You’ve undoubtedly heard that it takes fewer than 30 seconds to form a first impression. The question is how frequently is your first impression wrong?
If the person sitting next to you on a plane doesn’t speak to you during the entire flight, you may initially think they are unfriendly, only to strike up a conversation as the plane is landing and find out that’s not the case. If a job candidate is outgoing, you may decide the person has good people skills, only to experience contrary behavior when they start the job. If someone is late to arrive for an initial meeting, you may decide they have an issue with time management, versus they were just running late that day.
Your first impression may be right, and it may be wrong, but it takes more than 30 seconds to be sure.
If you’ve participated in job interview training, you were probably trained to look for contrary evidence when forming an opinion about a candidate. Looking for contrary evidence is an attempt to disprove your first impression. If you quickly dismiss a candidate for lacking knowledge of your industry, you should ask interview questions to disprove your opinion before making a final decision.
Why not follow this practice in all settings? If you initially decide someone is trustworthy and reliable, spend more time with that person to be sure. If you quickly decide someone is unhelpful and uncommitted, give the person additional opportunities to behave differently before making a final judgment.
Snap judgments eliminate lots of great people and experiences from our lives.
Unfortunately, just as we prematurely exclude potential employees, friends, and life partners without having enough information, people do this to us as well, which is why it’s important to know the first impression you, your department, and your company make. If you don’t know the first impression you create, there’s nothing you can do to shift behaviors that may be costing you friends and customers.
When I was new to a job, early in my career, I asked my new coworkers to give me feedback if they saw me do anything that got in the way of my being successful at work. They agreed. But when they had negative feedback, they didn’t give it to me, they told my boss instead. That’s when I got the hard and painful lesson that people have a tendency to talk about us, not to us. It’s also when I began asking the people closest to me, who I know love me and care enough to tell me the truth, the first impression I create.
Opinions are formed quickly and they’re hard to break. Give people more than one chance and see how they show up. And know that many people will eliminate you, your department, and your company after just one interaction. So, find out the impression you create, giving you the power to do something about that impression.
Download some of the questions I ask to learn my reputation.
When I led leadership development training for a large mutual fund company we offered a lot of training focused on helping people have hard conversations. Over time I realized that despite that I’d bought and offered the best training programs I could find, the training wasn’t helping. Managers didn’t give enough feedback, and when they did give feedback, employees were often left confused, wondering what they needed to do differently.
I decided that what was missing was the conversation before the crucial conversation. It wasn’t that managers didn’t know what they wanted to say; many managers felt they couldn’t say what they wanted to say. There wasn’t sufficient safety or permission for giving feedback, so managers said little or delivered messages that were so vague, employees were left wondering if there was a problem. This is how the idea for Candid Culture was born.
If you’re struggling with giving feedback, I doubt it’s the message that’s the challenge. The distinction between being able to tell the truth (as you see it) and saying nothing, is the quality of your relationship.
Think about the people – personal and professional – who can say anything to you. These are the people who can tell you the person you’re dating is wrong for you, that a piece of clothing is not flattering, or that you dropped the ball. You may not enjoy getting the feedback, but you’re able to hear what they have to say and take it in, because you know they care about you and have your best interests at heart. You trust their motives. When you trust people’s motives, they can say anything to you. When you don’t trust people’s motives, there is little they can say.
If you’re struggling to give feedback, evaluate your relationship by asking these questions:
Does this person trust me?
Does this person know that I have their back under any circumstances?
If the answer to either of the questions is no, it’s not giving feedback you’re struggling with, it’s the quality of your relationship. Work on building trust with this person and you’ll be able to say whatever you feel you need to say.
Here are four steps to building trusting relationships:
Ask questions to get to know people better than you know them now.
Tell people you want them to succeed and demonstrate that by being supportive of their efforts.
Set the expectation that you will give both positive and upgrade feedback as events happen, because you want the person to be successful.
When you deliver feedback, be extremely specific. Feedback that is specific will be received much better than vague feedback, which is typically judgmental.
When people know that you respect and support them, you have a great deal of freedom to speak up. When people don’t trust your motives, giving feedback is almost impossible. The recipient will become defensive and dismiss whatever you say, rationalizing that you don’t like them.
Worry less about giving feedback – for now. Instead, build trust. Get to know people better, then work on giving feedback.
One of the most frequent questions I get is how to retain an organization’s culture and build teamwork when people work virtually. It’s easy to forget about team building when you’re working hybrid or think that team building can’t be done virtually, or 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.
Spend the first few minutes of virtual or hybrid meetings on small talk, just like you would if you were gathering in a physical conference room.
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.
Humans need people contact and relationships. 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. 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 your 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’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 in the office or for a future retreat. Help coworkers spend time together formally and informally, getting to know each other better now.
