You open an email (or a few hundred) telling yourself you’ll reply later, but never do. Feeling ambitious, you agree to a deadline you can’t meet. Needing a break, you take time off over the holidays but don’t put an out-of-office message on your email.
We’ve all taken too long to reply to an email, missed a deadline, or simply taken too long to provide someone with information. It’s ok to take time to respond, to not have all the answers, and to take time off. We simply need to provide a timely and accurate status update.
When people don’t hear back from us in what they consider a timely way, they start to wonder (at best), and judge us (worse), or tell others we’re non-responsive and unreliable (worst). Don’t make people wonder if you received their message, send a timely status update and tell the truth.
If you’re behind and need more time than usual to respond to emails, tell people that. Respond to each email within 24-hours and tell the person you received their message and it will be (fill in the blank) a week or two before they hear back from you. When you get an email that requires research, respond within 24-hours and tell the person it will take however long it will really take to find the information. If you’re out of the office and don’t plan to read or respond to emails, tell people the dates you’re out.
In the absence of knowledge people make stuff up. And it’s never good. Filling in the blanks isn’t malicious. People simply have a need to know what’s happening. And when we don’t know, we invent stuff. It’s how the brain works. When we don’t hear back from people in what we consider a timely way, we start to wonder. “Did she get my message? I haven’t heard back. She must not like me. Maybe she’s out of the office? Maybe she doesn’t work here anymore?”
It’s ok to need time to respond. It’s ok to be running behind. It’s ok to take time off. Simply let people know the true status. Manage your reputation and business relationships. Don’t make people guess.
Covid-19 has shown many of us our edge – working from home for many months, not traveling, missing people we’re used to seeing, and for me, being silent when I would normally speak up.
Earlier in the fall, a friend came to bring my son a birthday present. We hadn’t seen my friend for many months. We visited outside. He didn’t wear a mask, gave Grayson a high five, and then a hug. It seemed like terrible judgment and it happened so fast before I could say anything. Then he went into my house to get a glass of water without wearing a mask while we stayed outside.
I was shocked by all of this. It didn’t seem smart or respectful. And I didn’t say anything. I still haven’t said anything. I could give you ten similar examples of instances in these past months when I was uncomfortable but didn’t say anything – sometimes with people I know, sometimes with people I don’t know.
It feels risky to write this because wearing masks and physical distancing has been so politicized. This blog post isn’t about the coronavirus and anyone’s personal choices. It’s about when we don’t speak up and why.
I think the way to handle potentially tough situations is to anticipate the unexpected and have a setting-expectation conversation before a challenge occurs. What I could have said to my friend, before he visited, was, “We are excited to see you. Let’s stay outside and let’s all wear masks.” I should have set expectations before being confronted with a difficult and awkward situation. Setting expectations is always easier than addressing behavior after it has happened.
Sometimes you can’t anticipate another person’s behavior or how a situation might go. You can’t plan for everything. And telling someone you don’t know in a store, office, or elevator that you’re uncomfortable may feel risky.
Here are four practices for making harder conversations easier and for taking care of yourself when you don’t know what to say:
Anticipate everything that can happen.
Decide how you want to manage situations before they happen.
Set clear expectations before seeing people or going someplace. My son knows that if we go to a park and it’s crowded, we will leave. I tell him this before we go so, he isn’t surprised.
Set boundaries. It’s ok to ask people in line at the grocery store to back up a few feet. “I’m trying to keep a six feet distance. Would you mind stepping back a few feet?” Yes, this likely feels very hard in the moment.
I worry about what people will think of me. I want people to like me. I’m consumed by both of these thoughts way more than you would ever guess. But what’s more important – protecting ourselves and our family or not offending a person in line at the grocery store you’ll never see again?
It needs to be ok to respectfully and kindly speak up on our own behalf. And speaking up starts by opening our mouths and saying what makes us uncomfortable again and again and again.
I read a quote a few months ago that struck me – “It’s so hard to change yourself, what makes you think you can change someone else?” This seems so true. And yet, how much energy do we invest trying or at least hoping other people will change? We want our not-so-forthcoming manager to give regular and helpful feedback, our Halloween candy stuffed selves to prefer celery over chocolate, our not-so-affectionate partner to become a cuddler.
