Managing People Archive
Most of us avoid giving negative feedback because we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.
Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.
Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:
- Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
- Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
- Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
- When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
- Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.
What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:
Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”
Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, I promise you that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay here.”
Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else has given me positive feedback.”
Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________. Please do that.”
Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”
Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”
Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”
Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”
The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.
Want to spend less time managing performance issues? Hire the right people. The right people make everything work. The wrong people drain your time, patience, and resources.
Instead of spending 60-90 minutes doing multiple interviews, which tell you little, give candidates a chance to experience the job, and see how they do.
I used to conduct thorough interviews after screening candidates via phone. I’d ask a lot of questions, and I still hired the wrong people. And as a result, we’ve changed our hiring practices at Candid Culture. We no longer do traditional interviews after phone screens. Instead, after conducting a phone screen, we give candidates about an hour to do parts of the job. Then we decide if we want to talk with them further.
Too many companies spend too much time interviewing candidates they won’t hire. You might have multiple employees interview a candidate. It’s not uncommon for candidates to meet seven or eight people and spend multiple days interviewing. The ultimate decision maker often interviews the person last, cuts the candidate, and thus wasted existing employees’ and the candidate’s time. If you want your employees to be involved in the hiring process, have them interview only the candidates the decision maker would be willing to hire. Why waste everyone’s time?
Here Are Seven Interviewing Techniques to Make Better Hiring Decisions:
Interviewing Techniques Number One: Consider hiring a recruiting firm to source and screen candidates. Reading 100 resumes is likely not how you want to spend your time.
Interviewing Techniques Number Two: If you choose not to outsource recruiting, create a few steps for candidates to follow when applying for a job with your company to weed out the people who aren’t serious. It’s better to see 20 resumes from serious candidates than 100 resumes from candidates who potentially aren’t really interested in your company.
Interviewing Techniques Number Three: If you’re sourcing and screening your own candidates, conduct thorough phone screens. Assess culture fit and candidates’ ability to do the job, and eliminate candidates who don’t meet your criteria.
Interviewing Techniques Number Four: After conducting phone screens, schedule interviews with the candidates you’re interested in. Tell candidates they’ll be participating in a practical interview during which they’ll get to do parts of the job, so they can see if they’ll enjoy the work.
Interviewing Techniques Number Five: Have candidates do some work, observe them and/or the work they produce, and provide some positive and improvement feedback. If, after observing candidates do some work, you think they can do the job, and the candidate accepted your feedback without becoming defensive, conduct an in-person interview. If you don’t think they can do the job or were not open to feedback, eliminate the candidate.
During interviews, I screen for a candidate’s willingness to accept coaching and feedback. People who aren’t coachable or open to feedback are exhausting and difficult to work with.
Interviewing Techniques Number Six: If you’re interested in a candidate after both the practical and in-person, video or phone interview, conduct detailed reference checks. Never, ever skip the reference check.
Interviewing Techniques Number Seven: Lastly, if you’re going to extend an offer, ask your finalists to spend a day or half a day job shadowing. Job shadowing virtually is trickier than in person, but with some creativity, it can be done. Candidates and employers are on their best behavior during an interview and become more relaxed outside of the traditional interview. You want candidates to get a feeling for what it’s really like to work in your organization. Culture fit is the hardest thing for candidates and hiring managers to predict. Job shadowing helps.
Slow down your interviewing, be more thorough, and make better hiring decisions.
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 practice the feedback formula with them. 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 s/he is doing something wrong, which 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.
Working in a matrix management structure often means being accountable to several people (having multiple bosses) and having accountability without authority – both of which are challenging. It’s not uncommon for people working in a matrix management structure to be frustrated. People with dotted-line employees or managers often say they’re unsure of who they really work for, who to go to with challenges and needs, and that they don’t have the authority to lead people or processes. All of these frustrations are avoidable and manageable. The key to making a matrix management structure work is lots and lots of communication.
If you work in a matrix management environment and are thus accountable to multiple people, take charge of the management structure by asking the questions:
- Who is my ultimate boss?
- Who has input on my performance feedback and review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who has decision-making authority over my pay increases and promotion opportunities?
- Who do I go to when I need help?
- Quarterly (at a minimum) group meetings with all the managers you’re accountable to
- That all the managers you’re accountable to provide input on your performance appraisal
- That all the managers you report to participate in your performance discussion(s)
Follow the same practices for people who dotted line report to you. If you’re accountable for someone’s results, but you’re not their direct supervisor, ask for quarterly meetings with the employee and their boss. Ask to participate in the employee’s appraisal process and keep the lines of communication between you, the employee, and the direct supervisor transparent and open. Talk regularly. Agree on who sets expectations and gives feedback. Be sure you know your role and the direct supervisor’s role.
The key to making a matrix management structure work is:
- Everyone knows who does what and who has what authority
- Group meetings that happen at least quarterly
- Expectations are clear
Ask more. Assume less.
Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.
Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.
“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.
The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell them what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.
Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “Great job.”
Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision. Great job!”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”
Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”
Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem. You make my job easy.”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”
Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”
The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:
- Be specific.
- Give an example.
- Give feedback close to the time an event happens.
To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what she did well.
You will be passed over for jobs, projects, and second dates, and never know why. Being passed over isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not knowing why you were passed over is problematic. If you don’t know why you’re being passed over, how can you be prepared next time?
