Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.
What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.
If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.
When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.
Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.
When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.
The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.
So much has changed in the last year and a half. And what you need to be happy at work may have changed too. The question is, do the people you work for and with know what you need now?
You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people we work with will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. We’ll be included in important meetings and decisions regardless of from where we are working.
If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?
Here are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:
Increasing your job satisfaction tip one: Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip two: Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip three: Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.
Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”
Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and deliver timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”
People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.
Increasing your job satisfaction tip four: Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.
That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”
Increasing your job satisfaction tip five: Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.
Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”
Job satisfaction and happiness don’t just happen. The people you work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go awry. You won’t get what you don’t ask for, but you will get what you allow.
It’s been almost two years that we’ve been looking into people’s homes on Zoom. Life and work have changed, and people have a variety of feelings about those changes. Some people miss working in person and can’t wait to go back to the office. Some people love working from home and never want to go back. What’s important is the ability to talk about how we feel and what we need from work – with the people we work for.
Most people suffer in silence, concerned to ask for what they want or need at work. Managers find out their employees are unhappy when they come across employees’ resumes on the internet.
The world has changed and how we interact needs to change to. Your manager may not be able to allow you to work from home all the time, but she certainly won’t if you don’t tell her what you want.
We need to cross the line, having conversations that perhaps we haven’t had in the past.
Managers, in addition to checking in on work progress, talk about how employees are doing and what they need going forward to be satisfied and do their best work.
Questions to ask during regular check-ins:
I’m not a fan of asking, “How are you doing?” It’s a vague question, and vague questions produce vague answers. But many employees will go their whole career without being asked how they’re doing. It demonstrates caring. It’s a place to start.
Here are some better questions to ask employees:
- What’s changed for you in the last 18 months?
- What have you learned about yourself in the last 18 months?
- What has changed about what you need from work, if anything, in the last 18 months?
- What would you tell me if you weren’t concerned about how I would react?
Managers, even if you ask these questions, employees may not feel comfortable answering. Managers can lead by example by talking about themselves. Share how your life, needs, and desires have changed. Share your own constraints. When managers show vulnerability, they convey it’s ok for employees to do so as well.
Also, tell employees that you really want to know the answers to the questions and assure employees there won’t be negative consequences for speaking candidly. Projects won’t be taken away. Careers won’t be impacted. You’re just talking. If employees never want to come into the office or travel, or want to work part-time, yes, jobs and careers may be impacted. But a conversation is just that, a conversation.
You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Perhaps you’re going back to work in person part or full time and you’re nervous. Will people sit closer than you’re comfortable sitting? Will people wear masks? Will someone ask you to wear a mask when you don’t think it’s necessary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of these things are likely to happen. And addressing each situation will be uncomfortable. The good news is, if all of these events are predictable, they’re also preventable.
The time to talk about how people will behave in the office, is before people return to the office. Preventing a breakdown is always easier than addressing one.
Managers, get your team members together via phone or video and outline the organization’s expectations around masks, physical distancing, etc. Be explicitly clear. “Everyone is expected to be courteous and use common sense.” is not clear. My definition of being courteous and using common sense is different from yours. Follow the meeting up with written expectations that reiterate what you outlined during the meeting.
Direct reports, speak candidly with your managers about what you need. If you’re not comfortable working in an open floor plan, talk about it before you go back to the office. If you’re not comfortable attending a meeting with others in a conference room, have the conversation before the first in-person meeting. It’s ok to have concerns, and it’s ok to talk about them.
Teams, get together via phone or video before you go back to the office and agree on the practices you will follow. For example, if your organization’s policy is to wear a mask and a team member’s mask is below their nose, everyone on the team has the right to ask the person to pull it up. If a team member feels people are sitting too close, it’s ok to ask for space.
My point isn’t which Covid safety practices to employ. My point is to have the conversations before you return to the office. Anticipate every possible outcome. Talk with friends and colleagues who are already working in person and ask for the pitfalls and breakdowns they’ve experienced. Set clear expectations with your manager, peers, and internal and external customers. Then agree to talk about breakdowns as they happen. If you can predict it, you can prevent it.
People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”
The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”
Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.
How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.
Here are seven questions you should ask every person you work with to set expectations. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:
- What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
- What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
- How do you like to communicate? Phone, video, in-person, by appointment, or impromptu calls?
