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Business Communication Archive

Giving and Receiving Feedback – You Are Not a Doormat

People sometimes leave feedback training confused. Armed with the skills to be candid, they think they have the right to say anything they want. Not the case. Feedback isn’t a weapon or a license to barf your opinion on people. Unsolicited and unwelcome feedback is like fish you left on your counter top for too long. It stinks.

You have the right to ask for and accept the feedback you want and reject the feedback you don’t, from peers and customers. Help people know the difference byGiving and Receiving Feedback providing clear parameters on what type of input you do and don’t want. You are not a dumping ground.

Follow these steps to manage the feedback you get from others:

Giving and receiving feedback tip one:  Don’t ask for feedback because you think you’re supposed to. There are lots of leadership books and training programs that tell leaders to be open to and ask for others’ input. Only ask for input you want. If you’ve made a decision or don’t want others’ input, don’t ask for it. While you might get more buy in by asking people for their input on decisions that impact them, you’re allowed to decide without forming a committee.

Giving and receiving feedback tip two:  When you ask for input, be very specific about the type of input you want. Guide people. Tell them, “I’m specifically looking for input on ____________.  I’m not looking for input on ____________.” And if you still receive unwanted feedback, remind people about the input you are and aren’t looking for. In the spirit of being helpful, people can overstep their bounds.

Giving and receiving feedback tip three:  Don’t be afraid to shut people down who provide unsolicited feedback. The words, “Thank you for your concern. I’m not looking for input on that at this time” will do the trick. Yes, you really can say that.

Giving and receiving feedback tip four:  Don’t take feedback personally. While most people don’t think about it in this way, giving feedback subtly tells you that you’re doing something wrong, or at least not how the other person would do it. There are lots of ways to skin a cat. Their way may or may not be better than yours. To “skin a cat” is a terrible expression, by the way.

Giving and receiving feedback tip five:  Trust yourself. You likely know what you want to do a lot of the time. If you find yourself asking for input when you know what you want to do, stop asking. Listen to your gut and decide.

Feedback has a time and a place. I ask for and listen to a lot of feedback, but not all the time and not about everything. If I listened to everything everyone in my life suggested, I wouldn’t own a business or have a baby. Sometimes you know best.

Giving and receiving feedback

 


Setting Expectations Leads to Greater Happiness

When I had knee surgery a bunch of years ago, the surgeon told me, “I didn’t fix your knee. I altered it.” He was trying to set the expectation that my knee wouldn’t be perfect, it would be different.

Setting expectations

Violated expectations are at the root of disappointment, frustration, and broken relationships. We think, “I expect you to do or be a certain way and you’re not, so I’m unhappy.” If you want to be more satisfied and less frustrated, change your expectations. I don’t mean lower your expectations. I really do mean change them.

When I had a baby, I had no idea how difficult it would be to have someone I barely knew (our first nanny) take care of my son. It was tortuous until I got the sage advice, “You’re not going to get everything you want. Pay attention to the big things and be ok with good enough.” That’s hard for me. I have high standards and I want things done a certain way (my way). But I also don’t want to do everything myself. So I find myself altering my expectations and being ok with good enough. And it’s very, very difficult.

You likely want each of your employees, coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors to do things a certain way. Sometimes they’ll meet those expectations and sometimes they won’t. Decide what you must have, communicate those expectations (repeatedly if necessary), and let the rest go.

Here are four steps for setting expectations at work:

Setting expectations step one: Consider everything you need or want from a person. Make a list, even if it’s just for you.

Setting expectations step two: Determine what that person is capable of providing. What’s realistic given who they are and the constraints they’re under (financial, time, skills, experience, etc.)?

Setting expectations step three: Reset your expectations, if necessary.

Setting expectations step four: Ask for what you want and be specific about your request. Telling someone, “This needs to get better,” will get you nothing. Telling someone, “I’d like to be included in each meeting that relates to this project and cc’d on all pertinent emails,” may just get you what you need.

As William Ury said in his book Getting to Yes, be hard on the problem and easy on the person. When you address violated expectations, simply share what you expected to have happen and what actually did happen. That could sound like, “I thought we agreed I would be invited to each meeting pertaining to this client. There was a meeting last week I wasn’t invited to. What happened?” Watch your tone of voice when asking this question. Be neutral and curious.