Organizations are political. People talk. You’ve undoubtedly already experienced this.
If you want to manage your professional reputation, one thing you must know is who talks about you and what they say. How decisions get made in organizations isn’t always obvious. There are the obvious channels of decision making, like your boss and your boss’s boss. But there are also the people who talk to your boss and boss’s boss and have an opinion about you, who you may not be aware of.
Everyone in an organization has people they trust, who they listen to and confide in. Who those trusted people are isn’t always obvious. When you’re being considered for a new position or project, the decision makers will invariably ask others for their opinion. Knowing who does and doesn’t support you in a future role is essential to managing your professional reputation and career.
I don’t want you to be nervous, paranoid, or suspicious at work. I do want you to be savvy, smart, and aware.
It’s not difficult to find out who can impact your professional reputation at work, you just need to ask the people who know. Start with your manager. Your manager likely knows and will tell you, if you ask.
To ensure you know who can impact your professional reputation, tell your manager:
“I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry. I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.”
Then ask two or three of these questions:
- Who in the organization should I have a good relationship with?
- Who/what departments should I be working closely with?
- Who impacts my professional reputation and the opportunities I have?
- What skills do I have that the organization values most?
- What contributions have I made that the organization values most?
- What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
Your manager doesn’t walk around thinking about the answers to these questions. If you want thoughtful answers, set a time to meet with your manager. Tell your manager the purpose of the meeting – to get feedback on your professional reputation so you can adeptly manage your career – and send the questions in advance, giving your manager time to prepare for the meeting. You will get more thoughtful and complete answers if your manager has two weeks to think about the questions and ask others for input.
Don’t be caught off guard by a less-than-stellar professional reputation. Take control of your reputation and career. Ask more. Assume less.
Most employees need only a handful of things to be satisfied and productive at work. The key is getting employees to tell you what those things are. And they might just tell you, if you ask.
Effective management involves asking questions during the interview process, after an employee starts, and again 90-days to six months into the job.
I recommend asking the seven questions below. I call the questions, Candor Questions.
Candor Question number one: “What brought you to this company? Why did you accept this job? What are you hoping the job will provide?” Ask one of these three questions. Pick the one you like best.
Candor Question number two: “What would make you leave this job? What are your career deal breakers, things you just can’t tolerate at work?” Ask either of these questions.
Candor Question number three: “What type of work, skills, and/or areas of our business do you want to learn more about?”
Candor Question number four: “Tell me about the best manager you ever had. What made him/her the best manager?” This will tell you what the employee needs from you as a manager and is a much better question than, “What do you need from me as your manager?” That is a hard question to answer. Telling you the best manager s/he ever had is easy.
Candor Question number five: “Tell me about the worst manager you ever had? What made him/her the worst manager?”
Candor Question number six: “What are your pet peeves at work? What will frustrate you?” Why find out the hard way what frustrates employees when it’s so easy to ask. This question demonstrates that you want your employees to be happy and that you will flex your own preferences, when possible, to meet employees’ needs.
Candor Question number seven: “How do you feel about being contacted via cell phone or text outside of business hours? How do you feel about receiving emails during the evenings and weekends?”
If you’ve participated in one of our management trainings or received a box of Candor Questions for Managers, you know I could go on . But these seven questions are a good start.
Regardless of age, work, and educational background, employees have a few things in common.
Employees want to:
• Work for someone who takes an interest in and knows them
• Feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
• Be part of and contribute to something greater than themselves
• Feel respected as a person. Managers respect their time, expertise, and needs
Taking the time to get to know employees throughout your working relationship accomplishes many employee needs.
If you have long time employees, it’s never too late to ask these questions. Regardless of for how long employees have worked for you, they’ll appreciate you asking. Don’t worry that employees will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you’re asking now. They’ll just be happy you’re asking. You can simply say, “I realized that I’ve never overtly asked these questions. I just assume I know. But I don’t want to do that. During our next one-on-one meeting I’d like to ask you these questions and you can ask me anything you’d like.”
If you have a manager who will never ask you these questions, provide him/her the information. Don’t wait to be asked. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Tell your manager, “There are a few things about myself I want to share with you. I think this information will help ensure I do great work for the organization for a long time.”
Managers, the better your relationship with your employees and the more you know about what your employees need from you, the organization, and the job, the easier employees are to engage, retain, and manage. Stop guessing and start asking.
No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.
One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during customer service training is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.
Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.
Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:
How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.
How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.
How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for their experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean the person is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry they had the experience they did. That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”
How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”
How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand the complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands their concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)
How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.
How to handle customer complaints tip #7: Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, if any. People like to know that their complaints aren’t wasted.
How to handle customer complaints tip #8: Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.
The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.
The normal, natural reaction to negative feedback is to become defensive, a response I’ve labeled as The Freak Out.
Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.
Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.
While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.
Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.
Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.
Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions privately.
Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by their reaction. Listen to what they have to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.
Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.
Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in their workspace, if you are working in person and the recipient has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and they will be more receptive.
Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.
Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.
Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.
Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.
You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?
Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.
When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.
For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.
Here’s how the conversation could go:
“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”
“What software features were important when selecting the software?”
“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”
“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”
** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.
The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.
Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:
1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.
2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.
As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.
Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:
“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”
“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”
“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”
You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.