Career Management Archive
Most of what comes through our phones is probably not all that compelling – emails we don’t really want to read, advertisements for things we won’t buy, and social media updates we don’t really care about. And yet those little devices are so seductive. It’s hard not to check your email, texts, and social media updates constantly. Being so connected electronically and thus so continuously distracted has its benefits but it also has real costs.
Most of you know I have a small child and I’m committed to being a present and involved mom. I spend a lot of time with my son. But the best times are when I leave my phone behind. Without my phone I’m fully present with him, in the moment, enjoying him. When I have my phone, I’m distracted, often stressed, and typically torn. Can’t I read this email and reply quickly? What’s the harm? It will only take a second.
And each time I take a minute to read my email, I’m gone. I’m focused on my phone. And then I feel guilty and sad for not being as engaged as I want to be. Then I recommit to being fully present. And then read my email again. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is a huge cost to being distracted most of the time. Our relationships suffer. Car fatalities have increased tenfold. People are consistently tired.
Every productivity expert will tell you to check your messages three times a day, respond, and to not be constantly reading email. It’s fantastic advice. And I suspect no one, including productivity experts, follows it. It’s just too hard. We’re lured by our phones, tablets and laptops. Not checking them regularly makes us antsy, uncomfortable, and nervous.
What would happen if we set defined periods of time for each thing we did? I.e., Spend from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm with your children. At 4:00 p.m., check your phone. Take the weekend off and check your messages at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. Work on a project without interruption from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I suspect we’d get way more done and feel less stressed. But we have to give ourselves permission to put the phone away.
Here are three ways to be more focused and productive, and hopefully, happy:
1. Schedule work and personal activities for realistic, defined periods of time, and stick to them.
2. Agree on no cell phones or other electronics during personal meals and outings. I like the game people are playing in restaurants by putting cell phones face down in a pile on the table. The first person who touches their cell phone pays the entire bill.
3. Agree on no cell phones during group or one-on-one meetings. Your meetings will be shorter, easier to manage, and more productive. Meeting attendees are dying to tell their peers to put away their phones. Strong facilitators who set and hold to this expectation earn others’ respect and get more done.
In a nut shell, give yourself permission to focus. Do one thing at a time for a short period of time. Allow similar chunks of time to read and reply to messages and read Facebook updates you don’t care about. Then put the phone down and walk away. Your family and friends miss you.
Want to improve your relationships? Read How to Say Anything to Anyone.
Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ve worked with someone you wished would go away. Maybe the person repeatedly threw you under the bus, took credit for your work, or didn’t keep his commitments. And at some point, you wrote the person off, and have been merely tolerating him ever since.
Damaged relationships can be repaired, if you’re willing to do some work.
The first step in repairing a damaged relationship is to decide that you really want to do so. Managing conflict in the workplace isn’t easy. It will take effort and will likely be uncomfortable. So before you take action, decide if you really want to work on the relationship.
How to know if you should even try resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask yourself how much you need the relationship. This probably sounds political, and it is. If you work on projects together, need to give or receive information, or have to work together regularly, then it’s likely worth working on the relationship. If you don’t need to work together regularly, then perhaps don’t work on the relationship.
If you decide to attempt to strengthen a relationship, plan what you’re going to say. Never trust the first thing that comes out of your mouth during a difficult conversation.
Step one for resolving conflict in the workplace: Like any feedback conversation, start with the end in mind. Consider what you want to have happen as a result of the conversation.
Step two for resolving conflict in the workplace: Plan what you’re going to say by taking notes and practicing out loud. What you say in your head is usually not what comes out of your mouth.
Step three for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask the person for time on his calendar. People don’t like surprises. You’ll have a better outcome if the person has blocked time to talk with you. Have the conversation in-person whenever possible. If you can’t speak in-person, talk on the phone. Do not attempt to fix your relationship via email. 1. Email is wimpy. 2. It will not work.
Tell the person, “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we’re not both aware of. I’d really like a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has happened and perhaps start in a new way?”
