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.
We’ve all heard about the great workplace exodus. Over the last two years, millions of people have quit their jobs in favor of doing something different. You too may have realized that you want something different from life and work.
Despite wanting something different, you may find it difficult to make those requests at work. You may be worried that if you ask for what you want, you’ll be fired before you’re ready to leave, or you’ll be seen as disloyal and unreliable, and thus not promotable. Many people suffer in silence fearing that speaking up will get them ‘in trouble.’
Regardless of your concerns, you aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for. So how do you ask?
Here are five steps to ask for what you want at work:
Become very clear about what you need and want. Don’t have a conversation with your manager that sounds like a conversation with a friend. “I don’t know what I want. I just know it isn’t this.”
Lead with your intentions. Difficult conversations are easier when we start the conversation with our intention. “I really love this company and I want to stay here.”
Then make a clear ask. “I’ve realized over the past two years that I really want to be doing ____________. I’m wondering if there is an opportunity to do that kind of work here?” Or, “I’ve realized that I really want to live in __________” Or, I’ve realized that I really want to work a flexible schedule.”
Create a plan. “Can we make a plan to move me to ___________ department or role in next 12 months?” Or, “Can we make a plan to make that happen in the next 12 months?”
Don’t give ultimatums. No one likes to be forced. Negotiate a realistic time period to make your desired changes. Saying “I need this, or I have to leave now” isn’t likely to produce the result you’re looking for. “What’s a realistic time period to make this transition?” is better.
You can make requests as I’ve suggested and still not get what you want. Then you have decisions to make. But you are unlikely to get what you don’t ask for. Asking for what you want, in a professional way, is better than leaving, never knowing if your needs could have been negotiated.
You might be lucky enough to have a manager who helps you advance your career, but you might not. Either way, you deserve to have the career you want, and ultimately, it’s your job to advance your career.
Advance Your Career Step One: Learn about different areas of your organization and become clear on what you want to learn and what areas of the business you want exposure to. You won’t know what to ask for from your manager if you don’t know what your organization does and the opportunities that are available.
Advance Your Career Step Two: Get to know the leaders and employees in other departments. Find out what they do on a daily basis, the initiatives they’re working on, and their short and long-term goals.
If you’re working virtually or in a hybrid environment, you may be wondering how to learn more about your organization and build relationships from a distance? How do you meet with people you never see? Anything you can do in-person, you can do over the phone or via video. It’s nice to be able to walk into someone’s office and ask a question or connect with someone in the hallway or a breakroom, but it isn’t essential.
Reach out to people in the organization you already know. You can make these connections via email or phone. I recommend phone. Tell people you want to learn more about the organization’s objectives and different departments. Ask who they can connect you with. Networking and building new business relationships virtually takes more upfront work than walking into someone’s office, but it can be done. Ask people to make virtual connections for you and then follow up on those connections within one business day.
Remember the job search advice you were given early in your career, to have informational interviews with people doing the work you wanted to do? Getting to know your current organization better is similar. Ask for informational meetings within your organization. And then communicate with the people you’re connected with in the way THEY like to communicate. Tell a person you’ve been connected with that you’d appreciate 15 minutes of their time and ask how they’d like to meet – via phone or video? Then schedule a short meeting via their preferred medium. When the 15-minutes is up, tell the person, you’re watching the time and you respect their time. Ask if they’d like to hang up or continue the conversation? And then honor their request. If you’d like to meet again, ask for another meeting. If there are next steps, make those steps clear and follow up via email, if it’s appropriate.
Advance Your Career Step Three: Ask your manager, your peers, and other organizational leaders who you need a good working relationship with and who can influence your next career opportunity.
You never know who talks to whom and who can influence your future opportunities. Department heads you don’t know well talk to other department heads. Don’t assume that because you don’t know someone well that they can’t influence your next opportunity or lack thereof.
Advance Your Career Step Four: Tell people who can influence your career what you want to do.
Don’t assume people know what you want to do in the future. In fact, assume others have no idea about the work you want to do and the things you want to learn. Tell people, “I’m really interested in learning more about ___________. I’d like exposure to __________ part of our organization.”
Your career is your responsibility. Don’t wait for your manager make your career happen. Take matters into your own hands. Follow the steps above and get more of what you want at work.
As someone who writes and teaches about effective communication in the workplace, I suspect the people I work and live 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 they impact people.
Listens and watches other people’s verbal and non-verbal communication.
Alters their communication style to meet other people’s needs.
