I’m embarrassed how often I do things I don’t want to do because I’m afraid of looking bad. I agree to things I don’t want to do. I even suggest doing things I don’t want to do, because I think it will look bad if I don’t. Then I have deep regrets.
If I’m aware of this practice, why do I keep doing it, over and over and over? I suspect the need to look good and be liked is so pervasive, it over-powers reason and self-talk. Telling myself, “Don’t do it. You will regret this,” doesn’t help. The need for approval is all-powerful (to me).
My old boss told me many years ago, “Your need to be liked will kill you as a manager,” and he was right. It’s why I can’t interview my own candidates. I want them to like me too.
I suspect I’m not alone here. I lot of us say yes when we want to say no. We extend ourselves and regret it later.
What can be done, at an organizational level, to prevent ourselves and fellow employees from over-extending?
Sanction, at a team and organizational level, that sometimes it’s ok to say no.
Suggest that at times people take 24-hours before agreeing to take on a new task or project.
Make room for negotiation, so people can say yes on terms that work for them.
Authenticity wins. Speak your truth and know that it’s ok.
You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’, similar to when people roll their eyes at you? When you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.
Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.
When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.
The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.
Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:
• Tell me more about… • Help me understand what happened here… • What are your thoughts about… • What’s the history behind….
Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion, if you manage your tone.
If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that evoke discussion. Through discussion, you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as they do, and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off-putting.
It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.
Vague communication is unhelpful. Being vague instills doubt in the people around you and reduces your credibility.
When a customer service agent answers my questions with words like, “That sounds right, I think so, or that should work,” I hang up and call back, hoping to get someone who can give me an affirmative answer. People do this to you too; they just don’t tell you about it.
Pay attention to your language. If the answer is yes, say “Yes.” If the answer is no, say “No.” “I think so,” says neither yes nor no. Saying, “I think so” tells people you don’t really know.
A few phrases to avoid and what to say instead:
Avoid: “That should be done by Friday.”
Instead, be specific and give a final date. “That will be complete by Friday. If I can’t get it done by Friday, I’ll call you to let you know by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”
Avoid: “Sounds right.”
Instead, be specific and say, “That’s correct.”
Avoid: “We should be able to do that.”
Instead, be specific and say, “We can do that.”
Avoid: “I guess.”
Instead, be specific and say, “Yes” or “No.”
When I teach feedback training, the biggest thing training participants struggle with is specificity. “You’re difficult to work with.” “Your clothing is inappropriate.” “I just find you to be negative.” “You did a good job on that.” “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team.” All of this is vague and thus unhelpful to the feedback recipient. And the same is true when answering questions and making promises.
Tell people exactly what to expect. Be specific. Even if they don’t like your answer, they’ll be happy to have a clear answer.
I wrote a repair person, who worked in my house, a two-page, single spaced list of all the things that needed addressing. Then I followed up with seven text messages. I don’t want people to have to guess what they have to do. I want to be thorough. It feels like the right and helpful thing to do.
The problem? The repair person didn’t read my list. It was too long. I would have been better off saving my time and saying nothing if he wasn’t going to read the list anyway.
When people send me an email with five paragraphs, my eyes glaze over. I close the email promising to read it later, but don’t until the sender asks if I received their email. People are busy and have to choose where to invest time. When it comes to communication, often, less is more. The question is, how to be succinct and still be thorough? How do you make sure people know what’s expected without providing so much information that nothing gets read?
I’m going to admit, I struggle with this.
I’ve decided to create some communication rules for myself. I’m hoping they’ll be helpful to you as well.
Draft communications and save them as a draft. Read them again a few minutes later and ask, “Can I say this in half as many words? Is all of this information necessary?”
Think communications through rather than communicating impulsively. I’m someone who operates with a high sense of urgency. I suspect my sense of urgency has helped me to be successful personally and professionally, but it also has me send messages before I’ve thought everything through, which leads to seven text messages, rather than one.
Limit yourself to one or two messages. When you know you can send only one email or text message, you’ll likely be more thoughtful about the communications.