- How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
- If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do?
- What are your pet peeves at work? How could I annoy you and not even know it?
- How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)
Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.
It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.
If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magic words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.
The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.
There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So, we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.
Here are two keys to make giving feedback easier:
Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything. Do a quick plus/delta on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?
I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make appropriate adjustments.
When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.
Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.
Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is on edge that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.
The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.
Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.
People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.
When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.
If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.
You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.
Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:
Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?
Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.
Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?
Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.
Redundant feedback feels critical and leaves the person feeling like they have been hit over the head with a mallet.
Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?
It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.
Here are three practices for giving feedback:
- Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
- Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
- Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.
Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.
Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what they need to do differently.
When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what they need to do differently. Then stop talking and let the person save face.
Most of us avoid giving negative feedback because we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.
Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.
Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:
- Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
- Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
- Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
- When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
- Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.
What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:
Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”
Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, I promise you that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay here.”
Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else has given me positive feedback.”
Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________. Please do that.”
Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”
Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”
Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”
Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”
The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.
Want to spend less time managing performance issues? Hire the right people. The right people make everything work. The wrong people drain your time, patience, and resources.
Instead of spending 60-90 minutes doing multiple interviews, which tell you little, give candidates a chance to experience the job, and see how they do.
I used to conduct thorough interviews after screening candidates via phone. I’d ask a lot of questions, and I still hired the wrong people. And as a result, we’ve changed our hiring practices at Candid Culture. We no longer do traditional interviews after phone screens. Instead, after conducting a phone screen, we give candidates about an hour to do parts of the job. Then we decide if we want to talk with them further.
Too many companies spend too much time interviewing candidates they won’t hire. You might have multiple employees interview a candidate. It’s not uncommon for candidates to meet seven or eight people and spend multiple days interviewing. The ultimate decision maker often interviews the person last, cuts the candidate, and thus wasted existing employees’ and the candidate’s time. If you want your employees to be involved in the hiring process, have them interview only the candidates the decision maker would be willing to hire. Why waste everyone’s time?
Here Are Seven Interviewing Techniques to Make Better Hiring Decisions:
Interviewing Techniques Number One: Consider hiring a recruiting firm to source and screen candidates. Reading 100 resumes is likely not how you want to spend your time.
Interviewing Techniques Number Two: If you choose not to outsource recruiting, create a few steps for candidates to follow when applying for a job with your company to weed out the people who aren’t serious. It’s better to see 20 resumes from serious candidates than 100 resumes from candidates who potentially aren’t really interested in your company.
Interviewing Techniques Number Three: If you’re sourcing and screening your own candidates, conduct thorough phone screens. Assess culture fit and candidates’ ability to do the job, and eliminate candidates who don’t meet your criteria.
Interviewing Techniques Number Four: After conducting phone screens, schedule interviews with the candidates you’re interested in. Tell candidates they’ll be participating in a practical interview during which they’ll get to do parts of the job, so they can see if they’ll enjoy the work.
Interviewing Techniques Number Five: Have candidates do some work, observe them and/or the work they produce, and provide some positive and improvement feedback. If, after observing candidates do some work, you think they can do the job, and the candidate accepted your feedback without becoming defensive, conduct an in-person interview. If you don’t think they can do the job or were not open to feedback, eliminate the candidate.
During interviews, I screen for a candidate’s willingness to accept coaching and feedback. People who aren’t coachable or open to feedback are exhausting and difficult to work with.
Interviewing Techniques Number Six: If you’re interested in a candidate after both the practical and in-person, video or phone interview, conduct detailed reference checks. Never, ever skip the reference check.
Interviewing Techniques Number Seven: Lastly, if you’re going to extend an offer, ask your finalists to spend a day or half a day job shadowing. Job shadowing virtually is trickier than in person, but with some creativity, it can be done. Candidates and employers are on their best behavior during an interview and become more relaxed outside of the traditional interview. You want candidates to get a feeling for what it’s really like to work in your organization. Culture fit is the hardest thing for candidates and hiring managers to predict. Job shadowing helps.
Slow down your interviewing, be more thorough, and make better hiring decisions.
I’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with them. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.
No one likes to be criticized or told that they are wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have a trusting relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.
Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone they are not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.
Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:
Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”
Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”
Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”
Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?
Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”
Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”
Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.