Too often people sit at their laptops doing their minimal best while begrudging their boss, organization, or current job, hoping that something better will come along. Or people silently do good work and think that someday someone will notice, and they’ll get the role and recognition they deserve.
If you want to advance your career, you must know how to ask for more responsibility at work.
You may be rolling your eyes thinking, “More? I can’t do more. I already work evenings and weekends. I sleep with my phone and haven’t taken a vacation in two years, and you want me to do more?!?!” Actually, I want you to stop sleeping with your phone and go on vacation. But that’s a post for a different day.
When I say do more, I don’t mean to do anything anyone asks nor anything your organization needs. Offer to take on more work that is aligned with what you want to do AND is important to the leaders of your organization.
Before starting Candid Culture, I had a corporate job, leading an operations unit. Four years into my tenure with the company, one of my peers left, and his role wasn’t refilled. I felt his department was important to our organization’s success, so I offered to run his department, in addition to my own.
My new department was a change agent’s dream. I outlined a strategic plan and long and short-term goals. I re-wrote job descriptions and org charts. But six months into taking on the department, I couldn’t get one change approved. I was confused and frustrated.
I had initially been hired to turn another department around, and I’d been very successful at getting changes approved. Yet this time, I could get nothing approved. After six months of banging my head against a wall, I finally ‘got it.’ The owners of the company didn’t see the department as valuable, thus they weren’t willing to invest in it. Hence why the job sat vacant, until I offered to do it.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to see that the only person committed to my new department was me. When my colleague’s senior-level job wasn’t refilled and there was no hiring freeze, I should have known the department wasn’t seen as important.
If you want to know what’s important in your organization, look at where the money is being spent. What departments and/or leaders are getting resources?
When I say ask for more, I mean be strategic about what you ask for.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do I want to do?
Where in the organization are there opportunities to do that kind of work – that is important to the organization’s leaders?
Who will support me in doing this work? Who won’t?
How to ask for more responsibility at work. Tell your boss and/or department leader:
I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry.
I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.
I’m interested in learning more about ________________________.
I’d love to run ___________________________.
I think we have some opportunities to make improvements in _____________________.
How could I get some exposure to ____________________.
A project is starting in ______________. I’d love to be on the team. What are your thoughts about that? Would you be comfortable supporting my participation? If yes, how can we make it happen? If not, what would you need from me in order to support it?
The work you take on does not need to be high level. Everyone in an organization does grunt work. Just be sure that whatever you offer to do is seen as integral to the future of the organization. You’re not likely to get what you don’t ask for.
At some point in your career, you will likely get feedback that doesn’t feel accurate. When receiving feedback you question, rather than dismiss it, vet the feedback with the people who know you best. Assemble a core team of people who know you well, love you, and have your back. The relationships may be personal or professional. These are people who will tell you the truth (as they see it) if you ask.
You might think that you’re a different person at home and at work, thus your friends’ and family’s input isn’t valid in the workplace. I don’t think that’s true. You are who you are, and you’re not a completely different person at home and at work. It’s just not possible to be your real self and turn it on and off at work. Sure, you might have a communication style that you only use at work. You may make decisions at work differently than you do personally. And you are likely to dress differently at work than at home. But you’re not a completely different person after 5:00 pm. If you’re often late, don’t keep confidences, talk too much and too long, or wear clothing that is not your friend, your personal relationships can tell you that.
It’s important to know how you come across, your reputation, and your wins and losses at work. Having this information allows you to manage your reputation and in turn, your career.
The question is, with whom should you vet feedback that doesn’t feel quite right?
Here are four criteria for core team members:
Your core team should be made up of a small number of people (five or fewer) who know you well, love you, and have your back.
You should respect core team members’ opinions.
You must trust your core team and their motives, in relation to your well-being.
You must be open to core team members’ feedback.
Core team members don’t need to be told they’re on your core team. Simply call these people individually when you need input. Tell them the feedback you’ve received and then ask for their opinion.
