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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.


Ask for What You Want – A Subtle Way to Give Feedback

When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to want to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.

When someone does something for the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.

Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.

When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.

Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.

When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”

In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.

Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give direct feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.


Create Your Life – Live the Life You Desire

It’s the time of year when people start to think about their goals for 2022 and make New Year’s resolutions. I won’t suggest you do either.  You likely have enough to do. My only suggestion (in this arena) is to ensure you’re doing what you really want to do.

There are lots of things we need to do and think we should be doing. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that long list of could and should do’s.  If that list brings you joy, do those things. If not, consider another path.

I’m pretty sure at least one person reading this blog has a magnet or card hung at their desk with the words, “What are you going to do with your one precious life?” As far as we know, we only get one go around. So, while the question may be overused, what are you going to do to create your life with the time you’re given?life you desire

I have an existential friend who is trying to convince me that there is no such thing as time. I am not persuaded. All we have is time, and it’s the only thing we can’t get back. You can gain weight and lose weight, make money and lose it, make friends and lose them, but you can never get back your time. So, what are you doing with your time?

You create your life.

A few questions to consider:

  • What do you love doing most? How often are you doing that?
  • What’s most important to you in life? Does what’s most important to you make up a majority of where your time and energy goes?
  • How much time do you spend doing things you think you should be doing, but don’t really want to be doing?
  • How much time do you spend doing things someone else wants you to do?

I’m not suggesting you live an indulgent life without compromise. If you’re in relationship with other people, you will, at times, do things you don’t want to do. But I’m hoping that doing things out of obligation is not what your life’s about.

Not everyone in your life will approve of your choices. That’s ok. This is your life. Don’t knowingly harm anyone or anything. Besides that, I don’t know of any rules, except for this, don’t get to the end of the road and wonder “what if.” Create your life.

Read How to Say Anything to Anyone and take charge of your career and life. Holiday offer! Buy 3 books at candidculturepress.com and we’ll send you a 4th book free. Offer ends 1/10/22.


Virtual Team Building – Start Now

It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working virtually, or to think that team building can’t be don’t virtually, or to decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.

Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually, you just need to make the time.

Even if you’re type A and tightly wound (like I am), spend the first few minutes of meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room. Ask what people are doing for the holidays. Commiserate over vacations you’re missing and food you know you shouldn’t be eating.

Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together, talking about things other than work.

Humans need people contact and relationships. People are missing other people. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.

Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences too. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.

Tell you team you want to help people get to know each other better so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.

Here are a few team building questions you can use:

What are your pet peeves at work?

What time of day do you do your best work?

Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?

If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?

What work do you like to do most?

What work do you like to do least?

What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?

What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?

Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.

Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is back in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.

 


Get Help When Giving Feedback

Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.

What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.

If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.

When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.

Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.

When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.

The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.


Increase Your Job Satisfaction – Ask for What You Need

So much has changed in the last year and a half. And what you need to be happy at work may have changed too. The question is, do the people you work for and with know what you need now?

You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people we work with will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. We’ll be included in important meetings and decisions regardless of from where we are working.

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?

Here are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:

Increasing your job satisfaction tip one:  Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip two:  Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip three:  Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.

Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”

Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and deliver timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”

People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip four:  Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.

That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”

Increasing your job satisfaction tip five:  Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.

Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”

Job satisfaction and happiness don’t just happen. The people you work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go awry. You won’t get what you don’t ask for, but you will get what you allow.

 


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 magic 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 on 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 appropriate 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 or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or 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 on edge 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

 


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