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.
If you work with other people, there is likely at least one business relationship you wish was stronger. If only that person included you on necessary communications, didn’t gossip about you, or gave you honest feedback versus telling you everything is fine and then working around you.
What often makes work hard isn’t the work at hand, it’s the people we work with – the power struggles, cc-reply-to-all when everyone doesn’t need to know, and the gossip that pervades most organizations.
You need to communicate and work well with the people you work with regularly. And like any relationship, business relationships require work. But what happens when someone doesn’t return your efforts for a positive working relationship? S/he doesn’t return emails or voicemails, ignores requests, and/or goes above you instead of coming to you when issues arise?
Make three attempts at strengthening a business relationship.
I’ll attempt to strengthen a business relationship three times before giving up. Phone calls, video, and in-person meetings count as an attempt to improve a relationship, emails and text messages don’t. Emails and texts are passive, one-sided communications. If you’re serious about strengthening a relationship, talk with the person, either in person or via video or the phone.
The conversation could go something like, “We’re going to be working together a lot this quarter, I thought it would be helpful to talk through how we both like to communicate and who will do what. When is a good time for us to connect via phone?”
Or, you could say, “A lot has happened this year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work, so the rest of the year is smooth. Can we schedule a call to talk about it?”
Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this year has been hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Can we talk about how we want to work together going forward?”
I’ll make attempts like those above three times (with the same person). If the person doesn’t reach back, says no, or cancels three scheduled meetings, I give up. Don’t chase people. The people who are interested in fostering a good working relationship will make the time and be willing to be uncomfortable.
What does it mean to give up? You are not the Golden Retriever of the workplace. Nor are you the 7-11 – always open. If someone isn’t interested in talking with me about how we can improve our relationship, I don’t keep asking. After the third no, I’m polite. I include the person in all necessary meetings and communications. I’m professional. But I don’t keep inviting. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.
Extend an olive branch. Be forthcoming, brave, and yourself. And if you get three nos’, work on other business relationships and leave this one be.
Several years ago, I was doing frequent training and consulting with a client and was in their offices weekly. One of their employees confided in me that she could see the train wreck coming on her team but wasn’t planning to say anything. She was going to watch the predicted mayhem happen without saying a word.
Why wasn’t she planning to speak up about the breakdowns she could see were coming? Did she care not care about her job or company? Was she not invested? The problem wasn’t any of those things. She simply didn’t believe that anyone wanted to hear what she had to say, the negative consequences for speaking up felt high, and quite simply, it was easier to say nothing.
When we were little our parents told us, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As young professionals, when we did speak up and someone didn’t like what we had to say, we got ‘in trouble’. And no one wants to hurt people’s feelings, damage relationships, or get labeled as the person who complains. The odds are stacked against speaking candidly.
The problem is, when employees don’t speak up about concerns avoidable breakdowns happen, innovation is stifled, and dissatisfaction festers. We must find a way to speak up, even when we’re afraid or uncomfortable.
Many years ago, a fellow trainer said to me, “The truth is one ingredient in the recipe, it’s not the whole meal.” I can’t take credit for this bit of wisdom, but it stuck with me. You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking, you can just say a little.
If you want to speak up at work but are hesitant, test the waters. Provide a little bit of information and see what happens. Was the person receptive? Did you face negative consequences? Were you treated unfairly? If the person handled your message well, give a little more information. See how that goes. Be judicious in how much input you provide. Remember, every time you give someone negative feedback, you may bruise their ego and every person and organization has its own pace for change.
Silence leads to stale ideas, employee turnover, and cultures where people don’t want to work. Speak up, just a little.
Want to know why people get defensive when you give feedback and why they often don’t change their behavior? Because what you’re giving them isn’t actually feedback.
“You’re awesome to work with” isn’t feedback. Neither is “You did a great job.” “Your work isn’t thorough” isn’t either. Neither is, “You were inappropriate.”
Most of what we consider feedback isn’t feedback at all. It’s vague, unhelpful language that leaves people wondering what they need to do more, better, or differently.
There are only two reasons to give feedback – to encourage someone to either change or replicate a behavior. Unfortunately, most of the ‘information’ we give is too vague to help people do either.
When you coach or give feedback, you serve as someone’s GPS. Like the GPS on your phone, you need to be so specific the person knows precisely what to change or replicate. If you were driving and your GPS said, “Good job” or “I think you’re off track,” you’d throw the GPS out the window and get a map.
