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.
Much of what comes through our phones is not important – emails we don’t really want to read, advertisements for things we won’t buy, and social media updates we don’t care about. And yet those little devices are so seductive. It’s hard not to check your email, texts, and social media updates constantly. Being so connected electronically and thus so continuously distracted has its benefits but it also has real costs.
Most of you know I have a small child and I’m committed to being a present and involved mom. I spend a lot of time with my son. But the best times are when I leave my phone behind. Without my phone I’m fully present with him, in the moment, enjoying him. When I have my phone, I’m distracted, often stressed, and typically torn. Can’t I read this email and reply quickly? What’s the harm? It will only take a second.
And each time I take a minute to read my email, I’m gone. I’m focused on my phone. And then I feel guilty and sad for not being as engaged as I want to be. Then I recommit to being fully present. And then read my email again. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is a huge cost to being distracted most of the time. Our relationships suffer. Car fatalities have increased tenfold. People are consistently tired.
Every productivity expert will tell you to check your messages three times a day, respond, and to not be constantly reading email. It’s fantastic advice. And I suspect no one, including productivity experts, follows it. It’s just too hard. We’re lured by our phones, tablets and laptops. Not checking them regularly makes us antsy, uncomfortable, and nervous.
What would happen if we set defined periods of time for each thing we did? I.e., Spend from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm working on a project. At 4:00 p.m., check your phone. Take the weekend off and check your messages at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. I suspect we’d get way more done and feel less stressed. But we have to give ourselves permission to put the phone away.
Here are three ways to be more focused and productive, and hopefully, happy:
1. Schedule work and personal activities for realistic, defined periods of time, and stick to them.
2. Agree on no cell phones or other electronics during personal meals and outings. I like the game people are playing in restaurants by putting cell phones face down in a pile on the table. The first person who touches their cell phone pays the entire bill.
3. Agree on no cell phones during group or one-on-one meetings. Your meetings will be shorter, easier to manage, and more productive. Meeting attendees want to tell their peers to put away their phones but feel like they can’t. Strong meeting facilitators who set and hold to this expectation earn others’ respect and run productive meetings.
In a nutshell, give yourself permission to focus. Do one thing at a time for a short period of time. Allow similar chunks of time to read and reply to messages and read Facebook updates you don’t care about. Then put the phone down and walk away. Your family and friends miss you.
Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ve worked with someone you wished would go away. Maybe the person repeatedly threw you under the bus, took credit for your work, or didn’t keep their commitments. And at some point, you wrote the person off, and have been merely tolerating them ever since.
Damaged relationships can be repaired, if you’re willing to do some work.
The first step in repairing a damaged relationship is to decide that you really want to do so. Managing conflict in the workplace isn’t easy. It will take effort and will likely be uncomfortable, so before you take action, decide if you really want to work on the relationship.
How to know if you should try resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask yourself how much you need the relationship. This probably sounds political, and it is. If you work on projects together, need to give or receive information, or have to work together regularly, then it’s likely worth working on the relationship. If you don’t need to work together regularly, then perhaps don’t work on the relationship.
If you decide to attempt to strengthen a relationship, plan what you’re going to say. Never trust the first thing that comes out of your mouth during a difficult conversation.
Step one for resolving conflict in the workplace: Like any feedback conversation, start with the end in mind. Consider what you want to have happen as a result of the conversation.
Step two for resolving conflict in the workplace: Plan what you’re going to say by taking notes and practicing out loud. What you say in your head is usually not what comes out of your mouth.
Step three for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask the person for time on their calendar. People don’t like surprises. You’ll have a better outcome if the person has blocked time to talk with you. Have the conversation in-person whenever possible. If you can’t speak in-person, talk on the phone. Do not attempt to fix your relationship via email. 1. Email is wimpy. 2. It will not work.
Tell the person, “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we’re not both aware of. I’d really like a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has happened and perhaps start in a new way?”