Leaders and managers work hard to retain employees. Employees watch how their organization’s leaders and managers work, and often make career decisions based on the hours the most senior people keep.
Employees pay attention to how often managers and senior leaders take time off and whether or not leaders attend meetings and respond to emails while they’re on vacation. Employees observe the late nights that leaders and managers put in and the emails sent at 11:00 pm and on the weekends. I’ve heard lots of employees say, “If I need to work like my boss works to get ahead in this organization, I’m not interested.”
Managers, one of the keys to retaining employees is to communicate expectations. If you’re available while you’re on vacation, but don’t expect employees to do the same, set that expectation. If you send an email outside of regular business hours but don’t expect employees to respond until the next business day, tell them so. They don’t know. Many employees assume that if you email them at night, you expect a reply.
Microsoft has made these situations easy to avoid, with the ability to program emails to go out during regular business hours. And some people state in their email signatures, “I work outside of regular business hours, but don’t expect you to.”
Instead of allowing employees to make assumptions about what managers do and don’t expect, set clear expectations. Be overt and clear. When you hire employees, tell them, “I work most evenings and weekends, but don’t expect you to do so. And I work these hours because I enjoy it, not because I have to. If I email you outside of regular business hours, I am not expecting you to reply.” Retaining good employees begins during the interview process when initial expectations are set.
Managers, if you expect employees to check and respond to emails outside of regular business hours and to be available while on vacation, tell candidates during the interview process.
Employees, if your manager emails you outside of regular business hours and doesn’t tell you whether or not she expects you to reply, ask. Simply say, “I often receive emails outside of regular business hours. How will I know when you need me to reply?” Likewise, if you notice your manager emails you on vacation, you can say, “I typically hear from you when you’re on vacation. Are you expecting me to check in while I’m off?”
The need to ask questions and set expectations goes both ways. Don’t wait to be told. Ask.
Managers and employees, ask these Candor Questions about working style preferences to aid in retaining employees:
How do you feel about being contacted outside of regular business hours?
If I need to reach you over a weekend or in the evening, what method is best?
Would you prefer I text you so you don’t have to check your email outside of business hours?
What time is too early and too late to call, text, and/or email?
Ask more. Assume less and make retaining employees easier.
How many times have you sent someone five emails and become frustrated when none were returned? Or you thought an employee was happy, only to be surprised when they quit? Or you needed to talk with someone but couldn’t get their attention, so you walked by their office throughout the day, wondering if it was ok to knock? Working with other people doesn’t have to be so hard.
Taking the time to ask team building questions is much faster than recovering from missteps with other people. Ask the questions at the beginning of anything new – when you hire a new employee, get a new customer, or start a new project. And keep asking the questions as you work with people.
I use the Candor Questions below, when I onboard a new team member at Candid Culture. The questions help the entire team get to know each other better and learn how to work together.
What will keep you working here and what would make you leave?
What’s the best way to get information to you – voicemail, text, or email?
What time is too early?
What time is too late?
Do you leave your email and/or text alerts on at night/when you go to sleep?
Would you prefer I send all emails and text messages during regular business hours?
What frustrates you at work?
What are your pet peeves?
What’s something you want to learn, skill or business wise, that you haven’t had a chance to do?
What’s something you wish I would start, stop, or continuing doing?
We move so fast at work and are so focused on completing goals, we often don’t take the time to really get to know the people we work with. I feel very strongly that asking the team building questions above will help people work better together. We’ll make fewer ‘mistakes’ with each other, and get more done with less stress and more ease. As William Ury said in his book, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”
Asking questions about working style preferences and goals is an ongoing process, and it’s never too late. You can ask the team building questions during meetings or just slip them into your conversations. The process doesn’t have to be formal or time consuming. The point is simply, don’t guess what people need and are expecting from you, ask.
Many organizations think they’re improving customer service by training sales and customer representatives to make small talk — asking how a customer’s day, week, or trip is going. Asking questions and chatting with customers about personal matters is only good customer service if clients WANT to make small talk.
When room service delivers breakfast and the hotel guest is standing in a towel, he’s probably not interested in talking about whether his trip is for business or pleasure and whether or not he’ll have time for fun while he’s in town. Improving customer service will likely require the wait person to get in and out of his room quickly. When a ride-share driver talks with you when you want to work, his desire to chat probably isn’t improving customer service.
Sales and customer service representatives can also over communicate about business-related issues. Last weekend I ordered some equipment online. Shortly after placing the order, a customer service representative called me because I’d provided different billing and shipping addresses, and he wanted to be sure that someone wasn’t fraudulently using my card. Focused on improving customer service, he asked me to call back before they’d ship my item, which I needed Monday and paid $32 to have sent via overnight mail.