It’s easy to dismiss feedback that’s hard to hear. The feedback you receive might just be that person’s opinion. But people talk. And one person’s experience of you can impact your career greatly. Manage your career assertively and powerfully by knowing your reputation. Find out the impressions you create. Then you can make decisions about changes you will and won’t make.
At some point in our career, most of us have taken a class that told us to give feedback that sounds like, “I felt ___________ when you ___________.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Most people get defensive when they receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive is a normal and natural response to upgrade (my word for negative) feedback. It’s the ego’s way of protecting us. Defensiveness kicks in when the recipient feels judged, and it’s difficult to listen when we’re defensive.
If you say to someone, “I felt embarrassed when you yelled at me in front of the team,” defensiveness kicks in at the word “embarrassed”. The recipient is now defensive (and is likely no longer listening) but does not yet know what they did to upset the person. Instead, lead with the facts, so when the listener becomes defensive, at least they know what they did.
If you say, “You yelled at me in front of the team. That was embarrassing,” at least when the defensiveness kicks in, the listener knows what they did that was upsetting. Then there is a chance that after processing the feedback, the person will change their behavior.
Yes to this:
“I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects. Can we touch base weekly for ten minutes?”
No to this:
“You don’t make time for me. “I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects.”
Lead with the facts. Tell the person what happened. Follow with why that matters. What happened, what’s the impact.
Factual, objective feedback may lead to change. Judgments lead to upset and damaged relationships.
Someone asks if you can (fill in the blank). You look at your calendar. That hour is open. You say, “yes.” You forgot that hour was designed for something you’ve been meaning to do, for yourself. You’re angry (with yourself) for forgetting. You promise to do better tomorrow.
The next day… repeat.
The only way I know out of tired-induced-people-pleasing is to set boundaries and stick to them. And this is hard, for me.
Examples of boundaries: Putting an hour in your calendar during the day to exercise; blocking 30-minutes between meetings to work; limiting one day each weekend to kids’ sports. Boundaries are parameters that guide our behavior. Putting a boundary in place doesn’t mean saying no. Boundaries create the conditions that tell us, without struggle, when to say yes.
Before I had my son, I traveled for work constantly. Some weeks I was on the road for six consecutive days, in three different states. And I loved every second of it. Audience + microphone = happiness. When I had a child, I knew that schedule wasn’t going to work. So, I set boundaries. I decided how many nights per week I would travel, the time I needed to be home from each trip, and how many hours I was willing to fly. And I didn’t violate those boundaries for 8 years. If a piece of work would require me to violate my travel boundaries, I said no without struggle, no matter how much I wanted to do that piece of work. The boundaries made the decisions easy. There was no deliberating or debating.
I’ll admit, I’m not as effective as setting boundaries in other areas of my life. Last week, I had a yoga class on my calendar. When I learned a repair person was able to be at my house during that hour, the yoga class was quickly deleted from my calendar. Yesterday, I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast, before flag football. He wanted scrambled eggs and a smoothie. I made both, knowing there wasn’t time. We were late for flag football. What was missing in both situations? Boundaries.
How does this apply to work? The key to preventing tired, burnt-out employees is to make it safe to speak up. As I wrote earlier in the year, burnout is a systemic issue, not a personal one. Burnout at work comes from too much to do, over time. One way out – make it safe to tell the truth at work.
For the most part, no one wants to admit to their boss that they are overextended or overwhelmed. Doing so feels like failure, and who wants to admit failure? If you want employees who are energized versus exhausted, focus on making it safe to tell the truth at work.
Five ways to make it safe to tell the truth at work:
Leaders and managers share their own truth. See the top of this blog for what that could sound like.
Ask employees meaningful questions. “How’s it going?” is not a meaningful question. Try: “What are your preferred working hours? What times a day would you prefer not to be contacted?”
Show appreciation when employees risk and say hard things.
Reward the truth. Make employees who are willing to say hard things a positive example.
Help employees problem solve to manage their time and priorities. Be ‘in it’ with them.
The good news about violating boundaries is you will get another chance to do it differently tomorrow. You can always reset a boundary. This time, tell the other people in your life about your boundaries. Tell your coworkers if you don’t do happy hours after meetings, 7:00 am Zoom calls, and back-to-back meetings, and tell them why. Then offer an alternative. Everything in life is a negotiation.
