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Career Management Archive

Make It Easier to Talk About Fear at Work

In all of my years of working in and with organizations, I have never heard anyone say the words, “I’m scared” at work. I’ve heard: “I’m concerned” and “I’m uncomfortable,” but never the words, “I’m scared.”

These are scary times. It’s scary to go to the grocery store, to know who it’s ‘safe’ to stand next to, and to travel.

Make it safe for employees to talk about their fears.

One of the first things I teach when I talk about change management is letting people express how they feel – their worries, hopes, and concerns. The people you work with are likely scared. They may be wondering if their job is secure, what happens if they get sick, and are they doing enough work from home with their kids present.

It’s hard to talk about fear because we think doing so makes us appear weak. Leaders and managers need to normalize the conversation. Make it ok to talk about how people feel at work.

Here are four steps to make it easier to talk about fear at work:

  1. Leaders and managers – admit what you’re afraid of. People will take your lead. Admitting how you feel demonstrates strength not weakness.
  2. Tell people it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to talk about fear at work. Sanction the conversation.
  3. Give more information about contingency planning, budgets and work from home and time off policies than you think you need to.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Then do it again.
  4. Create a forum for people to talk about how they feel about recent events and changes. Managers are not therapists or dumping grounds, but you are coaches. You can help people work through their work-related fears when you know what those fears are.

I’ve always believed that demonstrating our humanity at work is a strength. Being authentic makes people want to work for and with you. Admitting concerns makes you approachable and real.

Your employees and coworkers don’t need to know the details of your whole life, but they do need to see your humanity and be able to relate to you. Talk about how you feel and open the door for others to do the same.


Know Your Reputation; Manage Your Career

At some point, you’ll get passed over for a promotion, project, or piece of work, and no one will tell you why. Why should they? There is little incentive to deal with your likely (human and normal) defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

The problem is that this lack of information gives you no ability to manage your career.

Most people get almost no feedback at work. “Good job” isn’t feedback. Neither is, “You seem distracted.” And being told, “You just weren’t the right fit,” is utterly unhelpful.

If you want to manage your career, you need more information. Getting this information might seem scary. You might be thinking, “What if I don’t want to hear what people have to say? What happens if I hear something really bad?” People are so hesitant to give feedback, they’ll likely be ‘nice’ to you. You won’t hear anything you can’t handle.

There are people in your life who will tell you the impression you create, what you’re like to work with, and why you might not have gotten a job you really want. They’ll tell you, if you ask and make it safe to tell you the truth. Making it safe means you can’t defend yourself. No matter what the person says and how hard it may be to hear, you must respond with, “Thank you for telling me that,” even if you’re convinced they’re wrong.

The easier it is to give you feedback, the more feedback you’ll get. The harder it is to give you feedback, the less you’ll get. Remember, no one wants to deal with your defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing.

Identify five people in your life who care about you, who you trust. They might work with you now, but perhaps not. Don’t overlook your friends, family, spouse and past co-workers. Tell each person, individually, that you want to know more about the impression you make and what you’re like to work/interact with. Do this over the phone or in-person. Emailing the request doesn’t demonstrate seriousness. Ask the person to schedule a conversation with you. Send your questions in advance, so the person is prepared. Have the scheduled meeting; don’t cancel it, even if something important comes up. Consider asking: The first impression you make; what you’re like to work/interact with; the best thing about you; and one change you could make. Say, “thank you,” for the information and not more. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. Everyone gets defensive when receiving feedback. Defensiveness can be off-putting and scary to others. Don’t do anything to limit future feedback.

Ask these questions a few times a year. You don’t necessarily need to make any changes, based on what you learned. The point isn’t to act on the information, it’s merely to have it. Information is power, and power is control.


Business Communication Skills – Influence by Asking Questions

When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.

I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, early in my career. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.

If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.

Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old, very effective practice.

People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.


Ask Questions Before You Give Feedback & Strengthen Your Business Relationships

When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.

When someone does something for the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.

Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.

When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.

Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.

When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”

In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.

Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.


Not getting feedback at work? It’s your mom’s fault.

Last week I had lunch with a client. When I returned from lunch I saw a friend who told me I had something stuck in my teeth.  I was embarrassed and wondered why my client hadn’t told me.

It’s quite possible he hadn’t noticed.  In fact, knowing this guy and how much work I’ve done with his firm on being candid, it’s probable he hadn’t noticed. But we all know people who notice and say nothing. We could walk around all day with toilet paper on our shoe, lipstick on our teeth, or our fly down, and the people around us won’t tell us.

If you read my blog weekly, you already know that people have been trained not to tell you the truth.

But I think there is more preventing people from telling us the truth. Complete this sentence:  “If you have nothing nice to say, _________________________________. Who told you that?  Your mother!!!

I do think there’s something to this. We’re raised to believe that it’s not nice to say something to another person that isn’t positive.  And in the past, when we did speak up, it’s likely the other person got defensive.  So it’s no wonder that we don’t readily give people bad news.

