You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’, similar to when people roll their eyes at you? When you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.
Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.
When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.
The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.
Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:
• Tell me more about… • Help me understand what happened here… • What are your thoughts about… • What’s the history behind….
Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion, if you manage your tone.
If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that evoke discussion. Through discussion, you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as he does and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off-putting.
It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.
Several years ago, a guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for your birthday do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘big day’ I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on my birthday, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.
Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us? Learn how to get what you want on your birthday and every day.
We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part, we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.
I hope the people who love you, know you well enough and are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on your birthday, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend the day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for my birthday, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”
Last week I was chased down in the hallway by a conference participant. She told me that she and her husband bickered about (his) driving all the way to the conference. After three hours of bickering, she knew she needed to discuss how to handle driving disagreements in the future, and asked me how. I told her, “The time to fix a relationship, is when there is nothing wrong.”
Talking with another person when you’re upset, often leads to more upset. Emotions and conversations escalate quickly. The more upset you are, the more likely you are to say things you’ll regret. The time to alter how you work, live, and communicate with someone, is when there is nothing wrong.
Pick a time when things are calm and when no one is upset. Tell the other person that you want to talk about how you work together, manage disagreements, make decisions, handle disappointments, etc. Share what you have observed in the past and make requests. Brainstorm solutions together. You’ll have a much better conversation when you’ve had time to calm down from whatever happened to create the need for the conversation.
Waiting to have a conversation until you’re not upset creates the risk of waiting too long to address concerns. The right time to talk about a breakdown is as soon after an event as you can. When both people are calm and have time to have the conversation, usually within a few days of a challenge.
There is no talking to my two-year old about why I took away a toy when I do it. He’s too upset. I need to wait to talk to him about why I did what I did and what I want him to do next time, when he’s calm. Typically, that’s later the same day. Adults may take a little longer. But this isn’t a pass to wait six weeks, which is what we often do. The conversation won’t be as hard or as bad as you think, if you talk when you’re calm and speak from what the relationship needs.
Speaking from what the relationship needs is saying just what you need to, not more and not less, to resolve the challenge and create a better way to handle things in the future. And communicating in a kind and direct way, so the other person can take in what you have to say.
Men get a bad rap for going to the man-cave and coming out to talk when they’re ready. This has a lot of wisdom. Don’t talk if you’re not ready.
Agree upon better ways for handing challenges when no one is upset. Speaking directly, calmly, caringly and with the desire to make things work, typically has a positive result.
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, but 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 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 over 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 to spend a few minutes to discuss?”
Or, you could say, “Lots has happened in the past year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work this year, so next year can be smooth. Would you be interested in having that conversation?”
Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this past year was hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have lunch with me to discuss how we want to work together next year?”
It doesn’t so much matter what you say, as long as you start the conversation. Relationships don’t just improve by chance.
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 with you 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’, go to lunch with someone else.
A few years ago, the guy I was dating asked, “We don’t really need to do anything for Valentine’s Day do we?” I was taken aback by his question (which was really a statement) and replied, “No, we don’t.” But I didn’t mean it. And when he blew off the ‘holiday’ I was furious and let him know it. Instead of having dinner on Valentine’s Day, we had an ugly conversation and a lousy rest of the week. Asking for what I wanted upfront would have been much less painful.
Why is it so hard to ask for what we want, especially from the people who love us? Here’s how to get what you want on Valentine’s Day and every day:
We aren’t likely to get what we don’t ask for. The people in our lives can’t read our minds. They don’t know what we want. This is true at home and at work. If you want a report to look a certain way, sketch it out for your employees. If you want a meeting handled in a certain fashion, give detailed instructions. For the most part we expect things to go well and thus we delegate insufficiently at work and hope to be pleasantly surprised at home.
I hope the people who love you, know you well enough and are intuitive enough to give your heart what it wants on Valentine’s Day, and every day. But if they don’t, make it easy for them to please you by telling them what you want. For example, tell the person you love, “I’d love to spend Valentine’s Day together. I don’t care what we do, as long as we’re together.” Or, “I don’t care what you do for Valentine’s Day, but please do something to mark the day.” And if you want something specific, ask for it. “I’d love flowers on Valentine’s Day, despite that they’ll die and are impractical. Anything but roses and carnations would be lovely.”
You may be looking forward to seeing your family this weekend, but may not be looking forward to their inquiries and advice about the status of your life.
Unsolicited feedback is often unwelcome. Most people are more open to hearing another’s point of view when she asked us if she can share it first.
If your family starts to pry or give unsolicited feedback, there are a few things you can do.