When my son asked that I not be on my phone on his birthday, I cried. I was surprised. I’m a very attentive parent. I spend a lot of time with my son. And apparently, as he has noticed, I also spend a lot of time with my phone.
There is always a good reason (excuse) for looking at my phone. I’m self-employed. I run a business. It’s important to be responsive to current and potential clients. But is every message timely? Urgent?
It’s become obvious – I’m addicted to my phone. I take it everywhere. I check it constantly. It’s such a habit, I don’t even see myself pick up the phone and check for messages.
Many people’s response to Covid was to move cities, switch jobs, continue working from home, and possibly work less. People are yearning for more balance and freedom. Yet, we are addicted to our phones, attached like they are a lifeline.
I regularly get calls from clients telling me that employees are tired and over extended – burnt out. They want a way out. Burnout is an organizational issue that begins and stops with strong management and leadership. One thing individuals can do to protect their time and separate work from their personal lives, is to put the phone away. By the way, next week’s tip is about how to prevent burn out.
The phone takes our attention and a lot of time, I suspect more time than we realize. When I’m focused and working during the day and hear that little ping of a text message, I stop working to check my phone. It’s a quick message, so I reply. Then the sender replies. Then I reply. Soon it’s been 20 minutes. Where was I with my work again?
These distractions can happen a few times a day. Then I pick my son up from school and lament how little I got done that day, and wonder when I’ll have time to finish my work? After my son’s asleep? In the morning before he wakes up? Instead of doing something I enjoy at night and sleeping in the morning, I’m trying to regain lost time.
Burnout is a systemic, organizational issue. But we can create boundaries with our phones today and regain some time and focus.
Here are the things I’m trying:
I leave the phone face down when I’m working and only turn it over if it rings. My son’s school doesn’t text when there is an emergency, they call.
My phone is on silent if my son is home and I’m not expecting a timely call or message.
I put my phone in another room when he is home, so I’m not tempted to look at it.
I leave the phone on another floor during my son’s bedtime routine, so that time is uninterrupted.
I don’t always do these things consistently, but I’m more aware of my addiction now. I’m conscious and I’m trying.
The key to taking back our time and having a balanced life is boundaries. A clear boundary (a rule you create for yourself) makes decision-making easier. There is no struggle, no internal fight. You are simply following the guidelines you put in place for yourself.
For example, if you decide to quit eating sugar for 30 days and go to a party where the sweets look really amazing, that experience will be stressful without a clear boundary. “I’m not eating sweets.” Not, “I’m not eating sweets unless they look really good.”
The same is true for the hours we work and work travel. If I set a boundary that I only travel one night a week and never miss two consecutive bedtime routines with my son, it’s easy to say no to work that doesn’t fit those boundaries, no matter how much I’d like to do that work.
Our phones can be the same. If you want to be less tied to your phone, set boundaries. “I only check my phone at the top of the hour. Then I put it on silent until the next hour.” “I’m available via phone, email and text until 5:30 pm each day, then I don’t check or respond to message until 8:30 am the next day.” Whatever boundaries you establish, tell the people around you who are impacted.
If your boss is used to getting responses at 8:00 pm, tell them the change you’re making and tell them why. If friends or family are used to hearing back from you within minutes, adjust their expectations.
You don’t have to be tied to your phone like it’s a member of the family. It’s a tool, not an extremity.
We’ve all received work from another person that wasn’t what we were expecting, hit reply, and told the other person what we thought. Then we dealt with the consequences.
A few tips for giving feedback to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t:
Don’t give feedback via email.Ever. You can’t manage your tone or see the person’s reaction.
Practice the 24-hour rule and the one-week guideline. Wait until you’re not upset to give feedback, but don’t wait longer than a week.
It’s almost impossible to give feedback without putting the other person on the defensive. Becoming defensive when receiving feedback is normal and natural. It’s a way to protect ourselves when we feel judged.