Step four for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask for a meeting to work on the relationship up to three times. If, after the third time, the person hasn’t made time, stop asking. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you. If the person doesn’t make time to meet, be polite, professional, and inclusive, but stop trying to nurture the relationship. Inclusive means: cc’ing him on necessary emails, inviting him to appropriate meetings, and providing necessary data.
Step five for resolving conflict in the workplace: If the person makes time to meet, speak candidly, be yourself, and be vulnerable. I don’t mean set yourself up to be killed. I do mean be authentic.
How to Manage Difficult Conversations:
- Tell the person what you want.
- Ask for feedback about how you’ve damaged the relationship.
- Listen to what you hear, and resist the urge to defend yourself.
- Ask for permission to tell him how he’s damaged the relationship.
- Give small amounts of feedback, with a few specific examples.
- Make agreements of what each of you will do differently in the future.
- Thank the person for the conversation and schedule another meeting.
Step six for resolving conflict in the workplace: Build in follow-up. Most people have one conversation and expect things to be fixed, forever. Relationships don’t work that way. Agree to meet monthly, for the first few months, until you’ve rebuilt trust and learned how to communicate and work together. During the monthly meetings, give each other permission to give candid feedback about how you’re working together. I call these Relationship Inventory Meetings™.
During monthly Relationship Inventory Meetings™ ask:
- What’s working about how we work together?
- What’s not working?
- What working agreements did we keep?
- What working agreements did we break?
- Which working agreements are helpful?
- What working agreements need to change?
You might be thinking, “I don’t like this person. I don’t want to work with him. And I definitely don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations.”
- If the nature of your relationship is impacting your ability to do your job, your professional reputation, or your happiness, all of those consequences are far worse and more long-lasting than any conversation will be.
- The conversations won’t be as bad as you think. No one will tell you anything you can’t handle, because for the most part, they’re afraid of your reaction and they know they’ll be next.
Conflict in the workplace and damaged relationships keep people up at night, reduce job satisfaction, and often motivate people to leave jobs. If you’re experiencing any of these things, all of them are worse than any conversation will be. The anticipation of the conversation is far worse than the conversation itself.
- Decide if you want to strengthen the relationship.
- Plan the conversation.
- Ask for time to meet.
- Have the conversation. Speak honestly, but responsibly.
- Plan to have another conversation before ending this conversation.
- Congratulate yourself for being courageous and picking happiness over anxiety and frustration. Suffering is optional.
Last week I had some really, really terrible moments. Our office WIFI went out during a webinar. Not even the phone worked. I missed the deadline to speak at a conference that’s almost in my backyard and an event that I really want to participate in, I double booked myself and had to cancel a few appointments, and I hit my son’s teacher’s car, leaving her side mirror dangling like a Christmas tree ornament.
Some days are going to be terrible. On those terrible days, it’s so easy to feel like we’re screwing things up and that we are indeed a screw up. Instead, give yourself a break. The thing to know and remember, in the moment, is that you’re not terrible. You’re a human being, doing the best you can.
Here is a list of ways to give yourself a break and as a result, do your best work. I’ll admit, I’m working on doing these things too. Every day I’m annoyed that I’m not perfect. I want to be a combination of Mary Poppins, Super Woman, and Kate Middleton, but I’m not. I’m a business owner, working mom, who hasn’t seen the inside of a gym since my son was born, who recommits to better self-care every day, only to break that commitment in eleven different ways by 10:00 am.
Here are Nine Way to Give Yourself a Break:
- Set realistic deadlines so you’re not constantly running against time and overestimate how long everything will take to do. Set yourself up to win.
- Before agreeing to a new commitment, ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?” Try not to commit yourself to things you know, at your core, you don’t want to do. You’ll just resent that commitment when it rolls around and aren’t likely to do your best work.
- Turn off the alerts on your phone and laptop when you’re working. You’ll be more focused and get more work done.
- Ask for help. If there is someone who can help with a project (and it won’t make you look bad) let them.
- Go to bed earlier than you think you need to and leave your phone in the kitchen.