Here are five tips for getting feedback from the people around you:

  1. Establish a core team of people who will always tell you the truth. These can be friends, coworkers, clients, vendors, your boss, etc.
  2. Give people permission, to be honest with you.  “Let’s make a deal. I always want you to tell me the truth. If I have something stuck in my teeth, or I’m inappropriately dressed for a meeting, or I’m doing something that damages my reputation, I want you to tell me.”
  3. Make it easy to tell you the truth. “I promise no matter what you tell me and how hard it is to hear, I will say thank you. I won’t get defensive. And if I do, I’ll apologize and try to do better next time.”
  4. Offer to do the same for them. “And if you want me to do the same thing for you, I’m happy to do it.”
  5. Periodically check in with people and ask for feedback.  “A few months ago I asked you to tell me anything I said, did, or wore that got in the way of my success.  Is there anything you’ve seen that you want to tell me?”

Every time you ask for feedback and take it graciously, you train the person to give you more feedback. On the contrary, every time you get defensive, you make it hard for people to give you feedback, making it likely they won’t do it again.

If you don’t want to walk around looking silly all day, create a safe environment where co-workers can tell the truth.


The Job Interview Questions Hiring Managers Must Ask

There is one job interview question recruiters and hiring managers must ask. And the answer should be a deal-breaker.

The most important job interview question for any role and level, in every organization: Tell me about a time you received negative feedback.

This is NOT the same question as tell me about a weakness. Or tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. Those are also important job interview questions to ask. But they’re not the most important question.

Let’s assume everyone you interview is age sixteen and older. Unless your candidates live in a cave, never speaking to anyone, it’s not possible to arrive at age 16 without having received negative feedback. The feedback can come from a friend, teacher, or parent. It doesn’t need to be work-related.

The point of the question is to discover whether the candidate is open to feedback. People who are not open to feedback are extraordinarily difficult to work with. They aren’t coachable. Any type of feedback they receive will result in resistance and defensiveness.

Employees who aren’t open to feedback won’t change or improve their behavior, regardless of how effective a manager is. Instead of listening to feedback and taking corrective action, employees who are not open to feedback will tell managers why s/he is wrong.

Everyone you interview has received negative feedback at some point. The question is whether or not candidates were open enough to listen to the feedback. People who aren’t open to feedback won’t be able to answer your question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask a follow-up question. Your job as the interviewer is to give candidates every possible opportunity to be successful. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, ask the interview question in two different ways, until you’re certain the candidate can’t or won’t answer the question.

If candidates can’t tell you about a time they received negative feedback, ask what their reputation is at their current job or was at a previous job. Candidates probably won’t be able to answer this question either. Most people don’t know their reputation at work.

Even if a candidate doesn’t know with certainty his reputation at work, the answer he provides will give you a sense of how self-aware he is. People who are self-aware are more open to feedback and are easier to coach and manage than people who are not self-aware.

I really do eliminate candidates who demonstrate that they aren’t open to feedback –whether I’m hiring for Candid Culture or for one of my clients. I don’t care how credentialed or experienced the candidate is.


Write Your Own Goals & Take Control of Your Performance Review

Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.

If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.

One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well-written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.

It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.

Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate.
Sample goals are below.

Desired Outcome (goal):

• Improve client feedback – too vague
• Get better-written reviews from clients – better
• 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best

Actions you will take to achieve the goal:

• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague
• Ask clients for feedback weekly – better
• Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best

Goal template:

Completed sample goal:

How to approach your manager with written goals:

Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2020 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2020?”

You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2020 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.


2020 Goals – What If Your Primary Job Is to Be Happy?

I always want to do things right and hate making mistakes. When I say or do things I wish I hadn’t done, I relive those scenarios way more than I care to admit, also known as obsessing. But maybe life isn’t about doing everything right. What if our primary job in life is to be happy?

I’m not making a list of 2020 personal goals, although I don’t think doing so is bad. Lots of people will set 2020 goals. If setting specific goals works for you, do it. Just don’t set yourself up to fail. You’re not likely to lose 30 pounds, save 20% of your income, start a not-for-profit, visit five new countries, and become a fantastic cook in one year. Maybe dial those 2020 goals back and pick two of them, but only if you enjoy working towards those goals.

Perhaps life isn’t about getting more done. Perhaps life is really about enjoying more.

If you want to set 2020 goals, I wouldn’t be opposed if they are:

  1. Have a job you love.
  2. Spend time with people who make you feel good.
  3. Speak your truth (nicely).

2020 Goal: Have a job you love. You don’t need to keep a job that doesn’t allow you to do work you enjoy and are good at. There are lots of jobs out there. Go get one you like.

2020 Goal: Spend time with people who make you feel good. Stop spending time with people you don’t like or who you don’t feel better after leaving their presence. Your discretionary time is limited. “I should maintain this friendship because we’ve known each other for so long.” Or, “I should spend time with family members I don’t enjoy because it’s the right thing to do” is diminishing your happiness. Text those people occasionally and spend your time elsewhere.

