

Examples of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “Great job.”

Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision. Great job!”

Examples of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”

Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”

Examples of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”

Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem. You make my job easy.”

Examples of positive feedback:

Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”

Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”

The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:

  • Be specific.
  • Give an example.
  • Give feedback close to the time an event happens.

To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what she did well.

Examples of positive feedback


Set Expectations and Be Happier at Work

People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”

The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The People don't do things the way we do. communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”

Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.

How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.

Here are five questions you should ask every person you work with. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:

  1. What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
  2. What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
  3. How do you like to communicate? Phone, in-person, by appointment or drop by’s.
  4. How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
  5. If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do, and is it ok to do that?
  6. What are your pet peeves at work? How will I annoy you and not even know it?
  7. How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)

I know. That was seven questions, not five. I could keep going. But this is a good start.

Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.

It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.

communication tip card


Seven Steps to Making an Open Plan Office Work

open plan officeMany organizations have moved from cubeland to open plan offices in which employees sit in rows of desks with no barriers between them.

There’s considerable research on the workability of open plan offices. Some of what’s written says that introverts do worse than extroverts in an open plan office. I disagree. I’d say that how a person learns/takes in information determines how well she’ll do in an open plan office.

If you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner who learns by seeing or doing, you’ll be less distracted by noise than an auditory learner who learns by hearing. Auditory learners hear everything and are easily distracted by talking, music, and other noise. Visual and kinesthetic learners often don’t hear distractions, so they do better in an open plan office.

Here are seven steps to make an open plan office a more productive environment:

  1. Schedule a meeting during which people sitting together can discuss the working environment they need to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow when at their desks.
  1. Post the list of agreed-upon behaviors on a poster that is large enough to be read from any place in the work environment. Leave the poster up indefinitely.
  1. Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell another person she is talking too loudly, eating food that smells, has too many visitors at her desk, listens to music or videos without headphones, or takes phone calls via speaker phone. People will suffer in silence and choose to work from home or in an empty office or conference room rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them. Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
  1. Ask everyone in the work group to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
  1. Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together to review the list and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
  1. Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in a group setting. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually.
  1. You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts, while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns that you know exist be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.

It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group who has been sitting together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.

Working in an open plan office is challenging. It requires good communication and compromise. Don’t wait for problems to occur and frustrations to build. Have a conversation today.

Open Office Floor Plan Poster


Manage Up – Earning the Right to Give Feedback

Manage Up You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?

Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.

When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.

For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.

Here’s how the conversation could go:

“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”

“What software features were important when selecting the software?”

“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”

“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”

** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.

The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.

Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:

1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.

2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.

3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.

As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.

Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:

“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”

“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”

“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”

You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.


Honesty in the Workplace – Man/Woman Up

honesty in the workplacePeople are too afraid to tell the truth at work. We’re afraid that if we give honest performance feedback, people will get upset. They will. We’re afraid that if we say what we think, we’ll get marginalized, put in a corner, never to be given cool work again. That’s unlikely.

We tiptoe around the people we work with, afraid to hurt people’s feelings and rock the boat. This doesn’t work. Without honesty in the workplace, performance won’t improve and problems won’t get solved.

Here are five ways to increase honesty in the workplace:

Increase honesty in the workplace tip #1: Overtly tell employees that it’s acceptable, safe, and expected that they will make mistakes. If people are afraid to make mistakes, they’ll never risk trying anything new.

Create an award for the person who failed while trying to do something new. And present the award very publically, sending the message that it’s ok to fail.

Increase honesty in the workplace tip #2: Set the expectation when you hire and onboard new employees that they will receive regular and balanced (positive and negative) performance feedback. Tell candidates and new employees that giving and receiving honest feedback is part of your organization’s values and culture, and if employees don’t want to give and receive this type of feedback, they shouldn’t work for your company.

When you interview employees, ask about a time they received negative feedback and what they did with that information. People who can’t answer this question aren’t self-aware or open to feedback. Don’t hire them.

Increase honesty in the workplace tip #3: Create safe places and occasions to give regular feedback. Ensure managers and employees meet one-on-one at least monthly to discuss performance. Give teams a chance to openly talk about how projects are going. Debrief significant projects and pieces of work by asking what did and didn’t work. And ensure managers are asking for employees’ feedback on what the manager can do differently to make work an easier place to be. Feedback goes both ways – up and down. Managers earn the right to give feedback when they’re open to receiving it.

While you’re going to ask for feedback, it doesn’t mean that you’re a dumping ground. It’s perfectly ok to tell employees what you want feedback about and what you don’t. If you made a decision and aren’t looking for input, don’t ask for input on that subject. If you receive unsolicited and unwelcomed feedback, say “no thank you.” A feedback-rich culture doesn’t mean you accept feedback on every topic all the time. It’s ok to set boundaries.

Increase honesty in the workplace tip #4: Don’t be daunted by people’s negative reaction to feedback. No one likes to be told s/he is wrong and no one wants his/her competence called into question, as a result, becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is normal and natural. Not becoming defensive is not the norm. People might tell you you’re wrong, turn red, cry, yell, or go silent and pretend you don’t exist for a period of weeks. But everyone will survive. Try not to hire people who won’t talk to you for weeks after receiving feedback. Those folks need to grow up.

Increase honesty in the workplace tip #5: Remind people over and over and over that honest feedback is what allows employees and organizations to grow, evolve, and thrive. Not telling the truth creates stagnation and will ultimately lead to individual and organizational failure. The more you give and receive feedback, the more comfortable employees will be with the process.

Periodically give yourself a pep talk about being honest with your employees. Letting someone linger in a job in which s/he cannot be successful is not kind, it’s cruel. To talk about people when they’re not present, versus giving candid feedback directly, is also unkind.

We all need to man or woman up. Tell employees that everyone in the organization is expected to tell the truth and to do so directly, kindly, and tactfully. Likewise, everyone is expected to be open to receiving feedback graciously. Over time people will become more comfortable speaking up and receiving all types of input. And if you want a feedback-rich culture, the people who can’t or won’t speak candidly, aren’t the right fit for your organization.

honesty in the workplace


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