Takes responsibility when things don’t go well.
I advocate 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’m working on the above recommendations too. And when I screw it up, you can be assured that my mistakes will become examples in our training programs of what not to do, followed by a new technique that will hopefully work for all of us.
It’s the time of year when people start to think about their goals for 2022 and make New Year’s resolutions. I won’t suggest you do either. You likely have enough to do. My only suggestion (in this arena) is to ensure you’re doing what you really want to do.
There are lots of things we need to do and think we should be doing. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that long list of could and should do’s. If that list brings you joy, do those things. If not, consider another path.
I’m pretty sure at least one person reading this blog has a magnet or card hung at their desk with the words, “What are you going to do with your one precious life?” As far as we know, we only get one go around. So, while the question may be overused, what are you going to do to create your life with the time you’re given?
I have an existential friend who is trying to convince me that there is no such thing as time. I am not persuaded. All we have is time, and it’s the only thing we can’t get back. You can gain weight and lose weight, make money and lose it, make friends and lose them, but you can never get back your time. So, what are you doing with your time?
You create your life.
A few questions to consider:
What do you love doing most? How often are you doing that?
What’s most important to you in life? Does what’s most important to you make up a majority of where your time and energy goes?
How much time do you spend doing things you think you should be doing, but don’t really want to be doing?
How much time do you spend doing things someone else wants you to do?
I’m not suggesting you live an indulgent life without compromise. If you’re in relationship with other people, you will, at times, do things you don’t want to do. But I’m hoping that doing things out of obligation is not what your life’s about.
Not everyone in your life will approve of your choices. That’s ok. This is your life. Don’t knowingly harm anyone or anything. Besides that, I don’t know of any rules, except for this, don’t get to the end of the road and wonder “what if.” Create your life.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone and take charge of your career and life. Holiday offer! Buy 3 books at candidculturepress.com and we’ll send you a 4th book free. Offer ends 1/10/22.
It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working virtually, or to think that team building can’t be don’t virtually, or to decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.
Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually, you just need to make the time.
Even if you’re type A and tightly wound (like I am), spend the first few minutes of meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room. Ask what people are doing for the holidays. Commiserate over vacations you’re missing and food you know you shouldn’t be eating.
Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together, talking about things other than work.
Humans need people contact and relationships. People are missing other people. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.
Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences too. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.
Tell you team you want to help people get to know each other better so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.
Here are a few team building questions you can use:
What are your pet peeves at work?
What time of day do you do your best work?
Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?
If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?
What work do you like to do most?
What work do you like to do least?
What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?
What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?
Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.
Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is back in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
I’m not sure why, I wish I could give you a good reason, but the vague phrases above are what come out of people’s mouth’s first when giving feedback. To prevent giving fake feedback, you have to prepare.
There is a reason you think the person is awesome or has a bad attitude. What did they do that created that impression? Until you can describe what the person did to create an impression, you’re not ready to give feedback. You’re better off saying nothing.
All of the phrases above are opinions with no facts. Opinions are judgments. Feeling judged makes people defensive. When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen.
The purpose of feedback is to help another person. Give the person enough information that they know what to replicate and what to change. Before you give feedback, write down three things the person did that created your impression. If you can’t give an example, wait to have the conversation until you can. It’s better to say nothing than to say something vague and unhelpful.
Vague positive feedback sounds inauthentic. Vague negative feedback is judgmental. Neither strengthens your relationship or are helpful.
If you really want to be heard and you want to be helpful, provide an example. No example, no feedback.
No one (I know) enjoys writing, delivering or receiving performance feedback. It’s time consuming to write, challenging to deliver, and can be difficult to hear. Unfortunately, most performance management systems – goal setting forms, performance appraisal templates and online templates – don’t make the process easier. Instead, they make it harder. Short and simple is best.
When I started managing leadership development for a mutual fund company, I inherited a 12-page performance appraisal form and what seemed like 89 competencies. One of the business leaders I supported told me, “I’m not asking my people to use this form. If you can give me something that’s one page, I’ll have my managers use it.” That conversation sent me on a mission to make all performance management forms one or two pages. And really, why shouldn’t they be? People can only focus on leveraging and changing a few things at a time. Why give more feedback than that at any given time?
If you’re chasing people to use your performance management tools and templates, you have the wrong forms. In my experience, when people find something easy to use and valuable, they’ll use it. If something is difficult to use or doesn’t seem to add value, people drag their heels.
