Business Communication Archive
Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should.
There can be too much candor and feedback.
A few guidelines to consider before giving feedback:
- Ask yourself, was the feedback solicited? Unsolicited feedback rarely goes over well.
- Assess if you have the relationship to give feedback. I’m offered all sorts of feedback from people I don’t even know. People I don’t know haven’t earned the right to give me feedback.
- Determine if you’re trying to strengthen the person or the relationship. If you aren’t trying to help someone improve, AND the feedback isn’t requested, AND you don’t have the rapport to give feedback, say nothing.
Feedback recipients don’t have to accept unsolicited input or advice. It’s perfectly acceptable to put limits and boundaries on the input you’re open to from peers, friends and family.
Here are two tips for how to handle negative feedback:
How to handle negative feedback tip one:
When you ask for feedback, be very specific about what type of feedback you want.
For example, you could say something like, “We’re picking a new software application to track leads. I’ve already narrowed the choice down to three vendors and vetted what each software application can and can’t do. I want to know about things I may not be aware of, like software that’s being phased out and won’t be supported and potential bankruptcies.”
There’s nothing wrong with asking for targeted feedback. Simply tell people what kind of feedback you want and why. And avoid asking open ended questions like, “What do you think?” If you ask a broad question, you’ll likely get a broad answer.
How to handle negative feedback tip two:
Tell people if you aren’t looking for feedback.
For example, you could say something like, “Thank you so much for your concern. I really appreciate it. I’m actually not looking for feedback at this time. But I really appreciate your concern.”
There’s NOTHING wrong with setting limits and boundaries about what kind of input you’re seeking. And when you do set those limits, intrusive people will think twice before offering unsolicited advice in the future.
During the holidays we often see people we haven’t seen in a long time. Your family and friends care about you and want to hear what’s happening in your life. Caring and curiosity can lead people to ask questions that you don’t want to answer.
Friends and family don’t need to know everything that’s happening in your life. None of your business – said a bit differently – is a perfectly acceptable reply. You decide what to share.
Here are a few possible replies to questions you don’t want to answer:
Question: “What’s happening with that nice young man/woman you’ve been dating?”
Answer: “Things are going great. Thanks for asking.”
Question: “Are you guys serious?”
Answer: “We like each other a lot. If it goes further, I’ll let you know.” Aka, this conversation is over.
Here’s another scenario:
Question: “Are you dating anyone?”
Answer: “No, not right now.”
Question: “You know, I met my husband on Match.com. Have you tried online dating?”
Answer: “That’s great that you met online. I don’t really want to talk about my dating life. What else is happening?”
The next thing she says, “You really should try it. You need to be open. You just never know.”
Answer: “I really appreciate your interest. I’m not looking for dating advice right now, but I really appreciate your concern.” Aka, shut up.
The examples above are about romantic relationships but they could have been about careers, kids, or finances. Your response can be the same. You don’t need to tell anyone anything you don’t want to. It’s ok to tell people to back off and that something is none of their business. You can say it nicely. Just don’t let yourself get cornered into giving information you don’t want to share.
An appropriate answer to almost any personal question is, “I don’t have anything to report on this front, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
An appropriate response to any type of unsolicited advice is, “Thanks so much for your concern. I’m not looking for advice on _____, but I really appreciate you caring.”
Telling someone to back off is perfectly appropriate. S/he’ll get the point and your personal life will remain personal. Boundaries are your friend.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and be ready to manage intrusive questions and unsolicited advice this holiday season.
Last week I was chased down in the hallway by a conference participant. She told me that she and her husband bickered about (his) driving all the way to the conference. After three hours of bickering, she knew she needed to discuss how to handle driving disagreements in the future, and asked me how. I told her, “The time to fix a relationship, is when there is nothing wrong.”
Talking with another person when you’re upset, often leads to more upset. Emotions and conversations escalate quickly. The more upset you are, the more likely you are to say things you’ll regret. The time to alter how you work, live, and communicate with someone, is when there is nothing wrong.
Pick a time when things are calm and when no one is upset. Tell the other person that you want to talk about how you work together, manage disagreements, make decisions, handle disappointments, etc. Share what you have observed in the past and make requests. Brainstorm solutions together. You’ll have a much better conversation when you’ve had time to calm down from whatever happened to create the need for the conversation.
Waiting to have a conversation until you’re not upset creates the risk of waiting too long to address concerns. The right time to talk about a breakdown is as soon after an event as you can. When both people are calm and have time to have the conversation, usually within a few days of a challenge.