- Take a day off. Your company offers vacation time for a reason. People do better work when they take time to relax and rejuvenate.
- Take time for yourself, even if it’s 30 minutes.
- Drink more water and make sure you eat breakfast and lunch. I’m starting to sound like your mom.
- Say “thank you” more and “I’m sorry” less. “Thank you for letting me know” is more empowering than “I’m sorry I missed that.” I’m guilty of apologizing for everything, so much so that one of my employees and I play a game that whoever says she’s sorry first has to throw a dollar in a communal collection pot. Whatever you put attention on will improve.
Some of these things are business focused, some are personal. You bring yourself – your whole self – to work. It’s why you’re good at what you do. People want to work with real people. And real people over commit, make mistakes, and spend too much time on Facebook at 11:30 pm. Give yourself a break.
Tis’ the season to over commit.
It’s the start of a new year, when many of us begin thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. We vow to lose 20 pounds, save 10% of our income, get promoted at work, take an exotic vacation, be a better partner, etc. etc. Also known as “how to set yourself up to fail” in five easy steps. The reality is, we might do one or two of those things, if that.
Why not set yourself up to win instead? Instead of setting huge goals that are unlikely to happen, why not set more realistic goals that you can and will likely do?
If you manage people, perhaps you’re thinking about how you can be a better manager in 2019. Or you may be thinking about how you can accelerate your career. You may decide to meet with your employees more frequently, or ask your boss for more feedback, or ask for new and different work. You may think that doing these things will help you strengthen your relationships with your employees and your reputation, and advance your career. Doing any of these things might help you strengthen your business relationships and help you get ahead. But they might not, if those things are not important to your employees, your boss and/or your organization.
In 2019, put energy and resources into the things that truly matter to the people you work with, rather than the things you think they think are important. And the only way to know what the people around you really want and need, is to ask them. Don’t assume you know what is important to your boss, direct reports and coworkers, ask them. Ask more. Assume less.
There are countless examples of managers who went to great lengths to make their employees happy. They gave bonuses, cool projects, and time off. And their employees quit anyway. Or, trying to make a manager happy, employees stayed late, beat deadlines, and took on additional work, and still got a mediocre review. Rather than doing what you think others want, ask them!
How about this for a New Year’s resolution — ask your boss, direct reports and key customers these questions as you begin the New Year:
- What’s the most important work I did in the past 12 months?
- What’s an area, in 2018, I exceeded your expectations?
- How did I let you down?
- If I could do one thing differently this year that would make the biggest difference for you and/or the organization, what would it be?
- Where do you think I should focus my energy in 2019?
It may be intimidating to ask for feedback from your peers and direct reports. But you won’t know what to do more, better, or differently if you don’t ask.
The right answer to feedback is always “thank you,” regardless of what you really want to say. Saying “thank you” makes you a safe person to whom to tell the truth and makes it more likely you’ll get more information in the future. So bite your tongue and respond to all feedback with, “Thank you for telling me that. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you to discuss further.” They’ll be relieved, and you’ll strengthen your professional image.
It’s easy to assume what others want and are expecting from us. The problem is, we’re not always correct. Thus we expend energy doing things that others don’t find valuable or important, otherwise known as wasting time and resources.
Your time and budget dollars are valuable. Use your time and money for things that others actually want, versus what you think they want. In 2019, dial it back. Make realistic, attainable goals that are aligned with what the people around want and need. And in return, you too will get what you want and need.
The Feedback Formula:
1. Introduce the conversation so feedback recipients know what to expect.
2. Share your motive for speaking so both the feedback provider and the recipient feel as comfortable as possible.
3. Describe the observed behavior so the recipient can picture a specific, recent example of what you’re referring to. The more specific you are, the less defensive he will be, and the more likely he’ll be to hear you and take corrective action.
4. Sharing the impact or result describes the consequences of the behavior. It’s what happened as a result of the person’s actions.
