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.
When I was growing up, my dad rarely said no to anything I wanted to do. He just refused to pay for it. I wanted to do a 10-day, residential program for middle schoolers over the summer. He said, “Ok, but I’m not going to pay for it.” I wanted to study abroad. “Ok,” he said, “how are you going to pay for that?” I wanted to travel around the country. He said, “Ok, how are you going to make that happen?” He wasn’t going to stand in my way, but he wasn’t going to pave the way either. As a result, I became very resourceful.
Summers in college, I went to work for that residential, summer program so I got the experience. I got a job as a teen-tour counselor and got to travel around the country. And I found the least expensive study-abroad program that gave credit for travel. I figured it out.
My dad’s philosophy, “If it’s to be it’s up to you” must have come from my grandfather who I remember saying, “You can have anything you’re willing to work for.”
My takeaway: If there is something I want, there is always a way.
Sometimes people will say you can’t make something happen. Friends, family, and coworkers might say things like, “That will never work.” “Is that a good idea?” “Are you sure about that?” Or a manager at work might say, “That will be too costly. It’s too difficult.”
If you really want to make something happen, there is always a way.
Recently I was talking to someone with an ambitious sales goal. I asked her how she planned to meet the goal. She said she was putting her intention on the phone ringing. She was visualizing people calling her. I told her that was great, and perhaps she might want to make some calls.
Things might just land in your lap, but most likely they won’t.
Here are six steps to pursue goals when the world tells you not to or when what you want seems too big, too hard, and out of reach:
Get very clear on what you want. It’s very difficult to attain a vague goal.
Know the why behind your goal. Why you want something will keep you going when things get hard or feel impossible. For example, you want a job with international travel because you want to see the world. Or you want a job with less travel because you want to take your kids to school.
Don’t listen when people tell you that you “don’t really need that” or “it’s not that important”. Only you know what you really need.
Don’t talk about your goals with people who are unsupportive or questioning. The people in your life care about you and want to protect you. In doing so, they may be discouraging. It’s ok not to share what you’re working on until you’ve made it happen. All of a sudden you have a new house, a new job, or a baby on the way. The people in your life don’t need the play-by-play.
Take small, regular steps towards your goal. Creating what you want will likely take time.
Expect setbacks. Bumps in the road will happen. Setbacks are discouraging. It’s ok to take breaks and feel frustrated. Then pick yourself up and start again.
When there’s a will there’s a way. And there is always a way. Good things come to those who pursue them.
People have a tendency to talk about us, not to us. If you haven’t been gossiped about, you just need to meet more people.
If you have something to say, say it directly to the person involved. If you’re not going to speak to the person directly, say nothing at all. As we all know, this is easier said than done. Gossip will destroy relationships, organizational cultures, and careers faster than anything else. And we are all tempted to gossip.
Most of us consider gossip to be saying something bad about someone else when that person isn’t there. But what if we say something good?
The strictest definition of gossip is talking about another person while she is not present. But for our purposes, let’s say gossip is talking about another person so as to alter how others think about that person.
Several years ago, I took a year-long class with about eighty other people. The class met one weekend a quarter over twelve months and had a few ground rules, one of which was no gossip. Participants couldn’t gossip anywhere, at any time, during the class’s entire duration. No gossip with friends, family, or coworkers for a year.
When the class started, I assumed the no-gossip guideline would be no problem for me. Then I started to notice my behavior. At the time, I was a director in my organization and had one friend at work who was my typical confidant. Most of us have “our person” at work—someone we confide in and complain to. The two of us would sit in my office with the door closed, talking about all the bad decisions the leaders of our company had made. The moment I began paying attention to the no-gossiping rule, I realized that not only did I gossip, but I was good at it and even enjoyed it. (Oh, come on, admit it—it’s fun.)
The problem is that gossiping breaks trust. If a coworker gossips with you about someone else, he will talk about you to someone else. You are not special or different. (Well, you are, but you know what I mean.) You are not exempt.
As you rise in an organization, you have exposure to more and more sensitive information. You know about employees’ performance ratings, the organization’s financial results, and impending layoffs. One criterion of promotion is being able to be trusted with sensitive information. If the senior people in your organization think you’re a gossip and can’t be trusted to keep confidences, your career is going nowhere.
People will never stop gossiping. It’s one of those human things. We all do it, and we aren’t going to quit. The best we can hope for is to reduce the amount of time we spend talking about other people behind their backs.
I won’t suggest you stop gossiping. I merely suggest you bring attention to the gossip circulating throughout your organization. Bringing attention to the gossip circulating in your organization will raise awareness, and reduce the gossip, just a little bit.
