Companies want people who make things happen. And to make things happen, you have to speak up. Anticipating the train wreck and commenting after the train goes off the tracks doesn’t count.
What if you said what you thought, in a way other people could hear you, when you had the right to do so? Meaning, you have the relationship with the other person to tell the truth and you’ve asked permission to be candid?
6 Courageous Steps to Advance Your Career:
Look for opportunities to make things better.
Ask for permission to take the ball and run with it.
Find a way to say no, while engaging the other person in a conversation so a new approach is generated.
Be willing to go out on a limb, work hard, and fail.
Here’s how to speak up for change without being labeled as the problem person who finds flaws in everything:
Look for and present solutions, not just problems.
Offer to do the work to move towards a better way of doing things. Don’t drop problems at other people’s doors.
Ask questions versus overtly say that something is wrong. That could sound something like, “I’d love to help. Tell me more about how this works. Maybe we can insert a step to make the process better. What do you think of trying ________?” No one likes to be told he’s wrong. Asking questions elicits participation more than overtly saying, “This is broken. We need to fix it.”
Many people are afraid to speak up at work and believe that people who speak up get fired. I haven’t found this to be the case. People who work hard and produce results are typically the last people to be let go.
Say what you think in a way that is not critical. Offer solutions not just problems. Be a force for good and take an active role in making things better. And my hunch is your career will accelerate faster than you ever thought possible.
Unless you never interact with other people, there’s probably someone in your life who repeatedly engages in a behavior that annoys you. You’ve probably made requests about what you’d like the person to do differently, and hopefully you’ve given feedback. But the behavior hasn’t changed.
At some point, we have to accept that people are who and how they are. People can and will change certain behaviors, if their motivation is high enough. But other behaviors won’t change, and if you want to have the person in your personal or professional life, you have to accept the behavior and the person as they are. Accepting frustrating behaviors can be very difficult, at least it is for me. I admit, I often have this conversation myself, “Why won’t he…? I don’t get it. It’s not that hard. How many times do I have to ask?”
Here are five strategies for working with difficult people:
Working with difficult people strategy one: Decide on the behaviors you absolutely must have from others. We want certain things. We need other things. Get clear on what you need.
Working with difficult people strategy two: Make a request and ask the person to do what you want. It’s always easier to make a request than to offer negative feedback. Be sure you are being explicitly clear in your request. For example, “Please include me in meetings” is too vague. Instead, try, “Please invite me to all client meetings so I can stay connected to the clients and projects.”
Working with difficult people strategy three: Make requests at least three times. With each successive request (nicely) remind the person that you’ve made this request in the past and it still isn’t happening. For example, “We’ve talked about this in the past. Help me understand what’s happening.”
Working with difficult people strategy four: If you’ve made a request at least three times, give feedback as to what isn’t happening and why that causes challenges. For example, “We’ve talked about inviting me to client meetings a few times. It’s still not happening. I’m getting calls from clients with questions I can’t answer because I’m not included in the meetings. Can you help me understand why I’m not being invited to meetings?” Read chapters nine through eleven and chapter thirteen of How to Say Anything to Anyone to get more examples of how to give clear and specific feedback.
Working with difficult people strategy five: Know when to give up and accept the person and behavior as they are. If you’ve made a request and have given feedback three times, you likely aren’t going to get what you want. The person either can’t do what you’re asking or doesn’t want to. Now you have a decision to make.
Decide how important the behavior is. Is it a deal breaker? If it’s not a deal breaker, stop expecting the behavior to happen and accept that it won’t. When you accept that you won’t get what you want from someone you’ll suffer less.
Strategy five is really the crux of this blog. Knowing when to stop expecting something and coming to peace with that decision will give you great freedom. In order to let go of the expectation you have to decide that it’s really ok for you not to get what you want. Ask yourself, “Can I live with this behavior as it is?” If you can’t, you have a hard decision to make. If you can, then stop expecting and asking for the behavior. You’ll feel better.
I recently realized that when I recommend someone for a job, first I mention the person’s competence, second I mention how easy they are to work with.
