If you visit family and friends this holiday season. you may receive unsolicited feedback and advice. Sometimes people who care and want what’s best for us, provide input we didn’t ask for.
Unsolicited feedback at best feels like someone is trying to help, at worst it feels like criticism. Underneath the feedback might be the message, “If you were doing this right, I wouldn’t need to give you this advice.” I put unsolicited feedback and advice in the same bucket.
If you find yourself receiving unsolicited advice, you don’t have to smile politely and take it. It’s ok to put an end to unwanted feedback and advice.
Simply smile, tell the person you appreciate them caring enough to give you that advice, and say that you’re not looking for advice on that topic at this time. And then smile again. Smiling softens most messages. Say nothing more. Most people will stop talking. What else is there to say?
This method of acknowledging the person talking is respectful and firm. To pull it off, watch your tone. If you can safely add the words, “you dummy” to anything you say, you have a tone issue. Be genuinely appreciative and enforce boundaries. You’re not the 7/11. You don’t have to be open to feedback and others’ input all the time.
If the person continues giving you advice, simply say the same thing again. “Thank you for caring enough about me to share that with me. I really appreciate your concern. And I’m not looking for advice on that at this time.” If the person keeps talking, just say, “I’m going to get a drink.” Then get up and go get a drink.
If stopping unsolicited feedback feels uncomfortable, prevent it. Tell people before you see them, “I don’t want to talk about _____________ (fill in the blank). Please don’t bring it up over Thanksgiving.” You can soften that request any way you like.
Setting boundaries might be feel uncomfortable. But it’s likely not as uncomfortable as having a conversation you don’t want to have and then feeling like you need to avoid someone for the rest of the evening and possibly year. It’s ok to say, “No, thank you. Please pass the pie.”
At some point in your career, you will likely get feedback that doesn’t feel accurate. When receiving feedback you question, rather than dismiss it, vet the feedback with the people who know you best. Assemble a core team of people who know you well, love you, and have your back. The relationships may be personal or professional. These are people who will tell you the truth (as they see it) if you ask.
You might think that you’re a different person at home and at work, thus your friends’ and family’s input isn’t valid in the workplace. I don’t think that’s true. You are who you are, and you’re not a completely different person at home and at work. It’s just not possible to be your real self and turn it on and off at work. Sure, you might have a communication style that you only use at work. You may make decisions at work differently than you do personally. And you are likely to dress differently at work than at home. But you’re not a completely different person after 5:00 pm. If you’re often late, don’t keep confidences, talk too much and too long, or wear clothing that is not your friend, your personal relationships can tell you that.
It’s important to know how you come across, your reputation, and your wins and losses at work. Having this information allows you to manage your reputation and in turn, your career.
The question is, with whom should you vet feedback that doesn’t feel quite right?
Here are four criteria for core team members:
Your core team should be made up of a small number of people (five or fewer) who know you well, love you, and have your back.
You should respect core team members’ opinions.
You must trust your core team and their motives, in relation to your well-being.
You must be open to core team members’ feedback.
Core team members don’t need to be told they’re on your core team. Simply call these people individually when you need input. Tell them the feedback you’ve received and then ask for their opinion.
It’s easy to dismiss feedback that’s hard to hear. The feedback you receive might just be that person’s opinion. But people talk. And one person’s experience of you can impact your career greatly. Manage your career assertively and powerfully by knowing your reputation. Find out the impressions you create. Then you can make decisions about changes you will and won’t make.
At some point in our career, most of us have taken a class that told us to give feedback that sounds like, “I felt ___________ when you ___________.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Most people get defensive when they receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive is a normal and natural response to upgrade (my word for negative) feedback. It’s the ego’s way of protecting us. Defensiveness kicks in when the recipient feels judged, and it’s difficult to listen when we’re defensive.
If you say to someone, “I felt embarrassed when you yelled at me in front of the team,” defensiveness kicks in at the word “embarrassed”. The recipient is now defensive (and is likely no longer listening) but does not yet know what they did to upset the person. Instead, lead with the facts, so when the listener becomes defensive, at least they know what they did.
If you say, “You yelled at me in front of the team. That was embarrassing,” at least when the defensiveness kicks in, the listener knows what they did that was upsetting. Then there is a chance that after processing the feedback, the person will change their behavior.
Yes to this:
“I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects. Can we touch base weekly for ten minutes?”
No to this:
“You don’t make time for me. “I need more regular feedback to stay on track with projects.”
Lead with the facts. Tell the person what happened. Follow with why that matters. What happened, what’s the impact.
Factual, objective feedback may lead to change. Judgments lead to upset and damaged relationships.
When my son asked that I not be on my phone on his birthday, I cried. I was surprised. I’m a very attentive parent. I spend a lot of time with my son. And apparently, as he has noticed, I also spend a lot of time with my phone.