There is no talking to my two-year old about why I took away a toy when I do it. He’s too upset. I need to wait to talk to him about why I did what I did and what I want him to do next time, when he’s calm. Typically, that’s later the same day. Adults may take a little longer. But this isn’t a pass to wait six weeks, which is what we often do. The conversation won’t be as hard or as bad as you think, if you talk when you’re calm and speak from what the relationship needs.
Speaking from what the relationship needs is saying just what you need to, not more and not less, to resolve the challenge and create a better way to handle things in the future. And communicating in a kind and direct way, so the other person can take in what you have to say.
Men get a bad rap for going to the man-cave and coming out to talk when they’re ready. This has a lot of wisdom. Don’t talk if you’re not ready.
Agree upon better ways for handing challenges when no one is upset. Speaking directly, calmly, caringly and with the desire to make things work, typically has a positive result.
If you work with other people, there is likely at least one business relationship you wish was stronger. If only that person included you on necessary communications, didn’t gossip about you, or gave you honest feedback versus telling you everything is fine and then working around you.
What often makes work hard isn’t the work at hand, but the people we work with – the power struggles, cc-reply-to-all when everyone doesn’t need to know, and the gossip that pervades most organizations.
You need to communicate and work well with the people you work with regularly. And like any relationship, business relationships require work. But what happens when someone doesn’t return your efforts for a positive working relationship? S/he doesn’t return emails or voicemails, ignores requests, and/or goes above you instead of coming to you when issues arise?
Make three attempts at strengthening a business relationship.
I’ll attempt to strengthen a business relationship three times before giving up. Phone calls and in-person meetings count as an attempt to improve a relationship, emails and text messages don’t. Emails and texts are passive, one sided communications. If you’re serious about strengthening a relationship, talk with the person, either in person or over the phone.
The conversation could go something like, “We’re going to be working together a lot this quarter, I thought it would be helpful to talk through how we both like to communicate and who will do what. When is a good time to spend a few minutes to discuss?”
Or, you could say, “Lots has happened in the past year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work this year, so next year can be smooth. Would you be interested in having that conversation?”
Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this past year was hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have lunch with me to discuss how we want to work together next year?”
It doesn’t so much matter what you say, as long as you start the conversation. Relationships don’t just improve by chance.
I’ll make attempts like those above three times (with the same person). If the person doesn’t reach back, says no, or cancels three scheduled meetings, I give up. Don’t chase people. The people who are interested in fostering a good working relationship with you will make the time and be willing to be uncomfortable.
What does it mean to give up? You are not the Golden Retriever of the workplace. Nor are you the 7-11 – always open. If someone isn’t interested in talking with me about how we can improve our relationship, I don’t keep asking. After the third no, I’m polite. I include the person in all necessary meetings and communications. I’m professional. But I don’t keep inviting. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.
Extend an olive branch. Be forthcoming, brave, and yourself. And if you get three nos’, go to lunch with someone else.
Avoiding having difficult conversations because you’re uncomfortable? Afraid you’ll hurt someone’s feelings? Worried you’ll damage your relationship? Why not just say so?
The people you work with want to work with other human beings. And part of being human is expressing how you feel.
It may seem that admitting that you’re nervous or uncomfortable weakens your position and diminishes your power. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Saying how you feel and being willing to be vulnerable are signs of strength. People with strong egos can admit when they are uncomfortable, people with weak egos feel too threatened to do so. Vulnerability and authenticity help other people see you as human, and make people feel closer to you. And people want to work with other human beings, not emotionless androids who never show their cards.
If you’re nervous, say you’re nervous. If you’re afraid you’ll negatively impact your relationship by speaking up, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to raise an issue, say that. You won’t lose anything by stating your concerns. You only stand to gain.
Starting difficult conversations could sound like this:
Having difficult conversations option one: “I’m not sure it’s my place to talk about our department’s Customer Service Survey results, but I care about our reputation and have a few thoughts. Is it ok if I talk about them with you?”
Having difficult conversations option two: “I’ve got some input for you that I’ve been hesitant to share, but I think the information could be helpful to you. I care about you and your career, and I want you to be successful. Is it ok if I share my thoughts?”
Having difficult conversations option three: “I’ve got a few things to talk with you about, but haven’t brought them up because I’m a bit concerned about how you’ll react. Is it ok if I share them with you? I’m saying these things because I care about our department, and I’m noticing a few things I think we can do differently, for better results.”
You probably noticed that in the examples above, I stated that I was concerned about speaking up, asked for permission to do so, and stated the reason I wanted to provide input. Your motive for having difficult conversations is very important. When people trust your motives you can say anything. When they don’t trust your motives, you can say little.