I want smart, competent, and committed people on my team. I also want people who are easy to work with. People who take everything personally, get defensive when receiving even the slightest amount of feedback, and accuse first and ask questions later, are difficult to work with. These behaviors are exhausting. Working in our current environment is hard enough, working with people who make work harder because they’re difficult to work with is unnecessary and avoidable.
There are a few behaviors that make people difficult to work with. Avoid these blunders and accelerate your career.
Five tips to be easy to work with:
How to be easy to work with tip 1: Don’t take things personally. Human beings are wired for survival. Most people are so worried about themselves – looking good and doing well – they’re not all that worried about you. When you get overlooked for a project or a meeting, rather than feeling slighted, ask what happened that you weren’t included. Or just be grateful you have one fewer meeting to attend.
How to be easy to work with tip 2: Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Most people are genuinely trying to do the right thing. If you question someone’s motives or actions, ask a question before making a decision about that person.
I like the question, “Help me understand…?” It’s neutral and invites the other person to speak. If you choose to ask this question, watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
How to be easy to work with tip 3: Don’t hold a grudge. When an event is over, it’s over. Set expectations for how you want people to interact next time and then let your upset go. Let people recover from mistakes and miscommunication.
How to be easy to work with tip 4: Temper your emotions at work. You’re human and human beings have feelings. But sometimes our feelings can be off putting to others. Most people are uncomfortable when managers and coworkers yell, cry, or give the silent treatment. Wait to have conversations until you’re not upset. And if you can’t manage your emotions during a conversation, excuse yourself until you can.
How to be easy to work with tip 5: Be introspective and self-aware. The better you know yourself and how you impact others, the more you can work with others how they like to work. Periodically ask people you trust for feedback on the impression you make and what you’re like to work with. Listen to their feedback and adjust your communication habits to be easier to work with.
The bottom line – positive work performance isn’t just about producing results, it’s also how we get those results. Are we easy to work with or do we make work harder than it has to be? I want to be someone and want to work with people who make work easier, not harder.
Think about all the people and situations that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for. My hunch is, you’re getting what you ask for.
While most of us aren’t great at telling people when they violate our expectations, we’re not any better at asking for what we want. You might be afraid of appearing demanding or may not feel you have the right to make requests. When you tell people what you expect, you make their lives easier. Think about when someone invites you to their house for a socially-distanced, backyard barbeque. If you have any manners (and I’m sure you do), you ask what you can bring. When the other person says nothing, it makes your job (to be a good guest) harder. Now you have to guess what the other person wants. It would be so much easier if he would just tell you. This also applies to birthday gifts and where to meet for lunch. When people tell you what they want as a gift and where they want to eat, you don’t have to guess and they are easier to please.
It’s much easier to live and work with people when we know what they expect from us. And setting expectations is always easier than giving negative feedback. Negative feedback implies someone did something wrong. And no one likes to be told he is wrong. Setting expectations provides a road map to success, making it easier to win with you.
Here are a few phrases to make setting expectations easier:
Setting expectations example one: Consider saying, “I need time to get settled when I start working in the morning. Will you hold all questions and requests until 10:00 am?” You’re not telling someone she barrages you with questions before you’ve opened your laptop in the morning; you’re simply asking for what you need.
Setting expectations example two: You could say, “I like to have things done well before they are due. Will you send me all input for the weekly status report by Wednesday of each week so I have a few days to review your input before I have to submit it?” You’re not telling the person that working with him requires a weekly fire drill; you’re simply making a non-judgmental request.
Setting expectations example three: You could ask, “Would it be possible to touch base once a week via phone 10 minutes before you officially login so I can get your input on projects?” You’re not telling the person she is impossible to get time with; you’re simply proposing an idea.
One of the keys to getting what you want is make requests in a neutral, non-judgmental way. The more you ask for and the more specific your requests, the easier you are to work with. What you need and want will be clear; there will be no guessing. People may choose to ignore your requests and violate your expectations, and then you’ll provide feedback. But start with making clear and specific requests, and see how many fewer feedback conversations you need to have.
