If you’ve gotten courageous and given someone negative feedback or questioned a decision or action, you probably didn’t get a shiny, happy reply in return. The normal and natural reaction to negative feedback or data is to defend ourselves. It’s human. Defending yourself when receiving negative feedback is an act of self-preservation, not unlike hitting your brakes when the person driving in front of you unexpectedly slams on their brakes.
The problem with reacting defensively (normally) to negative feedback is that it’s scary and off putting to others. As normal as a defensive reaction is to negative feedback, it makes others so uncomfortable that they’ll be hesitant to give you negative feedback again. And this lack of knowledge of what others really think is dangerous. Silence inhibits career growth and leads to bad business decisions. You want people to tell you the truth, as they see it. So you need to make it easy to speak freely.
If you want more of what others see as the truth, do the opposite of what people expect. Rather than defending or going silent, say “thank you.” “Thank you for telling me that. I’ll think about what you said and will likely come back to you to discuss further,” buys you time and puts the other person at ease.
Here are five ways to make it easier to say thank you for the feedback:
- Only accept feedback when you’re ready to listen. You’re allowed to put people on ice and come back to them when you have time to talk. Bad days, when you have five minutes between meetings, or are about to leave for a vacation are not the times to accept negative information. Set up a time to talk, as soon as you have the bandwidth to listen.
- Take breaks during hard conversations. You’re allowed to say, “I need a few minutes.” Go get coffee. Take a walk. Go outside. Regain your composure. Then continue the conversation.
- Have feedback conversations when you’re rested and have eaten. Everything seems bigger and more difficult when we’re tired or hungry.
- Accept that “thank you” isn’t the same as telling the other person she is right or that you agree. “Thank you” is a mere acknowledgment that you heard. It buys you time and gives you a chance to gather your thoughts and respond when you’re not emotional.
- Don’t have conversations when you’re upset, and we often don’t know when we’re upset. Your emotions will run the show. Give yourself time to get through your emotional response, and then talk.
People are more hesitant than you think to tell you when they disagree. Make it easy to speak up. Do the opposite of what others expect. Say “thank you” rather than reacting, and you’ll get more data than you do now.
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.
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 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.
People are busy and stressed. Reading the news is stressful. Sitting in traffic is stressful. Feeling we need to check our phones at all hours of the day and night is stressful. It’s easy to make someone’s day at work better. Why not do it?
I’m going to suggest being nice to people at work. And I’ll give you my definition of nice. In my world, nice isn’t about asking about someone’s weekend, how their kids are doing, or what they’re doing with their summer. I won’t tell you not to talk about these things at work, but they aren’t required to be nice. In fact, those conversations can be distracting and keep people at work longer than they want and have to be there, which is anything but nice.
Here are six ways to create a nice company culture:
Nice company culture tip number one: Look people in the eye as you pass them in the hallway, both people you know and don’t know, and say hello. I’ve always found it odd that someone can pass me on a sidewalk or in a hallway and pretend I’m not there. It’s weird. Say hi to the people you walk by.
Nice company culture tip number two: Don’t send emails cc’ing people who don’t need to know. This damages relationships, annoys people, and fills people’s inboxes with unnecessary emails.
Nice company culture tip number three: Take the high road. It’s easy to fall on principle or insist on doing something a certain way when the other person is frustrating or otherwise difficult to work with. Resist the temptation to be right and instead, do what works.
Nice company culture tip number four: When you disagree, pick up the phone rather than having a text or email debate. You can often resolve issues more quickly and manage communication better verbally than in writing.
Nice company culture tip number five: Do the things you said you would. Be on time, meet deadlines, and keep your agreements. If you can’t keep an agreement, make it known as soon as you know.
Nice company culture tip number six: Don’t gossip. Definition of gossip: Talking about anyone who isn’t physically present. Gossip creates environments of negativity and distrust. Think it and then let it go.
You have more control over your workplace atmosphere and your day than you may think you do. Be nice. Just because.
People are tired, busy, and stressed. Be nice to people. Just because. It will make your day, their day, and your work environment better.
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When I interviewed for my last job, before starting Candid Culture, the CEO put a mug in front of me with the company’s values on it and asked if I could live by those values at work. He was smart. Hiring someone with the skills to do a job is one thing. Hiring someone who fits into the organizational culture, is another.
Determining if a prospective employee will fit your organizational culture is much harder than determining if someone has the skills to do a job. Often when an employee leaves a job, only to take the same role at another company, they left for fit. They just didn’t feel comfortable. They weren’t a good fit with the organizational culture.
