Every time I ignore the red flags I see when interviewing a candidate, or when I feel an employee is struggling, or a project is off track, I pay the price. Every single time.
You interview a candidate whose commute will be 75-minutes each each way, but she says she likes to drive. Sure, until it snows. Move on. You haven’t gotten an update from a project team in over a month, but this group is typically reliable, so things are probably fine. Check in. Even the most diligent employees need accountability and attention.
They call them red flags for a reason. If you suspect a problem, there likely is one. Don’t just wait and ‘see how things go.’ Make a hard decision, get more information, or get involved. Wait and see is often a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes we don’t get involved because we don’t have the time or want to focus on other things. Other times we just don’t trust or listen to our gut.
I usually know what I want and need to do, both personally and professionally. Yet I tend to ask LOTS of people for their opinions of what I should do. I solicit advice from friends and colleagues, and in the end, I usually do whatever I want. Why not just trust that I know the right thing to do and just do it? Dad, are you reading this? See, I listen. My dad tells me all the time to stop soliciting opinions, I often ignore anyway, and just act.
Here are a six steps you can take to help listen to yourself and ensure you don’t overlook or ignore red flags:
1. Become very clear about your desired outcome. Decide what you want.
2. Eliminate distractions. Get quiet, aka, still your mind.
3. Think about the situation at hand. Weigh the facts and your options.
4. Decide without belaboring.
5. Act on your decision.
6. Don’t look back. Your initial decision is usually the right one.
Trusting and listening to ourselves can be hard. Perhaps it’s the fear of making a mistake or being wrong. Chances are you’re right. So pay attention to the red flags, trust yourself, and listen to your gut.
I had my first baby in September. He’s amazing and every day I’m more and more grateful for him. And I hate when he cries. And as we all know, babies cry. A lot.
Soon after my son was born, I found myself suffering when he cried and working hard to get him to stop. One day while he was crying, I realized that if I wanted to enjoy my time with him I needed to not only but accept, but embrace his crying. He was supposed to be crying. This is how things were supposed to be, or they’d be another way. And in that moment, I was able to stop resisting his crying and just be with him.
I still hate to hear my son cry and I do everything I can to make him stop, but I suffer less. Babies cry. This is how life looks when it’s working. I need to accept things as they are and go with the flow. As a Type-A, perfectionist, this is hard for me to do. I want things to be a certain way, aka perfect.
When your flight gets delayed, there’s traffic when you’re in a rush, or someone doesn’t give you the information you need to finish a project on time, it’s very easy and natural to get upset and think, “There’s something wrong here.” But perhaps there is nothing wrong. Perhaps this is what happens when life’s working. It’s just another way to look at things. Accept things as they are. Go with the flow.
This isn’t any easy concept to live by all the time. Breakdowns happen. People disappoint. We do dumb stuff that has negative consequences. It’s really easy to get upset and you’re allowed to do so. It’s normal and natural. But getting upset also reduces your happiness and satisfaction. And given how much stuff goes wrong, if we get upset each time, for a long time, we’re going to be unhappy a lot of the time.
Here’s a practice to try: When something frustrating happens, say to yourself, “I guess this is what happens when life’s working.” You might need to say it a few times. Repeating this phrase might make it easy to accept things as they are and go with the flow.
In the past few weeks, my new car got hit and was totaled. The nanny I hired quit the day before I went back to work, but not before getting both me and my son sick. These are really annoying and upsetting things, and I got upset. I also told myself, several times, “This is what happens when life’s working.” It helped. I need to accept things as they are and go with the flow. That said, I also made changes.
I now work hard not to cross streets where there is not a light – how our car got hit. And I’m being more careful and slower in hiring the next nanny. But I’m suffering less.
P.S. Thank you for the many good wishes regarding Gray’s birth. I didn’t tell many people I was pregnant for a long time and was overwhelmed by the positive response. It took me three years and many, many arduous fertility treatments to have Gray. It was hard, expensive, and emotionally draining. Maybe that’s what life looks like when it’s working.