Step four for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask for a meeting to work on the relationship up to three times. If, after the third time, the person hasn’t made time, stop asking. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you. If the person doesn’t make time to meet, be polite, professional, and inclusive, but stop trying to nurture the relationship. Inclusive means: cc’ing them on necessary emails, inviting them to appropriate meetings, and providing necessary data.
Step five for resolving conflict in the workplace: If the person makes time to meet, speak candidly, be yourself, and be vulnerable. I don’t mean be a doormat. I do mean be authentic.
Ask for feedback about how you’ve damaged the relationship.
Listen to what you hear, and resist the urge to defend yourself.
Ask for permission to tell him how he’s damaged the relationship.
Give small amounts of feedback, with a few specific examples.
Make agreements of what each of you will do differently in the future.
Thank the person for the conversation and schedule another meeting.
Step six for resolving conflict in the workplace: Build in follow-up. Most people have one conversation and expect things to be fixed forever. Relationships don’t work that way. Agree to meet monthly, for the first few months, until you’ve rebuilt trust and learned how to communicate and work together. During the monthly meetings, give each other permission to give candid feedback about how you’re working together. I call these Relationship Inventory Meetings.
During monthly Relationship Inventory Meetingsask:
What’s working about how we work together?
What’s not working?
What working agreements did we keep?
What working agreements did we break?
Which working agreements are helpful?
What working agreements need to change?
You might be thinking, “I don’t like this person. I don’t want to work with them. And I definitely don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations.”
If the nature of your relationship is impacting your ability to do your job, your professional reputation, or your happiness, all of those consequences are far worse and more long-lasting than any conversation will be.
The conversations won’t be as bad as you think. No one will tell you anything you can’t handle, because for the most part, they’re afraid of your reaction and they know they’ll be next.
Conflict in the workplace and damaged relationships keep people up at night, reduce job satisfaction, and often motivate people to leave jobs. If you’re experiencing any of these things, all of them are worse than any conversation will be. The anticipation of the conversation is far worse than the conversation itself.
Decide if you want to strengthen the relationship.
Plan the conversation.
Ask for time to meet.
Have the conversation. Speak honestly, but responsibly.
Plan to have another conversation before ending this conversation.
Congratulate yourself for being courageous and picking happiness over anxiety and frustration.
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.
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 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
I recently realized that when I recommend someone for a job, first I mention the person’s competence, second I mention how easy they are to work with.
I want smart, competent, and committed people on my team. I also want people who are easy to work with. People who take everything personally, get defensive when receiving even the slightest amount of feedback, and accuse first and ask questions later, are difficult to work with. These behaviors are exhausting. Working in our current environment is hard enough, working with people who make work harder because they’re difficult to work with is unnecessary and avoidable.
There are a few behaviors that make people difficult to work with. Avoid these blunders and accelerate your career.
Five tips to be easy to work with:
How to be easy to work with tip 1: Don’t take things personally. Human beings are wired for survival. Most people are so worried about themselves – looking good and doing well – they’re not all that worried about you. When you get overlooked for a project or a meeting, rather than feeling slighted, ask what happened that you weren’t included. Or just be grateful you have one fewer meeting to attend.
How to be easy to work with tip 2: Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Most people are genuinely trying to do the right thing. If you question someone’s motives or actions, ask a question before making a decision about that person.
I like the question, “Help me understand…?” It’s neutral and invites the other person to speak. If you choose to ask this question, watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
How to be easy to work with tip 3: Don’t hold a grudge. When an event is over, it’s over. Set expectations for how you want people to interact next time and then let your upset go. Let people recover from mistakes and miscommunication.
How to be easy to work with tip 4: Temper your emotions at work. You’re human and human beings have feelings. But sometimes our feelings can be off putting to others. Most people are uncomfortable when managers and coworkers yell, cry, or give the silent treatment. Wait to have conversations until you’re not upset. And if you can’t manage your emotions during a conversation, excuse yourself until you can.