** This blog is an excerpt from the book How to Say Anything to Anyone.
It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working virtually, or to think that team building can’t be don’t virtually, or to decide to wait to do team building until your whole team can get together in person. My advice; don’t wait.
Often the most meaningful aspects of work are the people we work with and the relationships we build. When you leave a job, you leave your laptop and take your friendships. You can build team work virtually, you just need to make the time.
Even if you’re type A and tightly wound (like I am), spend the first few minutes of meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room. Ask what people are doing for the holidays. Commiserate over vacations you’re missing and food you know you shouldn’t be eating.
Eat lunch together, virtually. Remember when people used to sit together in the office breakroom or cafeteria? Why not eat together via video? Team building doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can just be spending time together, talking about things other than work.
Humans need people contact and relationships. People are missing other people. Connections with our coworkers make us feel connected to our organizations.
Small talk and group lunches create camaraderie, but they don’t teach people how to work together. In addition to social activities, give people a chance to talk about working style preferences too. You don’t have to do personality assessments and long training programs to build teamwork. Just give people a chance to talk about how they like to work, on a regular basis.
Tell you team you want to help people get to know each other better so work gets done more easily. Start each team meeting with one of the questions below, then move on to your meeting agenda. Do this all year.
Here are a few team building questions you can use:
What are your pet peeves at work?
What time of day do you do your best work?
Do you leave your email, phone, or text alerts on at night? If I text you after hours, will you get a ping?
If I email you on weekends and evenings, do you think I expect a response? Would you prefer I send messages only during regular business hours?
What work do you like to do most?
What work do you like to do least?
What’s an area of our business you’d like to learn more about?
What’s something you’d like to learn to do that you don’t have a chance to do now?
Read a question to the group. Give everyone at the meeting the opportunity to answer the question about themselves. And remember, the meeting leader/facilitator speaks last. People will often follow the most senior person’s lead. You want people to answer authentically rather than providing what they think is the ‘right’ answer.
Team building doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. Don’t wait until everyone is back in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
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.
A few weeks ago, a college student introduced me before I spoke at a conference. I heard him practicing out loud shortly before he was to read my introduction on stage. As he practiced, I heard him struggle with the word candor. Initially, he pronounced it as can-door vs. can-dor. He’d never seen the word and didn’t know what it meant.
The word candor is not being used on a regular basis. Younger people may not know what it means. And, in my experience, people who are familiar with the word often misinterpret candor to mean bad news. Most people expect bad news to come after the question, “Can I be candid with you?”
The definition of candor is, to be honest, truthful and forthright. We at Candid Culture define candor differently. The Candid Culture definition of candor: Telling people what you need before challenges occur. Anticipating everything that can take a project or relationship off track and talking about potential pitfalls before they happen.
Think about the projects and processes in your office – hiring someone new, sourcing a vendor, training people on new software. The potential breakdowns are predictable. You know the pitfalls that can happen when starting anything new because you’ve experienced them.
What if candor sounded like, “We want this project to be smooth. There are a couple of things that will make our work together go well and a few things that may delay the project and have it cost more than we budgeted. Let’s talk about what needs to happen for things to go smoothly, ways to prevent missed deadlines, and how we’re going to handle breakdowns when they happen.”
Some call a conversation like this setting expectations, others call it planning. In my world, these conversations are called candor –talking about what you need when projects begin, rather than letting the anticipatable train wreck happen.
Candor isn’t bad news. It’s telling people how to win with you vs. making them guess.
Examples of candor at work and at home:
“Here a few of my pet peeves… It would be great if you could avoid them.”
“What will frustrate you?”
“I turn off my cell phone alerts at night, so feel free to text or call me anytime. I’ll respond to all messages in the morning.”
“I respond to text messages mostly quickly, then voicemail, then emails. If you don’t get a reply to an email within two or three days, don’t take it personally. Chances are I haven’t read the message. Feel free to follow up with a text or voicemail.”
“I work best by appointment. Drop by’s are hard because they interrupt my flow. Email or text me if you need something, and I’ll tell you when I can swing by. Does that work for you?”
For the most part, we treat people as we want to be treated. Other people aren’t us. They don’t do things as we do and don’t know what we want. Don’t make people guess how to work with you, what you need, and what you expect. Be candid and tell them! Then ask what the people you work and live with expect from you.
The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.
When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.
Every person you know – personally and professionally – wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your office who you think are lazy want you to think they do good work. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).
It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.
Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.
Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves, or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.
Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:
1. Ask for feedback.
2. Be specific about the type of feedback you want.
3. Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.
A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new-hire-orientation program. Will you sit through the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting her feedback.