When I called back, I got voicemail and left a message. Then I spent the day wondering if the guy got my message and if my order would arrive on Monday. Then he left another voicemail saying that one of the items I ordered was out of stock but he thought they might have it in another color. He then called again to tell me that they did indeed have the item in a different color and asked me to call back. When I called back, I was told that my order had already shipped. Three unnecessary phone calls on a Saturday is not improving customer service.
You may be thinking this situation is an anomaly, but it happened to me again a few days later. I returned a pair of pants I bought online. I wrote a letter explaining for what item I wanted to exchange the pants. A customer service representative called to ask if I was sure about what I wanted and asked me to call back. When I returned the call, I was told that my order had already shipped.
I suspect companies think they’re improving customer service by asking how a customer’s day is going and by calling customers personally when questions arise. Perhaps I’m too busy, but having to call a vendor to tell them that I meant to order what I ordered and I really do have a separate billing and mailing address is not improving customer service. It’s time consuming and annoying.
I’m aware my preferences are not consistent with all buyers, and many customers appreciate calls from vendors and making small talk with wait staff, taxi drivers, and other service providers. But you won’t know what your customers want if you don’t ask them. Consider asking customers about their preferences when they buy something.
Here are a couple of questions you could ask, with the goal of improving customer service:
If we need to contact you, what method is best? Phone, email, or text message?
Ride-sharing drivers, massage therapists, dentists, etc. ask, “Would you like a silent ride/visit?”
What’s your definition of good customer service? Check all that apply.
Get it done fast and right the first time.
Get to know me. I’m happy to chat.
Get it done right and ask all the questions you’d like.
I’ll sacrifice pleasantries for speed.
Our customers don’t necessarily share our definition of good customer service. Small talk may suit some customers, while it alienates others. Read your customers’ body language and listen to their tone of voice. Do they look and sound like they want to chat with you? Do they happily provide you with detailed answers to small-talk related questions, or do they provide short answers and appear impatient? Listen, watch, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Or preferably, ask what customers are expecting from you when they buy. Ask more. Assume less.
Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ve worked with someone you wished would go away. Maybe the person repeatedly threw you under the bus, took credit for your work, or didn’t keep their commitments. And at some point, you wrote the person off, and have been merely tolerating them ever since.
Damaged relationships can be repaired, if you’re willing to do some work.
The first step in repairing a damaged relationship is to decide that you really want to do so. Managing conflict in the workplace isn’t easy. It will take effort and will likely be uncomfortable, so before you take action, decide if you really want to work on the relationship.
How to know if you should try resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask yourself how much you need the relationship. This probably sounds political, and it is. If you work on projects together, need to give or receive information, or have to work together regularly, then it’s likely worth working on the relationship. If you don’t need to work together regularly, then perhaps don’t work on the relationship.
If you decide to attempt to strengthen a relationship, plan what you’re going to say. Never trust the first thing that comes out of your mouth during a difficult conversation.
Step one for resolving conflict in the workplace: Like any feedback conversation, start with the end in mind. Consider what you want to have happen as a result of the conversation.
Step two for resolving conflict in the workplace: Plan what you’re going to say by taking notes and practicing out loud. What you say in your head is usually not what comes out of your mouth.
Step three for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask the person for time on their calendar. People don’t like surprises. You’ll have a better outcome if the person has blocked time to talk with you. Have the conversation in-person whenever possible. If you can’t speak in-person, talk on the phone. Do not attempt to fix your relationship via email. 1. Email is wimpy. 2. It will not work.
Tell the person, “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we’re not both aware of. I’d really like a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have coffee or lunch with me, and we can talk about what has happened and perhaps start in a new way?”
Step four for resolving conflict in the workplace: Ask for a meeting to work on the relationship up to three times. If, after the third time, the person hasn’t made time, stop asking. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you. If the person doesn’t make time to meet, be polite, professional, and inclusive, but stop trying to nurture the relationship. Inclusive means: cc’ing them on necessary emails, inviting them to appropriate meetings, and providing necessary data.
Step five for resolving conflict in the workplace: If the person makes time to meet, speak candidly, be yourself, and be vulnerable. I don’t mean be a doormat. I do mean be authentic.
Ask for feedback about how you’ve damaged the relationship.
Listen to what you hear, and resist the urge to defend yourself.
Ask for permission to tell him how he’s damaged the relationship.
Give small amounts of feedback, with a few specific examples.
Make agreements of what each of you will do differently in the future.
Thank the person for the conversation and schedule another meeting.