When people are defensive, it’s hard to listen and respond. The less defensive the other person becomes, the easier it is to communicate with that person. People will be less defensive if you give feedback when you’re calm and choose your words carefully.
Communicate in a way that the relationship needs versus what you need in the moment.
When we give feedback when we’re upset, we’re really communicating for us, not for the other person. I didn’t get what I want. I’m upset. And I’m going to tell you about it. Then the other person gets upset and now, in addition to you not getting what you wanted in the first place, you have to do damage control.
Communicating in a way the relationship needs means choosing the timing, words and method of communication that is likely to produce the result you want – the other person being able to hear you, while becoming minimally defensive, and taking action. Giving feedback when you’re upset, especially via email, will not produce the result you want. You’ll only damage your relationship.
Being an effective communicator and maintaining good business relationships requires patience and self-discipline. Wait to give feedback until you’re not upset. Don’t send an email. Pick up the phone or walk to the person’s desk. Deliver the feedback in a way the other person can hear you. Be ready for the person to become defensive. It’s human to become defensive. You can’t eliminate defensiveness, but how you deliver feedback can greatly reduce defensiveness. And you’ll get more of what you want and less of what you don’t.
Meetings go long; attendees stealthily text under the table like no one can see them; one person talks the whole time, while everyone else rolls their eyes. All the while, the facilitator does nothing.
The amount of time wasted in unproductive meetings and the degree of frustration meeting participants feel is astronomical.
The solution is simple but may not feel easy.
Set clear meeting expectations at the beginning of EVERY meeting and hold people accountable when they violate the guidelines.
Most meeting facilitators don’t set expectations at the beginning of meetings. Instead, facilitators expect attendees to follow the unstated, assumed guidelines. And when the meeting facilitator’s boss, peers, or customers are on their phone, it’s too hard to say something, so facilitators ignore the behavior, hoping it will stop without intervention.
The key to getting what you want in meetings (and in life) is to ask, which for the most part, we don’t. We assume people will do things as we do.
Tips for Running an Effective Meeting:
1. Set meeting expectations at your next meeting.
2. Write the expectations on a flip chart or in the chat and hang them up/post them in the chat at the beginning of every meeting.
3. Review the meeting expectations every time you meet, even with groups who meet weekly.
4. Ask meeting participants’ permission to manage meeting behavior. Your role as the meeting facilitator gives you the right to address bad meeting behavior. Asking for permission and letting people know you will say something if you see their phone etc., makes it easier to speak up.
5. Tell participants they are expected to hold themselves and each other accountable.
6. Then hold people accountable for following the meeting expectations. If you ask people not to side talk, address side talking when you hear it. If you ask people not to be on their laptops or phones, ask people to put them away. If one person talks too long, interrupt them. You will have no credibility if you set expectations but don’t hold people accountable.
The reason facilitators don’t hold people accountable is that they feel uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell your peers, boss, and coworkers to be more succinct. It’s almost impossible if you don’t set expectations about meeting behavior and set the expectation that you will say something when the meeting expectations are violated. The simple act of setting meeting expectations and asking people’s permission to manage to those expectations makes managing ‘bad’ meeting behavior easier. Not easy, but easier.
You may be thinking, “I don’t run these meetings. I’m an innocent victim.”
As a meeting participant, it is frustrating to go to poorly run meetings. But it’s also your role to speak up when you see things going poorly. Talk with the meeting facilitator.
The conversation could go something like this:
Express empathy: “That Wednesday team meeting is tough. I wouldn’t want to run it.”
Ask permission to give feedback: “I’d like to help. I’ve got a few observations and suggestions. Is it ok if I share them?”
Give feedback: “I’ve noticed that several people have been missing the meeting and others are on their phones and laptops during meetings. This definitely limits what we can get done and must be frustrating to you. What are your thoughts?”
Make a suggestion: “What do you think of setting meeting expectations at the next meeting and then telling people you’re going to hold them accountable?”
Offer help: “You’re not alone in this meeting. I’d be happy to tee up this discussion and explain why we need to set meeting expectations. What do you think?”
