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Responding to Feedback – Do the Opposite of What People Expect

Most people avoid giving feedback because they’re concerned about (don’t want to deal with) the other person’s defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing than deal with someone’s defensiveness. So, we say things are fine when they’re not.

If you want people to tell you the truth, do the opposite of what they expect when responding to feedback. Rather than become defensive, say, “thank you.”

Accepting feedback

Saying “thank you for the feedback” is not intended to be a Pollyanna response, nor does it mean you agree and that the person is right. Saying “thank you” catches the other person off guard (in a good way) and buys you time to think and respond calmly, making it more likely that you’ll get feedback in the future.

Each of us wants to be thought well of and be seen as competent. Negative feedback calls both into question and the brain responds defensively. The challenge is that defensive responses scare other people into silence. And you only need to get defensive once for people to believe that you don’t deal well with feedback.

Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and ego. You are likely to respond to feedback defensively, even if you don’t see yourself do it. A seemingly benign ‘explanation’ of why you did something as you did it, is seen as defensive and is thus off putting to others.

Here are six strategies for responding to feedback well:

  1. Have feedback conversations when you have the time to listen and are rested. If you’re tired, on a deadline, or rushing to your next meeting, the conversation will not go well.
  1. If someone catches you off guard with feedback and you know you won’t respond well, interrupt the person. Tell them that you appreciate them bringing this to your attention and you want to give the conversation the attention it deserves, but now isn’t a good time. Schedule a time to finish the conversation within a few days.
  1. Have a plan for how you’re going to respond to scheduled/planned feedback conversations before the conversations start.  Tell yourself, “I will say thank you, end the conversation, and ask for another time to talk.”
  1. If you receive feedback that doesn’t feel accurate, ask others, who you trust, what they think. Just be prepared to hear what they have to say, and, of course, respond with “thank you.”
  1. Don’t respond to negative feedback in the moment, even if the other person wants you to and you think you can do so without being defensive. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. You will be upset, even if you don’t feel upset, and your response will be better after you’ve had time to process. Tell the person who gave you feedback that you take their feedback seriously and want to respond thoughtfully, and thus you’re going to think about what they said before responding. People may be frustrated with this response at first, but they’ll be appreciative later.
  1. Be sure to get back to the person, who has feedback for you, within a few days. Tell them you thought about what they said and then tell them how you feel. You can speak candidly. Your words will be calmer and more thoughtful then when you received the initial feedback.

We know people are hesitant to give feedback. Make giving you feedback easier by responding calmly. No one expects to hear “thank you for the feedback.” Your unemotional response will strengthen your reputation and relationships and make it more likely that you get more feedback in the future.

Book Feedback


How to Respond to Negative Feedback

The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.

When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.

Every person you know – personally and professionally – wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your organization who you think are lazy, want you to think highly of them. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).

It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.

Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.

Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves, or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.

Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:

1.  Ask for feedback.

2.  Be specific about the type of feedback you want.

3.  Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.

  • A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
  • A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new-hire-orientation program. Will you call into the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting feedback.

4. When you receive feedback, say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”

5.  Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.

6.  If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what they said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation. That can be minutes or a few days later.

7. You can express a counterpoint of view, just don’t do it immediately after receiving feedback. Anything you say in the moment will likely sound defensive.

No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what people are expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.

Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self-control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen relationships, and get more information than you have in the past – information you need to manage your career, reputation, and business.


How to Say No

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 four practices for saying no:

Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”

1. Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about their request.

2. Tell the person you need some time to think about the 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 at work

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 will 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:

  1. Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
  2. Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
  3. Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
  4. Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
  5. 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.

how to say no at work


Your Mom was Wrong – Speak Up

“If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Most of us grew up hearing these words. Last week I used them with my six-year-old son, and instantly regretted it. He said something hurtful to me and I told him to keep those thoughts to himself.

I want him to keep his thoughts to himself if he doesn’t like a kid at school or doesn’t want to play with someone. Walk away, find another place to play, is often my guidance. But with me? With me I want him to be honest, always, even if it hurts.

Every time we talk with people, we train them how to interact with us. If I tell my son not to tell me the truth, I teach him to protect my emotions and stifle his. I teach him I’m not strong enough to handle the truth and that I’m someone who needs protecting. I teach him that he can’t be honest with me.

If you want your coworkers, boss, family and friends to be honest with you, make it easy to tell you the truth. Take in what others say without visibly reacting. Say “thank you” for whatever feedback and input you get, even when you want to say everything but. Take the time to ‘get over’ hard messages and then discuss further, when you’re not angry.

People learn quickly. If we react to suggestions, input, and feedback negatively, people learn that we can’t take challenging data and they stop giving it to us. I don’t want to be the person the people I care about are afraid to talk with because my reaction is just too hard to deal with.

