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Posts Tagged ‘difficult conversations’

Effective Communication in the Workplace – Sometimes You’ll Get It Right and Sometimes You Won’t

Effective Communication in the WorkplaceAs someone who writes and teaches about effective communication in the workplace, the people I work and socialize with are expecting me to model good communication skills all the time. The good news: I try really hard to always do the right thing and impact people positively. The bad news, I’m human and sometimes I don’t get it right.

One of the things I’m proud of about Candid Culture, is that we are real people, working with real people. We work very hard to practice effective communication in the workplace and to always model what we’re teaching. And yet, like all people, we get busy, rushed, and tired. We read emails we intend to reply to, but then forget to do so. We occasionally send emails, when we should pick up the phone.

In my world, a good communicator is not someone who always communicates perfectly.

 A good communicator who practices effective communication in the workplace is someone who:

  1. Cares about people and consistently works to communicate in the way others need.
  1. Asks for and is open to feedback about how s/he impacts people.
  1. Listens and watches other people’s verbal and non-verbal communication.
  1. Alters his/her communication style to meet other people’s needs.
  1. Takes responsibility when things don’t go well.

This week I’m advocating for picking up the phone, even when you want to do everything but, being patient, even when you’re frustrated, and asking questions, versus accusing. And I’m going to admit, I’m working to do these things too. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I don’t. I’m in the trenches with you, working to say and do the right things every day.

I promised you five tips to practice effective communication in the workplace and to be generous with people:

  1. Only call people when you have adequate time, attention, and patience to have whatever conversation needs to be had.
  2. If you need a few days to return a call, say so. Let the person know when you’ll call.
  3. Prepare for conversations. Plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
  4. Don’t have hard conversations when you’re frustrated, tired, or busy. They won’t go well.
  5. If the conversation goes poorly, call back later and clean it up.

Being a good communicator doesn’t mean being perfect. It means caring enough to notice when you miss the mark, cleaning up your messes, and working to do it better next time. I’ll be working on the above recommendations too this week. And when I screw it up, you can be assured that my mistakes will become examples in our training programs of what not to do, followed by a new technique that will hopefully work for all of us.

Business Greeting Cards

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace – It’s Not Too Late

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 his commitments. And at some point, you wrote the person off, and have been merely tolerating him 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 even 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.

conflict resolution in the workplace

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 his 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 him on necessary emails, inviting him 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 set yourself up to be killed. I do mean be authentic.

How to Manage Difficult Conversations:

  1. Tell the person what you want.
  2. Ask for feedback about how you’ve damaged the relationship.
  3. Listen to what you hear, and resist the urge to defend yourself.
  4. Ask for permission to tell him how he’s damaged the relationship.
  5. Give small amounts of feedback, with a few specific examples.
  6. Make agreements of what each of you will do differently in the future.
  7. 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 him. And I definitely don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations.”

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. Decide if you want to strengthen the relationship.
  2. Plan the conversation.
  3. Ask for time to meet.
  4. Have the conversation. Speak honestly, but responsibly.
  5. Plan to have another conversation before ending this conversation.
  6. Congratulate yourself for being courageous and picking happiness over anxiety and frustration. Suffering is optional.

conflict resolution in the workplace

Giving Feedback Requires Trust. No Trust. No Feedback.

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 when the idea for Candid Culture was born.

Giving FeedbackIf 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 that the person you’re dating is wrong for you, that a piece of clothing is not flattering, that you disappointed them, or 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 three questions:

  1. Does this person know that I have her back under any circumstances?
  2. Does this person trust me?
  3. Does this person know that I accept her just as she is?

If the answer to any of the questions above 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 five steps to building trusting relationships:

  1. Get to know people better than you know them now. Download free conversation-starting Candor Questions to have these conversations.
  2. Tell people you want them to succeed and demonstrate that by being supportive of their efforts.
  3. Don’t be judgy. No one likes to be told that she is wrong.
  4. Set the expectation that you will give both positive and negative feedback when appropriate, because you want the person to win. And if you remain silent, you are of no help to the other person.
  5. 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 want good things for 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 her and never have.

Worry less about giving feedback –for now. Instead, build trust. Get to know people better, then work on giving feedback.

Giving Feedback

Give Feedback Without Freaking Out – Good Business Communication

Last week I was upset, really upset. I worked hard to practice what I preach when giving feedback – wait to talk until I’m calm, ask questions, and no matter what happens, don’t send a text message. It was hard, really hard.

I was mad and wanted to say, “What the *&^#$@?” But I know that when people receive negative feedback they feel judged. And when people feel judged, they become defensive, making it very difficult to hear what the other person is saying and have a conversation.