People are who and (largely) how they are. Even with lots of effort, coaching, and even counseling, it’s hard to change.
As someone who leads a training and development company, it feels risky to write this. I’m concerned that my words will be misunderstood. So I want to be sure I’m clear. People can learn new skills. Managers can learn to coach and give feedback. People at all levels and in all roles can learn to communicate differently. Everyone can learn to use new technology. But we don’t fundamentally change who and how we are. People who hate to public speak aren’t likely to wake up tomorrow clambering to give presentations to thousands of people. People who don’t like crowds aren’t likely to want to spend every weekend at large sporting events when they resume.
What I’m really trying to say is, stop trying to get something from someone who can’t give that to you. If you work for someone who never provides feedback, no matter how often you ask, get input from someone else. Lots of people can provide you with helpful information if you ask for it and make it safe to tell you the truth. If you’re chastising yourself for not being more athletic, accept that you like to read, and buy yourself a new book.
Instead of trying to get something from someone who can’t give it to you, get what you can from that relationship and get the rest of your needs met elsewhere. And tell others to do the same. I had someone working for me a few years ago who was extremely sensitive and didn’t do well receiving feedback. I tried to accommodate her needs and preferences, softening my messages, picking my battles, and in the end, giving less and less feedback. And it was exhausting. Eventually, I said to her, “I’m not the right manager for you and this is the not right company for you. It’s not a good fit. You won’t be happy here, and I want you to be happy. Let’s help you find another home.”
I’m not telling you to get a new job. I’m telling you to be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others. The most powerful thing you can do is to be yourself and let others be themselves. And if you don’t like how or who someone is, hang out with someone else.
You get an email that annoys you, hit reply, type up your thoughts, hit send, and feel instant regret. We’ve all done this. We’re frustrated and we let the other person know.
Feedback via email is always a bad idea. You don’t know how the recipient will read and interpret your message. You can’t manage the tone of the message or give the person a chance to respond. And more often than not, he’ll reply equally frustrated. And now the non-conversation begins –back and forth, back and forth.
I’m consistently surprised at how much feedback is delivered via email. And it’s only gotten worse with people working virtually. I’ll admit to occasionally being guilty of it too. I’m in a hurry and I want to get something done quickly. Or my emotions get the best of me and I feel compelled to respond to a situation quickly. So I send an email or a text message that I know I shouldn’t send. Then I regret it and spend the rest of the day apologizing and feeling badly for communicating impulsively.
If we want people to want to work with us and perform, we need to consider how our actions impact them. Yes, it’s easier to send a quick email or text. But it invariably annoys the other person and damages your relationship. People can work with you, around you, and against you. If people want to work with you, they’ll work harder and produce better work.
Never underestimate the human ego, which is easily bruised. You are ALWAYS dealing with someone’s ego. When someone (anyone) calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback or when someone questions us is a gut reaction. Not becoming defensive takes a great deal of self-management and is unusual.
Slow down. When you need to give feedback, ask yourself what you want the other person to do. Then ask yourself, how do I need to communicate to get the result I want? Then pause, breathe, and pick up the phone.
Sometimes people take credit for our work. It happens, sometimes purposefully, sometimes not. The key is what we do when things like this take place.
I’m going to suggest that you use the lowest level of intervention possible to resolve challenges.
When a coworker takes credit for your work, you could say:
1) “I noticed that when talking about project X during last week’s department-wide meeting, my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. Why is that?”
Or you could say:
2) “Thanks for highlighting the X project during last week’s department-wide meeting. I’m glad the project got some exposure. I noticed that my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. I want people to know they can come to me with questions about this project. In the future, will you tell people that I wrote the plan?”
Feedback can be given directly, “You did X and it frustrated me.” Or feedback can be given by asking a question and making requests, “Will you be sure to mention my name when you talk about X project?”
Some might call option one passive and even disingenuous. Both methods produce the desired result – the other person knows that you know what happened, and you’ve requested different behavior. One method may incite conflict, one most likely won’t.
