Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.
Many people worry about giving feedback because they’re concerned they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.
Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.
When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives you can say almost nothing.
Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.
Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.
How’s how to give feedback you’re apprehensive about:
How to give feedback phrase one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”
How to give feedback phrase two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”
How to give feedback phrase three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”
Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be real.
The most frequent question I’m getting these days is how to manage business relationships virtually. Here is the short answer – talk to people. Pick up the phone. You don’t need to have video calls, if you don’t want to. Showering is a personal choice. You just need to talk to people.
People need human contact. We even need to connect with the people we don’t like – when we work for and with them. Text and email don’t replace talking to people.
We stopped talking to each other long before so many people began working from home. Email has been overused for years. We emailed the people we sat next to at work. We exchanged 20 emails on one topic rather than picking up the phone.
We ask permission to call our friends to catch up. Texting a friend to ask, “Is it ok if I call you tomorrow morning?” is the norm. We exchange 50 texts to determine where and when to meet for lunch.
Maybe people thinking email and texting is easier, less intrusive, faster. Less intrusive, yes. Easier, sometimes. Faster, no.
Call the people you work with. Ask for the best time to call, if you like. Check in on them. Ask how they’re doing. Yes, there may be a crying child or a barking dog in the background. It’s ok. Calls don’t have to be long. People just need contact. They need to know that you care and are ‘in it’ with them. And while you’re on the phone, get questions answered in five minutes rather than with 25 emails.
It’s been eleven months that many people are working from home who would ordinarily go into an office. Some people are content with the fancy-on-the-top, jammies on the bottom video-work life, others are feeling lonely and isolated. Some employees have a private, uninterrupted work setting, others are trying to find a quiet place to participate in meetings while a partner and kids are also at home. Working from home amid distractions and loneliness is tricky and we need to be able to talk about it.
Managers, your employees don’t want to tell you they’re struggling, lonely, distracted, or can’t make certain meetings or deadlines. They want you to think everything is fine, that they’re fine. Who likes to admit to their boss that they can’t keep up or are unhappy at work?
If a manager loves working from home and has a quiet, uninterrupted work environment, it may be easy to miss employees’ challenges. Managers need to cross the line and ask questions they otherwise wouldn’t.
Don’t assume employees are fine. Don’t assume employees will tell you if they’re not. They likely won’t. You need to ask and make it easy and safe to tell you the truth.
Managers, ask employees these questions:
What’s your work environment like?
What constraints are you under?
What’s a realistic work schedule right now?
What do you want me to know?
What do you need?
It may seem like it’s too late to ask. It’s not. It’s never too late. Simply be honest. It could sound something like, “I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing working from home. I want to ask some questions so I can support you. I wish I’d asked before. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Managers who are willing to tell employees they wish they’d done something differently earn loyalty and trust for showing vulnerability and humanity. Strong managers admit mistakes.
If you’re nervous that employees will delve into arenas that are too personal, set parameters for the conversation. It’s ok to set boundaries when asking questions. You could say, “I want to talk about some of the constraints you may be under working from home. I’m sorry I didn’t ask before. Let’s focus on things I can support you with and stay away from items I can’t help with like finances and personal relationships.”
Then be prepared to help employees problem solve. Maybe employees need a different work schedule or different deadlines or deliverables. Maybe employees need help setting expectations with peers and clients around when they can and can’t attend meetings.
Make it safe to talk about how employees are really doing and what they need to be successful in today’s circumstances. Tell employees that you really want to know, you’re sorry you didn’t ask before, and that it’s safe to tell the truth. Then problem solve with employees. And ask the same questions periodically. Make talking about work environment, schedule, and expectations a regular conversation.
Organizations are working hard to retain 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 time off and whether or not leaders attend meetings and respond to emails while they’re ‘off.’ Employees observe the late nights that 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, one of the keys to retaining employees is to communicate expectations. If you’re available while you’re on vacation, but don’t expect 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 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 candidates during the interview process. If working long hours is a criteria for promotion, set that expectation. 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.