Step six for resolving conflict in the workplace: Build in follow-up. Most people have one conversation and expect things to be fixed forever. Relationships don’t work that way. Agree to meet monthly, for the first few months, until you’ve rebuilt trust and learned how to communicate and work together. During the monthly meetings, give each other permission to give candid feedback about how you’re working together. I call these Relationship Inventory Meetings.
During monthly Relationship Inventory Meetingsask:
What’s working about how we work together?
What’s not working?
What working agreements did we keep?
What working agreements did we break?
Which working agreements are helpful?
What working agreements need to change?
You might be thinking, “I don’t like this person. I don’t want to work with them. And I definitely don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations.”
If the nature of your relationship is impacting your ability to do your job, your professional reputation, or your happiness, all of those consequences are far worse and more long-lasting than any conversation will be.
The conversations won’t be as bad as you think. No one will tell you anything you can’t handle, because for the most part, they’re afraid of your reaction and they know they’ll be next.
Conflict in the workplace and damaged relationships keep people up at night, reduce job satisfaction, and often motivate people to leave jobs. If you’re experiencing any of these things, all of them are worse than any conversation will be. The anticipation of the conversation is far worse than the conversation itself.
Decide if you want to strengthen the relationship.
Plan the conversation.
Ask for time to meet.
Have the conversation. Speak honestly, but responsibly.
Plan to have another conversation before ending this conversation.
Congratulate yourself for being courageous and picking happiness over anxiety and frustration.
One of managers’ and employers’ biggest complaints is the inability to hire critical thinkers – employees who question. I hear this complaint all the time. Yet we often find the people who ask questions irritating and bothersome. “Why do they have to look for what’s wrong? Why can’t they just say, “ok”?
Questioners are often seen as boat rockers, challenging the status quo. They are ‘difficult’.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t hire people who think critically, who don’t question.
I’m not talking about people who can’t make a decision and are constantly asking managers to validate their solutions or employees who use managers as google rather than doing their own research. I’m talking about squelching the counter-point-of-view.
If you want employees who identify and solve problems and create new products and ways of working, then you need to reward those who question.
One of the reasons employees may not ask questions is the fear of appearing as if they don’t know. Who likes to admit they don’t know something at work? It takes strength to admit, “I don’t know.” Managers and leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see. We need to ask our own questions visibly and regularly. We need to admit when we don’t know. We need to be willing to be wrong and to let others see it.
There is an old workplace adage, you get what you reward. Does your organization have an award for the employee who asks the most questions? If not, create one. Do you recognize employees publicly who are willing to point out inefficient processes and costly systems? Do you have a reward system in place for employees who fail trying to fix a problem or create something new? If we get what we reward, what are we rewarding?
I recently interviewed a candidate who asked for a lot of ‘stuff’ during the interview process. She wanted compensation, perks, accommodations, and benefits that were way outside the norm. I’m assuming she was employing the adage we’ve all heard, that “it can’t hurt to ask.” Unfortunately, it can hurt to ask.
When forging new relationships, we watch (judge) people. We’re trying to figure out who they are and how they are. Are they the person they claimed to be during the interview process? Are they trustworthy? Did I make the right decision in bringing this person into my team, organization, and life?
Requests always make an impression. When we’re building new relationships, requests make an even bigger impression. Candidates who said the commute wouldn’t be an issue, but complain about it two weeks into the job, cause managers to doubt their hiring decision. Coworkers who consistently ask for extensions to deadlines, appear unreliable.
People watch us and silently judge, making assessments about our commitment, reliability and even character. Don’t make people question you. Make reasonable asks.
Five ways to make reasonable requests:
Vet your requests with people who know your company, manager, and/or industry, before making them. A reasonable request in one organization, might not be reasonable in another.
If something is important to you, ask for it during the interview process or at the onset of new projects and relationships. Don’t wait. Waiting to ask for things until after you’ve started a job can damage your relationships and reputation. Managers don’t like bait and switch, even when it’s unintended.
Once you’ve received an emphatic “no”, accept it. I worked with someone who asked for something during the interview process. I said “no” and explained why. He asked again after being hired. This annoyed me and made me feel like he didn’t listen.
If you aren’t sure that what you’re asking for is reasonable, say so. Tell the person what you want and to please tell you if it isn’t a reasonable request.
Ask for feedback on your requests. If you’ve seen me speak, you know I’m a proponent of telling people, “If I do anything that damages our working relationship or makes you question me, I hope you’ll tell me. I promise I’ll take your feedback graciously and say, “thank you.”
Ask for what you want, within reason, be upfront when relationships begin, and build your relationships rather than break them.
A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score them points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.
If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and ask for feedback as you make progress.
The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.
When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:
Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?
Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?
Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?
Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?
Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?
Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?
Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I work with on this project?
Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, and if yes, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?
If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”
Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.
People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.