There is always a good reason (excuse) for looking at my phone. I’m self-employed. I run a business. It’s important to be responsive to current and potential clients. But is every message timely? Urgent?
It’s become obvious – I’m addicted to my phone. I take it everywhere. I check it constantly. It’s such a habit, I don’t even see myself pick up the phone and check for messages.
Many people’s response to Covid was to move cities, switch jobs, continue working from home, and possibly work less. People are yearning for more balance and freedom. Yet, we are addicted to our phones, attached like they are a lifeline.
I regularly get calls from clients telling me that employees are tired and over extended – burnt out. They want a way out. Burnout is an organizational issue that begins and stops with strong management and leadership. One thing individuals can do to protect their time and separate work from their personal lives, is to put the phone away. By the way, next week’s tip is about how to prevent burn out.
The phone takes our attention and a lot of time, I suspect more time than we realize. When I’m focused and working during the day and hear that little ping of a text message, I stop working to check my phone. It’s a quick message, so I reply. Then the sender replies. Then I reply. Soon it’s been 20 minutes. Where was I with my work again?
These distractions can happen a few times a day. Then I pick my son up from school and lament how little I got done that day, and wonder when I’ll have time to finish my work? After my son’s asleep? In the morning before he wakes up? Instead of doing something I enjoy at night and sleeping in the morning, I’m trying to regain lost time.
Burnout is a systemic, organizational issue. But we can create boundaries with our phones today and regain some time and focus.
Here are the things I’m trying:
I leave the phone face down when I’m working and only turn it over if it rings. My son’s school doesn’t text when there is an emergency, they call.
My phone is on silent if my son is home and I’m not expecting a timely call or message.
I put my phone in another room when he is home, so I’m not tempted to look at it.
I leave the phone on another floor during my son’s bedtime routine, so that time is uninterrupted.
I don’t always do these things consistently, but I’m more aware of my addiction now. I’m conscious and I’m trying.
The key to taking back our time and having a balanced life is boundaries. A clear boundary (a rule you create for yourself) makes decision-making easier. There is no struggle, no internal fight. You are simply following the guidelines you put in place for yourself.
For example, if you decide to quit eating sugar for 30 days and go to a party where the sweets look really amazing, that experience will be stressful without a clear boundary. “I’m not eating sweets.” Not, “I’m not eating sweets unless they look really good.”
The same is true for the hours we work and work travel. If I set a boundary that I only travel one night a week and never miss two consecutive bedtime routines with my son, it’s easy to say no to work that doesn’t fit those boundaries, no matter how much I’d like to do that work.
Our phones can be the same. If you want to be less tied to your phone, set boundaries. “I only check my phone at the top of the hour. Then I put it on silent until the next hour.” “I’m available via phone, email and text until 5:30 pm each day, then I don’t check or respond to message until 8:30 am the next day.” Whatever boundaries you establish, tell the people around you who are impacted.
If your boss is used to getting responses at 8:00 pm, tell them the change you’re making and tell them why. If friends or family are used to hearing back from you within minutes, adjust their expectations.
You don’t have to be tied to your phone like it’s a member of the family. It’s a tool, not an extremity.
My son’s first soccer coach would frequently tell the kids, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” As adults receiving performance appraisals, I think we can do better.
Performance appraisals are, for many, the most dreaded day of the year. Most employees anticipate the meeting, wondering what their manager will say. In addition to hearing about the situations your manager and others in your organization observed throughout the year, why not tell your manager what you’d like to know?
It’s perfectly appropriate to tell your manager if you’d like feedback about a specific aspect of your performance or about your work on a certain project or piece of work. And the time to ask for this feedback is at least one month BEFORE your appraisal meeting.
Most people don’t like to be caught off guard or feel that they can’t answer a question. Asking for feedback in the moment, that your boss can’t address, may embarrass your manager. Don’t put managers on the spot. Set your boss and yourself up for success by asking for specific feedback BEFORE meetings, and give your manager a chance to observe you doing that kind of work.
If you want to know how you manage telling internal or external clients “no”, give your boss a chance to see or hear you do this. If you want feedback on how you built relationships with peers virtually this year, give your boss a chance to observe that behavior or time to ask your peers for input.
Ask a vague question, get a vague answer. Ask a specific question, get a specific answer. If you want specific feedback, let your manager know and give her time to observe you doing the actions you’re asking about BEFORE the feedback conversation.
A few years ago, I facilitated a company-wide training program for an 80-person organization. Early in the program, we were talking about career deal breakers and I asked someone in the group to share a deal breaker, so I knew that everyone was clear on what is and is not a true deal-breaker. An employee spoke up. She said, “I’ve been here six weeks. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. If I don’t get some help soon, I’m leaving.” People in the room gasped audibly. And everyone surely thought the same thing – “She’s done. She’ll be gone by Friday.”