Don’t be afraid to say how you feel. If you’re afraid to speak up, saying so won’t reduce your credibility, it will likely increase it. State your concerns, explain why you’re speaking, and ask for permission to give feedback. Doing those three things will help any message be well received and is likely to make it easier for you to say what you want to say.
No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.
One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during any decent customer service training class is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.
Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.
Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:
How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.
How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.
How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for his experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean he is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry he had the experience he did.That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”
How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”
How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand his complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands his concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)
How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.
How to handle customer complaints tip #7: Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, if any. People like to know that they’re complaints aren’t wasted.
How to handle customer complaints tip #8: Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.
The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.
As crazy as it sounds, it can be difficult to get work done at work. There are the drive bys – people who want your opinion on EVERYTHING before they make decisions, the interrupters who have just one question, several times a day, the visitors who want to update you on EVERYTHING happening in their personal lives, and coworkers who host meetings at their workstation, take phone calls on speaker phone, and who listen to music without headphones, while loudly eating potato chips. All of these distractions are enough to make many employees want to find a quieter place to work.
The concept that it can be hard to get work done at work is crazy. We’re at work to work. And yet many employees, with and without a door, get in at 7:00 am, before others arrive, so they can “get some work done” and stay late because they “got nothing done all day.”
Open work environments can be productive and interruptions can be minimized, but managing interruptions at work will require some clear guidelines and direct communication, which many workplaces are missing.
Managing interruptions at work – practices for creating a work environment that works for everyone:
Write workspace practices down, share them with all employees, post the practices in every work area, and discuss them frequently.
Examples of practices for managing interruptions at work:
- Use a headset for all phone calls.
- Pay attention to your volume. Speak as quietly as possible.
- If you have visitors at your desk for business or non-business related conversations that last longer than five minutes, take the conversation to a conference room, empty office, or local coffee shop.
- Use headphones to watch videos and listen to music.
- Avoid prairie dogging—calling down a row, hallway, or over a cubicle wall. Instead, walk to the person’s desk, call, or send an email or text message.
- Turn off all auditory alerts on computers and cell phones, so your coworkers don’t have to hear pinging and ringing all day. The people you sit with don’t need to know every time you receive an email, text, or Facebook message.
- Finally, but MOST IMPORTANTLY, give all employees permission to make requests and give feedback when workspace guidelines are broken. It must not only be acceptable but expected that employees will say something when a guideline is broken and the workspace gets too loud.
Most employees will not speak up when others are being loud. It’s easier to find another location to work than risk a coworker’s defensive response. And no one wants to be ‘that person’ who complains about how loud someone is. If employees aren’t comfortable speaking up and making requests, offer training on how to have these conversations, and provide written examples of what employees can say that is respectful and clear.
Guidelines for dealing with interruptions at work:
You’d think that having a door would make people immune to work place distractions, but that’s not the case. Employees with offices also deal with drive bys and interruptions. The key to dealing with both is communication.
- Don’t wait for problems to occur. Anticipate challenges and talk about them before guidelines are broken. It’s much easier to make a request than to give feedback.
- Each time a new person joins a team, department, or workspace, ask everyone on the team to share their work-related pet peeves, how they like to communicate, and how they prefer to be interrupted. Everyone deals with interruptions, so you might as well express a preference. If you’d prefer people email you and ask when you have time for a quick question, make that request. If you’re ok with people interrupting you without notice, let people know. If you’re not distracted by noise, tell people. If you are, make that preference known.
People are too hesitant to speak up at work for fear of damaging relationships and hurting people’s feelings. The best thing leaders can do to improve the working environment (or any workplace challenge) is to set clear expectations, create opportunities to talk about how things are going, and make it ok to speak up.
Suffering at work is optional. Everyone is accountable for the work environment, and you won’t get what you don’t ask for.
As someone who writes and teaches about effective communication in the workplace, the people I work and socialize with are expecting me to model good communication skills all the time. The good news: I try really hard to always do the right thing and impact people positively. The bad news, I’m human and sometimes I don’t get it right.
One of the things I’m proud of about Candid Culture, is that we are real people, working with real people. We work very hard to practice effective communication in the workplace and to always model what we’re teaching. And yet, like all people, we get busy, rushed, and tired. We read emails we intend to reply to, but then forget to do so. We occasionally send emails, when we should pick up the phone.
In my world, a good communicator is not someone who always communicates perfectly.