When I get an email that has multiple paragraphs I look at it, decide I don’t have time to read it, and close it out, promising to go back to it later when I have more time, which never happens.
Here are a few tips for writing effective emails that are more likely to be read:
Put a specific subject in the subject line that says what the email is about.
This does not include your name. We already know your name.
Ex.: “Meeting” (that’s not specific). Instead try: “Meeting to agree upon February goals.”
Highlight and bold important parts of the email
Limit this practice so what’s bolded and highlighted stands out.
If everything is bold, nothing stands out.
Use the fewest number of words possible
Use links that send readers to relevant information
Offer additional information, if desired
The shorter your emails are, the more likely they are to get read. You can always offer additional information, but readers won’t get to the detail if they never read the email. When it comes to writing effective emails, shorter is better.
Most people hoard feedback. We wait for the right time, aka when we’re comfortable. That time will never come. The right time to give feedback is when something happens or shortly thereafter. Practice the 24-hour rule and the one-week guideline. Give feedback when you’re not upset, but soon after the event occurs, so people remember what you’re talking about.
Most employees feel as if they’re treated unfairly during some portion of a performance appraisal. Employees receive feedback they’ve not previously heard or receive feedback that is unbalanced – overly positive or negative, or the feedback is so vague, employees aren’t sure what to do more, better, or differently.
Meet regularly with your employees. If you never meet one-on-one with employees, start meeting monthly. If you meet monthly, meet twice a month. If you meet twice a month, consider meeting weekly for 10 to 30 minutes.
Below is a one-on-one meeting agenda, which the direct report leads:
What is the employee working on that’s going well?
What is the employee working on that is not going great, but she doesn’t want your help?
What is the employee working on this isn’t going great and she wants your help?
** Give and receive feedback on the work and on your relationship. This will be hard the first few times you do it but will become easier with each successive conversation.
Ask your employee to create a meeting agenda. Take notes during the meeting and keep your notes. The summary of these meetings becomes your annual performance appraisal.
Regardless of whether or not you’re meeting regularly throughout the year, you can only give small pieces of feedback during the appraisal meeting. Discuss three SPECIFIC things the employee did well during the year and three things she should do next year. People can’t focus on more.
Consider how each of your employees should impact your department and your organization’s annual goals. In that context, determine the most important things each employee did to contribute to those goals this past year and what she should have done more, better, or differently? That’s your appraisal. Not more and not less.
During performance appraisals, force yourself to focus on and present ONLY the most important behaviors and outcomes, and your employees will bring the same focus to the ensuing year.
One of the hardest things I ever did was to hire someone to care for my infant son. “Here is the person most important to me in the world. Keep him alive.” I had no idea how difficult it would be to trust a relative stranger so implicitly. And as a result, let’s just say I was not the easiest parent to work for.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wrote sixteen-pages of instructions on how to take care of my kid. And I gave that ‘booklet’ to a nanny with much more childcare experience than I had. When I heard my son crying, I would tell myself not to walk into the room and check on him, knowing it undermined the nanny, but I did it anyway. When the nanny sent me an update of when my son last ate, I replied telling her when he should eat again, even though I knew she already knew that. Yes, I really did these things.
Each time I over instructed, monitored, and advised, I regretted it. I knew micromanaging our nanny made me difficult to work with, which is not how I wanted to be. It reminds me of a comment an old boss said to me after we interviewed a candidate for a job together. He said, “Shari, your job as the interviewer is to make the candidate feel comfortable and ensure she leaves feeling good, regardless of how well or poorly she interviewed.” During the interview, my face must have said anything but, “I want you to feel comfortable and you’re doing a great job.” His words stuck with me and I was reminded of them each time I over managed our nanny.