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.
Who have you fired lately? The person who cuts your hair or lawn? A doctor, accountant, or restaurant where you had a bad experience? Did you call any of those providers and tell them why you were replacing them? My hunch is no. There’s little incentive to do so. Why risk their defensiveness? It’s easier to just replace them. And the same is true for you.
There’s little incentive for the people you work with to tell you when you frustrate them. The perceived cost seems too high. The people you work (and live) with have experienced others’ defensive responses to negative feedback (which is no fun) and they don’t want to experience your reaction. As a result, when you disappoint or frustrate others, it’s easier to say nothing than tell you the truth.
The tendency for others to tell you things are fine when they’re not will prevent you from managing your career and relationships. People will go missing and/or you’ll be passed over for professional opportunities and never know why.
To make it more likely that people will tell you when you disappoint or frustrate them, make it easy to tell you the truth.
Here are a seven practices for receiving feedback:
Receiving Feedback Practice #1: When you begin new relationships, tell people you want their feedback.
Receiving Feedback Practice #2: Promise that no matter what people say, you’ll respond with “thank you.” This is very hard to do.
Receiving Feedback Practice #3: Tell people you already have relationships with that if you haven’t said it in the past, you really want their feedback and promise to respond graciously with “thank you.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #4: Ask people who matter to you for feedback regularly.
Receiving Feedback Practice #5: Resist the urge to get defensive.
Receiving Feedback Practice #6: Catch yourself when you start to become defensive and apologize. Say something like, “I’m getting defensive. I’m sorry. Tell me again. I’ll do a better job of listening.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #7: Take a break from conversations during which you find yourself responding defensively. Say something like, “I’m not responding as well as I’d like. How about we take a break? Give me a few minutes (hours or days) and I’ll come back to you to talk more. I really want to hear what you have to say.”
The aforementioned list provides recommendations for asking for and receiving feedback you want, not feedback you don’t. You are not a dumping ground. Don’t ask for feedback you don’t want. And when you do ask for feedback, qualify what type of feedback you’re looking for. Telling people “I want your feedback” doesn’t mean they’re welcome to say whatever they want.
The purpose of asking for feedback and making it safe to tell the truth is to give you more control over your career and relationships. It’s ok to be passed over for opportunities and relationships, but it’s unhelpful not to know why.
Having a good manager is key to a happy life. A good manager can make your job (and life) a happy experience. A bad manager can make your job (and life) hell. If you’ve worked long enough to have both good and bad boss’s, you already know this. Having a good manager is worth a lot.
If you’re lucky enough to have a good manager, say “thank you” on National Hug Your Boss Day, this Friday. Don’t physically hug her, of course. She isn’t likely to appreciate that. But there are lots of other ways to say “thank you.”
I don’t think it’s appropriate for employees to buy managers gifts. But there are lots of ways to show appreciation without spending money. Think about what’s meaningful to you. I’m sure an email containing positive feedback, a handwritten note, or a positive verbal comment all feel good to you, and they’ll feel good to your boss as well.
Here are six ways to show your boss you appreciate her on hug your boss day:
Hug your boss day idea #1: Send your boss an email, telling her some of the things she does that make you feel valued and that make your organization a good place to work. Be as specific as you can. Specific feedback is more meaningful, authentic, and helpful than vague generalities. For example, rather than saying, “You’re such a great boss! I really appreciate you,” considering saying something like, “I really appreciate the time you take teaching me about our business. I’ve learned a lotl in the past six months.” When you give specific feedback your boss will know what she does that’s meaningful to you, making it more likely that she’ll replicate that behavior in the future. If you provide specific feedback, you’ll both get something out of the recognition you provide.