A good communicator who practices effective communication in the workplace is someone who:
- Cares about people and consistently works to communicate in the way others need.
- Asks for and is open to feedback about how s/he impacts people.
- Listens and watches other people’s verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Alters his/her communication style to meet other people’s needs.
- Takes responsibility when things don’t go well.
This week I’m advocating for picking up the phone, even when you want to do everything but, being patient, even when you’re frustrated, and asking questions, versus accusing. And I’m going to admit, I’m working to do these things too. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I don’t. I’m in the trenches with you, working to say and do the right things every day.
I promised you five tips to practice effective communication in the workplace and to be generous with people:
- Only call people when you have adequate time, attention, and patience to have whatever conversation needs to be had.
- If you need a few days to return a call, say so. Let the person know when you’ll call.
- Prepare for conversations. Plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
- Don’t have hard conversations when you’re frustrated, tired, or busy. They won’t go well.
- If the conversation goes poorly, call back later and clean it up.
Being a good communicator doesn’t mean being perfect. It means caring enough to notice when you miss the mark, cleaning up your messes, and working to do it better next time. I’ll be working on the above recommendations too this week. And when I screw it up, you can be assured that my mistakes will become examples in our training programs of what not to do, followed by a new technique that will hopefully work for all of us.
It’s the time of year when people start to evaluate the last year and plan for the next. As I do my own planning, I watch myself repeatedly doing things that will never allow me to reach my personal and professional goals.
I want to get more sleep, but I lie in bed playing with my iphone long after I should be asleep. I want to be in better shape, but I find every reason not to work out. I want to do more local work, but I don’t pursue work in Denver. Who in Colorado wants to hire me to speak or do some training? Ok, back on track.
To have something different, we need to do something different, and that often means giving something up. Letting go of a habit or pattern is challenging. There’s a reason we do what we do. Our habits provide something – comfort, distraction, fun, etc. If you’ve ever done a ropes course or graduated to a more challenging ski run, you know you need to let go of what feels secure to get to the next level. And letting go can be scary and difficult. But if we don’t let go, we get stuck where we are.
Make a list of things you want that you don’t have now. Perhaps you want to:
- Learn a new skill or take on a new responsibility at work
- Buy a house
- Save more money
- Be in better shape
- Pursue a hobby
Then I’d ask, what do you need to give up (aka stop doing) to have what you want?
You need to do something differently, or you would already have what you want. Doing something differently could be as simple as telling someone who can help you get what you want. We often tell our coworkers and friends what we need to be happy in our job, but we don’t always tell the people who can help us get what we want.
If you want a different job, tell someone in your organization who can help you get what you want. Then create a plan with actions you’ll take, milestones, dates, and measurable outcomes, and follow up until you attain your goal.
Lastly, accept when you can’t get what you want from a person or organization, grieve, and then make a big change. If you have consistently pursued a role in your organization and in two or three years haven’t moved toward that goal, chances are you won’t get that job at that company. It’s likely you need to leave.
Choosing to leave is often the most difficult decision to make. We work and work on a relationship or situation, and eventually realize, we will never get what we want. That’s a very hard pill to swallow. But if you’re certain you won’t get what you want, despite your efforts, move on.
Five Steps to Reaching Your Goals – Ask Yourself:
Reaching your goals #1: What do I want that I don’t have now?
Reaching your goals #2: What do I need to give up in order to have what I want?
Reaching your goals #3: Have I made a request of the person/people who can help me get what I want?
Reaching your goals #4: Can the person/people I’ve asked for help assist me, and do they want to do so?
Reaching your goals #5: With persistence and consistency, can I get what I want from this situation, or is it time to move on?
Keys to reaching your goals: Determine what you want; tell someone who can help you get what you want; be consistent and persistent, and be ready to make changes. To have something different, we have to do something different.
Add a comment to the blog about what you’re giving up or doing differently to create the life you want, and we’ll enter you to win a free copy of my book, How to Say Anything to Anyone. And if you already have the book, you can pick a box of Candor Questions of your choosing.
Consider the things other people do that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for.
You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people in our lives will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. Our friends will remember our birthday because how couldn’t they know that’s important to us? And no one will come to our home empty handed for dinner because we would never do that.
If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?
Here are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:
Increasing your job satisfaction tip one: Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip two: Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip three: Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.
Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”
Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and deliver timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”
People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip four: Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.
That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”
Increasing your job satisfaction tip five: Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.
Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”
Job satisfaction and happiness at work (and at home) don’t just happen. The people you live and work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go array. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. But you will get whatever you allow.