Who have you fired lately? The person who cuts your hair or lawn? A doctor, accountant, or restaurant where you had a bad experience? Did you call any of those providers and tell them why you were replacing them? My hunch is no. There’s little incentive to do so. Why risk their defensiveness? It’s easier to just replace them. And the same is true for you.
There’s little incentive for the people you work with to tell you when you frustrate them. The perceived cost seems too high. The people you work (and live) with have experienced others’ defensive responses to negative feedback (which is no fun) and they don’t want to experience your reaction. As a result, when you disappoint or frustrate others, it’s easier to say nothing than tell you the truth.
The tendency for others to tell you things are fine when they’re not, will prevent you from managing your career and relationships. People will go missing and you’ll be passed over for professional opportunities and never know why.
To make it more likely that people will tell you when you disappoint or frustrate them, make it easy to tell you the truth.
Here are seven practices for receiving feedback:
Receiving Feedback Practice #1: When you begin new relationships, tell people you want their feedback.
Receiving Feedback Practice #2: Promise that no matter what people say, you’ll respond with “thank you.” This is very hard to do.
Receiving Feedback Practice #3: Tell people you already have relationships with, that if you haven’t said it in the past, you really want their feedback and promise to respond graciously with “thank you.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #4: Ask people who matter to you for feedback regularly.
Receiving Feedback Practice #5: Resist the urge to get defensive.
Receiving Feedback Practice #6: Catch yourself when you start to become defensive and apologize. Say something like, “I’m getting defensive. I’m sorry. Tell me again. I’ll do a better job of listening.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #7: Take a break from conversations during which you find yourself responding defensively. Say something like, “I’m not responding as well as I’d like. How about we take a break? Give me a few minutes (hours or days) and I’ll come back to you to talk more. I really want to hear what you have to say.”
The aforementioned list provides recommendations for asking for and receiving feedback you want, not feedback you don’t. You are not a dumping ground. Don’t ask for feedback you don’t want. And when you do ask for feedback, qualify what type of feedback you’re looking for. Telling people “I want your feedback” doesn’t mean they’re welcome to say whatever they want.
The purpose of asking for feedback and making it safe to tell the truth is to give you more control over your career and relationships. It’s ok to be passed over for opportunities and relationships, but it’s unhelpful not to know why.
Much of what comes through our phones is not important – emails we don’t really want to read, advertisements for things we won’t buy, and social media updates we don’t care about. And yet those little devices are so seductive. It’s hard not to check your email, texts, and social media updates constantly. Being so connected electronically and thus so continuously distracted has its benefits but it also has real costs.
Most of you know I have a small child and I’m committed to being a present and involved mom. I spend a lot of time with my son. But the best times are when I leave my phone behind. Without my phone I’m fully present with him, in the moment, enjoying him. When I have my phone, I’m distracted, often stressed, and typically torn. Can’t I read this email and reply quickly? What’s the harm? It will only take a second.
And each time I take a minute to read my email, I’m gone. I’m focused on my phone. And then I feel guilty and sad for not being as engaged as I want to be. Then I recommit to being fully present. And then read my email again. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is a huge cost to being distracted most of the time. Our relationships suffer. Car fatalities have increased tenfold. People are consistently tired.
Every productivity expert will tell you to check your messages three times a day, respond, and to not be constantly reading email. It’s fantastic advice. And I suspect no one, including productivity experts, follows it. It’s just too hard. We’re lured by our phones, tablets and laptops. Not checking them regularly makes us antsy, uncomfortable, and nervous.
What would happen if we set defined periods of time for each thing we did? I.e., Spend from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm working on a project. At 4:00 p.m., check your phone. Take the weekend off and check your messages at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. I suspect we’d get way more done and feel less stressed. But we have to give ourselves permission to put the phone away.
Here are three ways to be more focused and productive, and hopefully, happy:
1. Schedule work and personal activities for realistic, defined periods of time, and stick to them.
2. Agree on no cell phones or other electronics during personal meals and outings. I like the game people are playing in restaurants by putting cell phones face down in a pile on the table. The first person who touches their cell phone pays the entire bill.