Draft succinct instructions and then ask the person what they’re planning to do. This is a delegation technique. Require the person to whom you’ve delegated to tell you what they know or don’t know. Then you know how to help.
I suspect that providing the right amount of detail will be something I’ll struggle with forever. The key take aways are this:
People often don’t read long communications. If you can say it in fewer words, do so. Shorter is better. Be complete, but don’t go overboard. Make sure things are said only one time. If you’re not sure someone read or understood what you said or wrote, ask them what they heard or read. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” Or “Does that make sense?” Both are waste-of-time, non-questions.
Think about all the people in your life who frustrate you. The employees who turn in work without checking for errors. The person who cancels meetings two minutes before meetings are scheduled to start. And in personal relationships, our friends who come late, cancel, or just aren’t in touch as often as we’d like.
These situations annoy us, but we often don’t say anything because giving feedback feels too hard. Why risk the person’s defensiveness? Or we don’t think addressing the situation will make a difference. Or perhaps we don’t feel we have the right to speak up.
Giving feedback can be hard. Asking for what you want is easier, but most of us aren’t clear about our requests and expectations.
The question is why? If making a request is easier than asking someone to change their behavior, why not ask for what you want upfront? Why wait until expectations are violated to make a request? The answer is simple.
We don’t think we should have to make requests. We assume our employees, coworkers, and friends will do things as we do. And most of these assumptions are unconscious. We don’t even think about it.
We would never turn in work without checking it for accuracy or come to a meeting late. We would never not send a thank you card after receiving a gift or miss a close friend’s birthday, so we (unconsciously) assume others won’t either. And when people violate our unstated expectations, it feels too hard to speak up, so we don’t.
I’m going to suggest you approach relationships differently –more proactively.
Ask for what you want at the beginning of a relationship, project, or meeting. Make requests at the onset of anything new. Set clear expectations. If you want to start and end meetings on time, tell people that during your first meeting. If it bothers you when people wear shoes in your house, tell visitors when they arrive, or even better, tell them before they arrive.
If you have an existing behavior you want to shift, simply say, “I realized I didn’t tell you that starting and ending meetings on time is really important to me. Going forward, we’re going to start and end all meetings on time. So please be ready for that.” Tell visitors to your home, “I realized that I forgot to tell you that we don’t wear shoes in our house.” It’s never too late. Don’t expect people to guess you’re frustrated and alter their behavior without you making a request. It’s not going to happen.
Consider all the things that annoy you. Then consider what you did or didn’t ask for. If you haven’t made your expectations clear, it’s not too late. Asking for what you want is easier than you think.
Most training programs about giving feedback focus on negative feedback, because giving negative feedback is hard and makes us uncomfortable. But most people aren’t any better at giving positive feedback.
Most of the positive feedback people get at work really isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, fluffy, and unhelpful. Aka, Cap’n Crunch – sweet but useless.
“Great job.” “You’re awesome.” “You’re great to work with.” None of this qualifies as real feedback.
The purpose of positive feedback is to make people feel valued and appreciated and to get them to replicate a behavior. Telling someone, “great job” or “you’re doing great work” will make the person feel good (momentarily), but won’t tell them what to replicate. These phrases are vague, and vague positive comments come across as inauthentic at best and unhelpful at worst.
Here are a few examples of what I refer to as real vs. fake feedback:
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “Great job.”
Real feedback: “You researched three vendors when making a proposal of who we should choose to manage our payroll operations. You included all the necessary information for us to make a decision and presented the information in a one-page table that was easy to read. Your work made it really easy to make a decision. Great job!”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re really reliable.”
Real feedback: “I know that whatever I give you to do will get done the first time I ask and will be accurate. I don’t have to ask again or check your work. You check your work for typos and mistakes before submitting it.”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You make my job easy.”
Real feedback: “Last week you noticed an invoice that didn’t seem accurate. You researched the invoice and got the mistake corrected before I even knew there was a problem. You make my job easy.”
Example of positive feedback:
Fake feedback: “You’re awesome.”