5. Having some dialogue gives both people a chance to speak and ensures that the conversation is not one-sided. Many feedback conversations are not conversations at all; they’re monologues. One person talks and the other person pretends to listen, while thinking what an idiot you are. Good feedback conversations are dialogues during which the recipient can ask questions, share his point of view, and explore next steps.
6. Make a suggestion or request so the recipient has another way to approach the situation or task in the future. Most feedback conversations tell the person what he did wrong and the impact of the behavior; only rarely do they offer an alternative. Give people the benefit of the doubt. If people knew a better way to do something, they would do it another way.
7. Building an agreement on next steps ensures there is a plan for what the person will do going forward. Too many feedback conversations do not result in behavior change. Agreeing on next steps creates accountability.
8. Say “Thank you” to create closure and to express appreciation for the recipient’s willingness to have a difficult conversation.
If you’re giving more than one piece of feedback during a conversation, address each issue individually. For example, if you need to tell someone that she needs to arrive on time and also check her work for errors, first go through the eight steps in the formula to address lateness. When you’ve discussed an agreement of next steps about being on time, go back to step one and address the errors. But talk about one issue at a time so the person clearly understands what she’s supposed to do.
Here’s how a conversation could sound, using the eight-step Feedback Formula:
Step One: Introduce the conversation.
“John, I need to talk with you.”
Step Two: Share your motive for speaking.
“This is a little awkward, and it may be uncomfortable. I want you to know that while I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, I’m doing it because I care about you and I want you to be successful.”
Just because you’re direct doesn’t mean you’re not empathetic. But remember, these are my words. You’ll need to find your own words that you feel comfortable using to deliver such a difficult message.
Step Three: Describe the observed behavior.
“John, I’ve noticed that you have an odor.”
Step Four: Share the impact or result of the behavior.
“I know this is a very awkward subject (more empathy). We work in a small space. I don’t want others to avoid working with you or say negative things about you. And as awkward as this is, I would rather you hear this from me than from someone else. Sometimes health conditions can cause certain odors, as can eating certain foods.”
Step Five: Have some dialogue. Ask the recipient for his perception of the situation.
“What are your thoughts?”
Give John time to say whatever he wishes to say.
Step Six: Make a suggestion or request for what to do next time.
“Again, I’m really sorry to have to tell you this. Please make sure you shower every day before coming to work and wash your clothes regularly. And please tell me if there’s something else you’d like me to know.”
Because of the awkwardness of this subject, skip step seven, and go to step eight.
“Thank you for being willing to have this conversation with me.”
You Can Say More Than You Think You Can
You might be gasping, thinking there is no way you could ever tell someone he smells. It’s definitely an awkward conversation, one I hope you never have to have. I used one of the most difficult things you will ever have to say to demonstrate that even the most awkward feedback can be delivered empathetically and quickly.
The short and concise body-odor conversation is a lot less uncomfortable for the recipient than the drawn-out, evasive first version. Just think, would you rather listen to someone tell you that you smell for two minutes or for twenty?
You may also think, “I shouldn’t have to tell someone to take a shower and wash their clothes.” That’s true, you shouldn’t. But if you’re working with someone who doesn’t do these things, clearly someone needs to tell him. Remember, other people are not you and don’t do things the way you do, even when those things appear to be no-brainer basics.
Lastly, you may think that telling someone to shower and wash his clothes is insulting and demeaning. It’s true: No matter how you spin it, there’s nothing nice about this message. But which is worse, having your coworkers ask for different desks and be unwilling to work with you, or having someone who has your best interests at heart tell you privately to clean it up—quite literally? When you tell people the truth, you do them a favor.
Here’s another example: A few years ago I had a coworker who was a lingerer. Lisa would hover outside my office until she saw an opportunity to interrupt. She then walked in uninvited and started talking. I was still mid-thought about whatever I’d been working on and wasn’t ready to listen. After a few sentences, I would interrupt Lisa, saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Will you please start over?”
Embarrassing as it sounds, this went on for more than a year. I wanted to be seen as accessible and open, yet this “lingering” method of interrupting was driving me crazy. And it was a waste of both of our time. After many months of frustration, I decided to use the eight-step Formula.