3. Agree on no cell phones during group or one-on-one meetings. Your meetings will be shorter, easier to manage, and more productive. Meeting attendees want to tell their peers to put away their phones but feel like they can’t. Strong meeting facilitators who set and hold to this expectation earn others’ respect and run productive meetings.
In a nutshell, give yourself permission to focus. Do one thing at a time for a short period of time. Allow similar chunks of time to read and reply to messages and read Facebook updates you don’t care about. Then put the phone down and walk away. Your family and friends miss you.
Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ve worked with someone you wished would go away. Maybe the person repeatedly threw you under the bus, took credit for your work, or didn’t keep their commitments. And at some point, you wrote the person off, and have been merely tolerating them ever since.
Damaged relationships can be repaired, if you’re willing to do some work.
The first step in repairing a damaged relationship is to decide that you really want to do so. Managing conflict in the workplace isn’t easy. It will take effort and will likely be uncomfortable, so before you take action, decide if you really want to work on the relationship.
How to know if you should try resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask yourself how much you need the relationship. This probably sounds political, and it is. If you work on projects together, need to give or receive information, or have to work together regularly, then it’s likely worth working on the relationship. If you don’t need to work together regularly, then perhaps don’t work on the relationship.
If you decide to attempt to strengthen a relationship, plan what you’re going to say. Never trust the first thing that comes out of your mouth during a difficult conversation.
Step one for resolving conflict in the workplace: Like any feedback conversation, start with the end in mind. Consider what you want to have happen as a result of the conversation.
Step two for resolving conflict in the workplace: Plan what you’re going to say by taking notes and practicing out loud. What you say in your head is usually not what comes out of your mouth.
Step three for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask the person for time on their calendar. People don’t like surprises. You’ll have a better outcome if the person has blocked time to talk with you. Have the conversation in-person whenever possible. If you can’t speak in-person, talk on the phone. Do not attempt to fix your relationship via email. 1. Email is wimpy. 2. It will not work.
Tell the person, “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we’re not both aware of. I’d really like a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has happened and perhaps start in a new way?”
Step four for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask for a meeting to work on the relationship up to three times. If, after the third time, the person hasn’t made time, stop asking. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you. If the person doesn’t make time to meet, be polite, professional, and inclusive, but stop trying to nurture the relationship. Inclusive means: cc’ing them on necessary emails, inviting them to appropriate meetings, and providing necessary data.
Step five for resolving conflict in the workplace: If the person makes time to meet, speak candidly, be yourself, and be vulnerable. I don’t mean be a doormat. I do mean be authentic.
Ask for feedback about how you’ve damaged the relationship.
Listen to what you hear, and resist the urge to defend yourself.
Ask for permission to tell him how he’s damaged the relationship.
Give small amounts of feedback, with a few specific examples.
Make agreements of what each of you will do differently in the future.
Thank the person for the conversation and schedule another meeting.
Step six for resolving conflict in the workplace: Build in follow-up. Most people have one conversation and expect things to be fixed forever. Relationships don’t work that way. Agree to meet monthly, for the first few months, until you’ve rebuilt trust and learned how to communicate and work together. During the monthly meetings, give each other permission to give candid feedback about how you’re working together. I call these Relationship Inventory Meetings.
During monthly Relationship Inventory Meetingsask:
What’s working about how we work together?
What’s not working?
What working agreements did we keep?
What working agreements did we break?
Which working agreements are helpful?
What working agreements need to change?
You might be thinking, “I don’t like this person. I don’t want to work with them. And I definitely don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations.”
If the nature of your relationship is impacting your ability to do your job, your professional reputation, or your happiness, all of those consequences are far worse and more long-lasting than any conversation will be.
The conversations won’t be as bad as you think. No one will tell you anything you can’t handle, because for the most part, they’re afraid of your reaction and they know they’ll be next.
Conflict in the workplace and damaged relationships keep people up at night, reduce job satisfaction, and often motivate people to leave jobs. If you’re experiencing any of these things, all of them are worse than any conversation will be. The anticipation of the conversation is far worse than the conversation itself.