You’ve probably heard discussions about employees who deliver results at the expense of relationships. Or about employees who fellow employees really like, but they just can’t do the job.
Leaders of organizations need to decide what’s important: What people do? How they do it? Or both. I’m going to assert that both the work employees deliver and how they deliver that work is equally important. I think you should hire and fire for fit.
Work hard to hire people who will fit into your organizational culture. Get rid of people who don’t fit. The impact on your organization’s reputation and on internal and external relationships depends on hiring people who behave consistently with your brand and how you want your organization’s culture to feel.
At Candid Culture, we teach people to have open, candid, trusting relationships at work. Thus we must hire people who are open to feedback and communicate honestly. And we fire people who don’t model those behaviors.
If you want a high service organizational culture, you can’t hire people who don’t care about others and want customers to feel good about working with you.
Here are a few ways to ensure you hire people who are a good organizational culture fit:
- Share your current or desired culture with job candidates early, often, and clearly.
- Work to assess how candidates fit the culture. Use practical interviews, job shadowing, and reference checks to assess organizational culture fit.
- Talk about the culture when on boarding employees.
- Make behaving according to the culture part of your performance appraisal process.
- Reward behavior that matches the culture.
- Have consequences for not acting according the culture. A negative feedback conversation is a consequence.
- Ensure your leaders and managers live the culture. Get rid of leaders and managers who aren’t a good culture fit. This takes courage.
When people leave an organization, they don’t often take copies of reports they produced or work they created. And if they do, they rarely look at that work. What they do take, remember and find meaning in, are the relationships they built at work. Relationships are dependent on organizational.
Determine the organizational culture you want. Talk about regularly. Require people to act according to the culture. Reward the ones who do. Get rid of the ones who don’t. Make working in your organization feel as you want it to feel.
When I’m not sure what to do, I do nothing. And my hunch is I’m not alone. When something feels big, it’s easier to do nothing than something.
Time management experts will tell you to divide a big project into small pieces, to make it manageable. That’s good advice. The universe – as woo-woo as it sounds – rewards action. Momentum, like inertia, is very powerful. As we know, a body that’s in motion is likely to stay in motion. A body at rest is likely to stay at rest.
The key to getting through anything large, scary, or intimidating is to start. Any action will do. The key is simply taking action.
Here are five keys to make taking action more likely:
Taking action key #1: What often stands in the way of taking action is that we aren’t sure what to do. Perhaps we aren’t sure we can do the task at hand. Or we can’t see what the end result should look like. Or the project feels so big that even thinking about starting is tiring. Ask questions and ask for help.
Most managers aren’t great delegators. When assigning a project, managers often ask, “Do you have any questions?” This is an ineffective question because few people want to admit to having questions about a project that feels so big, all they want to do is avoid it and take a nap. Or managers ask, “What do you need from me?” when most people have no idea what they need.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you’re clear about what a good job looks like, and ask for help.
Taking action key #2: Do one small thing, anything, towards achieving the goal. And do it now. Don’t wait until the right time. There is no right time.
Taking action key #3: Then do one more thing. Don’t wait six weeks or months to take another action. Momentum is very powerful. Keep things moving.
Taking action key #4: Give yourself small windows of time to work on a project. If you give yourself 30 uninterrupted minutes to work, you’re likely to invest that time. If you dedicate a day, you’re likely to get distracted and fill the time with other things.
Taking action key #5: Trust that you can do what’s in front of you. Someone wouldn’t have asked you to do something if they’d didn’t have confidence that you could do it. And if this is a goal you set for yourself, and it’s something you really want, deep down, you know you’re capable of doing it.
If you’re overwhelmed or don’t believe you can do something, call someone who has more faith in you than you have in yourself, at this present moment. Let that person fill you with confidence until you can generate it for yourself. When I started Candid Culture, I was filled with fear and quite honestly, was convinced I was going to fail. But everyone around me believed I could do it. And their confidence carried me until I could generate my own.
The way out is always through. Ask for help. Take one small action, then another. Dedicate small pieces of uninterrupted time to work on a large project. Trust that you can do it. Things don’t get done without your action. Take one action, then the next, then the next.
Ten years ago today I left my corporate job and launched Candid Culture, business communication training. I’ll admit to being terrified and being pretty convinced I would fail. I thought about starting the business for 12 years, but was paralyzed by fear. The only thing that finally motivated me to act, was that at the time, I worked for someone who didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want the internal opportunity he was giving me. Don’t give a woman who can barely use Excel, leadership over the Finance department.