When my son started pre-school, I attended new parent orientation. I had never sent my son to school and I had lots of questions. I asked my questions at the orientation; I was the only parent who asked questions. The mom sitting next to me wasn’t even sure she qualified for the program. Her child was enrolled in a parent-tot program; parents had to attend with their child and couldn’t send a caregiver. The mom worked full-time and couldn’t attend herself. Even though she wasn’t sure her child could participate in the program, she didn’t ask any questions. It was just me asking all the questions. By the end if the evening, I could feel the other parents’ eyes on me, wishing I’d shut up so they could go home and relieve their babysitter.
One of managers’ and employers’ biggest complaints is the inability to hire critical thinkers – employees who question. I hear this complaint all the time. Yet we often find the people who ask questions irritating and bothersome. “Why do they have to look for what’s wrong? Why do they have to question?”
Questioners are often seen as boat rockers, challenging the status quo. They are ‘difficult’.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hire people who think critically, who don’t question.
I’m not talking about people who can’t make a decision and are constantly asking managers to validate their solutions or employees who use managers as google rather than doing their own research. I’m talking about squelching the counter-point-of-view.
If you want employees who identify and solve problems and create new products and ways of working, then you need to reward those who question.
One of the reasons employees may not ask questions is the fear of appearing as if they don’t know. Who likes to admit they don’t know something at work? Not knowing makes us appear less valuable, less reliable. It takes strength to admit, “I don’t know.” Managers and leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see. We need to ask our own questions visibly and regularly. We need to admit when we don’t know. We need to be willing to be wrong and to let others see it.
There is an old workplace adage, you get what you reward. Does your organization have an award for the employee who asks the most questions? If not, create one. Do you recognize employees publicly who are willing to point out inefficient processes and costly systems? Do you have a reward system in place for employees who fail trying to fix a problem or create something new? If we get what we reward, what are we rewarding?
Our company got a shipment of products this week that were partially defective. When I called our vendor to tell him about the defective products, he sighed knowingly. He knew part of our order was imperfect and waited for me to find the problems versus telling me himself.
I love surprise gifts, trips, and discounts. But I don’t like surprise errors and your internal and external customers don’t either.
Everyone makes mistakes at work. Making a mistake is not necessarily a problem. It’s how you deal with the error that matters more. Letting those who are impacted by a mistake be surprised damages your reputation and working relationships much more than coming clean as soon as you realize the error. Rather than waiting to get caught, tell your customers about mistakes and work together to make things right.
Here are a few ways to tell people you made a mistake, while saving face:
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #1: When you realize you’ve made a mistake, pick up the phone and tell the person live, as soon as you know. Don’t wait.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #2: Apologize and work with your customer to develop a solution. Be part of the process. Don’t leave your internal or external customer holding the bag.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #3: Don’t give a bunch of reasons or justifications for what happened. It sounds like excuse management and no one cares. Your customers just want to know how you’re going to solve the problem.
Fessing up to making mistakes at work tip #4: Say something like, “I realized we sent you a report with incorrect information. I’m so sorry. I’d like to work with you to make this right. Here are a couple of ideas of what we can do… Would any of these suggestions work for you?”
Or you could say, “I realized parts of your order are imperfect. I’m so sorry. Here’s how we’d like to make things right. Are these solutions satisfactory to you?”
Or consider saying something like, “I’ve realized we can’t fulfill your order by the date we promised. I’m so sorry. Here’s what I suggest we do to get you what you need in a timely way. Does this work for you?”
We all make mistakes. How you handle mistakes determines how your internal and external customers view you and how much they trust you. Come clean quickly. Take responsibility. Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for a mistake. Help make things right. And you’ll likely preserve your reputation and business relationships.
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.
Your boss’s job is to help you eliminate obstacles, ensure you have the resources you need to be successful, and to be a coach. A manager’s job is also to evaluate you.
Managers only have so many points of reference to evaluate their employees’ performance. If you tend to vent with your boss how your internal customers are difficult to work with, your boss doesn’t know that you don’t do this with everyone. It’s a point of reference that makes an impression. How do I know this? I learned it the hard way.
My last boss, before I started Candid Culture, was the best boss I ever had. He always had my back. He was knowledgeable about the business and happy to share his knowledge. He trusted me and gave me a lot of latitude. And I confused that positive relationship with that of a confidante.
I felt comfortable with my boss, so I complained about my internal customers to him. I thought he was a safe person to do that with. I was wrong. He eventually told me he had no way to determine that I didn’t vent with everyone. My naïve decision to vent to my boss was a point of reference about my professionalism and not a good one.