Decide if you want to strengthen the relationship.
Plan the conversation.
Ask for time to meet.
Have the conversation. Speak honestly, but responsibly.
Plan to have another conversation before ending this conversation.
Congratulate yourself for being courageous and picking happiness over anxiety and frustration.
I’m embarrassed how often I do things I don’t want to do because I’m afraid of looking bad. I agree to things I don’t want to do. I even suggest doing things I don’t want to do, because I think it will look bad if I don’t. Then I have deep regrets.
If I’m aware of this practice, why do I keep doing it, over and over and over? I suspect the need to look good and be liked is so pervasive, it over-powers reason and self-talk. Telling myself, “Don’t do it. You will regret this,” doesn’t help. The need for approval is all-powerful (to me).
My old boss told me many years ago, “Your need to be liked will kill you as a manager,” and he was right. It’s why I can’t interview my own candidates. I want them to like me too.
I suspect I’m not alone here. I lot of us say yes when we want to say no. We extend ourselves and regret it later.
What can be done, at an organizational level, to prevent ourselves and fellow employees from over-extending?
Sanction, at a team and organizational level, that sometimes it’s ok to say no.
Suggest that at times people take 24-hours before agreeing to take on a new task or project.
Make room for negotiation, so people can say yes on terms that work for them.
Authenticity wins. Speak your truth and know that it’s ok.
I recently interviewed a candidate who asked for a lot of ‘stuff’ during the interview process. She wanted compensation, perks, accommodations, and benefits that were way outside the norm. I’m assuming she was employing the adage we’ve all heard, that “it can’t hurt to ask.” Unfortunately, it can hurt to ask.
When forging new relationships, we watch (judge) people. We’re trying to figure out who they are and how they are. Are they the person they claimed to be during the interview process? Are they trustworthy? Did I make the right decision in bringing this person into my team, organization, and life?
Requests always make an impression. When we’re building new relationships, requests make an even bigger impression. Candidates who said the commute wouldn’t be an issue, but complain about it two weeks into the job, cause managers to doubt their hiring decision. Coworkers who consistently ask for extensions to deadlines, appear unreliable.
People watch us and silently judge, making assessments about our commitment, reliability and even character. Don’t make people question you. Make reasonable asks.
Five ways to make reasonable requests:
Vet your requests with people who know your company, manager, and/or industry, before making them. A reasonable request in one organization, might not be reasonable in another.
If something is important to you, ask for it during the interview process or at the onset of new projects and relationships. Don’t wait. Waiting to ask for things until after you’ve started a job can damage your relationships and reputation. Managers don’t like bait and switch, even when it’s unintended.
Once you’ve received an emphatic “no”, accept it. I worked with someone who asked for something during the interview process. I said “no” and explained why. He asked again after being hired. This annoyed me and made me feel like he didn’t listen.
If you aren’t sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable, say so. Tell the person what you want and to please tell you if it isn’t a reasonable request.
Ask for feedback on your requests. If you’ve seen me speak, you know I’m a proponent of telling people, “If I do anything that damages our working relationship or makes you question me, I hope you’ll tell me. I promise I’ll take your feedback graciously and say, “thank you.”
Ask for what you want, within reason, be upfront when relationships begin, and build your relationships rather than break them.
Frustrated by a control freak, micromanager, or a high-need-to-know type? Controlling behavior stems from a need that isn’t being met. Identify the need, meet it, and your life gets easier.
If someone wants more updates, information, or involvement than you’re comfortable with, the person has a need that isn’t being met. When you meet the need, the person will likely back off.
I ask the people who work for me to not make me ask for anything twice. Meaning, if I ask for an update the week before a speaking engagement, anticipate that I’ll want that information for all engagements. Confirm by asking me and then provide the data without being asked for all future engagements. Getting the information regularly without having to ask builds trust and credibility.
Here are six tips for working with control freaks:
1. If you don’t know, ask:
The person’s work-related goals. What are they working on this quarter and year?
What the person is concerned about at work? What are they worried about?
How do they like to communicate – in-person, email, phone, video, voicemail, or text?