Step One: Introduce the conversation.
“Lisa, I want to talk about something I’ve noticed.”
Step Two: Share your motive for speaking.
“I probably should have said something a long time ago. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Step Three: Describe the observed behavior.
“I’ve noticed that when you want to talk to me you stand at my door, waiting for a good time to interrupt. When you come into my office, you’re often in the middle of a thought or problem that you’ve probably been thinking about for a while.”
Steps Four and Six: Share the impact or result of the behavior and make a suggestion or request for what to do next time.
“Because I’m in the middle of something completely different, it takes me a few seconds to catch up. By the time I have, I’ve missed key points about your question and I have to ask you to start over. This isn’t a good use of either of our time.
“Here is my request: When I’m in my office working and you need something, knock and ask if it’s a good time. If it is, I’ll say yes. Give me a few seconds to finish whatever I’m working on, so I’m focused on you when we start talking. I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Then start at the beginning, giving me a little background, so I have some context. And if it isn’t a good time for me, I’ll tell you that and come find you as soon as I can.”
Step Five: Have some dialogue. Allow the recipient to say whatever she needs to say.
“What do you think?”
Step Seven: Agree on next steps.
“Okay, so next time you want to talk with me, you’re going to tap on the door and ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it’s not, I’ll tell you that and come find you as soon as I can. If it is a good time, you’re going to give me a second to finish whatever I’m working on and give me some background about the issue at hand. Does that work for you?”
We have just managed “the lingerer”—a challenge you probably have, unless you work from home or in a closet.
You may have noticed that I changed the order of the Feedback Formula during this conversation. It’s not the order of the conversation that’s important. It’s that you provide specific feedback, offer alternative actions, and have some dialogue before the conversation ends.
Summary: Good Feedback Is Specific, Succinct, and Direct.
Provided you have a trusting relationship with someone and have secured permission to give feedback, there is very little you can’t say in two minutes or less. The shorter and more direct the message, the easier it is to hear and act upon. Follow the eight-step Feedback Formula. Be empathetic and direct. Cite specific examples. Give the other person a chance to talk. Come to agreement about next steps. Remember, you do people a favor by being honest with them. People may not like what you have to say, but they will invariably thank you for being candid.
This week’s blog is an excerpt from my book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide for Building Business Relationships That Really Work. I hope it helps you have the conversations you need to have! Be candid. You can do it!
Reading emails as they come in is killing your productivity.
You’re at your desk working on a project. Aka, doing actual work. You think, “It’s been three minutes. I should check my email.” So you take your attention off your project and check your email. Then you read the five emails that came in since you last checked email. You then go back to the project you were working on and spend 10 to 20 minutes trying to get your head around what you were doing before reading those very important emails. Finally, you’re back in the groove. You do five minutes of work and think, “I should check my email.” Then it’s 5:30 pm and you realize, with frustration, that you finished nothing all day.
Living in our email inbox is why many of us start work at 5:00 pm or come into the office at 7:00 am to get “something done while it’s quiet.” It’s why we sleep and go on vacation with our phones, and are never really off.
I am most productive on airplanes without WIFI. Without WIFI I’m not tempted to check my email every three minutes or check Facebook to read about what people I barely know and don’t really care about are doing.
Without WIFI all there is to do is what I need to do. There are no other meaningful distractions, except for the B-grade movie I didn’t really want to see anyway. I am focused. And as a result, I get a lot done. I’m also less stressed. Because I’m focused, doing one thing a time, I’m not worried about everything I still need to do.
If you want to get more done and be less stressed, do one thing at a time, for a defined period of time. Decide how long you’re going to work on something, and work on that item for that period of time, with no distractions or interruptions. You may only work on something for ten or twenty minutes, but do only what you said you would do for that time period. Then you can check your email.
Productivity experts suggest you only check your email three times a day, for example, once in the morning, right before or after lunch, and at the end of the day. I find this hard to do. Like you, I feel pressured to check my inbox. Or I use my email to avoid the work I really need to do. But I know that constantly being in my email inbox has me distracted and not doing the work I really need to do. And as a result, I’m stressed and spend my evenings and weekends working on projects that require focused time.