How to be easy to work with tip 5: Be introspective and self-aware. The better you know yourself and how you impact others, the more you can work with others how they like to work. Periodically ask people you trust for feedback on the impression you make and what you’re like to work with. Listen to their feedback and adjust your communication habits to be easier to work with.
The bottom line – positive work performance isn’t just about producing results, it’s also how we get those results. Are we easy to work with or do we make work harder than it has to be? I want to be someone and want to work with people who make work easier, not harder.
Your boss’s job is to help you eliminate obstacles, ensure you have the resources you need to be successful, and to be a coach. A manager’s job is also to evaluate you.
Managers only have so many points of reference to evaluate their employees’ performance. If you tend to vent with your boss how your internal customers are difficult to work with, your boss doesn’t know that you don’t do this with everyone. It’s a point of reference that makes an impression. How do I know this? I learned it the hard way.
My last boss, before I started Candid Culture, was the best boss I ever had. He always had my back. He was knowledgeable about the business and happy to share his knowledge. He trusted me and gave me a lot of latitude. And I confused that positive relationship with that of a confidante.
I felt comfortable with my boss, so I complained about my internal customers to him. I thought he was a safe person to do that with. I was wrong. He eventually told me he had no way to determine that I didn’t vent with everyone. My naïve decision to vent to my boss was a point of reference about my professionalism and not a good one.
It would have been fine to tell my boss I was struggling to work with an internal customer and to ask for suggestions for how to work better with the person. It would have been fine to say that I was frustrated or discouraged and was in need of support. It’s ok to share problems and breakdowns and leverage your boss to find solutions and to get help. Asking your boss to help you solve a problem you haven’t been able to solve yourself is expected. Using your boss as a therapist is not.
I don’t want you to be paranoid, to feel that you have to watch every word that comes out of your mouth, and that you always have to be on your guard. Just know the role people in organizations play. Leaders and managers have to determine who is successful in their current role and who is a good fit for future roles. So be mindful of how you show up and to whom.
We all know impressions are formed quickly and are hard to change. If someone sees you once a week, one a month, once a quarter, what are they seeing? People only know what we show them and what others tell them.
I know this post is political. I’m almost hesitant to write it. But I don’t want you labeled as someone with poor judgment or someone who can’t manage their emotions. Remember, let your boss see the poised professional you are. Let your friends and family see the rest.
I read a quote a few months ago that struck me – “It’s so hard to change yourself, what makes you think you can change someone else?” This seems so true. And yet, how much energy do we invest trying or at least hoping other people will change? We want our not-so-forthcoming manager to give regular and helpful feedback, our Halloween candy stuffed selves to prefer celery over chocolate, our not-so-affectionate partner to become a cuddler.
People are who and (largely) how they are. Even with lots of effort, coaching, and even counseling, it’s hard to change.
As someone who leads a training and development company, it feels risky to write this. I’m concerned that my words will be misunderstood. So I want to be sure I’m clear. People can learn new skills. Managers can learn to coach and give feedback. People at all levels and in all roles can learn to communicate differently. Everyone can learn to use new technology. But we don’t fundamentally change who and how we are. People who hate to public speak aren’t likely to wake up tomorrow clambering to give presentations to thousands of people. People who don’t like crowds aren’t likely to want to spend every weekend at large sporting events when they resume.
What I’m really trying to say is, stop trying to get something from someone who can’t give that to you. If you work for someone who never provides feedback, no matter how often you ask, get input from someone else. Lots of people can provide you with helpful information if you ask for it and make it safe to tell you the truth. If you’re chastising yourself for not being more athletic, accept that you like to read, and buy yourself a new book.
Instead of trying to get something from someone who can’t give it to you, get what you can from that relationship and get the rest of your needs met elsewhere. And tell others to do the same. I had someone working for me a few years ago who was extremely sensitive and didn’t do well receiving feedback. I tried to accommodate her needs and preferences, softening my messages, picking my battles, and in the end, giving less and less feedback. And it was exhausting. Eventually, I said to her, “I’m not the right manager for you and this is the not right company for you. It’s not a good fit. You won’t be happy here, and I want you to be happy. Let’s help you find another home.”