I ran into the organization’s CEO at the Denver airport two weeks later and we had dinner together. Over dinner, I asked if I could give him some advice. I said, “That woman who spoke up during the training did you a huge favor. You spent time and money to become a more candid organization; she gave you the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you really mean it. Make sure nothing (bad) happens to her.”
It can be really hard when people disagree with us. Leaders institute a new practice, employees resist. Employees say they agree with a policy during a meeting but managers hear otherwise after the meeting.
It may feel easier to introduce a practice and ask employees to follow it without asking what they think. And sometimes it makes sense to do that. You don’t need to involve employees in every decision. But in an organization, it has to be safe to offer a counter-point-of-view. It must be safe to disagree.
Disagreement is hard. But silence and the fear of speaking up is dangerous. Organizations full of yes people don’t innovate. They don’t solve problems or find new ways to save costs. They don’t grow, develop, or change. Hearing the truth takes courage and persistence. Put your ego aside and ask – again and again and again.
Every time I work with a new organization, at least one employee pulls me aside and tells me about the organization’s “list”. Employees who speak up and say things the leadership team disagree with get put on the “list”. And employees who make the “list” disappear from the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen this “list”, but employees everywhere are convinced it exists. And this is a challenge for leaders.
Even leaders who do all the right things regarding asking for and being open to all kinds of input are up against the belief that it isn’t safe to tell the truth at work. There may be no consequences whatsoever for speaking up, but the perception of the negative consequence is what matters. And this perception is powerful and pervasive across organizations.
So what is to be done? How do leaders get the truth when employees are afraid, disbelieving, and perhaps cynical?
Below are seven practices for leaders and managers to get more truth in their organization:
Put your ego aside. It hurts when people disagree with our beliefs or approach, and we’ll be fine. Let curiosity rather than your ego run the show.
Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, and surveys.
Ensure there are no negative consequences for speaking up. You can coach employees on how they spoke up and make suggestions for diplomacy, but reward the courage it took to speak up.
Share what you learn after gathering data. Don’t be a black hole. Give more information than you think you need to.
Tell employees the ideas you’re accepting and those you’re rejecting and why. It’s ok not to accept and act on all feedback. But close the loop and explain the rationale for decisions.
Be human. Admit failure, fear, worry, and wins. People trust leaders who are human, and humans have feelings and make mistakes. I’ll follow a humble leader further than a polished and seemingly perfect one.
Many people worry about giving feedback because they’re concerned, they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.
Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.
When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives, you can say almost nothing.
Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.
Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.
Hear are some examples of how to start a feedback conversation:
How to give feedback phrase one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about, but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”
How to give feedback phrase two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”
How to give feedback phrase three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something, but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”
Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.
You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be real.
Hybrid meetings are more complicated and more difficult to run. There are lots of pitfalls. But with advanced planning and preparation, hybrid meetings can be well run and efficient.
Hybrid meetings defined: Some participants are together in-person, other participants attend from different locations.
Some pitfalls of hybrid meetings:
Can the people attending virtually hear people who are attending in-person, from a conference room?
Are the people in the conference room ‘talking’ to each other with their eyes while the virtual attendees assume they’re ‘talking’ about them?
Are people participating equally, regardless of their location (not unique to hybrid meetings)?
Are people texting each other about their real thoughts versus saying them out loud (also not unique to hybrid meetings)?
Did the facilitator provide hard copies of documents to in-person attendees and forget to send documents to virtual attendees?
The keys to running effective hybrid meetings – anticipate and practice before the meetings.
Do a dry run of a hybrid meeting before you run one. I run a practice session for all hybrid trainings I facilitate, even with repeat clients and multiple sessions with the same client. It’s not worth leaving anything to chance. Have two people in a conference room and another person attend virtually. Test the sound. Move around the conference room; sit in different locations. Can the virtual attendee see and hear, regardless of where in-person attendees are sitting?
Assess if you need an external camera and microphone. Getting these items set up may feel intimidating at first, but you only need to do it once. Once the technology is set up, it’s ready to use for future meetings.
Most conference rooms – even small ones – will need an external microphone so in-person participants can be heard by virtual participants. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way. The microphone in your laptop won’t pick up sufficient sound for virtual attendees to hear in-person attendees. You can buy a microphone for $30 at Best Buy or Amazon.
Plan how you will elicit balanced participation from attendees in all locations. Will you call on people? Consider sharing facilitation of different topics, so people in multiple locations lead different parts of the meeting.
Set expectations for participation when meetings start – using the chat and raise-of-hands feature, microphones on or muted, no distractions, and no messaging fellow participants offline. Don’t assume people know or will follow the guidelines from past meetings. Set expectations at the beginning of every meeting, even recurrent meetings.
