Who have you fired lately? The person who cuts your hair or lawn? A doctor, accountant, or restaurant where you had a bad experience? Did you call any of those providers and tell them why you were replacing them? My hunch is no. There’s little incentive to do so. Why risk their defensiveness? It’s easier to just replace them. And the same is true for you.
There’s little incentive for the people you work with to tell you when you frustrate them. The perceived cost seems too high. The people you work (and live) with have experienced others’ defensive responses to negative feedback (which is no fun) and they don’t want to experience your reaction. As a result, when you disappoint or frustrate others, it’s easier to say nothing than tell you the truth.
The tendency for others to tell you things are fine when they’re not will prevent you from managing your career and relationships. People will go missing and/or you’ll be passed over for professional opportunities and never know why.
To make it more likely that people will tell you when you disappoint or frustrate them, make it easy to tell you the truth.
Here are seven practices for receiving feedback:
Receiving Feedback Practice #1: When you begin new relationships, tell people you want their feedback.
Receiving Feedback Practice #2: Promise that no matter what people say, you’ll respond with “thank you.” This is very hard to do.
Receiving Feedback Practice #3: Tell people you already have relationships with that if you haven’t said it in the past, you really want their feedback and promise to respond graciously with “thank you.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #4: Ask people who matter to you for feedback regularly.
Receiving Feedback Practice #5: Resist the urge to get defensive.
Receiving Feedback Practice #6: Catch yourself when you start to become defensive and apologize. Say something like, “I’m getting defensive. I’m sorry. Tell me again. I’ll do a better job of listening.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #7: Take a break from conversations during which you find yourself responding defensively. Say something like, “I’m not responding as well as I’d like. How about we take a break? Give me a few minutes (hours or days) and I’ll come back to you to talk more. I really want to hear what you have to say.”
The aforementioned list provides recommendations for asking for and receiving feedback you want, not feedback you don’t. You are not a dumping ground. Don’t ask for feedback you don’t want. And when you do ask for feedback, qualify what type of feedback you’re looking for. Telling people “I want your feedback” doesn’t mean they’re welcome to say whatever they want.
The purpose of asking for feedback and making it safe to tell the truth is to give you more control over your career and relationships. It’s ok to be passed over for opportunities and relationships, but it’s unhelpful not to know why.
Most of us grapple with whether or not we should give feedback when someone else does or says something frustrating.
Here are a few criteria to help you decide whether or not you should give feedback or say nothing:
Do you have a relationship with the person? Do you know each other well enough to share your opinion? Aka, have you earned the right?
Has the other person requested your opinion? Unsolicited feedback often goes on deaf ears.
If the other person has not requested your opinion, does he appear open to hearing feedback?
Are you trying to make a difference for the other person or just make him look or feel badly?
Do you want to strengthen the relationship?
Before you give feedback, do something I call, ‘check your motives at the door.’ If your motives are pure – you want to strengthen the person or the relationship, and you have a good enough relationship that you’ve earned the right to speak up — then do it.
People are more open to feedback when they trust our motives. If we have a good relationship with the person and he knows we’re speaking up to make a difference for him or for the relationship, you’ll be able to say way more than if your motives are questionable – aka you want to be right.
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.
Most people wait way too long to give feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That day will not come.
Instead of waiting to give feedback until you’re about to explode in frustration, or until a formal review, give feedback every time you meet with someone.
Managers, make it a practice to meet with each of your employees at least once a month. Twice a month or weekly would be better. But if you’re not doing one-on-one meetings now, start meeting monthly. If you’re meeting monthly, start meeting twice a month. Employees need face time with their boss. Team meetings and casual conversations do not replace individual meetings.
Direct Report One-on-One Meeting Agenda:
The direct report comes to the meeting ready to discuss:
1. What she’s working on that is going well.
2. What she’s working on that is not going well.
3. What she needs help with.
4. Then the manager gives feedback on what went well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
5. And the employee gives the manager feedback on what has gone well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
Feedback goes both directions. Managers, if you want your employees to be open to your feedback, ask for feedback from your employees on what they need from you. Give feedback on both the work and your working relationship. A poor working relationship often motivates employees to leave a job, but it’s the last thing that gets discussed.