Do one thing at a time, for a defined period of time. Just try it. If you’re going to read your email, give yourself 20 minutes, and do nothing but read, reply, and delete email. At the end of 20 minutes, do whatever you said you would do next, for as long as you decide, and nothing else.
See if you get more done, in less time, with less stress. You might just leave work earlier and have time to do something besides work.
Wearing too much perfume or cologne will make people scatter, or wish they could. Unfortunately, rather than tell you that you’re wearing too much, people will just avoid sitting near you. Scent is such a personal thing, like clothing, that people are hesitant to comment on it.
I suggest not wearing anything scented at work, on airplanes, or when you’ll be in close proximity with other people you don’t know well. But if I can’t persuade you to skip the scent, here are a few guidelines when putting on cologne and perfume:
• Spray the air ten inches in front of you, and walk through the mist, rather than spraying your skin.
• If you can smell the scent on yourself or people who are more than a few inches from you can smell it, you’re wearing too much.
• You should never be able to smell a person’s cologne after they’ve left a room.
No, I’m not an expert on how to wear perfume. I googled it.
The next step is to ask a few people you trust to tell you when you wear too much perfume or cologne. Give people permission to give you this feedback, and promise you won’t bite their head off when they do. This could sound something like, “I want to be sure I’m not wearing too much perfume. Would you be willing to tell me when I do? I promise I won’t freak out or jump down your throat. I really want to know.”
Let’s say you work with someone who wears too much perfume. She hasn’t asked if she’s wearing too much, and you want to say something. You could say something like, “This is a bit awkward, but the perfume you wear is a bit overwhelming. Would you be willing to wear less or none at all when you’re in the office?” This is an awkward conversation that most people don’t want to have. Consider that you’re doing the person a favor. Would you rather know the amount of scent you wear keeps other people away, or would you rather alienate the people around you?
If the relationship is a personal one, you could say, “You wear the most lovely perfume. And I’ve noticed that the smell is quite strong. Would you be willing to wear less of it?” Again, this is an awkward conversation. But you won’t die from having it and the other person won’t either. When she gets over being embarrassed and defensive, your relationship will be fine. And if it’s not, you didn’t have much of a relationship to begin with.
Use our Candor Questions for Relationship Building at Work to find out what people say about you when you’re not there.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are four techniques for how to say no:
Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
1. Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about his request.
2. Tell the person you need some time to think about his request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell him what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
- Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
- Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
- Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
- Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
- Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.
I had a colleague at my last job, prior to starting Candid Culture, who was a peer and a friend. We were at a similar level and would periodically sit in one of our offices, with the door closed, engaging in office gossip, talking about the bad decisions our company’s senior leaders made. One day I realized that these conversations were exhausting to me. They were negative and didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they made me feel worse.
Some people distinguish between office gossip and venting, asserting that venting is cathartic and makes people feel better. It doesn’t. Venting and office gossip are one in the same and both will make you tired and feel worse about your job and organization.
I’ll use an analogy I read in one of Deepak Chopra’s books. When you put a plant in the closet and don’t give it light or water, it withers and dies. When you put a plant in the sunlight and water it, it grows. And the same is true for people. Wherever you put your attention will get bigger and stronger. Whatever you deprive attention will become smaller.
In addition to draining you of energy and ensuring you focus on the things that frustrate you, office gossip kills organizations’ cultures. If employees can’t trust that their peers won’t talk about them when they’re not there, there is no trust in the organization. And this lack of trust feels terrible. It makes employees nervous and paranoid. A lack of trust sucks the enjoyment out of working because we feel we have to continuously watch our back.
Office gossip isn’t going anywhere. It’s a human phenomenon and is here to stay. But you can reduce office gossip.
Here are five steps to reduce the office gossip in your workplace:
Reducing gossip in the workplace step one: Address the gossip head on.