Here are a few ideas for making your performance management process easier:
Make your forms and templates simple. No performance management tool should be more than two pages. In a performance appraisal – quarterly, annual, or otherwise – identify up to three things the person did well and a max of three things they can either do more, better, or differently next year. Anything more is overwhelming and a set up for disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm.
If you have additional areas for the person to work on, meet again in 90-days and assess how the person has done with the three pieces of feedback already provided. If they have made significant progress on the things they were already working on, add a few new things to work on. If significant progress hasn’t been made on the existing feedback, wait to add more.
I know your existing performance management templates may not allow for what I’m suggesting. If you’re working with a template that requires more input, write up to three clear, succinct, and actionable bullets in each required area and not more. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Be specific. “Great job” is not feedback. Neither is, “needs improvement.” Give a specific example or two. No example, no feedback.
Resist the urge to write paragraphs of vague feedback or to accept that type of feedback in a self-appraisal. Paragraphs of feedback take too long to write and often say little. I’d suggest spending less time writing performance feedback and instead spend the time observing performance, asking others for input on the person’s performance, and writing three succinct, specific bullets that describe an action taken or outcome produced. Specific feedback is meaningful, useful, and received with less defensiveness.
Click below to see our suite of one and two-page performance management templates.
Thanksgiving is coming up. Many people will spend time with family and friends they haven’t seen in a long time. Some people will be indoors with a larger group than they’ve seen in almost two years. And many people are anxious about that.
The time to talk about what everyone needs to feel comfortable at Thanksgiving dinner is now. Don’t wait until Thursday. Consider what you need to feel comfortable and make requests today. Breakdowns are predictable. And what you can predict, you can often prevent.
How many people do you feel comfortable being in the same room and house with? Do all attendees need to be vaccinated? Do you want assigned seating so people sit with people they see regularly? Do you want people to take Covid tests before attending an event? You can likely have whatever you’re willing to ask for. But you likely won’t get what you don’t ask for.
You may be concerned that your requests are too much and thus you’re hesitant to make those requests. If you’re afraid to ask for something, feeling like it’s just too big of an ask, say that. Saying how you feel has a lot of power and is disarming. It could sound something like, “I’m feeling nervous about Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been hesitant to say anything because I don’t want to offend you. Is it ok if I ask a few questions?”
“I haven’t been in the same room as a group of people I don’t know well in a long time. How many people are coming? What requests are you making of guests from a health and safety perspective? Are you comfortable asking that everyone be vaccinated and take a rapid Covid test before arriving?”
Sprinkle your questions into the conversation. Ask for what you really need. Asking these questions of the host before the dinner is a lot less confrontational than telling a guest they’re sitting too close to you and asking if they’re vaccinated. Thinking through your needs and making requests before an event is always easier than trying to change a situation. The best way to prevent an uncomfortable situation is to talk about it before it happens.
When my son started pre-school and kindergarten, I went to new parent orientation. At those orientations I sat next to parents who told me their questions about the programs. But they never asked the people running the meeting their questions. They wondered in silence, whispering to seat mates who didn’t know any more than they knew. I’m always flabbergasted by these situations until I remind myself that people don’t like to admit they don’t know something. No one wants to look stupid.
Most of us aren’t eager to admit when we don’t know something, need help, or make a mistake. We fear these things will damage our reputation and make us appear less than to others. But neither are true. It takes strength and self confidence to admit mistakes, accept feedback, and ask for help. Strong, self-confident people do all of these things.
When someone who works for me is willing to admit mistakes, I think more of them. When employees ask for help rather than spin their wheels unnecessarily, I’m appreciative. When they’re open to feedback, I’m grateful they’re easy to work with. And the same is likely true for you.
Before launching Candid Culture, I worked with a CEO who frequently lead with, “I may not be the smartest guy in the room, but…” The CEO was trying to appear humble and relatable, but he was the smartest guy in the room and we all knew it, thus his attempts were false and came off as such. Arrogance masquerades as self confidence. People who are arrogant come off as strong and self confident, but it’s a façade.
It may seem like your personal power and reputation will be diminished by admitting mistakes and accepting help. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes strength to say you don’t know how to do something, to embrace feedback that stings, and to admit bad choices. And strong, self-confident people do all of these things, regularly.
You won’t lose credibility or damage your reputation by being humble, instead you’ll be seen as real, relatable, and willing to admit a lack of perfection. And all of those things take strength that ingratiate you to others. So be yourself. Don’t pretend you’re better or more knowledgeable than you are. Authenticity goes a long way.