You interviewed for a job four weeks ago but haven’t heard back from the recruiter. You asked a coworker to have lunch, no reply. You asked a team member for a document, but after three emails, two texts messages, and a voicemail, still no reply.
It’s normal and natural to go to a dark place when we don’t get a response we’re expecting. We wonder, “Maybe they don’t like me? Perhaps they don’t want me involved in the project? Did I step on their toes? Maybe I asked in the wrong way?”
Wondering why we haven’t heard from people and inventing reasons for the lack of communication is normal and natural. It’s also exhausting and draining.
I’ll admit, I am on pins and needles after I deliver a training program, until I connect with my client to hear how they felt about the program. Even when I know I did a great job, I need to get the feedback and I’m on edge until I get it.
I’ve had enough training on communication and interpersonal relationships to know that others’ responses are usually not personal. People are busy taking care of themselves, as they should. They’re thinking about their own deadlines, deliverables, and the demands on their own time. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’re not thinking about us.
People are wired for self-preservation, and this very good and important. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? The question, is how do we get our own needs met when we don’t get the response we’re expecting or the communication we need?
The most powerful approach is to remember that people’s response or lack thereof has nothing to do with us, and to let it go. Don’t be consumed with the lack of communication. Move on. You’ll hear back from the person when you hear back. This would be a powerful position to take, and it’s very difficult, at least for me.
The next approach could be to make up an interpretation that empowers you. You’re going to invent a reason you haven’t heard from the person, you might as well invent a reason that makes you feel good. For example, “The person participated in an escape room this past week and hasn’t made it out yet. They don’t have an Apple watch and have no way to communicate.”
Another approach is to set expectations when you begin working with people. Ask the recruiter, “If I haven’t heard back from you and a few weeks have passed, is it ok if I call to check in?” Ask your boss, “Is it ok if I reschedule meetings that get cancelled?” Ask your coworkers, “If I need information but haven’t heard back after three attempts, what should I do? Who else can I ask rather than wait?” Having a plan in place when you don’t get the communication you need will give you a clear course of action, rather than guessing.
But ultimately the most powerful – even if it’s the most difficult – response is to know deep down that the lack of communication is not about us.
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.
Twenty years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”
That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.
Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.
You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.
All of these practices work whether you’re working virtually, hybrid, or in the office full-time.
Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.
Your boss is busy doing his own work. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.
Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).
If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.
Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.
Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.
I think Instacart is a brilliant idea. I make a grocery list online, someone else goes shopping for me, and drops my groceries on my porch. What a great way to save time, unless I want a certain brand of canned tomatoes with no rosemary, and two green bananas, three that are almost ripe, and one that is ripe right now. Meaning, if I want my groceries a certain way, I need to go shopping myself. No one else will pick precisely what I will. And delegating work and managing people is the same.
No one will do something just like you will. They might do it better or worse, but either way, work won’t be done just as you would do it. If you want something done precisely your way, you’re likely going to need to do it yourself.
There is little more demoralizing than working hard on a document and having your manager red line it with edits that aren’t wrong, they’re just not her way. This kind of feedback makes employees wonder why they bothered doing the work in the first place. Employees find themselves thinking and possibly saying, “If you’re going to change my work to be more your way, you should just do it yourself.”
This isn’t to say that if you have a vision for how work should be done that you shouldn’t delegate. Managers need to delegate work or they will be focused on the wrong things, exhausted, and resentful, and employees won’t grow, develop, and be properly utilized.
Managers need to set clear expectations, follow up to review work, provide regular feedback as the work is in process, and then expect and accept that completed projects won’t look just like what they would have done. Even when employees produce great work, that work likely won’t be a mirror image of what the manager would have done herself.
If getting work that is slightly askew from what you would have done works for you, delegate the work. If work produced must be a certain way, you should likely do it yourself, or risk both you and your employees’ frustration.
Here are six steps on how to delegate, a skill I think most managers can strengthen:
How to delegate step one: Provide clear instructions to the person to whom you’re delegating. If you have an image of what something should look like, provide a sample document.