Many people attend training on how to manage others. I’d suggest we also look at how we manage ourselves. How does working with you make people feel? Do your questions, requests, and interactions make people feel more self-confident and valued, or do people feel questioned and undermined? Do you pick your battles? Do you give just enough direction but not so much as to squelch the other person’s ideas, initiative, and spirit, especially when the stakes are high?
As you know, I’m evaluating how I do these things too. We are always a work in progress.
Here are four ways to build confidence in the people you work with:
Build Confidence 1: Ask people for their ideas and implement those ideas whenever possible. And if you aren’t open to others’ ideas, don’t ask for them. It’s better not to ask for ideas than to ask when you’re really not interested.
It’s not easy to admit when we’re overwhelmed and need help. In fact, it’s such a hard thing to say that instead of asking for help, most of us either work harder or longer or job hunt. Admitting work overload isn’t a weakness and it isn’t bad. It’s all in how you handle it.
If you find yourself with work overload and you aren’t sure what to do, consider taking these four steps.
Eliminate work overload step one: Every time you find yourself doing something that someone else could and should do, write it down, including how much time the task took. Doing this will create awareness of how much time you spend doing things that may not be the best use of your skills and experience. Then work with whomever you need to in your organization to align that work where it belongs. This practice isn’t to make you sound like an entitled prima donna. It’s an entrepreneurial way to approach your work.
The business owner’s mantra is, “If I can pay someone less than I get paid to do something, I should do that.” Consider how you can apply that practice to your workplace, without appearing to be someone who won’t ‘wash windows.’ Meaning, you don’t want to be or appear to be someone who isn’t willing to do grunt work. Every job has it. But those tasks shouldn’t be where you spend most of your time unless your job description and annual goals say so.
Eliminate work overload step two: Watch out for and eliminate time suckers. This includes people, problems, and processes. If you find yourself in meetings all day long, consider which meetings you don’t really need to attend or send someone else on your team. If someone in your organization calls you daily to have personal conversations, tell the person, “I’d love to talk with you and I’m working under a deadline. Can we catch up later?”
Eliminate work overload step three: Sometimes doing 110% percent isn’t important. Notice when you’re doing more than you need to and when that additional work doesn’t add significant value. I.e., you put together an elaborate PowerPoint presentation and then spent five more hours printing and stuffing folders to mail to coworkers’ homes. Next time, focus on the content and worry less about the aesthetics.
Eliminate work overload step four: Lastly, know when and how to ask for help. The last organization where I worked, before starting Candid Culture, was very fast-paced and lean. I worked all the time and consistently felt overwhelmed. I eventually went to my boss to ask for help. I made a list of everything I was working on and asked him to rate each item based on how important he saw the project/task. He put an “A” next to the things that needed to get done first, a “B” next to the things that came next, and a “C” next to the things that were the least important. He told me to do the A’s first, then the B’s, and if I got to the C’s, great, if not, no problem.
The meeting was eye-opening for me. I assumed he thought everything on my list was an “A” and that left me stressed with an inability to prioritize. Hearing how he perceived my workload reduced my anxiety and gave me permission to ease up on projects I’d previously considered timely.
Don’t suffer in silence. But do approach reducing work overload in a positive way. Rather than whining to your boss and coworkers, end conversations that you know are a time drain, limit work that doesn’t add significant value, and ask for help prioritizing when you can’t do it for yourself.
I’ve heard lots of people say they just want 2020 to be over and that 2020 has been a bad year. It’s definitely been a very different and difficult year. I’m right there with you – virtual school, no childcare, not seeing family or friends, and doing three jobs because everyone in our office is working virtually. And part of being powerful is creating fun and choosing happiness regardless of the circumstances.
Here are some ideas for creating fun and happiness, regardless of the circumstances. If you read last week’s blog, some of this will sound familiar.
Connect with people you haven’t talked to in a while. Call, texting isn’t the same.
Friends from high school, college, and graduate school
Cousins and siblings
Here are a few ways to take care of yourself during the workday:
Listen to music.