Hug your boss day idea #2: Write her a handwritten note. A handwritten note is more impactful than an email. It’s so rare for anyone to get a handwritten note, let alone from a direct report, it’s something your boss will appreciate and keep for a long time. Like the suggestion above, be sure to provide specific feedback about what your boss does that you appreciate.
Hug your boss day idea #3: Equally impactful to a handwritten note is to talk to your boss in person. Giving verbal feedback may feel a little weird if it’s not something you do often, but she’ll appreciate the risk you took in being honest and vulnerable to make her feel appreciated.
Hug your boss day idea #4: Have your team write and act out a skit for your manager. This may sound corny, but skits are a fun and unique way to thank your boss, and something she likely hasn’t experienced before. During the skit, demonstrate some of the things your boss does that team members appreciate. Ham it up. It’ll be fun and she’ll learn a lot about what’s important to the team.
Hug your boss day idea #5: Write a song that tells your boss what you appreciate about her and have your team perform it. Like skits, this is a fun team activity that will be memorable for everyone. Have whomever on your team loves stuff like this spearhead the effort versus the person who is tortured by it.
I realize that skits and songs may not sound fun. In fact, some of you might now feel physically ill. In my experience, people typically roll their eyes at first and then end up having a great time. Try it! Teams that post a picture of themselves performing a skit or a song for their boss on our Facebook page will be entered in a contest to receive free Candor Bars (very delicious chocolate bars) How’s that for an incentive?!
Hug your boss day idea #6: Have a pot luck lunch. This is a good opportunity for the team to spend time together. Just make sure you pick food she likes. If my team brought in Mexican food (I’m not a fan. I know I’m weird), I’d know that they really didn’t like me. Are you guys reading this???
Don’t take a good boss for granted. Find a way to say “thank you” this Friday that will be meaningful to her.
Unless 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.
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.
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:
Ask people who can impact your reputation and whose judgment you trust for feedback.
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.”
Once you’ve absorbed the feedback, decide what, if any, changes you will make.
Change your behavior for a period of weeks.
Return to the people who gave you feedback, tell them about the behavior changes you’ve made, and ask them to observe your behavior.
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.
Return to the people who gave you feedback and ask what changes they have or haven’t noticed.
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.
You 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.”
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!
Our company got a shipment of products this week that were partially defective. When I called our vendor to tell him about the defective products, he sighed knowingly. He knew part of our order was imperfect and waited for me to find the problems versus telling me himself.
I love surprise gifts, trips, and discounts. But I don’t like surprise errors and your internal and external customers don’t either.
Everyone makes mistakes at work. Making a mistake is not necessarily a problem. It’s how you deal with the error that matters more. Letting those who are impacted by a mistake be surprised damages your reputation and working relationships much more than coming clean as soon as you realize the error. Rather than waiting to get caught, tell your customers about mistakes and work together to make things right.
Here are a few ways to tell people you made a mistake, while saving face:
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #1: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, pick up the phone and tell the person live, as soon as you know. Don’t wait.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #2: Apologize and work with your customer to develop a solution. Be part of the process. Don’t leave your internal or external customer holding the bag.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #3: Don’t give a bunch of reasons or justifications for what happened. It sounds like excuse management and no one cares. Your customers just want to know how you’re going to solve the problem.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #4: Say something like, “I realized we sent you a report with incorrect information. I’m so sorry. I’d like to work with you to make this right. Here are a couple of ideas of what we can do… Would any of these suggestions work for you?”
Or you could say, “I realized parts of your order are imperfect. I’m so sorry. Here’s how we’d like to make things right. Are these solutions satisfactory to you?”
Or consider saying something like, “I’ve realized we can’t fulfill your order by the date we promised. I’m so sorry. Here’s what I suggest we do to get you what you need in a timely way. Does this work for you?”
We all make mistakes. How you handle mistakes determines how your internal and external customers view you and how much they trust you. Come clean quickly. Take responsibility. Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for a mistake. Help make things right. And you’ll likely preserve your reputation and business relationships.