Should you care about everyone’s feedback? No. Should you ask everyone for feedback? No. Should you be open to everyone’s feedback? No. Be open to feedback from the people who matter most to you. Open your heart and your mind. Close your mouth. Even when you want to do everything but. Strengthen your relationships and train people that you can handle the truth.


Ask Better Questions and Stop Being Disappointed at Work

I’m taking golf lessons, which should frighten anyone within 100 feet. Every time the instructor explains something new, he asks me, “Does that make sense?” “Does that make sense” is a common clarifying question that many people ask, but it’s not a good question for two reasons.

Clarifying Questions

Reason number one: If an explanation doesn’t make sense to me, I’m the idiot for not “getting it.” It’s not that the instructor hasn’t been clear, I just “didn’t get it.”

Reason number two: The question doesn’t force me to speak, thus the person asking the question doesn’t get any information. “Does that make sense” is like asking a shopper in a store, “Can I help you?” We all know the right answer to that question is, “No, I’m just looking.” This is a similar to when someone asks, “Are there any questions?” The right answer is “no.” And when people say “no,” the person who asked the question often says, “good,” affirming people for not asking questions and making it less likely that questions will be asked in the future.

The golf instructor should be asking me:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What are you planning to do as a result of what we’ve covered?
  • What techniques did I demonstrate?
  • Let me see how that form looks.
  • What questions do you have for me?

If he asks me the clarifying questions above, he will know what I am likely to do on the golf course.

Here are some clarifying questions that will force people to talk and won’t make them feel stupid for asking questions. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense,” consider asking:

“I want to make sure I gave clear instructions. Will you tell me what I’m asking you to do?” You could also phrase the questions like this, “Just so I know how I landed, what do you think I’m asking/expecting you to do?”

** This may sound condescending and like micromanaging in writing, but the question can be asked in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.

I was talking with one of my clients a few months ago. She was very upset because she told one of her employees what to do and he didn’t do it. Frustrated, she said, “He knew what to do, and he didn’t do it.” I asked her, “How do you know that he knew what to do?” She replied, “I told him what to do and when I asked if he had any questions, he said no.”

Her situation is a common one. The right answer to “Do you have any questions” is “no.” And we’re surprised when we swing by the person’s desk two weeks later to get a status update on the project, and he hasn’t started working on it yet.

Here are some additional examples of clarifying and delegation questions. These questions will force people to speak, providing a clearer sense of what people know and are likely to do.

  • What questions do you have?
  • What are you planning to do first? If the person answers this question appropriately, ask what they are planning to do next. If  they don’t answer the question appropriately, step in and give more direction.

Provided you trust that the person knows what to do, give a tight deadline and ask to review the person’s work in a few days. Give people some freedom, but not enough to waste a lot of time and go down a fruitless path. Delegation is something at which most managers can improve. More effective delegation will lead to fewer missed deadlines and frustrations in the workplace.

 


How to Ask for A Raise – Make a Plan

The best way to get your next job is to be great at your current job and ask for more. And the same goes for asking for a raise. Do a great job, make your contributions known, and work with your boss to create a plan to help you get to the salary you want.

Saying or acting as if you’ve been treated unfairly and that your talents aren’t being recognized may be true, but it may also get you the reputation as a negative whiner. People want to work with positive and appreciative people. Demonstrate both when asking for more.

Below are eight steps for asking for a raise:

How to ask for a raise step one: Write down the accomplishments you’re proud of since your last significant pay increase.

How to ask for a raise step two: Find out what your job pays on the open market. Jobs are assigned a value and a pay zone that is often transferable across industries. For example, if an entry level accountant at a big four accounting firm is earning $60,000, the pay zone is likely $50,000 – $70,000. If said employee asks for $64,000, that’s realistic. If they ask for $85,000, they’ll be seen as out to lunch. If an employee wants to earn $85,000, with their current level of education and experience, they’ll have to switch careers.

How to ask for a raise step three:  Learn your company’s philosophy on compensation. Companies often deliberately decide to pay in the top, middle, or lower part of pay zones. For example, if an industry like sports or entertainment is glamorous and lots of people want to work in that industry, jobs are likely to pay less. Perhaps a company has great perks and benefits, and in exchange, pays less. Alternatively, some companies want to be known as providing the highest compensation and will pay for it. Knowing where your company falls on the compensation spectrum will help you determine a realistic number to ask for. Your Human Resources representative can answer these questions.

How to ask for a raise step four: Be prepared to present and talk about the impact you’ve made on your organization. Focus on accomplishments and how you’ve changed the business, not on how hard you’ve worked. Results get rewarded.