If you give someone what you consider feedback and he says, “I don’t know what you mean, can I have an example?” you’ll know you weren’t helpful.
Here are six tips for giving helpful feedback:
Giving feedback tip one: Write down what you plan to say, then strip out half the words. Shorter feedback with fewer words is better.
Giving feedback tip two: Practice what you plan to say out loud. Have you noticed that what you ‘practice’ in your head is typically not what comes out of your mouth?
Giving feedback tip three: Before having the ‘real’ conversations, give the feedback to an independent, third-party and ask her to tell you what she heard. Ensure who you talk with will maintain confidentiality. Your organization doesn’t need more gossip.
Giving feedback tip four: Tell someone else about the conversation you need to have, and ask him what he would say. Anyone not emotionally involved in the situation will do a better job than you will. Again, ensure confidentiality.
Giving feedback tip five: Ask the feedback recipient what he heard you say. Asking, “Does that make sense?” is an ineffective question. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t any better.
Giving feedback tip six: Give one to three examples of what the person did or didn’t do, during the conversation. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to provide feedback, and anything you say will evoke defensiveness rather than behavior change.
Giving feedback doesn’t have to be so hard. Be so specific that your feedback could be used as driving directions. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful.
The most frequent question I’m getting these days is how to manage business relationships (specifically employees) remotely. A future tip and blog are dedicated to this, but I’ll give you the short answer now – talk to people. Pick up the phone. You don’t need to have video calls if you don’t want to. Showering is a personal choice. You just need to talk to people.
People need human contact. We even need to connect with the people we don’t like – when we work for and with them. Text and email don’t replace talking to people.
We stopped talking to each other long before we all began
working from home. Email has been
overused for years. We email the people we sit next to at work. We exchange 20
emails on one topic rather than picking up the phone. We ask permission to call
our friends to catch up. Texting to ask, “Is it ok if I call tomorrow morning?”
is the norm. We’ll exchange 50 texts to determine where and when to meet for
Maybe people thinking email and texting is easier, less intrusive,
faster. Less intrusive, yes. Easier, sometimes. Faster, no.
Call the people you work with. Ask for the best time to call, if you like. Check-in on them. Ask how they’re doing. Yes, there may be a crying child or a barking dog in the background. It’s ok. Calls don’t have to be long. People just need contact. They need to know that you care and are ‘in it’ with them. And while you’re on the phone, get questions answered in five minutes rather than with 25 emails.
Many organizations spend more money than they have to on employee recognition gifts and appreciation programs that often involve bonuses, paid time off, contests, gifts, and other expensive forms of compensation. What employees want most is to know they’re doing a good job.
Giving feedback in the workplace is the cheapest, most effective, and often overlooked form of employee recognition. Employees want to know how they’re performing, and most employees get little to no positive or negative feedback at work. They may not want to hear negative feedback, but employees want to know if they aren’t meeting expectations.
In several of Candid Culture’s training programs, I give participants a box of questions to help coworkers set expectations and improve workplace communication. Some of the questions include:
Do you prefer to receive information via email, voicemail, or text message?
Are you a big picture or a detail-oriented person?
What are your pet peeves at work?
What type of work do you like to do the most? What type of work do you like to do the least?
What do you wish I would start, stop, and continue doing?
Participants use the questions during the training, and I am consistently amazed at how often training participants ask what their coworkers wish they would start, stop and continue doing. I assume employees will be hesitant to ask for feedback in front of a group of peers. But training participants consistently tell me that they get almost no feedback at work, and they’re desperate for the information.
Here’s How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Work Without Spending Money:
Give clear, specific, and timely positive and negative feedback. Employees want to know how they’re performing.
Ask what type of work employees really want to do, and let them do that work most of the time.
Ask what skills employees want to learn, and give them a chance to attain those skills.
Write handwritten notes of appreciation.
Employees at Candid Culture get their birthdays off paid. We often buy employees lunch, give bonuses, and have a generous time-off policy. Those perks are important and do help retain employees. But monetary rewards never replace or supersede the value of being aware of employees’ performance and caring enough to tell employees the truth.
Most of us grapple with whether or not we should give feedback when someone else does or says something frustrating.
Here are a few criteria to help you decide whether or not you should give feedback or say nothing:
Do you have a relationship with the person? Do you know each other well enough to share your opinion? Aka, have you earned the right?
Has the other person requested your opinion? Unsolicited feedback is not typically received well.