Thank them for caring. Then tell them that you’re really trying not to think about ______ (insert topic). And ask if you can talk about something else.
Thank them for caring, and tell them that you aren’t looking for advice about _____ (insert topic). Again, you appreciate their concern and will come to them for guidance, when that’s what you want.
The people in your life care about you. They want to make a difference. Chances are they are not even aware they’re giving unsolicited advice. Many people give advice so automatically, they don’t even know they’re doing it.
Things not to do:
Don’t apologize for not wanting to talk about a subject or for rejecting unsolicited advice. Unless you’ve been rude or mean spirited in your communication, you have nothing to apologize for.
You could consider trying to prevent unsolicited advice by setting expectations before awkward conversations happen. Tell your family and friends that you are excited to see them, but don’t want to talk about _______ (insert job, spouse, speeding tickets, weight loss, or whatever ails you). Or, tell them that you do want to share what’s happening with (insert situation) but are not looking for advice. Tell your family and friends, if they can resist the temptation to tell you what to do, you’ll be happy to give them an update.
Here are a few sample scripts:
“Thanks so much for being concerned about my career. I really appreciate it. I’m not looking for advice right now, but if I want to talk about it, I’ll let you know. Thanks again for being concerned.”
Yes, you really can say this.
Here’s another one: “Thanks so much for being concerned about me. I know you want me to be happy and only want what’s best for me. I don’t really want to talk about my relationship with Lisa/Bob. But again, I really appreciate your concern.”
Yes, you can really say that too.
If you want more sample language, there are many more examples in my new book. And in honor of unsolicited advice week (a.k.a. Thanksgiving), we’re having a buy one-get-one free special. Maybe your mom will read the book!!
You may be concerned that speaking up will damage the relationship and decide it’s easier to say nothing. But the relationship is damaged anyway. When we avoid people or are afraid to say what we really think, our relationships need work. So why not speak up, make a request, and see if things get better?
If you have a tendency to give unsolicited advice, catch yourself. Try this instead, “I’ve been thinking about your desire to break into a new field work wise. I have a couple of ideas. Do you want to talk about it?”
Or, “I’ve been thinking about your relationship with Joe/Suzanne. You mentioned it’s been a struggle of late. Do you want to talk about it?”
Then let the person say no. If you’re going to make a conversation available, it must be ok to say no! If the person can’t say no without offending you or damaging your relationship, you’ve made a demand, not a request.
Make your holiday less stressful and more fun by telling the truth. If it goes badly, you can blame me. Be sure to call and tell me, so I can write about you next week. I’ll ask for your permission before I do it!
The people in your life are not inclined to tell you the truth. In fact, they’ve been trained not to. Every time your friends, family, and coworkers told the truth (as they saw it) and the recipient responded defensively, their brains got trained –it’s not safe to tell the truth. So they stopped doing it.
Gossip damages relationships and tears families and organizations apart. But gossiping about the things that frustrate us feels easier and safer than talking to the offender directly when we anticipate resistance.
We have all watched our friends at work wear clothing that wasn’t the best choice, over speak in meetings, and make other career-limiting moves. And we said nothing. Because we felt it wasn’t our place to say something, or the input was not invited nor welcome.
If you want to be successful at work and for your career to grow, you need to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. These people don’t need to be your direct supervisor, the leaders in your organization, or your customers, although they may be. They can be your friends, family, and coworkers.
If you are consistently late, wear clothing that is not appropriate for work, or make commitments and then break them, your friends and family know that. Some people say they are a different person at work and at home. I don’t know that I buy that. We may exhibit different communication methods at work and at home, but our bad habits are the same.
The coworkers you sit near see and hear you work. They witness many of the good and not-so-good things you do at work that either help or damage your reputation. But they won’t tell you what those things are if you don’t ask. And even if you do ask, they still may not tell you. You have to ask for feedback and make it easy (safe) to give.
I recommend assembling what I call a Core Team of five or six people who will always tell you the truth. These are people who like and care about you. They are not the people you distrust and are struggling to work with. They may be current or past coworkers, friends from high school, college or today, and family members. These are the people who really know you and want you to be successful, and will thus tell you the truth –if you ask.
Here’s how to ask for feedback from the people in your life who care about you:
Pick a few people, using the criteria above, to be on your Core Team.
Tell them you want to get a better sense of the positive and not-so-positive things you do that may impact your reputation at work.