Changing your expectations will likely be a daily occurrence. People won’t necessarily do things your way or even in the way you hoped. Decide what you must have, and let the rest go. Just think of all the time and aggravation you’ll save.

setting expectations


Being Introverted – You’re at A Disadvantage

I’ve wanted to be an introvert my whole life. It’s going poorly. Introverts think, then speak. What an amazing quality. Extroverts, like me, wake uintrovertedp talking and then spend much of the day apologizing for what we’ve said.

While I covet introverts’ thoughtful communication style, they are at a disadvantage. The people we work with are busy and have limited exposure to coworkers. As a result, others judge us very quickly. If we don’t speak up in meetings or find another way to express our thoughts, people are likely to think we have little to offer. Regardless of your communication style, if you want people to know the value you provide, find a way to share it.

You can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t become a different person to get ahead at work. You have to be yourself. Trying to be someone you’re not, will be painful, frustrating, and short lived. Rather than trying to become someone or something else, find ways to express yourself within your natural style.

Here are four tips to communicate powerfully as an introvert:

Being introverted communication tip one: If you know you’re hesitant to speak up in a meeting, perhaps share your views with the meeting attendees individually – verbally or in writing – before the meeting happens.

Being introverted communication tip two: Make sure the people who can impact your career know your accomplishments. You don’t need to wear a billboard advertising what you’re doing, sending a monthly list of accomplishments and priorities to your boss and boss’s boss (clear this with your boss first) will do the trick.

Being introverted communication tip three: Find your own way of talking about what you think is important. Maybe your conversations will be over lunch with one or two people. Perhaps you’ll periodically email key people with ideas. The point is to find a way to express yourself that resonates with your personal style. Don’t keep all your ideas to yourself.

Being introverted communication tip four: Push yourself to speak up in meetings more than you might naturally be inclined to do so. Being prepared will help you speak up.

Know what’s on meeting agendas. When you feel strongly about a topic, prepare what you want to say. Take notes and consider practicing out loud. Do whatever you need to to feel comfortable expressing yourself in front of a group. And if speaking up in a meeting feels too uncomfortable, remember, people who don’t get a lot of exposure to you are evaluating you based on your contributions during meetings. Find a way to make your views known.

introverted


Give Employee Feedback Better and Be Heard

The normal, natural reaction to negative feedbemployee feedbackack is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.

Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.

Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.

While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.

Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.

Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.

Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.

Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.

Employee feedback practice five: 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.

Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.

Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.

Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.

Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.

Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.

You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.

employee feedback


Running Effective Meetings – Suffering Is Optional

Running effective meetings is hard. It takes courage. Who wants to tell their boss, peers, and customers to put away their phones, stop side talking, and laser their communication? No one. But if you don’t manage ‘bad’ meeting behavior, you look bad and you won’t get the results you want. running effective meetings

If you run meetings, work with the meeting participants to set expectations everyone agrees to follow. Standard meeting guidelines for running effective meetings include not side talking, putting away or silencing electronics, tabling tangents, not interrupting others, speaking succinctly, etc. You can set any behavior guidelines you like as long as the meeting participants agree to those expectations. Ask meeting participants what behavior guidelines they want to follow. The more control you give people, the more buy in you’ll get.

Possibly even more frustrating than running a meeting in which participants break all the ‘rules’, is participating in inefficient meetings when you aren’t the facilitator. It’s difficult to sit through a poorly run meeting feeling there isn’t anything you can do to make it better.

Luckily, there are things you can do to improve the meetings you don’t run. None of my suggestions will be comfortable. But think of all the time you’ll save.

Conversation one – running effective meetings: If you want to impact the meetings you attend, approach the facilitator(s), empathize about what a challenging meeting it is to run, tell the person you want to be supportive, and ask if s/he wants to discuss some different ways to manage the meeting. That conversation could sound something like, “Wednesday’s staff meeting is tough to run. I empathize with you. Would you be interested in talking through some different ways to manage participant behavior? I have some ideas and would be happy to discuss. I’d like to be supportive.”