If the other person has not requested your opinion, does he appear open to hearing feedback?
Are you trying to make a difference for the other person or just make him look or feel bad?
Do you want to strengthen the relationship?
Before you give feedback, do something I call, ‘check your motives at the door.’ If your motives are pure – you want to strengthen the person or the relationship, and you have a good enough relationship that you’ve earned the right to speak up — then do it.
People are more open to feedback when they trust our motives. If we have a good relationship with the person and he knows we’re speaking up to make a difference for him or for the relationship, you’ll be able to say way more than if your motives are questionable – aka you want to be right.
Employees are often afraid of the most senior people in organizations, simply because of their titles. The better the title, the scarier people are. And if employees are scared of organizational leaders, they’re not going to give those leaders negative feedback. The most senior people in an organization get the least information of anyone.
No one likes to be told that he is wrong. Negative feedback tells the person he did something wrong. But there is more than one way to give feedback. Asking questions can be equally as effective as giving direct feedback.
If you want to give a senior person negative feedback, but you’re afraid of the consequences, manage up by asking more and saying less.
Here are some ways to manage up by asking questions:
Rather than saying, “I disagree, I think you’re wrong, or this is a mistake,” consider managing up by asking questions like:
We’ve chosen to invest a lot in this software. I wasn’t here when the software was chosen. What’s the history of this initiative?
What were the criteria for selection?
What are you concerned about?
What are you satisfied with?
What else have we tried?
What are your thoughts about…?
What if we tried…?
Asking questions gets the person involved in a discussion, during which you can eventually express your point of view. When you ask questions, you say very little, and definitely don’t call the person’s decision-making into question.
Human beings are wired for survival. Receiving negative feedback kicks the need to defend oneself into gear, hence why people become defensive when they receive negative feedback. Negative feedback calls survival into question. If you don’t want people to become defensive, don’t require them to defend themselves. A discussion, during which you ask questions, is much less threatening than overtly disagreeing with someone’s point of view.
Asking questions takes more time and more patience than giving direct feedback. But it also takes less courage, and the quality of your relationship doesn’t have to be as good. You need a pretty good relationship to give direct feedback. If you don’t have that relationship, manage up by asking questions instead of being so direct.
If you do choose to ask questions, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you aren’t really asking a question, you’re giving feedback, which is likely to evoke the defensive response you’re seeking to avoid.
It’s important to be able to express your point-of-view at work. Staying in a job or organization in which you can’t speak up, doesn’t feel great and doesn’t leverage the best of what you have to offer. But if you’re concerned about giving direct feedback, manage up by asking questions. Say less. Ask more.
You’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline, or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Manage your professional reputation and get there first to create the first impression of what happened.
Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let her know before the call comes in. You will create her perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change. Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.
It could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call. Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”
Or, “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”
Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action. It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if she’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way. What do you think of me doing that? Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires and you get a call.”
Manage your professional reputation assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!
No one likes to make mistakes. We want to do good work and have people think well of us.
The key to maintaining your relationships and reputation, when you make a mistake, is to take responsibility and make things right as soon as possible. Saying something wasn’t your fault or becoming defensive will only damage your reputation and relationships. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you will gain respect and credibility by admitting fault and correcting problems.
I often get asked if people lose credibility by being humble – asking for feedback and admitting to making mistakes. It takes strength to ask for and be open to feedback and to admit when you drop the ball. So while it may seem counterintuitive, the more you ask for and respond to feedback, and admit when you make mistakes, the stronger you will appear.
I made a mistake at work. Now what?
When you make a mistake say something like:
“I dropped the ball on that. I apologize. I’ll fix it and let you know when it’s been handled.”
Or, “Thank you for the feedback. This clearly didn’t go as planned. I’ll make those changes and let you know when they’re done.”
Also, let people know the steps you’ll take to avoid similar challenges in the future.
You could say something like:
“Thanks for letting me know that our process is causing your department challenges. We certainly want the process to be smooth. My team will fix this month’s report, so your team doesn’t have to invest more time. We’ll update the process for next month and walk you through the changes before the report is due.”
Don’t provide a bunch of reasons for breakdowns. No one cares. Telling people why something occurred can sound like excuse management. People just want to know things will be made right.
Asking for feedback, taking responsibility, and telling people how you will correct errors may not be your natural or first reaction. The more you can train yourself to do these things, the easier you will be to work with and the better your reputation and business relationships will be.