Call Shari 303-863-0948 or Email Us

Contact us for virtual speaking and training!

Uncategorized Archive

Strengthening Business Relationships – Make Three Attempts

If you work with other people, there is likely at least one business relationship you wish was stronger. If only that person included you on necessary communications, didn’t gossip about you, or gave you honest feedback, versus telling you everything is fine and then working around you.

What often makes work hard isn’t the work at hand, it’s the people we work with – the power struggles, cc-reply-to-all when everyone doesn’t need to know, and the gossip that pervades most organizations.

You need to communicate and work well with the people you work with. And like any relationship, business relationships require work. But what happens when someone doesn’t return your efforts for a positive working relationship? They don’t return emails or voicemails, ignores requests, or goes above you instead of coming to you when issues arise?

don't chase

Make three attempts at strengthening a business relationship.

I’ll attempt to strengthen a business relationship three times before giving up. Phone calls, video, and in-person meetings count as an attempt to improve a relationship, emails and text messages don’t. Emails and texts are passive, one-sided communications. If you’re serious about strengthening a relationship, talk with the person, either in person or via video or the phone.

The conversation could go something like, “We’re going to be working together a lot this quarter, I thought it would be helpful to talk through how we both like to communicate and who will do what. When is a good time for us to connect via phone?”

Or, you could say, “A lot has happened this year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work, so the rest of the year is smooth. Can we schedule a call to talk about it?”

Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this year has been hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Can we talk about how we want to work together going forward?”

It doesn’t so much matter what you say, as long as you start the conversation. Relationships don’t just improve by chance.

I’ll make attempts like those above three times (with the same person). If the person doesn’t reach back, says no, or cancels three scheduled meetings, I give up. Don’t chase people. The people who are interested in fostering a good working relationship will make the time and be willing to be uncomfortable.

What does it mean to give up? You are not the Golden Retriever of the workplace. Nor are you the 7-11 – always open. If someone isn’t interested in talking with me about how we can improve our relationship, I don’t keep asking. After the third no, I’m polite. I include the person in all necessary meetings and communications. I’m professional. But I don’t keep inviting. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.

Extend an olive branch. Be forthcoming, brave, and yourself. And if you get three nos’, work on other business relationships and leave this one be.

 


Hinting Won’t Cut It – Ask for What You Want

Years ago, a guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for Valentine’s Day, do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘holiday’, I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on Valentine’s Day, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.

Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us? Learn how to get what you want on Valentine’s Day and every day.

We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part, we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.

I hope the people who love you are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on Valentine’s Day, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend the day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for Valentine’s Day, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”

Ask for what you want and see what happens.


The One Job Interview Question 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 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 they are wrong.

Everyone you interview has received negative feedback at some point. The question is whether or not candidates were receptive 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 their reputation at work, the answer they provide will give you a sense of how self-aware they are. 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 eliminate candidates who demonstrate 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. If candidates aren’t receptive to feedback, they don’t get a job offer. 


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 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 last year, don’t let it happen again this 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 2024 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 2024?”

You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2024 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.


Giving Feedback – Short and Frequent Feedback Is Best

If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magical words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.

The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.

There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So, we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.

Here are two keys to make giving feedback easier:

Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything. Do a quick plus/delta a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?

I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make adjustments.

When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.

Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.

Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team and with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is worried that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.

The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.

Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.

Giving feedback chapters


How to Handle Customer Complaints

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 them 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.

dealing with complainers


Giving Effective Feedback – Lead with the Facts

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.


Stop Wasting Your Time in Meetings – Establish Meeting Expectations

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.

Sound familiar?

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.


Your First Impression May Not Be Correct

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.


Managing Up – Say Less. Ask More.

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:

Example One:

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?”

Example Two:

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?

Example Three:

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.

managing up


Sign Up

Career tips
you won't get
elsewhere. Sign up
to get a free
tip card.