Feedback discussions should be short. You can say anything in two minutes or fewer. No one wants to be told she isn’t cutting it for 20 minutes. Say what you need to say and end the conversation or move on to another topic.
If you’re not giving your employees regular feedback, you can use this language to start:
“I’m realizing that I’m not giving you enough feedback. I want to be helpful to you. If I don’t provide regular, timely feedback, I’m not being as helpful as I could be. I’d like to start a regular practice of meeting monthly, getting an update from you on how things are going, and giving each other feedback on what went well and what could be improved since our last meeting.”
If you work for someone who is not forthcoming with feedback, ask for feedback. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Don’t wait for your manager, customers or peers to give you feedback. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
Here’s how you can ask for feedback from your manager:
“Your feedback helps ensure I’m focused on the right work. Can we put a monthly meeting on the calendar, and I’ll tell you what I’m working on, where I do and don’t need help, and we can discuss how things are going?”
If meetings get cancelled, reschedule them. If your manager says these meetings aren’t necessary or she doesn’t have time, tell her, “Your regular input is helpful to me. What’s the best way to ensure we catch each other for a few minutes each month?” Meaning, push the issue.
If your manager still doesn’t make time for the meetings or doesn’t provide clear and specific feedback, even when you ask for examples, ask your internal and external customers and coworkers for feedback. The people you work closely with see you work and will likely give feedback, if asked.
No news is not necessarily good news. Waiting six months or a year to receive performance feedback is like going on a road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles but not consulting a map until you arrive in New York, frustrated and far from your desired destination.
Managers: Meet with employees monthly, semi-monthly or weekly, and give feedback every time you meet.
Employees: Ask your managers, customers, and coworkers for regular feedback, and take control of your career.
Last week I was at an event where no one sat with the CEO. The whole organization was present, and the CEO’s table was empty. What a career advancement missed opportunity for the people who work for this company.
Perhaps no one likes the CEO, or employees are afraid of him, or employees are concerned they’ll get labeled as a suck up for sitting with him. None of these reasons are legit.
The CEO is just a regular person. S/he puts her pants on just like you do every day.
Most employees have limited exposure to their organization’s most senior leaders. Don’t miss an opportunity to build business relationships with your organization’s senior leaders.
Here are four career advancement strategies:
Career advancement strategy #1: Senior leaders have very limited access to most employees. Most will make quick decisions about employees with the limited access they have. If you’re at a meeting with a senior leader, speak up (provided you have something useful to say). If you don’t speak up, when appropriate, you might be (unfairly) labeled as having little to offer.
Career advancement strategy #2: If you’re at an event with senior leaders, talk and/or sit with them! It’s not necessarily a chance to wave the flag for your favorite cause or company initiative. It is a chance to get to know these folks and have them get to know you.
Career advancement strategy #3: Be less afraid. Tell the truth, tactfully. Be careful not to insult someone or something, and speak up more.
Most employees are afraid of being fired and are convinced that if they offer a counter point-of-view they’ll be at worst fired and at best marginalized and never given another cool project. I haven’t found that to be true.
It’s not so easy to get fired in this country. People who don’t do a lot of work or who do mediocre work are often not fired. And you’re worried about being fired for speaking up? Pick your battles, be wise about how you voice concerns and ideas, and worry less.
Career advancement strategy #4: Suggest solutions to problems. People who talk only about problems but don’t offer to do anything about those problems are seen as annoying complainers. Offer to be the person who spearheads the solution. Don’t worry about if it’s your job. Just don’t step on others’ toes in the process.
You make your career happen, no one else. You can talk with your coworkers and friends all day. Don’t miss opportunities to get to know the key decision makers in your organization. Fear less. Talk more.
Last week I was on plane and the woman in back of me kicked the back of my seat throughout the flight. It made me nutty. The guy next to her talked so loudly, I’m pretty sure the people six rows in front and behind him could hear the conversation. And no one said anything.