Here’s how you could ask for feedback:
“I am committed to my career and I want to eliminate any blind spots that may limit me. You know me well and watch me work. I would really appreciate your feedback. When you see me do anything that may limit my success, I give you permission to tell me. And if you’d like, I’ll do the same for you. I promise that no matter what you say and how hard it is to hear, I will make it easy to give me feedback and I will say thank you.”
Ask for specific feedback.
Examples of questions you could ask:
What is the first impression I make?
What’s my reputation in the office?
What do I do that makes me good to work with?
What do I do that makes me challenging to work with?
If I could change one thing that would make me more successful, what would it be?
What strengths do I have that I should use more and leverage?
Promise that no matter what they tell you and how difficult it is to hear, you will say thank you. And tell them you may come back to them with questions and to discuss further after you’ve processed what they said.
Saying thank you and nothing else, as you react to the feedback, which you will, makes it safe to give you feedback and more likely that you will receive feedback more than once.
I received lots of emails last week about performance appraisals gone wrong. Some made me sad. Some made me sigh. And the ‘best of’ the worst was so outlandish it made me laugh out loud. Really laugh out loud. Not that LOL thing we overuse.
The ‘best of’ the worst examples of performance appraisals are below.
Bad example #1: Giving mixed messages.
• Giving an employee working on a long project gift cards as a reward and then during the performance appraisal telling her she did the whole project wrong and had to start over.
Bad example #2: Waiting too long to give feedback.
• Giving an employee a performance appraisal six months late.
Bad example #3: Being lazy.
• Using the employee’s self appraisal as the final appraisal, without the manager adding any of his or her own comments.
Bad example #4: Never awarding the highest rating possible, to anyone.
• If a one is the best rating and a five is the worst rating, no one ever earns a one.
Bad example #5: Holding people to expectations and standards but not sharing those expectations.
• Not clarifying at the beginning of the year what the expectations are and what a good job looks like.
Bad example #6: Never giving employees feedback about their performance.
• Writing performance appraisals and documenting performance issues, but giving none of the written or verbal feedback to the employee.
Bad example #7: Giving small amounts of vague feedback.
• Giving little to no data in the review because the manager didn’t work closely enough with the employee to observe performance directly and didn’t ask others in the organization to provide feedback.
Bad example #8 (I received this example SEVERAL times): Providing only a written appraisal.
• Handing an employee a written appraisal while in a meeting with other people and never having a conversation.
This is just hilarious:
“During my annual performance appraisal I was asked if I was manic. After a moment or two of trying to understand what my supervisor meant by the comment, I finally asked. My supervisor replied, “Well, you are so upbeat about your job all the time, I just thought you were manic. Nobody can be that happy about working here.””
The winner for being the ‘best of’ the worst:
My manager tossed my performance appraisal on my desk saying, “Just look this over and sign it. I want it back by the end of the day.” Of course, the appraisal was full of feedback and expectations that I had never received.
I told my manager, “There is a lot of information here that was never discussed with me. I would have liked the opportunity to discuss these issues before it showed up in my review.”
The manager replied, “See this is why I didn’t want to meet with you! I knew you would react badly! Just man up, take the feedback, and sign the thing! It’s due to HR today.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Managers: If you do a little better than these ten examples of performance appraisals, you’re outperforming your manager peers. Sad but true.
Employees: You are responsible for your career happiness, success, and satisfaction, not your boss. Ask for expectations at the beginning of anything new and for regular feedback.
Take your performance into your own hands:
1. Don’t wait for your boss to set expectations. Ask your boss for his/her expectations. Get very clear on what a good job looks like, before you start working on a project and/or when the year starts.
2. Write annual goals and review them with your direct supervisor at least quarterly. During your regular one-on-ones, ask for feedback. If you don’t have regular one-on-ones, start. Ask your boss’s permission to schedule a one-on-one at least quarterly to update him/her on projects and to gather feedback.
3. Ask for regular feedback on pieces of work as you complete the work. Don’t wait until the end of a project to get feedback.
4. Ask for feedback about your overall performance once a quarter.
Ask these questions:
• How am I doing so far this year performance wise?
• What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
• What aspects of my work have contributed most to the organization?
• What do I need to do between now and the end of the year to ensure a positive performance appraisal?
The performance appraisal system doesn’t have to be rife with challenge and lead to disappointment. Take more control over your conversations and thus your outcomes.
No matter how much you like and get along with your boss, your boss is not your friend. Nor is your boss your confidant or venting buddy.
Unless your boss follows you around all day, every day, she is not aware of all the things you do at work. And if she does follow you around, she probably needs more to do, which I doubt.