The facilitator knows the meetings aren’t going well. She just doesn’t know what to do. Offer to help. Don’t judge. She might be more receptive than you think. And you can stop suffering through poorly run meetings.
You’ve undoubtedly heard that it takes fewer than 30 seconds to form a first impression. The question is how frequently is your first impression wrong?
If the person sitting next to you on a plane doesn’t speak to you during the entire flight, you may initially think they are unfriendly, only to strike up a conversation as the plane is landing and find out that’s not the case. If a job candidate is outgoing, you may decide the person has good people skills, only to experience contrary behavior when they start the job. If someone is late to arrive for an initial meeting, you may decide they have an issue with time management, versus they were just running late that day.
Your first impression may be right, and it may be wrong, but it takes more than 30 seconds to be sure.
If you’ve participated in job interview training, you were probably trained to look for contrary evidence when forming an opinion about a candidate. Looking for contrary evidence is an attempt to disprove your first impression. If you quickly dismiss a candidate for lacking knowledge of your industry, you should ask interview questions to disprove your opinion before making a final decision.
Why not follow this practice in all settings? If you initially decide someone is trustworthy and reliable, spend more time with that person to be sure. If you quickly decide someone is unhelpful and uncommitted, give the person additional opportunities to behave differently before making a final judgment.
Snap judgments eliminate lots of great people and experiences from our lives.
Unfortunately, just as we prematurely exclude potential employees, friends, and life partners without having enough information, people do this to us as well, which is why it’s important to know the first impression you, your department, and your company make. If you don’t know the first impression you create, there’s nothing you can do to shift behaviors that may be costing you friends and customers.
When I was new to a job, early in my career, I asked my new coworkers to give me feedback if they saw me do anything that got in the way of my being successful at work. They agreed. But when they had negative feedback, they didn’t give it to me, they told my boss instead. That’s when I got the hard and painful lesson that people have a tendency to talk about us, not to us. It’s also when I began asking the people closest to me, who I know love me and care enough to tell me the truth, the first impression I create.
Opinions are formed quickly and they’re hard to break. Give people more than one chance and see how they show up. And know that many people will eliminate you, your department, and your company after just one interaction. So, find out the impression you create, giving you the power to do something about that impression.
Download some of the questions I ask to learn my reputation.
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 give them feedback. 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 they are doing something wrong, 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.
Time is the only thing in life you can’t get back. You can make friends and lose friends. You can make money and lose money. You can gain weight and lose weight. But you never ever get back your time.
So where is your time going? What are you doing that you know someone else should be doing? What are you doing out of obligation that is devoid of enjoyment? Where do you invest more time than you need to, requiring you to give short shrift to other priorities?
It may seem odd that a communications expert is writing about time management. I don’t speak or train on time management. But I do teach coaching and delegation, and effective managers and coaches know when to give something away.
Here are five time-management questions:
What are you doing at work that you know someone else could or should do?
If you invested a few hours training someone, what could you give up, creating room for something new?
What personal relationships do you invest time in because you think you’re supposed to?
Which family events are you attending out of obligation?
What do you give 110% percent to that 70% would be more than sufficient, leaving more of your time and energy for something more important?
You only have so much time and energy. Where are you going to put it – on the things that matter most or on distractions that seem important?
I’m not suggesting you skip every family event you don’t want to go to. But perhaps go for less time or skip every third event. I’m not advocating cutting corners or doing mediocre work. But sometimes we spend much more time on things than we need to, when investing less time would deliver the same result.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by 70% being more than enough:
You spend 25 hours on the formatting of a presentation when the content is what’s really important. You create gorgeous tables and graphs when five bullets were what the client really wanted.
You host a party and make hand painted table tents describing each food, when your guests will have a great time with typed descriptions or no descriptions at all.
You maintain friendships you know should have ended long ago because it seems like the right thing to do.
You avoid calling friends if you don’t have an hour to talk instead of calling and saying, I only have ten minutes but really want to talk with you.
Invest your time in what produces the greatest results and maximizes your enjoyment. Work hard, do great work, invest in your family and friends, and know when “no thank you” is the right answer.