It would have been fine to tell my boss I was struggling to work with an internal customer and to ask for suggestions for how to work better with the person. It would have been fine to say that I was frustrated or discouraged and was in need of support. It’s ok to share problems and breakdowns and leverage your boss to find solutions and to get help. Asking your boss to help you solve a problem you haven’t been able to solve yourself is expected. Using your boss as a therapist is not.
I don’t want you to be paranoid, to feel that you have to watch every word that comes out of your mouth, and that you always have to be on your guard. Just know the role people in organizations play. Leaders and managers have to determine who is successful in their current role and who is a good fit for future roles. So be mindful of how you show up and to whom.
We all know impressions are formed quickly and are hard to change. If someone sees you once a week, one a month, once a quarter, what are they seeing? People only know what we show them and what others tell them.
I know this post is political. I’m almost hesitant to write it. But I don’t want you labeled as someone with poor judgment or someone who can’t manage their emotions. Remember, let your boss see the poised professional you are. Let your friends and family see the rest.
Organizations are working hard to retain employees. Employees are watching how their organization’s leaders and managers work, and often make career decisions based on the hours the most senior people keep. Not a recipe for retaining employees.
Many employees pay particular attention to how often managers and senior leaders take time off and whether or not leaders attend meetings and respond to emails while they’re ‘off.’ Employees observe the late nights that leaders and managers put in and the emails sent at 11:00 pm and on the weekends. I’ve heard lots of employees say, “If I need to work like my boss works to get ahead in this organization, I’m not interested.”
Managers, one of the keys to retaining employees is to communicate expectations. If you’re available while you’re on vacation, but don’t expect employees to do the same, set that expectation. If you send an email outside of regular business hours but don’t expect employees to respond until the next business day, tell them so. They don’t know. Many employees assume that if you email them at night, you expect a reply.
Instead of allowing employees to make assumptions about what managers do and don’t expect, set clear expectations. Be overt and clear. Tell employees, “I work most evenings and weekends, but don’t expect you to do so. And I work these hours because I enjoy it, not because I have to. If I email you outside of regular business hours, I am not expecting you to reply.” Retaining good employees begins during the interview process when initial expectations are set.
Managers, if you expect employees to check and respond to emails outside of regular business hours and to be available while on vacation, tell candidates during the interview process. If working long hours is a criteria for promotion, set that expectation. It’s completely fine to expect long hours and for employees to be accessible outside of regular business hours. There is nothing wrong with either expectation. There is only a problem if employees don’t know that’s the expectation.
Employees, if your manager emails you outside of regular business hours and she doesn’t tell you whether or not she expects you to reply, ask. Simply say, “I often receive emails outside of regular business hours. How will I know when you need me to reply?” Likewise, if you notice your manager emails you on vacation, you can say, “I typically hear from you when you’re on vacation. Are you expecting me to check in while I’m off?”
The need to ask questions and set expectations goes both ways. Don’t wait to be told. Ask.
Managers and employees, ask these Candor Questions about working style preferences to aid in retaining employees:
How do you feel about being contacted outside of regular business hours?
If I need to reach you over a weekend or in the evening, what method is best?
Would you prefer I text you so you don’t have to check your email outside of business hours?
What time is too early and too late to call, text, and/or email?
Ask more. Assume less and make retaining employees easier.
When I get an email that has multiple paragraphs I look at it, decide I don’t have time to read it, and close it out, promising to go back to it later when I have more time, which never happens.
Here are a few tips for writing effective emails that are more likely to be read:
Put a specific subject in the subject line that says what the email is about.
This does not include your name. We already know your name.
Ex.: “Meeting” (that’s not specific). Instead try: “Meeting to agree upon February goals.”
Highlight and bold important parts of the email
Limit this practice so what’s bolded and highlighted stands out.
If everything is bold, nothing stands out.
Use the fewest number of words possible
Use links that send readers to relevant information
Offer additional information, if desired
The shorter your emails are, the more likely they are to get read. You can always offer additional information, but readers won’t get to the detail if they never read the email. When it comes to writing effective emails, shorter is better.