Conversation two – running effective meetings: If you want to be more direct, you could say something like, “Can we talk about Wednesday’s staff meeting? It can’t be an easy meeting to run. I empathize with you. Key decision makers are missing meetings and a few people tend to take over the conversation and take us off track. Can I make a few suggestions that might help? What do you think of working with the group to set some expectations people agree to be managed to and then holding people to those agreements? We can share the facilitation responsibilities by assigning jobs during the meeting – back up facilitator, note taker, time keeper, etc. – so all of the responsibility doesn’t fall to you. What do you think?”

The person running the meetings knows they’re not going well. They just don’t know what to do about it. Offer support. Don’t judge. Be helpful and possibly they’ll be receptive.

The key to running an effective meeting is to set clear expectations people agree to follow and be managed to, hang up and review those expectations at the beginning of every meeting, and speak up when the expectations are violated. All of these things take courage. But meeting participants will be grateful to you for being strong.

running effective meetings


Good Communication Starts with You

You’re talking with someone. He asks a question demonstrating he didn’t understand or hear what you said. You let out an exasperated silent or audible sigh and say, “Like I just said…” Saying “like I just said” or “as I just explained” tells the person that you good communicationthink he’s stupid or doesn’t listen. Both might be true, but saying so won’t help your relationship.

I consider myself reasonably smart. And for the most part, I listen. If I ask a question about something you said, consider the possibility that your explanation wasn’t clear and find a way to rephrase what you said the first time. Resist the temptation to tell me and the people you work with that we’re stupid.

Letting people save face is an art that takes patience, good communication, and the desire to have good relationships.

Here are five good communication tips that will strengthen you relationships versus alienate you from others:

Good communication tip number one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good. People are doing what they know to do.

Good communication tip number two: If someone doesn’t understand what you said, take responsibility for delivering unclear information. It’s easier to change your communication style than alter someone else’s style.

Good communication tip number three: Put your desire to have good business relationships above the desire to be right.

Good communication tip number four: Consider that you may not explain things in the way others learn. Vary your communication methods. Most people don’t learn solely by hearing. Make your explanations hands on and/or visual, and you’ll reach more people.

Good communication tip number five: Bring your patience to work.

It’s tempting to tell people where they’re lacking, but it won’t get you very far. Say what you need to in order to get your point across. And if people are unclear, know the easiest thing is to alter your message. Take the path of least resistance; let people save face.

good communication


Seven Steps to Making an Open Plan Office Work

Many organizations have moved from cubeland to open plan offices in which employees sit in rows of desks with no barriers between them.

open plan officeThere’s considerable research on the workability of open plan offices. Some of what’s written says that introverts do worse than extroverts in an open plan office. I disagree. I’d say that how a person learns/takes in information determines how well she’ll do in an open plan office.

If you’re a visual or kinesthetic learner who learns by seeing or doing, you’ll be less distracted by noise than an auditory learner who learns by hearing. Auditory learners hear everything and are easily distracted by talking, music, and other noise. Visual and kinesthetic learners often don’t hear distractions, so they do better in an open plan office.

Here are seven steps to make an open plan office a more productive environment:

  1. Schedule a meeting during which people sitting together can discuss the working environment they need to be satisfied and productive. Then facilitate a discussion during which the group creates 5 – 7 behavior guidelines each person agrees to follow when at their desks.
  1. Post the list of agreed-upon behaviors on a poster that is large enough to be read from any place in the work environment. Leave the poster up indefinitely.
  1. Give each person in the group permission to talk to individuals who violate the guidelines. This is very, very important. For the most part, employees won’t tell another person she is talking too loudly, eating food that smells, has too many visitors at her desk, listens to music or videos without headphones, or takes phone calls via speaker phone. People will suffer in silence and choose to work from home or in an empty office or conference room rather than speak up about the behaviors that frustrate them. Ask the group to grant each other permission to speak up when guidelines are violated. Giving each other permission to speak up will make future conversations possible – difficult but possible. Without permission and these agreed-upon behaviors in place, people will suffer in silence or talk about each other, not to each other.
  1. Ask everyone in the work group to take feedback graciously, responding with “thank you for telling me,” rather than with defensiveness.
  1. Two weeks after making the list of guidelines, get the group together to review the list and make any necessary changes to it. Discuss behaviors that were omitted, aren’t realistic, and are realistic but aren’t being followed.
  1. Then follow up by facilitating a monthly conversation during which group members give honest feedback about which guidelines are being followed and which are not, and problem solve as a group. These conversations aren’t a chance to embarrass or call people out in a group setting. If one person is violating a guideline, that conversation should happen individually.
  1. You will need a strong facilitator for the group discussions. The facilitator must tease out people’s thoughts, while making sure no one gets blasted in front of the group. Don’t let concerns that you know exist be brushed under the rug. Group members must openly and regularly discuss what is and isn’t working about their work environment, or frustrations will build and unhappiness and dissension will ensue.