When breaking people into groups during hybrid meetings, it’s tempting to put people in groups based on location, putting the in-person people together and the virtual people together. This practice exacerbates proximity bias (a topic for a future blog). While it’s harder to group in-person and virtual attendees together, it is more equitable.
Cameras on or cameras off? Discuss, decide, and tell participants in advance so virtual attendees are prepared.
Talk about the pitfalls of hybrid meetings with all attendees. Tell people to avoid ‘talking’ with their eyes to fellow in-person participants. Avoid having a camera capture the side of your face while you watch a different screen. Use the blur-your-background feature in Zoom if your background is distracting.
The key to leading effective hybrid meetings? Anticipate potential breakdowns. Prepare in advance. Communicate expectations with participants. Debrief meetings after they end. Make necessary changes. Repeat.
You’ve either seen the video or heard about the group think that happened before NASA’s Challenger exploded in 1986. One engineer felt strongly that there was a defect in the Challenger’s design. He spoke up, others disagreed. He continued to speak up, until it became very uncomfortable to do so.
Most employees don’t even get that far. Many employees are afraid to speak up at all, feeling that it’s not ok to have a counter point of view, and that those who disagree with ‘management’ are eventually fired. I honestly am not sure where this comes from. It hasn’t been my experience, and yet the fear of speaking up is pervasive. I hear it in almost every organization with which I work.
If it’s not ok to express different opinions, your organization will deliver the same-old products and services you always have. If staying the same works in your industry, great. But stagnation is detrimental to most organizations.
If you want more innovation in the workplace, you have to make it safe to speak up and offer a different point of view. Saying new, different, and even controversial things must be encourage and rewarded.
Five Ways to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
Wait until you get both. Don’t allow a meeting or discussion to move on until you get new, opposing, and different points of view.
Positively acknowledge people who risk and say something new or different from the norm.
Ensure people with new ideas and different points of view are allowed to finish speaking before they’re interrupted or before someone else tries to negate their ideas.
Create a few new awards in your organization and announce winners publicly and with great fanfare. You get what you reward.
Create Awards to Encourage Innovation In the Workplace:
Acknowledge the person who fails massively trying something new.
Award the person who brings new ideas to the table, regardless of what happens to those ideas.
Celebrate the person who willingly gives you the worst news.
The fear of speaking up and saying something new or different will destroy your innovation efforts. It will also squelch your employees’ ambition and ability to be creative. Make it safe to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to understand or unpopular, and see what happens to innovation, creativity, and employee productivity and morale.
Posted under Uncategorized on May 15, 2022 by Shari Harley. 6 Comments
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since I left my corporate job to launch a not-yet-fully-formed business.
People ask me regularly, “Who do you typically work with?” Even after 15 years, the answer still surprises me. Our clients are incredibly diverse. Candid Culture clients range from small family-owned businesses to school districts, towns and cities, associations, universities, hospitals, not-for-profits, and huge, global corporations. The things all of these organizations have in common – the organizations’ leaders want to create a work environment in which employees can speak freely without fear. They want to create a place where people genuinely want to work and can do their best work.
So, what are a few things I have learned these past 15 years?
I’ve learned that almost-worldwide people are afraid to say what they really want to at work (and in life). Almost universally, people feel like they will be disliked and disapproved of for providing feedback others don’t like.
When I started Candid Culture, it was with the premise that it’s hard to speak up in most relationships because we haven’t set the expectation that it’s ok to do so. We haven’t laid the groundwork, letting people know we genuinely want their input and there won’t be a negative consequence for saying unpopular things. My views on this haven’t changed. If you’ve read How to Say Anything to Anyone you know that the book’s title makes it seem like the book is about feedback, but it really isn’t. The first eight chapters are how to create environments and relationships in which it’s safe to speak up.
I’ve learned to let people save face. Negative feedback is hard to hear, it bruises the ego. Say just enough to get the desired actions. Give small amounts of feedback at a time, saying just what you need to. And never give feedback when you’re upset. The time to fix a problem or a relationship is when nothing is wrong, aka, no one is upset.
I’ve learned that people really are doing the best they can. If they knew another way, they would do it that way. But that doesn’t mean a person’s approach is good enough (for me). I can request more from a person or walk away from a relationship and still grant the other person grace.
I’ve learned it’s ok to renegotiate. “I know I said I would do this, but I’m realizing I can’t in our agreed time frame. Here’s what I can do.” Being upfront is scary in the moment but feels better than silently disappointing people.
The last thing I’ll say is that I’m still working on and will probably forever be working on feeling ok making requests. I tell myself regularly, it’s ok to ask for help, to ask for what I need, and to ask for a change. Asking will always be easier than giving negative feedback. And it’s ok to ask.
What do I hope for in the next 15 years? I wish us all the courage to ask for what we need and know that we deserve to have those things.