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How to Say Anything to Anyone by Shari Harley

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Your Mom was Wrong – Speak Up

“If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Most of us grew up hearing these words. Last week I used them with my four-year-old son, and instantly regretted it. He said something hurtful to me and I told him to keep those thoughts to himself.

I want him to keep his thoughts to himself if he doesn’t like a kid at school or doesn’t want to play with someone. Walk away, find another place to play, is often my guidance. But with me? With me I want him to be honest, always, even if it hurts.

Every time we talk with people, we train them how to interact with us. If I tell my son not to tell me the truth, I teach him to protect my emotions and stifle his. I teach him I’m not strong enough to handle the truth and that I’m someone who needs protecting. I teach him that he can’t be honest with me.

Do I want him to be a kind, empathetic person? Yes. Do I want him to measure himself with others, watching what he says and how he says it? Yes. Do I want him to do those things with me? No. I’m the mom. He’s the kid. And that will always be the case, even when he’s 45. I can take whatever he has to say. And if I want to have a real relationship with him, he needs to know that.

Every time we react to what others say, we train them how to interact with us. If you want your coworkers, boss, family and friends to be honest with you, make it easy to tell you the truth. Take in what others say without visibly reacting. Say “thank you” for whatever feedback and input you get, even when you want to say everything but. Take the time to ‘get over’ hard messages and then discuss further, when you’re not angry.

People learn quickly. If we react to suggestions, input, and feedback negatively, people learn that we can’t take challenging data and they stop giving it to us. I don’t want to be the person the people I care about are afraid to talk with because my reaction is just too hard to deal with.

Should you care about everyone’s feedback? No. Should you ask everyone for feedback? No. Should you be open to everyone’s feedback? No. Be open to feedback from the people who matter most to you. Open your heart and your mind. Close your mouth. Even when you want to do everything but. Strengthen your relationships and train people that you can handle the truth.

Note: I know this blog is not what my weekly tip said it would be about. I write the weekly tips before the blog and this blog just went a different direction. Everything I write is inspiration driven. I’ll write about the courage to speak up in a future week. 


Be Careful What You Ask For – Protect Your Reputation

We’ve all heard the expression, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” But what if it can and does?

While it’s true that you won’t get what you don’t ask for, it’s also true that requests help form others’ impressions of us. Some asks may seem high maintenance and create the impression that we’re difficult to work with. Other requests may create the impression that we’re out of touch or entitled. Be brave in what you ask for but also be judicious and aware of how requests may impact others.

So, what shouldn’t you ask for at work? That’s a hard question to answer. What’s appropriate in one environment may not be ok in another. I’ll provide some guidance for most work environments below.

Don’t ask for anything that requires your boss to break the rules or treat you differently from other employees. This may seem obvious, but I’ve been asked for things that I couldn’t legally provide. A candidate asked me to write her a monthly check towards her personal health insurance plan versus her participating in our company-sponsored health insurance plan. It’s an innocent request but put me in a very awkward position and I said no.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to follow when making requests:

Don’t ask for or take time off during the busiest times of the year. Ask your boss what those busy times are and then plan accordingly.

Don’t ask for exceptions unless you’re desperate – being paid in advance to cover unforeseen personal expenses, time off you haven’t earned, unless It’s regularly permitted in your company, using company resources for personal use. All of these may seem acceptable in the moment, but if they make your boss bend or break the rules, they’ll likely make you look bad too.

Be brave. Be bold. And be careful what you ask for. Your reputation is more important than a request that feels important right now but will be insignificant by next year.


Stop Being Silent – Speak Up

My four-year-old son Grayson likes to narrate. He gives instructions to people he doesn’t know, tries to be “helpful” and keeps everyone informed.

Today we rode a miniature train Grayson has ridden many times. He has the instructions memorized. “Keep your arms and legs inside the train. Stay seated while the train is in motion, etc. etc.” While we were waiting to ride the train he informed everyone standing in line of the rules. The other parents were patient and indulged him, smiling and asking questions. When we got on the train Grayson continued to give instructions, and I became embarrassed.  Self-conscious that my son was irritating other passengers, I told him to be quiet. He looked at me and wisely asked, “Why are you shushing me?” And then I was even more embarrassed.

He was right to ask. Why, indeed, was I shushing him?