Real feedback: “You always do what’s right for the company. Last week you called a vendor whose service has been spotty. You provided them with feedback and asked for their plan to improve their service levels. This added a lot of value to our organization.”
The guidelines for giving positive feedback are the same as giving negative feedback:
Give an example.
Give feedback close to the time an event happens.
To give specific and meaningful positive comments, you will have to observe performance, and that takes time. But if you want someone to replicate a behavior, tell the person specifically what she did well.
Covid-19 has shown many of us our edge – working from home for many months, not traveling, missing people we’re used to seeing, and for me, being silent when I would normally speak up.
Earlier in the fall, a friend came to bring my son a birthday present. We hadn’t seen my friend for many months. We visited outside. He didn’t wear a mask, gave Grayson a high five, and then a hug. It seemed like terrible judgment and it happened so fast before I could say anything. Then he went into my house to get a glass of water without wearing a mask while we stayed outside.
I was shocked by all of this. It didn’t seem smart or respectful. And I didn’t say anything. I still haven’t said anything. I could give you ten similar examples of instances in these past months when I was uncomfortable but didn’t say anything – sometimes with people I know, sometimes with people I don’t know.
It feels risky to write this because wearing masks and physical distancing has been so politicized. This blog post isn’t about the coronavirus and anyone’s personal choices. It’s about when we don’t speak up and why.
I think the way to handle potentially tough situations is to anticipate the unexpected and have a setting-expectation conversation before a challenge occurs. What I could have said to my friend, before he visited, was, “We are excited to see you. Let’s stay outside and let’s all wear masks.” I should have set expectations before being confronted with a difficult and awkward situation. Setting expectations is always easier than addressing behavior after it has happened.
Sometimes you can’t anticipate another person’s behavior or how a situation might go. You can’t plan for everything. And telling someone you don’t know in a store, office, or elevator that you’re uncomfortable may feel risky.
Here are four practices for making harder conversations easier and for taking care of yourself when you don’t know what to say:
Anticipate everything that can happen.
Decide how you want to manage situations before they happen.
Set clear expectations before seeing people or going someplace. My son knows that if we go to a park and it’s crowded, we will leave. I tell him this before we go so, he isn’t surprised.
Set boundaries. It’s ok to ask people in line at the grocery store to back up a few feet. “I’m trying to keep a six feet distance. Would you mind stepping back a few feet?” Yes, this likely feels very hard in the moment.
I worry about what people will think of me. I want people to like me. I’m consumed by both of these thoughts way more than you would ever guess. But what’s more important – protecting ourselves and our family or not offending a person in line at the grocery store you’ll never see again?
It needs to be ok to respectfully and kindly speak up on our own behalf. And speaking up starts by opening our mouths and saying what makes us uncomfortable again and again and again.
You get an email that annoys you, hit reply, type up your thoughts, hit send, and feel instant regret. We’ve all done this. We’re frustrated and we let the other person know.
Feedback via email is always a bad idea. You don’t know how the recipient will read and interpret your message. You can’t manage the tone of the message or give the person a chance to respond. And more often than not, he’ll reply equally frustrated. And now the non-conversation begins –back and forth, back and forth.
I’m consistently surprised at how much feedback is delivered via email. And it’s only gotten worse with people working virtually. I’ll admit to occasionally being guilty of it too. I’m in a hurry and I want to get something done quickly. Or my emotions get the best of me and I feel compelled to respond to a situation quickly. So I send an email or a text message that I know I shouldn’t send. Then I regret it and spend the rest of the day apologizing and feeling badly for communicating impulsively.
If we want people to want to work with us and perform, we need to consider how our actions impact them. Yes, it’s easier to send a quick email or text. But it invariably annoys the other person and damages your relationship. People can work with you, around you, and against you. If people want to work with you, they’ll work harder and produce better work.
Never underestimate the human ego, which is easily bruised. You are ALWAYS dealing with someone’s ego. When someone (anyone) calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback or when someone questions us is a gut reaction. Not becoming defensive takes a great deal of self-management and is unusual.