I’m not telling you to get a new job. I’m telling you to be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others. The most powerful thing you can do is to be yourself and let others be themselves. And if you don’t like how or who someone is, hang out with someone else.
I recently interviewed a candidate who asked for a lot of ‘stuff’ during the interview process. He wanted compensation, perks, accommodations, and benefits that were way outside the norm. I’m assuming he was employing the adage we’ve all heard, that “it can’t hurt to ask.” Unfortunately, it can hurt to ask.
When forging new relationships, we watch (judge) people. We’re trying to figure out who they are and how they are. Are they the person they claimed to be during the interview process? Are they trustworthy? Did I make the right decision in bringing this person into my team, organization, and life?
Requests always make an impression. When we’re building new relationships, requests make an even bigger impression. Candidates who said the commute wouldn’t be an issue, but complain about it two weeks into the job, cause managers to doubt their hiring decision. Coworkers who consistently ask for extensions to deadlines, appear unreliable.
People watch us and silently judge, making assessments about our commitment, reliability and even character. Don’t make people question you. Make reasonable asks.
Five ways to make reasonable requests:
Vet your requests with people who know your company, manager, and/or industry, before making them. What is a reasonable request in one organization, might not be in another.
If something is important to you, ask for it during the interview process or at the onset of new projects and relationships. Don’t wait. Waiting to ask for things, until after you’ve started a job and are comfortable with your manager, can damage your relationships and reputation. Managers don’t like bait and switch, even when it’s unintended.
Don’t ask again, once you’ve received an emphatic “no.” I worked with someone who asked for something during the interview process. I said “no” and explained why. He asked again after being hired. This annoyed me and made me feel like he didn’t listen and would push me on this and on other things.
If you aren’t sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable, say so. Tell the person you’re asking what you want and to please tell you if it isn’t a reasonable request.
Ask for feedback on your requests. If you’ve seen me speak, you know I’m a proponent of telling people, “If I do anything that damages our working relationship or makes you question me, I hope you’ll tell me. I promise I’ll take your feedback graciously, and say “thank you.”
Ask for what you want, within reason, be upfront when relationships begin, and build your relationships rather than break them.
It can’t hurt to ask, right? Wrong. Requests make an impression. Make reasonable asks. Repair a relationship, when you’ve asked for too much.
We’ve all heard the expression, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” But
what if it can and does?
While it’s true that you won’t get what you don’t ask for,
it’s also true that requests help form others’ impressions of us. Some asks may
seem high maintenance and create the impression that we’re difficult to work
with. Other requests may create the impression that we’re out of touch or entitled.
Be brave in what you ask for but also be judicious and aware of how requests
may impact others.
So, what shouldn’t you ask for at work? That’s a hard question
to answer. What’s appropriate in one environment may not be ok in another. I’ll
provide some guidance for most work environments below.
Don’t ask for anything that requires your boss to break the
rules or treat you differently from other employees. This may seem obvious, but
I’ve been asked for things that I couldn’t legally provide. A candidate asked
me to write her a monthly check towards her personal health insurance plan versus
her participating in our company-sponsored health insurance plan. It’s an
innocent request but put me in a very awkward position and I said no.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to follow when making requests:
Don’t ask for or take time off during the busiest times of
the year. Ask your boss what those busy times are and then plan accordingly.
Don’t ask for exceptions unless you’re desperate – being paid
in advance to cover unforeseen personal expenses, time off you haven’t earned, unless
It’s regularly permitted in your company, using company resources for personal
use. All of these may seem acceptable in the moment, but if they make your boss
bend or break the rules, they’ll likely make you look bad too.
Be brave. Be bold. And be careful what you ask for. Your reputation is more important than a request that feels important right now but will be insignificant by next year.