How to delegate step two: Ask the person to whom you delegated to tell you what you’re expecting. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” The right answer to that question is, “No,” and gives you no insight about the person’s understanding of your expectations. Instead, ask, “So I know I’ve been clear, what am I asking you to do?” Or you could ask, “Based on what I’ve said, what do you think I’m looking for?” There are lots of ways to assess a person’s understanding. You simply need to get the person talking.
How to delegate step three: Don’t assume people know what to do. We have all left someone’s office with a new project thinking, “I have no idea where to start.” And then that project goes on the bottom of the pile.
Ask the person, “What are you going to do first?” If they give you an answer that tells you they know what to do, step back. They’ve earned some freedom. If they give you an answer that will not lead to the results you want, step in and offer help.
How to delegate step four: Ask to see work as the work is completed versus reviewing all of the work when the project is done. Giving a lot of upgrade feedback after work is completed is demoralizing to employees and wastes a lot of time. Tell employees, “I’d like to see your progress every Friday (or whatever interval is appropriate depending on the length and complexity of the project). This isn’t to micromanage you, it’s to ensure you don’t do a bunch of work that I will want changed. I don’t want you to waste your time.”
How to delegate step five: Give candid feedback when you review work. Don’t say something is fine if it’s not. Ask for changes while the work is in its early stages versus when it’s almost complete.
How to delegate step six: Resist the temptation to edit work or give feedback on work that is correct but wasn’t done your way. Remember, if you want something done your way, sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself.
When it makes sense to do something yourself: When you must have something a certain way and you’re the only person who can and will do it that way. If you’re ok with things not having the same words, formatting or flavor you’d put on them, delegate. If you need your bananas to look a certain way, go pick them up yourself. And both options are right answers. It’s ok to want what you want.
I’ve heard lots of people say they just want 2020 to be over and that 2020 has been a bad year. It’s definitely been a very different and difficult year. I’m right there with you – virtual school, no childcare, not seeing family or friends, and doing three jobs because everyone in our office is working virtually. And part of being powerful is creating fun and choosing happiness regardless of the circumstances.
Here are some ideas for creating fun and happiness, regardless of the circumstances. If you read last week’s blog, some of this will sound familiar.
Connect with people you haven’t talked to in a while. Call, texting isn’t the same.
Friends from high school, college, and graduate school
Cousins and siblings
Here are a few ways to take care of yourself during the workday:
Listen to music.
Eat breakfast or lunch instead of skipping a meal.
Text a friend when you have down time.
Walk outside to take a break.
Catch the last of your city’s holiday activities. Do things five-year-old’s think are fun. They’re fun for adults too.
Is your city’s Zoo lit up for the holidays? Bring hot chocolate and go.
Are your city’s botanic gardens or downtown lit up? Are there drive-through light shows?
Find a place to toast marsh mellows and make s’mores. Hotels are often lit up and have outdoor fire pits.
Drive or walk and see your neighbor’s lights.
Decorate cookies, cupcakes and gingerbread houses. Seriously, it’s fun! If you email me, I’ll send you photos of our masterpieces. If you have kids, give up what the gingerbread house is ‘supposed to look like’ and let the kids do their thing (this is challenging for me).
Do something you enjoy every day. Keep it simple and cheap. Here are a few from my life:
Listen to music. Maybe go crazy and have a spontaneous dance party.
Order food from a favorite restaurant. I’ll admit that sometimes we have breakfast delivered.
Go for a walk or hike.
Do something you’ve never done. We’re trying snowmobiling this week.
Drive someplace beautiful.
Watch a movie you haven’t seen.
Lastly, what’s a bad habit you can stop doing, for one day. Don’t over commit. Mine are below:
Opening emails, promising I’ll reply, only to have the email get buried and forgotten.
Surfing Facebook and the internet at night.
Eating whatever my kid doesn’t finish.
Checking my phone (way more than necessary).
There are lots of ways to have fun regardless of the circumstances – from seeing lights, to reconnecting with old friends, to taking care of ourselves, and stopping a bad habit, just for one day.
Have a wonderful rest of the year! We are grateful for the many organizations that invested in virtual training and keynote speaking this year. We’ve loved working with all of you and hope to see you virtually or in person next year.
We wish you a Happy New Year and powerful start to 2021!
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.
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.
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.
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.