Tell your employees, “I’ve been hearing a lot of gossip, which is not good for our culture.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step two: Hold regular town hall meetings, and give employees more information than you think you need to about initiatives, organizational changes, profitability, etc. Employees want to know how the organization is doing and what they can do to contribute. In the absence of knowledge, people make stuff up, not because they’re malicious, but because they have a need to know. Employees don’t have to fill in the gaps with office gossip when you inform them.
Reducing gossip in the workplace step three: Create a no-gossip-in-the-workplace policy.
Tell your employees, “We want people talking directly to each other, rather than about each other. As a result, we’re putting a no-gossip policy in place.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step four: Draw attention to gossip.
Perhaps suggest, “Every time you hear gossip, wave two fingers in the air (or something else that’s equally visual).” This will draw attention to office gossip without calling anyone out.
Also, ask your peers and friends not to gossip with you. End conversations that contain gossip. This will be hard to do, but if everyone does it, it will become much easier.”
Reducing gossip in the workplace step five: Have an agreed-upon consequence for gossip.
Tell employees, “Every time we hear gossip in the workplace, the gossiper owes a dollar. Every quarter the gossipers will buy the office lunch from the office gossip jar.”
The keys to reducing office gossip are to draw attention to the gossip, have a consequence for gossiping, and over communicate so your employees don’t have to fill in the gaps themselves.
Venting and office gossip are the same. If you’re talking about someone else, unless you’re planning a conversation with a coworker or friend to address a challenge or problem, you’re gossiping. And talking about what frustrates you will only make you more frustrated.
My advice: Do something about the things you can impact and let the other stuff go. Talk about the things that matter to you. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about the people around you. And know that anyone who will gossip about someone to you, will also gossip about you.
Organizations are working hard at retaining employees. Employees are watching how their organization’s leaders and managers work, and often make career decisions based on the hours the most senior people keep. Not a recipe for retaining employees.
Many employees pay particular attention to how often managers and senior leaders take vacations and whether or not leaders attend meetings and respond to emails while they’re ‘off.’ Employees observe the late nights leaders and managers put in and the emails sent at 11:00 pm and on the weekends. I’ve heard lots of employees say, “If I need to work like my boss works to get ahead in this organization, I’m not interested.”
Managers, the key to retaining employees is to communicate expectations. If you’re available while you’re on vacation, but don’t expect your employees to do the same, set that expectation. If you send an email outside of regular business hours but don’t expect employees to respond until the next business day, tell them so. They don’t know. Many employees assume that if you email them at night, you expect a reply.
Instead of allowing employees to make assumptions about what managers do and don’t expect, set clear expectations. Be overt and clear. Tell employees, “I work most evenings and weekends, but don’t expect you to do so. And I work these hours because I enjoy it, not because I have to. If I email you outside of regular business hours, I am not expecting you to reply.” Retaining good employees begins during the interview process, when initial expectations are first set.
Managers, if you expect employees to check and respond to emails outside of regular business hours and to be available while on vacation, tell them. If working long hours is a criteria for promotion, set that expectation preferably during the interview process. It’s completely fine to expect long hours and for employees to be accessible outside of regular business hours. There is nothing wrong with either expectation. There is only a problem if employees don’t know that’s the expectation.
Employees, if your manager emails you outside of regular business hours and she doesn’t tell you whether or not she expects you to reply, ask. Simply say, “I often receive emails outside of regular business hours. How will I know when you need me to reply?” Likewise, if you notice your manager emails you on vacation, you can say, “I typically hear from you when you’re on vacation. Are you expecting me to check in while I’m off?”
The need to ask questions and set expectations goes both ways. Don’t wait to be told. Ask.
Managers and employees, ask these Candor Questions about working style preferences to aid in retaining employees:
- How do you feel about being contacted outside of regular business hours?
- If I need to reach you over a weekend or in the evening, what method is best?
- Would you prefer I text you so you don’t have to check your email outside of business hours?
- What time is too early and too late to call, text, and/or email?
Ask more. Assume less and make retaining employees easier.