Before I had children, I always hoped my child would be one of those kids who wore superhero costumes everywhere, who didn’t care what anyone thought, who was unabashedly himself. And I wondered, at what age do kids become self-conscious? When do they begin to lose this level of self-expression? And then I had one answer, when adults tell them to.

I imposed an old ‘rule’ on my son, “children are meant to be seen and not heard.” Sit quietly. Don’t stand out and don’t inconvenience others.

Where are you sitting silent, stifling your views? What do you know a lot about, but keep your skills or expertise under wraps? When do you have a solution or a better way to approach a problem, but you don’t share?

Share your ideas. Do it in a way that doesn’t tell others they are wrong. It’s ok to have the answer. You can be right without being righteous. It’s ok to speak up.


Say No to the Empathy Sandwich – Giving Effective Feedback

No one likes giving people negative feedback. Giving negative feedback often makes both the feedback deliverer and the recipient feel badly. To make everyone feel better, we dress negative feedback up with pickles and relish, otherwise known as The Empathy Sandwich.

The Empathy Sandwich in action: “You’re doing really great. Now you did almost cost the company $50,000, but in general, things are going great.”  

The Empathy Sandwich is plain wrong, wrong, wrong. It leaves people unclear, wondering if there is a problem. Instead of softening negative feedback with positive platitudes on both ends, tell people you’ll be providing positive and negative feedback as things happen and then separate both types of feedback.

Here’s how you can set the expectation that you’ll be providing balanced feedback:

Giving feedback to people you manage: “As your manager, my job is to help you be successful. As a result, I’ll tell you what I see, as I see it. I’ll give you both positive and upgrade (negative) feedback in a timely way. Because if I don’t, you’ll learn nothing from working with me.”

Paving the way to give feedback to peers and those at a higher level:  “We see each other work and are in a unique position to provide each other with feedback. If you see me do something really great or not so great, I’d like to know. I promise to be receptive.”

Delivering feedback and avoiding The Empathy Sandwich:  When you give feedback separate the positive from the negative. You could say something like, “I want to talk about a few things today. Here are some things that are going well… Now, I also have something to talk with you about that is not going as well… After you deliver the negative feedback, say something like,  “I know there is a tendency to dwell on negative feedback. I want to remind you of the positive things we talked about today.”

People can handle negative feedback. They won’t quit if you’re honest about their performance. They will likely become defensive and get upset for a time. That’s ok! Your job when giving feedback is to be clear, timely and specific. Worry about your delivery. Ensure you have the relationship to deliver the feedback. Don’t worry so much about the response.


Improve Employee Performance – Get What You Want at Work

How many times have you been sitting at your desk wondering, “Why won’t he ___________ ?’ Perplexed, you talk with your buddy at work. The conversation goes something like, “I’ve got this person, and I can’t figure out why he won’t ______________.” Or perhaps you talked directly to the person, but after several conversations, he still hasn’t done what you asked him to do.

employee performance

There are four reasons for a lack of employee performance and why people don’t do what you want them to do:

  1. They don’t know how.
  2. They don’t think they know how.
  3. They can’t.
  4. They don’t want to.

Reason number one for a lack of employee performance, they don’t know-how, is the easiest to solve. People who don’t know how to do something need training, coaching, a mentor, a job aid or some other form of instruction. The hope is that with the right training and exposure, he will be able to do what you’re asking.

Reason number two for a lack of employee performance, they don’t think they know how, can be improved over time with patience and consistent coaching. You aren’t working with clean slates. Most people are recovering from or reacting to a past relationship or situation. If a person worked for a controlling manager who never let him make a decision or worked for someone who invoked punitive consequences for making mistakes, the person will be hesitant to make decisions. Hence why he does drive-bys on you, repeatedly checking in, but never pulling the trigger on anything.

If you work with someone who doesn’t think he knows what to do, but you know that he has the answer, encourage him to trust himself. When he comes to you for validation or approval, ask questions, don’t give answers. Tell the person you trust his judgment and encourage risk-taking. Tell him that you’ll support his decision, even if it proves to be the wrong one. And encourage him to make the decision next time without consulting you. And then keep your word. If he makes the wrong call, you have to have his back and can’t invoke negative consequences.