Be as direct as your relationship will allow. There are people with whom you can be very direct, without consequence. And there are some relationships that can’t withstand direct feedback.
Most of the people I talk with in organizations believe they can’t give feedback without negative consequences. The only way to know how direct you can be is by trial and error. Give a little feedback, see how it goes. Give some more, see how it goes. You might be surprised at how honest you can be. And when there is backlash for giving direct feedback, next time, give less. Ask a question or make a request instead. Asking questions is another form of feedback. It’s just less direct and thus less confrontational.
We train people to treat us as they treat us. You will get both what you ask for and what you allow. What are you allowing?
Most people would rather get a root canal than participate in an annual employee performance appraisal.
The reasons employee performance appraisals are so difficult is simple:
Most managers don’t deliver timely and balanced (positive and negative) feedback throughout the year.
Many employees don’t ask for regular feedback.
Too much information is delivered during the annual employee performance appraisal.
And as crazy as it sounds, managers and employees haven’t agreed to give and receive regular and candid feedback.
Employee performance appraisals don’t have to be the worst day of the year.
Here are four steps to ensure employee performance appraisals are useful and positive:
Managers and employees must agree to give and receive balanced, candid feedback. Don’t assume the agreement to speak honestly is implicit, make it explicit.
Managers, be honest and courageous. Don’t rate an employee a five who is really a three. You don’t do anyone any favors. Employees want to know how they’re really doing, no matter how much the feedback may sting.
Managers, focus on three things the employee did well and three things to do more of next year. Any more input is overwhelming.
Managers, schedule a second conversation a week after the employee performance appraisal, so employees can think about and process what you’ve said and discuss further, if necessary.
The key to being able to speak candidly during an employee performance appraisal is as simple as agreeing that you will do so and then being receptive to whatever is said. And don’t make feedback conversations a one-time event. If you do a rigorous workout after not exercising for a long time, you often can’t move the next day. Feedback conversations aren’t any different. They require practice for both the manager and employee to be comfortable.
Most of us wait to give negative feedback until it’s the right time, aka the recipient won’t get upset. Or we wait, hoping the situation will resolve itself. If something is really an issue, the likelihood of either happening is pretty slim. The right time to give feedback is shortly after something happens. I’ll offer up the 24-guideline and the one-week rule. Wait 24-hours to give feedback, if you’re upset. But don’t wait longer than a week.
The purpose of giving positive or negative feedback (I like the words upgrade feedback) is to motivate someone to replicate or change a behavior. That’s it. Feedback is supposed to be helpful. If you wait longer than a week to give either positive or upgrade feedback, the person isn’t likely to remember the situation you’re referencing and the purpose of giving feedback – to change or replicate a behavior – will be lost.
Here are four practices to make negative (upgrade) feedback conversations shorter, less painful, and more useful:
Giving feedback practice one: Agree to give and receive feedback at the onset of relationships. Do this with everyone you work with – direct supervisors, direct reports, peers, internal and external customers, and vendors. If we’ve doneHow to Say Anything to Anyone training for your organization or you’ve read the book, you got the specific language to have this conversation.
Giving feedback practice two: Prepare for feedback conversations by writing down what you plan to say and then delivering the feedback to a neutral person. Ask that person to tell you what she heard and what her expectations would be, based on what you said. Confide in someone either at your level or above at work or someone outside of work, to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ask for confidentiality.
Giving feedback practice three: Tell a neutral person about your situation, and ask what she would say to address the situation. Everyone but you will do a better job at giving feedback. Feedback conversations become hard when we’re emotionally involved. The guy working at the 7-11 will do a better job than you. Seriously. It’s our emotions and concern about the other person’s reaction that makes feedback conversations challenging.
Giving feedback practice four: Agree to do a weekly debrief with the people you work closely with, and follow-through. Answer the questions – what went well this week from a work perspective and what would we do differently if we could. Answer the same questions about your working relationship. Giving feedback about your relationship will be hard at first. It will be easier the more you do it. Be sure to say “thank you” for the feedback, regardless of what you really want to say. One of the reasons giving negative feedback is so hard is we wait too long. Shorter, more frequent conversations are better than long, infrequent discussions.
Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Follow the suggestions above and remind yourself that the purpose of giving feedback is to be helpful. If you were doing the wrong work, you’d want to know. And others do too.
Too many people sit at their laptops 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, you must know how to ask for more responsibility at work.
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 staycation. But that’s a post for a different day.
When I say do more, I don’t mean to 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 the 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?
How to ask for more responsibility at work. 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.
At some point in your career, you will likely get feedback that doesn’t feel accurate. When receiving feedback you question, rather than dismiss it, vet the feedback with the people who know you best. Assemble a core team of people who know you well, love you, and have your back. The relationships may be personal or professional. These are people who will tell you the truth (as they see it) if you ask.
You might think that you’re a different person at home and at work, thus your friends’ and family’s input isn’t valid in the workplace. That’s untrue. You are who you are, and you’re not a completely different person at home and at work. It’s just not possible to be your real self and turn it on and off at work. Sure, you might have a communication style that you only use at work. You may make decisions at work differently than you do personally. And you are likely to dress differently at work than at home. But you’re not a completely different person after 5:00 pm. If you’re often late, don’t keep confidences, talk too much and too long, or wear clothing that is not your friend, your personal relationships can tell you that.
It’s important to know how you come across, your reputation, and your wins and losses at work. Having this information allows you to manage your reputation and in turn, your career.
So the question is, with whom should you vet feedback that doesn’t feel quite right?
Receiving feedback criteria one: Your core team should be made up of a small number of people (five or fewer) who know you well, love you, and have your back.
Receiving feedback criteria two: You should respect core team members’ opinions.
Receiving feedback criteria three: You must trust them and their motives, in relation to your well-being.
Receiving feedback criteria four: You must be open to rather than dismissive of core team members’ feedback.
The right answer to feedback is always, “Thank you for telling me that,” regardless of how much the feedback stings. The easier it is to give you feedback, the more you’ll get when you ask in the future.
Core team members don’t need to be told they’re on your core team. Simply call these people individually when you need input. Tell them the feedback you’ve received and then ask for their opinion.
It’s easy to dismiss feedback that’s hard to hear. And the feedback might just be that person’s opinion. But people talk. And one person’s experience of you can impact your career greatly. Manage your career assertively and powerfully by knowing your reputation. Find out the impressions you create. Then you can make decisions about changes you will and won’t make.
I’m consistently shocked and embarrassed by what comes out of my mouth when I’m mad. It’s like reason and self-control go out the window. Emotion and the need to be right takes over. Every time I react in the moment, I regret it. Every single time.
Talking with another person when we’re upset, often leads to more upset. Emotions and conversations escalate quickly. The more upset we are, the more likely we are to say things we’ll regret. The time to alter how we work, live, and communicate with someone, is when there is nothing wrong.
If you want something in a relationship to change, pick a time when things are calm and when no one is upset to have a conversation. Tell the other person that you want to talk about how you work together, manage disagreements, make decisions, handle disappointments, etc. Share what you have observed in the past and make requests. Brainstorm solutions together. You’ll have a much better conversation when you’ve had time to calm down from whatever happened to create the need for the conversation.
Waiting to have a conversation until you’re not upset creates the risk of waiting too long to address concerns. The right time to talk about a breakdown is as soon after an event as you can. When both people are calm and have time to have the conversation, usually within a few days of a challenge.
There is no talking to my five-year-old about why I impose certain limits in the moment. He’s too upset. I need to wait to talk to him about why I did what I did and what I want him to do next time when he’s calm. Typically, that’s later the same day. Adults may take a little longer. But this isn’t a pass to wait six weeks, which is what we often do. The conversation won’t be as hard or as bad as you think if you talk when you’re calm and speak from what the relationship needs.
Speaking from what the relationship needs is saying just what you need to, not more and not less, to resolve the challenge and create a better way to handle things in the future. And communicating in a kind and direct way, so the other person can take in what you have to say.
Agree upon better ways of handing challenges when no one is upset. Speaking directly, calmly, caringly and with the desire to make things work, typically has a positive result.