How often do they want information, in what format, and with how much detail?
2. Provide more information than you think you need to, and then ensure the person wants that information in the future.
3. If you’re asked for information, ask why the person wants it, and if they want it in the future. Then provide the information before you’re asked.
4. If someone is overly involved in your work and you feel you have no freedom, state your observation and ask for information. That could sound like, “You’ve been involved with each major decision with this project. I’m used to working with less oversight. Do you have a concern about my approach?” Then you negotiate. Everything is a negotiation.
5. The approach in number four will likely put the other person on the defensive. A less confrontational approach is to discuss and agree upon levels of involvement and supervision when projects begin. That could sound something like, “What kind of involvement do you want to have in this project? What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? What kind of updates would you like, how often, and with how much detail?” It’s always easier to prevent a problem than to fix one.
6. Lastly, don’t take anything personally. Oversight and involvement may be a reflection of how someone feels about your performance, but it might not. When in doubt, ask.
Many people struggle to say no. As a result, when someone has a request that we can’t or don’t want to meet, we often say nothing. We simply don’t respond. Or we put the person off telling them we’ll get back to them. Then people wonder. “Did they get my request? Should I send the request again? Will I look bad if I ask again? How many times should I ask before I just let the request go?”
Saying no is better than saying nothing. No gives people closure. Silence leaves people in limbo wondering what they should do next.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are ways to say no:
Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about their request.
Tell the person you need some time to think about their request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell them what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and time to do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something; they just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.
A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score them points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.
If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and ask for feedback as you make progress.
The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.
When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:
Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?
Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?
Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?
Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?
Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?
Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?
Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I work with on this project?
Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, and if yes, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?
If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”
Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.
People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.
If you visit family and friends this holiday season. you may receive unsolicited feedback and advice. Sometimes people who care and want what’s best for us, provide input we didn’t ask for.
Unsolicited feedback at best feels like someone is trying to help, at worst it feels like criticism. Underneath the feedback might be the message, “If you were doing this right, I wouldn’t need to give you this advice.” I put unsolicited feedback and advice in the same bucket.
If you find yourself receiving unsolicited advice, you don’t have to smile politely and take it. It’s ok to put an end to feedback and advice.
Simply smile, tell the person you appreciate them caring enough to give you that advice, and say that you’re not looking for advice on that topic at this time. And then smile again. Smiling softens most messages. Say nothing more. Most people will stop talking. What else is there to say?
This method of acknowledging the person talking is respectful and firm. To pull it off, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words, “you dummy” to anything you say, you have a tone issue. Be genuinely appreciative and enforce boundaries. You’re not the 7/11. You don’t have to be open to feedback and others’ input all the time.
If the person continues giving you advice, simply say the same thing again. “Thank you for caring enough about me to share that with me. I really appreciate your concern. And I’m not looking for advice on that at this time.” If the person keeps talking, just say, “I’m going to get a drink.” Then get up and go get a drink.
If stopping unsolicited feedback feels uncomfortable, prevent it. Tell people before you see them, “I don’t want to talk about _____________ (fill in the blank). Please don’t bring it up over Thanksgiving.” You can soften that request any way you like.
Most difficult conversation are preventable. And preventing a difficult conversation is always easier than having one.
Setting boundaries might be feel uncomfortable. But it’s likely not as uncomfortable as having a conversation you don’t want to have and then feeling like you need to avoid someone for the rest of the evening and possibly year. It’s ok to say, “No, thank you. Please pass the pie.”
Leaders with virtual and hybrid workforces are worried about losing their organization’s culture. Some organizations are calling employees back into the office to retain culture. Others are hosting in-person social events, retreats, and meetings to help employees reconnect and strengthen culture.
Getting together in person is nice but it isn’t always possible. And what happens when everyone goes home? Culture is built on a daily basis.
Organizational culture is an outcome of the decisions we make and how those decisions get made, how we treat people, and how we communicate and work together. If you want to strengthen your organization’s culture, do it every day.
To strengthen your culture, take small regular actions.
Start each meeting helping employees get to know each other better, from a work perspective.