Reason number three for a lack of employee performance, they can’t, is challenging but clear-cut. People who can’t do a task their brains aren’t wired for will never do that responsibility well, regardless of how much coaching, training, and assistance you provide. If you have repeatedly AND EFFECTIVELY, coached, trained, and provided support, remove that responsibility and give the person something he can do well. If that responsibility is a large part of the job, you have someone in the wrong job. It’s time to make a change.

Reason number four for a lack of employee performance, they don’t want to, is annoying but manageable. There are lots of reasons people don’t do things they don’t want to do. Those reasons include, but aren’t limited to, boredom, lack of buy-in as to why something is important, insufficient time, feeling like a task is beneath them, etc. If you’ve got someone who can but doesn’t want to do something, you can either take the responsibility away, incent him to do it, or give feedback EVERY TIME the task doesn’t get done.

Giving negative feedback isn’t fun for the giver or the receiver. No one wants to hear that he isn’t meeting expectations and most people don’t want to tell him. But the discomfort of receiving negative feedback EVERY TIME the person doesn’t do what he needs to do will create behavior change. He will either begin doing what you ask, quit, or ask for a transfer. Either way, your problem is solved.

The first step in getting people to do what you want them to do is to discover why they’re not doing what you ask. It’s impossible to appropriately manage employee performance if you don’t know why someone isn’t doing what he needs to do. And the person to ask why a responsibility isn’t getting done isn’t you or your buddy, it’s the person not doing the work. So get out of your head, leave your office, and go talk to the person not doing the work.

Here’s how to start an employee performance conversation:

“I’ve noticed you’re not doing ___________. Help me understand what’s happening.” Watch your tone, inquire from a place of genuine curiosity, and identify the reason he isn’t doing what he needs to do. Then you can intervene appropriately and hopefully get what you want.


Working in a Cubicle – How to Ask Your Coworkers to Quiet Down

Conference calls taken on speakerphone, listening to music without headphones, and a posse of visitors, make people working in an office with an open floor plan want to permanently work from home.

The key to being able to ask your coworkers to move the conversation to a conference room is the same as giving any type of feedback –set expectations and ask for permission to speak candidly.

Quiet at workWorking in an open-office environment is challenging. Here is some language to make it easier to ask your coworkers to pipe down:

Get the people who sit in your work area together to talk about your working environment.

That conversation could sound like this, “It’s often pretty loud in our work area. I was wondering if we could set some guidelines of how we’ll manage our workspace, so it works for everyone? What do you think of establishing some practices we all agree to follow? For example, when making or taking phone calls, everyone will either use the handset or a headset. We won’t take or make phone calls on speakerphone. We’ll always use earphones if listening to music or watching videos. If a conversation at someone’s desk lasts longer than five minutes, people will take the conversation to a conference room. And when these guidelines are broken, and they will because we’re human, it’s ok to say something. We could even have a system to let people know it’s getting loud and that a guideline is being broken. With everybody’s agreement, we could throw a nerf ball into the loud cube, put a note in front of the person, or simply walk over and ask the person to take the conversation elsewhere. I want our work environment to work for everyone and make it easy for us to speak up without being concerned that we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings or damage relationships. What do you think?”

You DON’T need to be a manager to do this. Take control of your working environment by asking for what you want. Initiating this conversation may feel odd and uncomfortable, but I assure you most of the people you sit with will be grateful you dared to start the conversation.

You can say anything to anyone at work when you have permission to do so. Suffering is optional. Make requests today and follow up when things get loud. You can do it!


Manage Your Professional Reputation – Get There First

Managers Don't Like SurprisesYou’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline, or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Manage your professional reputation and get there first to create the first impression of what happened.

Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let her know before the call comes in. You will create her perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change.  Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.

Boss Phone CallIt could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call.  Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”

Or, “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”

Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action.  It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if You Create the first Impressionshe’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way.  What do you think of me doing that?  Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires and you get a call.”

Manage your professional reputation assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!


Admit Mistakes and Advance Your Career

No one likes to make mistakes. We want to do good work and have people think well of us.

The key to maintaining your relationships and reputation, when you make a mistake, is to take responsibility and make things right as soon as possible. Saying something wasn’t your fault or becoming defensive will only damage your reputation and relationships. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will gain respect and credibility by admitting fault and correcting problems.