Many of us don’t return food in restaurants that isn’t good. We often say nothing when people drop the ball and make mistakes. We replace ineffective vendors and service providers rather than tell them where they’re falling short.
People usually claim they aren’t giving feedback because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, think the person is not likely to change, or because they’re not sure if their complaint is valid. I don’t buy most of these reasons.
I think the real reason we aren’t giving feedback is because we don’t want to deal with the other person’s reaction. We are concerned – often rightly so – that the person will kill us off. We will be given the cold shoulder, excluded from projects, or thrown under the bus.
You may be wondering why I, who wrote a book called How to Say Anything to Anyone and who teaches other people to give feedback, didn’t speak up on the plane last week. I too have been trained to pick my battles and that if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. Each day I also grapple with when to speak up and when to let things go.
The concern over giving feedback will get better if the people in our lives – personal and professional relationships – agree it’s ok to tell the truth and agree that there will not be negative consequences for doing so. Open and direct conversations will be had. Disagreements will be discussed and resolved as best they can. And when the conversation is over, it’s over. People can’t hold the conversation over your head or hold a grudge.
It would be difficult to agree to open and honest communication with the people who sit behind you on planes, but you certainly can make that agreement in your office and with your family and friends. Agreeing to tell the truth without consequence can be one of your organization’s values and a practice you establish in your personal relationships.
You can hire people who understand they are expected to speak candidly and then let disagreements go. And you can manage people who don’t speak up, who hold grudges, and who punish people for giving feedback. You can tell friends and family that you want candid relationships in which challenges are dealt with quickly and then the disagreement is over.
Making the request for open and honest communication and assuring people there will be no negative consequence for doing so is the differentiator between being able to speak up when you’re frustrated or say nothing.
Keeping with the theme of happiness and well-being during this holiday season, I’m hoping you’ll steer clear of the people and things that don’t make you feel good.
If you have a friend who talks only about herself, even after you’ve repeatedly given her this feedback, perhaps stop hanging out with her.
If you have a habit that you know isn’t in your best interest, perhaps break it.
The suggestions above are hard to do, but even harder is navigating relationships with people you can’t avoid. These are the people who when they show up on your caller ID, you often think, “not today,” and let the call go to voicemail.
Here are eight techniques for managing challenging relationships and conflict resolution in the workplace:
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #1: Know that there are difficult people in every organization. You can leave your job to get away from the person who makes you crazy. But I promise you, he will be waiting for you at the next organization in a different body.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #2: Don’t ignore challenging relationships and expect things to get better without your intervention. They won’t. Deal with strained relationships head on.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #3: Work on relationships in person or over the phone, not via email.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #4: The time to fix a relationship is when there’s nothing wrong. Have hard conversations when things in your relationship are calm and you’re not upset, otherwise the conversations are likely to quickly escalate.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #5: Give people the benefit of the doubt. People are doing the best they can. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #6: Let the other person save face. The more critical we are, the more the other person will feel compelled to defend himself. It’s almost impossible to have a useful conversation with someone who is in defense mode.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #7: Ask for what you want. Rather than telling people everything they do wrong, make requests. That could sound something like, “Would you be willing to talk with me directly when my team is frustrating your team? I’ll do everything I can to make things right.” Or, “If you need something from me that you’re not getting, will you give me a call? I’d rather hear about challenges directly from you than from someone else.”
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Technique #8: Be vulnerable. If you want a better relationship with someone, tell her. If a relationship is strained or broken, chances are, the other person knows. You could say something like, “I think we both know this relationship is strained. I want you to know that I’d really like a good working relationship with you. If you’d like to get together for lunch or coffee and talk about what has gone on, I’d really like that. Perhaps we can start in a new way.”
If you don’t want to be that direct, perhaps considering saying something like, “I just want you to know that I really want a good working relationship with you. What can I do to ensure you and your department get what you need from me? What’s one change I can make that would make the biggest difference for you?”
Damaged and strained relationships won’t get better without your intervention. Ask for what you want. Be positive, be yourself, and be honest. And if the person doesn’t play ball with you, you’ll know that you’ve done what you can.
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.
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.