Eat breakfast or lunch instead of skipping a meal.
Text a friend when you have down time.
Walk outside to take a break.
Catch the last of your city’s holiday activities. Do things five-year-old’s think are fun. They’re fun for adults too.
Is your city’s Zoo lit up for the holidays? Bring hot chocolate and go.
Are your city’s botanic gardens or downtown lit up? Are there drive-through light shows?
Find a place to toast marsh mellows and make s’mores. Hotels are often lit up and have outdoor fire pits.
Drive or walk and see your neighbor’s lights.
Decorate cookies, cupcakes and gingerbread houses. Seriously, it’s fun! If you email me, I’ll send you photos of our masterpieces. If you have kids, give up what the gingerbread house is ‘supposed to look like’ and let the kids do their thing (this is challenging for me).
Do something you enjoy every day. Keep it simple and cheap. Here are a few from my life:
Listen to music. Maybe go crazy and have a spontaneous dance party.
Order food from a favorite restaurant. I’ll admit that sometimes we have breakfast delivered.
Go for a walk or hike.
Do something you’ve never done. We’re trying snowmobiling this week.
Drive someplace beautiful.
Watch a movie you haven’t seen.
Lastly, what’s a bad habit you can stop doing, for one day. Don’t over commit. Mine are below:
Opening emails, promising I’ll reply, only to have the email get buried and forgotten.
Surfing Facebook and the internet at night.
Eating whatever my kid doesn’t finish.
Checking my phone (way more than necessary).
There are lots of ways to have fun regardless of the circumstances – from seeing lights, to reconnecting with old friends, to taking care of ourselves, and stopping a bad habit, just for one day.
Have a wonderful rest of the year! We are grateful for the many organizations that invested in virtual training and keynote speaking this year. We’ve loved working with all of you and hope to see you virtually or in person next year.
We wish you a Happy New Year and powerful start to 2021!
Maybe you’re not flying to see your family, celebrating the holidays with the people you otherwise would, or taking that big vacation. This year’s holidays will look different from other years, but they can still be fun. Below are some simple and free ways to have fun this holiday season, whether you’re working or off.
Do things five-year-old’s think are fun. They’re fun for adults too.
Is your city’s Zoo lit up for the holidays? Bring hot chocolate and go. Ride the train and the carousel if they have one, yes, even without kids.
Are your city’s botanic gardens or other gardens lit up?
Is your downtown lit up?
Are there drive-through light shows?
Drive or walk and see your neighbor’s lights.
Decorate cookies and gingerbread houses. Seriously, it’s fun! If you email me, I’ll send you photos of our masterpieces. If you have kids, give up what the gingerbread house is ‘supposed to look like’ and let the kids do their thing (this is challenging for me).
Moving on to day-to-day happiness, when is the last time you did things you enjoy? Keep it simple and cheap. Here are a few from my life:
Listen to music
Go out for ice cream
Ride my bike
Go to the mountains or some other beautiful spot
Read a book
Call people you haven’t talked to in a while. Yes, call. Texting isn’t the same.
Friends from high school, college, and graduate school
Cousins and siblings
If you’re working over the holidays, below are a few ways to take care of yourself during the workday:
Walk around your neighborhood or house for a short break
Listen to music
Eat breakfast or lunch instead of skipping a meal
Text a friend when you have down time
Walk outside to take a break
Five minutes of yoga
Lastly, what’s a bad habit you can stop doing, for one day. Don’t over commit. Mine are below:
Surfing Facebook and the internet at night
Eating whatever my kid doesn’t finish
Eating the remaining Halloween candy when my kid isn’t looking
Texting when I should be working or sleeping
Checking my phone (way more than necessary)
There are lots of ways to have fun this holiday season – from seeing lights, to reconnecting with old friends, to taking care of ourselves and stopping a bad habit, just for one day.
We wish you and your family a warm wrap-up to 2020 and a very different 2021. Happy Holidays from all of us at Candid Culture.