4. When you receive feedback, say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”
5. Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.
6. If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what she said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation. That can be minutes or a few days later.
7. You can express a counterpoint of view, you just can’t do it immediately after you receive the feedback.
No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what she is expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said, and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.
Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self-control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen your relationships, and get more information than you have in the past – information you need to manage your career, reputation, and business.
At the end of presentations, attendees often approach me and say something like, “People tell me my communication style is really direct and that it can be off putting. I don’t know what to do about this.” Or they say, “People say I’m really quiet and hard to read. They have a difficult time getting to know me.”
If you’ve been given the same feedback repeatedly, or know you create a first impression that may be challenging to others, set expectations and tell people about your communication style when you begin working with them. Don’t wait until they feel offended, confused, or frustrated. Simply tell people when you meet them, “I’ve been told that I’m too direct and how I provide feedback can be off putting. Anything I say is to be helpful. If I ever offend you or provide too much information, I hope you’ll tell me.” Or you could say something like, “I’m told that I’m quiet and it’s hard to get to know me. I’m more open than I may appear. If you want to know anything about me, feel free to ask.”
People will make decisions about and judge you. There is nothing you can do about this. But you can practice what I call, ‘get there first.’ Set people’s expectations about your communication style and what you’re like to work with, and then ask people to speak freely when they aren’t getting something they need.
The root of frustration and upset is violated expectations. People may not be aware of their expectations of you or be able to articulate them, but if they didn’t have certain expectations, they wouldn’t be upset when you acted differently than how they (possibly unconsciously) expected.
I’m a proponent of anticipating challenges and talking about them before problems arise. If you know something about your behavior is off putting to others, why not be upfront about it.
When people interview to work for me, I set clear expectations about my communication style and what I’m like to work with. I tell them all the things I think they’ll like about working for me and all the things I suspect they won’t. I tell them the feedback I’ve received from past employees and things I’m working alter. People often nod their heads and say, “no problem,” which, of course, may not be true. They won’t know how my style will impact them until they begin working with me. But when I do the things I warned them would likely be annoying, we can more easily talk about those behaviors, than if I had said nothing.
Talk about your communication style when projects and relationships begin. Replace judgment and damaged relationships with dialogue.
Most of what comes through our phones is probably not all that compelling – emails we don’t really want to read, advertisements for things we won’t buy, and social media updates we don’t really care about. And yet those little devices are so seductive. It’s hard not to check your email, texts, and social media updates constantly. Being so connected electronically and thus so continuously distracted has its benefits but it also has real costs.
Most of you know I have a small child and I’m committed to being a present and involved mom. I spend a lot of time with my son. But the best times are when I leave my phone behind. Without my phone I’m fully present with him, in the moment, enjoying him. When I have my phone, I’m distracted, often stressed, and typically torn. Can’t I read this email and reply quickly? What’s the harm? It will only take a second.
And each time I take a minute to read my email, I’m gone. I’m focused on my phone. And then I feel guilty and sad for not being as engaged as I want to be. Then I recommit to being fully present. And then read my email again. It’s a vicious cycle.
There is a huge cost to being distracted most of the time. Our relationships suffer. Car fatalities have increased tenfold. People are consistently tired.
Every productivity expert will tell you to check your messages three times a day, respond, and to not be constantly reading email. It’s fantastic advice. And I suspect no one, including productivity experts, follows it. It’s just too hard. We’re lured by our phones, tablets and laptops. Not checking them regularly makes us antsy, uncomfortable, and nervous.
What would happen if we set defined periods of time for each thing we did? I.e., Spend from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm with your children. At 4:00 p.m., check your phone. Take the weekend off and check your messages at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. Work on a project without interruption from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I suspect we’d get way more done and feel less stressed. But we have to give ourselves permission to put the phone away.
Here are three ways to be more focused and productive, and hopefully, happy:
1. Schedule work and personal activities for realistic, defined periods of time, and stick to them.
2. Agree on no cell phones or other electronics during personal meals and outings. I like the game people are playing in restaurants by putting cell phones face down in a pile on the table. The first person who touches their cell phone pays the entire bill.
3. Agree on no cell phones during group or one-on-one meetings. Your meetings will be shorter, easier to manage, and more productive. Meeting attendees are dying to tell their peers to put away their phones. Strong facilitators who set and hold to this expectation earn others’ respect and get more done.
In a nut shell, give yourself permission to focus. Do one thing at a time for a short period of time. Allow similar chunks of time to read and reply to messages and read Facebook updates you don’t care about. Then put the phone down and walk away. Your family and friends miss you.
Want to improve your relationships? Read How to Say Anything to Anyone.