It’s not too late to put these practices in place, even with a group who has been sitting together for a long time. Just schedule the conversation and explain why you’re having it. People will be relieved and grateful.

Working in an open plan office is challenging. It requires good communication and compromise. Don’t wait for problems to occur and frustrations to build. Have a conversation today.

Open Office Floor Plan Poster


When Giving Feedback, Less Is More

People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.giving feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.

If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.

You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.

Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:

Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?

Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.

Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?

Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.

Too much feedback sounds like nagging. Most people don’t want to work with their parents.

Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?

It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.

Here are three practices for giving feedback:

  1. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
  2. Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
  3. Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.

Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.

Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what he needs to do differently.

When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what she needs to do differently. Then stop talking and let her save face.

giving feedback


Seven Tips for Taking Time for Yourself

I’m going to admit that I’m terrible at what I’m recommending today – taking time for yourself. Often my weekly blog is something I too am working on, and this week is no exception.

taking time for yourself

Many of you know that I have a small child and run a business. I work, travel, parent, and attempt to cook and keep my house clean.  I’ll admit, I haven’t seen a gym or any form of real exercise since my son was born. I haven’t had lunch with a friend without my son in tow, haven’t seen a movie, and only talk to friends when I’m traveling.

The value of downtime and taking time for yourself is well documented. There is a lot written on the need to take breaks to recharge, rejuvenate, and avoid burn out. The question is how to do so without feeling like something else is getting short shrift.

Here are seven tips for taking time for yourself:

Taking time for yourself tip one: Give yourself permission after a really busy few days or week(s) to take a day and do nothing. If you’ve been on the road for four days or worked really long hours, plan to sleep in on the fifth day. Don’t schedule early morning meetings and a full day. Know that you won’t be productive on day five anyway, so you might as well plan to do very little, which is what you’re likely to do anyway.

Taking time for yourself tip two: Plan a day doing non-work-related things you really want to do. When is the last time you did something you really love to do, just because? You’re more likely to dedicate time off to doing something you love than just lying around. But, if a day of planned recreational activities feels like another ‘to do,’ you’re better off doing nothing and not feeling badly about it.

Taking time for yourself tip three: Plan time to see one or two friends a week. I’ll admit that I have to schedule phone calls to catch up with friends and schedule time to see people I care about. Yes, I admit, this seems wrong. But do whatever it takes. If you have to put lunch or a phone call with a friend in Outlook for it to happen, do it.

Taking time for yourself tip four: Don’t feel badly about taking time off. Many employees don’t take their allotted vacation time – for a variety of reasons. Just do what you need to feel rested and refreshed. Stop judging yourself.

Taking time for yourself tip five: If you take a day off or sleep late, don’t work until two in the morning the next day to compensate. Doing so defeats the purpose and will put you in a hole the next day.

Taking time for yourself tip six: Watch where your time goes when you’re ‘working.’ I know that I squander lots of time while I’m ‘working.’ I allow myself to get distracted reading emails as they come in, texting, and chatting in our office. You could work fewer hours if you reduced these distractions.

Taking time for yourself tip seven: Decide what you really want your life to be about and what’s really important to you. Do you want work to be your focus or do you want an equal balance of friendships, family, and community activities? You likely have what it is that you really want.

If what you really want is a career-centric life, then just admit that and don’t judge yourself for it. But do take enough time off that you are rested, productive, and don’t resent your work.

taking time for yourself


Defensive Behavior – Expect It vs. Avoid It

Most of us avoid giving negative feedback defensive behaviorbecause we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.

Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.

Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:

  1. Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
  2. Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
  3. Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
  4. When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
  5. Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.

What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:

Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”

Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, be assured that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay focused.”

Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else thinks I’m awesome.”

Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________.  Please do that.”

Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”

Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”

Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”

Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”

The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.

Defensive Behavior


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