How to ask for a raise step five: Don’t give an ultimatum, unless you’ve already discussed a pay increase a few times, nothing has changed, and you’re ready to leave. Instead, work with your manager to create a realistic plan to get you to an agreed-upon pay rate. Put the plan, with specific milestones you need to hit, in writing and agree to discuss results quarterly. Managers may be hesitant to promise a future pay increase, but will support written work-related goals, which will help you make the case for a pay increase.

How to ask for a raise step six:  Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise. You may not get the raise you want, but nothing bad will happen for asking, providing you do so appropriately. The initial conversation could sound something like, “I love working here and am really enjoying my job. Because of my contributions to our organization, I feel I’m worthy of a pay increase. Can we schedule a time to talk about what might make sense? And with your permission, I’d like to send a list of my most recent accomplishments. Would that be ok?”

How to ask for a raise step seven:  Discover who needs to support your pay increase. Your boss may not have the ability or authority to give you an increase. Subtly ask what they can do. That could sound something like, “Who needs to participate in the decision to grant me a pay increase? Is there anything I can do to assist with sharing my accomplishments or making the case for an increase?”

How to ask for a raise step eight: Once you know what your job pays across industries and your company’s philosophy on compensation, ask for a realistic number that will make you happy. If you’re asking for large increase, consider incremental raises over a period of months.  Ask for something that’s easy to say yes to.

If you think you deserve a pay increase, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask in a positive way, focusing on the value you’re adding to the business. Be patient and work with your boss to create a plan to get where you want to be. The worse you’ll hear is “no.” And if the answer is no, you’ve planted a seed and opened the door to the next conversation.


Candid Culture Turns 15!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since I left my corporate job to launch a not-yet-fully-formed business.

People ask me regularly, “Who do you typically work with?” Even after 15 years, the answer still surprises me. Our clients are incredibly diverse. Candid Culture clients range from small family-owned businesses to school districts, towns and cities, associations, universities, hospitals, not-for-profits, and huge, global corporations. The things all of these organizations have in common – the organizations’ leaders want to create a work environment in which employees can speak freely without fear. They want to create a place where people genuinely want to work and can do their best work.

So, what are a few things I have learned these past 15 years?

I’ve learned that almost-worldwide people are afraid to say what they really want to at work (and in life). Almost universally, people feel like they will be disliked and disapproved of for providing feedback others don’t like.

When I started Candid Culture, it was with the premise that it’s hard to speak up in most relationships because we haven’t set the expectation that it’s ok to do so. We haven’t laid the groundwork, letting people know we genuinely want their input and there won’t be a negative consequence for saying unpopular things. My views on this haven’t changed. If you’ve read How to Say Anything to Anyone you know that the book’s title makes it seem like the book is about feedback, but it really isn’t. The first eight chapters are how to create environments and relationships in which it’s safe to speak up.

I’ve learned to let people save face. Negative feedback is hard to hear, it bruises the ego. Say just enough to get the desired actions. Give small amounts of feedback at a time, saying just what you need to. And never give feedback when you’re upset. The time to fix a problem or a relationship is when nothing is wrong, aka, no one is upset.

I’ve learned that people really are doing the best they can. If they knew another way, they would do it that way. But that doesn’t mean a person’s approach is good enough (for me). I can request more from a person or walk away from a relationship and still grant the other person grace.

I’ve learned it’s ok to renegotiate. “I know I said I would do this, but I’m realizing I can’t in our agreed time frame. Here’s what I can do.” Being upfront is scary in the moment but feels better than silently disappointing people.

The last thing I’ll say is that I’m still working on and will probably forever be working on feeling ok making requests. I tell myself regularly, it’s ok to ask for help, to ask for what I need, and to ask for a change. Asking will always be easier than giving negative feedback. And it’s ok to ask.

What do I hope for in the next 15 years? I wish us all the courage to ask for what we need and know that we deserve to have those things.


Don’t Apologize for Giving Feedback

Last week we had movers in our warehouse moving products in and out of storage. The movers charged by the hour. Shortly after they arrived, I noticed one of the movers on his phone. Then I noticed another on his phone. I didn’t say anything. The phone use continued. So, I politely asked the two movers to only use their phones when they were on a break. And then I felt badly about saying something and spent the rest of the day apologizing. I didn’t want them to think I was ‘mean’.

I know it was ok to hold them accountable. I was paying a lot of money for their time. It was completely reasonable to expect them to be working. But I want to be liked and approved of (yes, even by the movers who I’ll never see again).

Every time I apologized or sought to justify my message, my communication lost power. Why say anything if I’m going to spend the day regretting and retracting my message?

After the experience with the movers, I realized how often I apologize for making requests, even perfectly legitimate and modest requests. And I’m wondering why I do this? Are we taught it’s not ok to ask for things?

Making requests is a subtle form of giving feedback. It’s less direct than what I call the “tell method.”