The training and keynote speaking I do have evolved over the past ten years, as organizations’ needs have changed. A few things have remained constant.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past ten years:
- People struggle more than I ever realized when receiving negative feedback. People care about the work they do, want to do a good job, and want to be thought well of. Negative feedback calls all of that into question.
Most people question themselves when receiving negative feedback, and that’s a very painful process.
What do to: Give very small amounts of feedback at a time. Share one or two things the person can work on. More negative information sends our brains to a dark place, where we feel we can’t be successful, and performance actually drops.
Provide feedback on the positive changes or lack thereof, that you see. Don’t let people work in a vacuum. After you’ve seen some improvement, give one or two additional pieces of feedback.
- Most of us get almost no feedback at work – positive or negative. “Good job” doesn’t qualify as feedback. But that’s almost all the ‘feedback’ most people get.
- Even if you ask for feedback, you probably won’t get much, because the other person is concerned about your potential negative reaction.
- Managers are afraid employees will quit if they give negative feedback or report them to HR or the Union.
- People really want to know how they’re doing – good and bad – even if they don’t want to hear the message.
- Giving negative feedback requires courage and a trusting relationship, in which the feedback recipient trusts that the person’s motives are pure.
So what to do with all of this information? Be courageous and clear. Remember that the purpose of feedback is to be helpful. Care enough to be uncomfortable. Specific is helpful. Giving feedback will always be challenging. If you want to give less feedback, get better at making specific requests. You get what you ask for.
Many people worry about giving feedback because they fear they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.
Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.
When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives you can say almost nothing.
Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.
Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.
How’s how to give feedback you’re apprehensive about:
How to give feedback phrase one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”
How to give feedback phrase two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”
How to give feedback phrase three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”
Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be real.
Think about all the people and situations that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for. My hunch is, you’re getting what you ask for.
While most of us aren’t great at telling people when they violate our expectations, we’re not any better at asking for what we want. You might be afraid of appearing demanding or may not feel you have the right to make requests. When you tell people what you expect, you make their lives easier. Think about when someone invites you to their house for dinner. If you have any manners (and I’m sure you do), you ask what you can bring. When the other person says nothing, it makes your job (to be a good guest) harder. Now you have to guess what the other person wants. It would be so much easier if he would just tell you. This also applies to birthday gifts and where to meet for lunch. When people tell you what they want as a gift and where they want to eat, you don’t have to guess and they are easier to please.
It’s much easier to live and work with people when we know what they expect from us. And setting expectations is always easier than giving negative feedback. Negative feedback implies someone did something wrong. And no one likes to be told he is wrong. Setting expectations provides a road map to success, making it easier to win with you.
Here are a few phrases to make setting expectations easier:
Setting expectations example one: Consider saying, “I need time to get settled when I come in in the morning. Will you hold all questions and requests until 10:00 am?” You’re not telling someone she barrages you with questions before you’ve even gotten to your desk in the morning; you’re simply asking for what you need.
Setting expectations example two: You could say, “I like to have things done well before they are due. Will you send me all input for the weekly status report by Wednesday of each week so I have a few days to review your input before I have to submit it?” You’re not telling the person that working with him requires a weekly fire drill; you’re simply making a non-judgmental request.
Setting expectations example three: You could ask, “Would it be possible to touch base once a week via phone during your morning commute so I can get your input on projects?” You’re not telling the person she is impossible to get time with; you’re simply proposing an idea.
One of the keys to getting what you want is make requests in a neutral, non-judgmental way. The more you ask for and the more specific your requests, the easier you are to work with. What you need and want will be clear; there will be no guessing. People may choose to ignore your requests and violate your expectations, and then you’ll provide feedback. But start with making clear and specific requests, and see how many fewer feedback conversations you need to have.
Fourteen years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”
That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.
Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.
You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.
Here are four ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships:
Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.
Your boss is busy and most likely doesn’t follow you around all day. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.
Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).
If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.
Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.
Manage up tip number four: If you work remotely and don’t see your coworkers and manager often, make sure you’re keeping people informed about what you’re doing. Likewise, if you work flexible hours – leave early, come in late, and work at night – people will assume you’re working fewer hours than them and will talk about it to whoever will listen. So while the hours you work shouldn’t be anyone’s business, people in organizations talk about stuff like this.
Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.