Given that your boss often doesn’t see you work, the only exposure you may have to each other is during one-on-one and group meetings. So be careful how you behave during these meetings.
I’ve made lots of career mistakes . . . once. Here’s a mistake I made before launching Candid Culture. I’m hoping you won’t replicate it.
In my last job, I was lucky enough to have a great boss. He was a good coach and mentor. He supported me, gave me exposure throughout the company, and always had my back. We didn’t cross paths much at work, except during our regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings.
I’m what some might call passionate. I have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. And I can be critical of those who I think don’t do the right things.
I would often share my frustrations with my boss. The head of that department didn’t do this. This person made a bad call. So and so was making my employees’ lives hard. I wasn’t complaining, well I kind of was, but not without a purpose.
One day my boss called me out on my passionate (and at times critical) style. He said that if I was so impassioned during meetings with him, he assumed I was equally vocal in meetings with other people and departments.
This wasn’t the case. I was very careful in how I managed myself with other people in our company. I understood the importance of good business relationships and knew that people work with the people they want to work with and around the people they don’t.
But my boss didn’t get to see any of those interactions. For the most part all he saw was how I interacted with him during our meetings. With no other point of reference he was left to assume that if I vented with him, I did this with other people. If I got a little too soapboxish about an issue with him, I must do the same in other meetings. I didn’t do those things with other people, but he had no way to know that.
My boss and I had a good relationship and I felt comfortable with him, probably too comfortable. I was politically savvy with everyone but him.
Your boss is an appropriate person with whom to express frustration, but manage how you do it. Don’t vent to vent. Every topic you raise should be with the aim of problem solving. Keep things honest but positive. Vent and complain at home, or with someone who doesn’t know the people you work with. Or better yet, spare your friends and family, and take your frustration to the gym, or the shoe department, whatever your preferred form of therapy.
Assuming you have limited exposure to your boss, make the time you have with her count. Put in front of your boss only what you want her to see. I’m not saying to be disingenuous or brush problems under the rug. Speak candidly, but manage yourself with your boss as you would with any internal or external customer.
If you stayed out until two in the morning and you’re dragging the next day, your boss doesn’t need to know that. She will assume you’re not on your game that day and that will be a check mark in the negative category for lacking good judgment and commitment to your job and the company. If you had a bad date, your boss doesn’t need or even want to know. If you think someone you work with is a dolt, ask for help in how to work well with him, and keep your opinion of his acumen to yourself.
Your boss has limited time and exposure to you. Manage yourself by showing him your polished and professional self.
Unfortunately people taking phone calls via speaker phone, listening to music without headphones, and entertaining a posse’ of visitors in his/her cube is not limited to the movie Office Space, which should be required viewing for anyone who works with other people.
Cubeland can be loud. And most people are hesitant to ask our coworkers to quiet down. We’re afraid of the conflict. We don’t want our coworkers to dislike us, talk poorly about us when we’re not there, or kill us off. So we suffer in silence, hoping the person will get a clue that he’s making us crazy. He won’t. If he knew the phone calls bugged you, he would have already stopped making them.
You may find it incredulous that your coworkers don’t know how annoying noise in cubeland is. It’s an obvious, no brainer. How could they not know?
Much of Candid Culture’s work is dedicated to people feeling more comfortable telling the truth at work. But even with books, and training on how to establish candid relationships and tell the truth, speaking up is often challenging. So know that if you are doing annoying people at work, they are not likely to tell you.
Here’s what you can do: Avoid annoying people at work. For your convenience, I’ve made a short list.
Conversations, music, and phone calls taken on speaker phone in cubicles. Take the meeting or conversation to an empty office or conference room.
People who are late for meetings and text or email throughout meetings.
People who start most sentences with, “No we can’t do that, and here’s why.”
People who say they’ll do something and miss the deadline every time.
People who borrow your stuff and don’t return it.
Look at how much stress I’ve saved you. Now you don’t need to give the people you work with feedback, you can just forward them this blog, which is a passive aggressive form of feedback. But it beats throwing their phone out the window or hiding out in an empty office so you can actually get some work done.
If you choose candor instead (which I, of course, prefer) simply say, “It’s hard to work when music is playing, or when you’re on your speaker phone, or you’ve got visitors in your cube. I know space is at a premium. But if you’d be willing to take the conversations elsewhere, I’d really appreciate it.” Done in twenty seconds or fewer. And no one died. You can do it. And if you can’t, call me, and I’ll do it. It’s always easier to have these conversations when they’re not your own. But it will cost you a bag of chocolate chip cookies or perhaps a Candor Bar.