Slow down. When you need to give feedback, ask yourself what you want the other person to do. Then ask yourself, how do I need to communicate to get the result I want? Then pause, breathe, and pick up the phone.
Sometimes people take credit for our work. It happens, sometimes purposefully, sometimes not. The key is what we do when things like this take place.
I’m going to suggest that you use the lowest level of intervention possible to resolve challenges.
When a coworker takes credit for your work, you could say:
1) “I noticed that when talking about project X during last week’s department-wide meeting, my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. Why is that?”
Or you could say:
2) “Thanks for highlighting the X project during last week’s department-wide meeting. I’m glad the project got some exposure. I noticed that my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. I want people to know they can come to me with questions about this project. In the future, will you tell people that I wrote the plan?”
Feedback can be given directly, “You did X and it frustrated me.” Or feedback can be given by asking a question and making requests, “Will you be sure to mention my name when you talk about X project?”
Some might call option one passive and even disingenuous. Both methods produce the desired result – the other person knows that you know what happened, and you’ve requested different behavior. One method may incite conflict, one most likely won’t.
Be as direct as your relationship will allow. There are people with whom you can be very direct, without consequence. And there are some relationships that can’t withstand direct feedback.
Most of the people I talk with in organizations believe they can’t give feedback without negative consequences. The only way to know how direct you can be is by trial and error. Give a little feedback, see how it goes. Give some more, see how it goes. You might be surprised at how honest you can be. And when there is backlash for giving direct feedback, next time, give less. Ask a question or make a request instead. Asking questions is another form of feedback. It’s just less direct and thus less confrontational.
We train people to treat us as they treat us. You will get both what you ask for and what you allow. What are you allowing?
We are living in a weird, crazy time. It may feel scary to go into a restaurant or a store, let alone to work. People are wondering if it’s safe to fly, return to their offices, or visit family and friends. There is so much uncertainty and so many unknowns. People are anxious and stressed.
I can see and feel the stress when I go to the grocery store. My neighborhood store didn’t feel particularly friendly before Covid. Fellow shoppers would run you over with their cart if it appeared you were going to beat them to the last bag of organic, gluten-free, paleo-friendly, vegan, sustainably-sourced chips. But now it’s much worse. People shopping in the store understandably want to get in and out as soon as possible. Other people are obstacles, like moving, orange cones pushing carts. Long lines are stressful. You can’t tell if a masked person smiles or silently growls at you.
During these uncertain, scary, and unpredictable times I think we need to go out of our way to demonstrate kindness.
I’ll admit that I am the person always in a rush, often on the phone at the checkout counter (I hate when people do that, even though I do it too), sometimes not making meaningful eye contact. But lately I’m making more of an effort – saying hello to strangers I pass, when I normally wouldn’t, making it obvious I’m smiling at a person under my mask, even telling people, “I know you can’t tell, but I’m smiling at you.” I’m asking hospitality workers how they’re doing, what it’s like to be working in a coffee shop or a grocery store, and what makes a customer respectful during this scary and uncertain time. And I’m listening more closely to their answers.
It’s harder to see kindness right now because a mask conceals so much. It also allows me not to wear makeup, which I’m grateful for. But people can’t interpret my intentions behind my mask. They can’t see if I’m friendly, happy, or irritated. I have to go out of my way to demonstrate how I feel and what I mean in ways I never have before.
Here are five ways you can demonstrate kindness:
Tell people you appreciate that they’re working (in an environment that may feel risky from a health perspective).
Ensure your tone is friendly and patient.
Tell people overtly how you feel. “I’m not irritated, this mask just makes me look cranky.” “I’m smiling at you. Thank you for the good service.”
Wait patiently, versus sighing and rolling your eyes, if there is a long wait for customer service or an answer to a question.
Follow the posted rules for distancing and masks. Following the posted guidelines makes everyone feel more at ease.
Be overt. Make your positive feelings known. Put someone else at ease. And this ‘thing’ will feel better.
Coming next week: You asked. We answered. Next week’s tip and blog: How to work well with others virtually.