2020 Goal: Speak your truth (nicely). People are more likely to quit a job and a relationship than to say what isn’t working and to ask for what they want. Fear less; speak more. When you speak from a desire to make things better and to strengthen relationships, there is little you can’t say, so start talking.

I won’t tell you not to save money, travel more, or become a gourmet cook. But what if your job in 2020 isn’t to do more? What if your primary job is to be happy? What would your 2020 goals be then?


Organizational Culture – Hire and Fire for Fit

When I interviewed for my last job, before starting Candid Culture, the CEO put a mug in front of me with the company’s values on it and asked if I could live by those values at work. He was smart. Hiring someone with the skills to do a job is one thing. Hiring someone who fits into the organizational culture, is another.

Determining if a prospective employee will fit your organizational culture is much harder than determining if someone has the skills to do a job. Often when an employee leaves a job, only to take the same role at another company, they left for fit. They just didn’t feel comfortable. They weren’t a good fit with the organizational culture.

culture fit

You’ve probably heard discussions about employees who deliver results at the expense of relationships. Or about employees who fellow employees really like, but they just can’t do the job.

Leaders of organizations need to decide what’s important:  What people do?  How they do it? Or both. I’m going to assert that both the work employees deliver and how they deliver that work is equally important. I think you should hire and fire for fit.

Work hard to hire people who will fit into your organizational culture. Get rid of people who don’t fit. The impact on your organization’s reputation and on internal and external relationships depends on hiring people who behave consistently with your brand and how you want your organization’s culture to feel.

At Candid Culture, we teach people to have open, candid, trusting relationships at work. Thus we must hire people who are open to feedback and communicate honestly. And we fire people who don’t model those behaviors.

If you want a high service organizational culture, you can’t hire people who don’t care about others or who don’t want customers to feel good about working with you.

Here are a few ways to ensure you hire people who are a good organizational culture fit:

  1. Share your current or desired culture with job candidates early, often, and clearly.
  2. Work to assess how candidates fit the culture. Use practical interviews, job shadowing, and reference checks to assess organizational culture fit.
  3. Talk about the culture when onboarding employees.
  4. Make behaving according to the culture part of your performance appraisal process.
  5. Reward behavior that matches the culture.
  6. Have consequences for not acting according to the culture. A negative feedback conversation is a consequence.
  7. Ensure your leaders and managers live the culture. Get rid of leaders and managers who aren’t a good culture fit. This takes courage.

When people leave an organization, they don’t often take copies of reports they produced or work they created. And if they do, they rarely look at that work. What they do take, remember and find meaning in, are the relationships they built at work. Relationships are dependent on organizational culture.

Determine the organizational culture you want. Talk about regularly. Require people to act according to the culture. Reward the ones who do. Get rid of the ones who don’t. Make working in your organization feel as you want it to feel.


Manage Up to Give Feedback

Employees are often afraid of the most senior people in organizations, simply because of their titles. The better the title, the scarier people are. And if employees are scared of organizational leaders, they’re not going to give those leaders negative feedback. The most senior people in an organization get the least information of anyone.

No one likes to be told that he is wrong. Negative feedback tells the person he did something wrong. But there is more than one way to give feedback. Asking questions can be equally as effective as giving direct feedback.

If you want to give a senior person negative feedback, but you’re afraid of the consequences, manage up by asking more and saying less.

Here are some ways to manage up by asking questions:

Rather than saying, “I disagree, I think you’re wrong, or this is a mistake,” consider managing up by asking questions like:

  • We’ve chosen to invest a lot in this software. I wasn’t here when the software was chosen. What’s the history of this initiative?
  • What were the criteria for selection?
  • What are you concerned about?
  • What are you satisfied with?
  • What else have we tried?
  • What are your thoughts about…?
  • What if we tried…?

Asking questions gets the person involved in a discussion, during which you can eventually express your point of view. When you ask questions, you say very little, and definitely don’t call the person’s decision-making into question.

Human beings are wired for survival. Receiving negative feedback kicks the need to defend oneself into gear, hence why people become defensive when they receive negative feedback. Negative feedback calls survival into question. If you don’t want people to become defensive, don’t require them to defend themselves. A discussion, during which you ask questions, is much less threatening than overtly disagreeing with someone’s point of view.

Asking questions takes more time and more patience than giving direct feedback. But it also takes less courage, and the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be as good. You need a pretty good relationship to give direct feedback. If you don’t have that relationship, manage up by asking questions instead of being so direct.

If you do choose to ask questions, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you aren’t really asking a question, you’re giving feedback, which is likely to evoke the defensive response you’re seeking to avoid.

It’s important to be able to express your point-of-view at work. Staying in a job or organization in which you can’t speak up, doesn’t feel great and doesn’t leverage the best of what you have to offer. But if you’re concerned about giving direct feedback, manage up by asking questions.  Say less. Ask more.


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