I often get asked if people lose credibility by being humble – asking for feedback and admitting to making mistakes. It takes strength to ask for and be open to feedback and to admit when you drop the ball. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the more you ask for and respond to feedback, and admit when you make mistakes, the stronger you will appear.

I made a mistake at work. Now what?

When you make a mistake say something like:

“I dropped the ball on that. I apologize. I’ll fix it and let you know when it’s been handled.”

Or, “Thank you for the feedback. This clearly didn’t go as planned. I’ll make those changes and let you know when they’re done.”

Also, let people know the steps you’ll take to avoid similar challenges in the future.

You could say something like:

“Thanks for letting me know that our process is causing your department challenges. We certainly want the process to be smooth. My team will fix this month’s report, so your team doesn’t have to invest more time. We’ll update the process for next month and walk you through the changes before the report is due.”

Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for breakdowns. No one cares. Telling people why something occurred can sound like excuse management. People just want to know things will be made right.

Asking for feedback, taking responsibility, and telling people how you will correct errors may not be your natural or first reaction. The more you can train yourself to do these things, the easier you will be to work with and the better your reputation and business relationships will be.


Be a Best Company – Four Employee Retention Strategies

“My boss is a jerk and my career is going nowhere in this organization, but there’s yoga and a pool table, so I think I’ll stay,” said no employee ever.

Employees enjoy concierge service, free lunch, ping pong, and social events at work, but these perks don’t improve retention or performance. The only perks known to improve employee loyalty and commitment is time off and a flexible schedule.  Everything else is nice to have, but does not impact career decisions.

Organizational leaders and managers have been led down a path of expensive distractions disguised as employee retention strategies. Eliminate the noise and focus on the four things that really matter to employees, and your best people will stay.

This is what’s important to your employees:

  • I trust the leaders who run this organization.
  • My opinion means something.  I am listened to.
  • I feel respected (by my manager) and have good relationships in the organization.
  • My work is challenging and interesting.

So what should you do if you want to be a best place to work? 

Here are Four Employee Retention Strategies Managers Can Take:

1.   Meet one-on-one with employees and have meaningful discussions about his/her performance and career goals.

2.  Ask employees for their opinion and demonstrate that you’ve heard them.

3.  Provide opportunities for employees to do work they enjoy.

4.  Ensure employees who want to advance in your organization are learning and growing.

Read about our Be a Great Place to Work leadership training program that eliminates the noise and teaches the things leaders and managers really need to do to retain the best employees.


Give Feedback by Asking Questions

The people you work with want to do a good job. They want you to think well of them. Yes, even the people you think do little work. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are doing the best they know how to do. And when you don’t get what you want, make requests.

There are two ways to give feedback. One way is very direct.

Version one:  “You did this thing and here’s why it’s a problem.”

The other way is less direct. Rather than telling the person what went wrong, simply make a request.

Version two: “Will you…” Or, “It would be helpful to get this report on Mondays instead of Wednesday. Are you able to do that?”

It’s very difficult to give feedback directly without the other person feeling judged. Making a request is much more neutral than giving direct feedback, doesn’t evoke as much defensiveness, and achieves the same result. You still get what you want.

When I teach giving feedback, I often give the example of asking a waitstaff in a restaurant for ketchup. Let’s say your waiter comes to your table to ask how your food is and your table doesn’t have any ketchup.

Option one:  Give direct feedback. “Our table doesn’t have any ketchup.”

Option two:  Make a request. “Can we get some ketchup?”

Both methods achieve the desired result. Option one overtly tells the waiter, “You’re not doing your job.” Option two still tells the waiter he isn’t doing his job, but the method is more subtle and thus is less likely to put him on the defensive.

You are always dealing with people’s egos. And when egos get bruised, defenses rise. When defenses rise, it’s hard to have a productive conversation. People stop listening and start defending themselves. Defending oneself is a normal and natural reaction to negative feedback. It’s a survival instinct.

You’re more likely to get what you want from others when they don’t feel attacked and don’t feel the need to defend themselves. Consider simply asking for what you want rather than telling people what they’re doing wrong, and see what happens.

I will admit, asking for what you want in a neutral and non-judgmental way when you’re frustrated is very hard to do. The antidote is to anticipate your needs and ask for what you want at the onset of anything new. And when things go awry, wait until you’re not upset to make a request. If you are critical, apologize and promise to do better next time. It’s all trial and error.


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