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 unwanted 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.
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.”
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.
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.
A few years ago, I was facilitating a training when one of my client’s employees confided that she could see the train wreck coming on her team but wasn’t planning to say anything. She was going to watch the predicted mayhem happen, without saying a word.
Why wasn’t she planning to speak up about the breakdowns she could see were coming? Did she not care about her job or company? Was she not invested? The problem wasn’t any of those things. She simply didn’t believe that anyone wanted to hear what she had to say, the negative consequences for speaking up felt high, and quite simply, it was easier to say nothing.
When we were little, our parents likely told us, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As young professionals, when we did speak up and someone didn’t like what we had to say, we got ‘in trouble’. And no one wants to hurt people’s feelings, damage relationships, or get labeled as the person who complains. The odds are stacked against speaking candidly.
The problem is, when employees don’t speak up about concerns, avoidable breakdowns happen, innovation is stifled, and dissatisfaction festers. We must find a way to speak up, even when we’re afraid or uncomfortable.
Many years ago, a colleague said to me, “The truth is one ingredient in the recipe, it’s not the whole meal.” I can’t take credit for this bit of wisdom, but it stuck with me. You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking, you can just say a little.
If you want to speak up at work but are hesitant, test the waters. Provide a little bit of information and see what happens. Was the person receptive? Did you face negative consequences? Were you treated unfairly? If the person handled your message well, provide a little more information. See how that goes. Be judicious in how much input you provide. Remember, every time you give someone negative feedback, you may bruise their ego and every person and organization has its own pace for change.
Silence leads to stale ideas, employee turnover, and cultures where people don’t want to work. Speak up, just a little.
People get defensive when they receive negative feedback. It’s hard not to. Everyone wants to be seen as competent, and when we receive negative feedback, our competence is called into question, so we react.
There are several things you can do to reduce others’ defensiveness – ensure you have a trusting relationship and thus have earned the right to give feedback, watch your words, deliver feedback in a private setting, etc. But for today, I’m going to focus on getting a second opinion.
If you want people to be more receptive to your feedback, consider encouraging them to get a second, third, or fourth opinion. I’m a fan of casual 360-degree feedback – when we ask for feedback from people both inside and possibly outside our organization. Think of 360-degree feedback like an orange, it’s all the way around, like a sphere. When you get 360-degree feedback, you gather input from all the different types of people you interact with, thus getting a more comprehensive and accurate picture of performance. There are different types of 360-degree feedback. 360-degree feedback ranges from a formal, online, anonymous survey to casual conversations. In this instance, I’m suggesting something I call The Core Team.
I suggest everyone has a Core Team of three to five people who love you, know you well, and have your back. Most important is that you trust these people. Your Core Team may be personal or professional relationships or a mixture of both. You may have worked with Core Team members or not. What all Core Team members have in common is that they know you well, want what’s best for you, and will tell you the truth when asked.
My core team consists of a friend from high school, two people I used to work with, and my dad. When I get feedback that I’m having a hard time reconciling, I ask people on my Core Team to validate the feedback. It doesn’t matter if they’ve worked with me or not. I am who I am. I do the same annoying stuff in my personal and professional relationships. A personal Core Team member can provide valid, professional feedback. Sometimes they agree with the feedback I’ve been given and sometimes they don’t. But I always get compelling information to think about. And because I trust the people on my Core Team, I listen to what they have to say.
Don’t be disheartened if people don’t trust your feedback and aren’t receptive. Instead, see their resistance as human and encourage them to get a second opinion. And then talk again a week or a couple of weeks. Listening to and incorporating feedback is a process. It takes time, courage, and patience.