It’s ok to have expectations. It’s ok to make requests. And it’s ok to hold people accountable.  I know this. You know this. And yet, I see how often I and others apologize for making requests and giving feedback. I feel like we need a regular pep talk – a little bird whispering in our ear each time we ask someone to do what we hired them to do. “It’s ok to ask. You aren’t mean. It’s ok to hold people accountable. If people don’t want to do the work they agreed to or can’t accept feedback, they’re not the right people.”

I’ll just keep giving myself that pep talk, because it’s ok to ask and not feel badly about it.


Tell People About Your Communication Style – Don’t Wait

At the end of presentations, attendees often approach me and say something like, “People tell me my communication style is really direct and that it can be off putting. I don’t know what to do about this.” Or they say, “People say I’m really quiet and hard to read. They have a difficult time getting to know me.”

If you’ve been given the same feedback repeatedly, or know you create a first impression that may be challenging to others, set expectations and tell people about your communication style when you begin working with them. Don’t wait until they feel offended, confused, or frustrated. Simply tell people when you meet them, “I’ve been told that I’m too direct and how I provide feedback can be off putting. Anything I say is to be helpful. If I ever offend you or provide too much information, I hope you’ll tell me.” Or you could say something like, “I’m told that I’m quiet and it’s hard to get to know me. I’m more open than I may appear. If you want to know anything about me, feel free to ask.”

People will make decisions about and judge you. There is nothing you can do about this. But you can practice what I call, ‘get there first.’ Set people’s expectations about your communication style and what you’re like to work with, and then ask people to speak freely when they aren’t getting something they need.

The root of frustration and upset is violated expectations. People may not be aware of their expectations of you or be able to articulate those expectations, but if they didn’t have certain expectations, they wouldn’t be upset when you acted differently than how they (possibly unconsciously) expected.

I’m a proponent of anticipating challenges and talking about them before problems arise. If you know something about your behavior is off putting to others, why not be upfront about it.

When people interview to work for me, I set clear expectations about my communication style and what I’m like to work with. I tell them all the things I think they’ll like about working for me and all the things I suspect they won’t. I tell them the feedback I’ve received from past employees and things I’m working to alter. People often nod their heads and say, “no problem,” which, of course, may not be true. They won’t know how my style will impact them until they begin working with me. But when I do the things I warned them would likely be annoying, we can more easily talk about those behaviors, than if I had said nothing.

Talk about your communication style when projects and relationships begin. Replace judgment and damaged relationships with dialogue.


Running Effective Meetings – Suffering Is Optional

Running effective meetings is hard. It takes courage. Who wants to tell their boss, peers, and customers to put away their phones, stop side talking, and laser their communication? No one. But if you don’t manage ‘bad’ meeting behavior, you look bad and you won’t get the results you want. running effective meetings

If you run meetings, work with the meeting participants to set expectations everyone agrees to follow. Standard meeting guidelines for running effective meetings include not side talking, putting away or silencing electronics, tabling tangents, not interrupting others, speaking succinctly, etc. You can set any behavior guidelines you like as long as the meeting participants agree to those expectations. Ask meeting participants what behavior guidelines they want to follow. The more control you give people, the more buy in you’ll get.

Possibly even more frustrating than running a meeting in which participants break all the ‘rules’, is participating in inefficient meetings when you aren’t the facilitator. It’s difficult to sit through a poorly run meeting feeling there isn’t anything you can do to make it better.

Luckily, there are things you can do to improve the meetings you don’t run. None of my suggestions will be comfortable. But think of all the time you’ll save.

Conversation one – running effective meetings: If you want to impact the meetings you attend, approach the facilitator(s), empathize about what a challenging meeting it is to run, tell the person you want to be supportive, and ask if they want to discuss some different ways to manage the meeting. That conversation could sound something like, “Wednesday’s staff meeting is tough to run. I empathize with you. Would you be interested in talking through some different ways to manage participant behavior? I have some ideas and would be happy to discuss. I’d like to be supportive.”

Conversation two – running effective meetings: If you want to be more direct, you could say something like, “Can we talk about Wednesday’s staff meeting? It can’t be an easy meeting to run. I empathize with you. Key decision makers are missing meetings, and a few people tend to take over the conversation and take us off track. Can I make a few suggestions that might help? What do you think of working with the group to set some expectations people agree to be managed to and then holding people to those agreements? We can share the facilitation responsibilities by assigning jobs during the meeting – back up facilitator, note taker, timekeeper, etc. – so all of the responsibility doesn’t fall to you. What do you think?”

The person running the meetings knows they’re not going well. They just don’t know what to do about it. Offer support. Don’t judge. Be helpful and possibly they’ll be receptive.

The key to running an effective meeting is to set clear expectations people agree to follow, review those expectations at the beginning of every meeting, and speak up when the expectations are violated. All of these things take courage. But meeting participants will be grateful to you for being strong.


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