When my emotions don’t get the best of me, I plan hard conversations by asking myself these questions:

  • What do I want to have happen as a result of the conversation?
  • How do I need to approach the conversation to get that result?

Knowing that if I want to have a good conversation, I need to reduce the other person’s defensiveness, I often start feedback conversations by asking the neutral question, “Help me understand; what happened the other day?”

Last week one of my employees tipped me off that the people who work for me are on to me. They’ve read my book. When I ask, “Help me understand; what happened the other day,” they know that feedback will follow.

You don’t want to approach your relationships and conversations in a formulaic and inauthentic way. Inauthenticity stinks and it can damage relationships more than freaking out will do. But it’s not a terrible thing to put someone on notice. If the people who work with me know that negative feedback follows the question “what happened,” they know the conversation is important. Yes, they’ve been tipped off and perhaps as a result they’re on the defensive, but I still think asking “what happened yesterday” is a heck of a lot better than raising your voice, accusing, and asking questions later.

Asking questions to discuss thwarted expectations is hard to practice. It takes great self-management, which I don’t always have. I mostly practice what I teach, and when I don’t, I clean up the mess I’ve made, apologize and recommit to doing so in the future. And you can do the same.

A Few Practices to Consider:

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  1. Wait to give feedback until you won’t freak out, but don’t let situations fester and become bigger than they need to be. Have the conversation as soon after an event as possible.
  2. If something is important to you, ask for it. Trying to persuade yourself that it isn’t a big deal and might be your issue, probably won’t help. We want what we want. Be true to yourself.
  3. Consider starting hard conversations with “help me understand.”

And when you find that you’ve put the other person on the defensive and s/he feels judged, work to do better next time. But in the end, speaking up is always better than stuffing how you feel, even if you handle the conversations differently than you had planned.

Office Dress Code – Flip Flops and Cargo Pants Are Not Business Casual

No one wants to tell you you’re dressed inappropriately for work.

The office dress code conversation seems to be feedback managers avoid and struggle with the most. Perhaps because attire is so personal, I’m not sure. But I do know that I’m getting more and more requests to train managers how to give employees feedback that their butt crack is showing. Yes, really.

Many employees push the envelope on the office dress code during the summer, breaking out tank tops, jeans and capri’s. The problem with dressing this casually is that some of the people you work with will judge you for it, but they are not likely to tell you. They’ll just decide you have poor judgment and that you may not be the right person to stand in for your boss at a meeting or conference.

A couple of office dress code guidelines to follow, unless you work in a very casual office environment where even the folks at the top wear jeans and t-shirts to work:

  1. Make friends with your iron, or a dry cleaner.
  2. If you put something on and ask “Can I get away with this,” the answer is most likely no.
  3. Ladies, your cleavage should never show at work. Never ever.  It will only limit your career.
  4. T-shirts and cargo pants are not business casual.
  5. Capris and sandals are ok, if your company allows them. Spandex and shorts are not.
  6. Thongs and butt cracks are a no-no. Ladies, don’t wear low rides to work. Men, if your belt sits below your stomach, buy a bigger pair of pants and raise the belt. This will solve the butt crack problem.
  7. Ladies check your skirt length. If it’s too tight or too short, it’s not for the office.
  8. Lots of women are wearing really high heels to work. They look great, at a club.
  9. General rule of thumb, if can comfortably leave work and go to a club or a baseball game, you’re not dressed conservatively enough for work.

Most of these suggestions are aimed at women because women have more flexibility with clothing and thus a greater margin for error. Men have the man’s business casual uniform: khakis and a button down or golf shirt. That’s hard to screw up, unless of course you sleep in the khakis.

Here’s how you can give a woman feedback that she isn’t dressed appropriately for your office dress code:

“I’ve noticed that some of your clothing shows cleavage. When people look at you, I want them thinking about how smart you are and all that you add to our organization. I don’t want them distracted with something else.” Replace cleavage with whatever misstep the person is making.

Here’s another example: “I’ve noticed that you wear short skirts and pretty high shoes to work. We work in a pretty conservative environment. You always look great, but not for our office environment. I’m going to ask you to wear longer skirts, that aren’t as form fitting, with lower shoes. I know this conversation is awkward, and I appreciate that you’re willing to have it with me. When people look at you I want them thinking about how smart you are and all that you add to our organization. I don’t want them distracted with something else.”

Notice, I didn’t say, “You’re not dressed appropriately for work.” The word “appropriate” is too vague and thus doesn’t qualify as feedback. Being vague doesn’t tell the person what to do differently. If your employees felt that what they are wearing to work was inappropriate, they’d wear something else. You need to spell it out. And this is true for all forms of feedback. Be specific and give an example, or you haven’t given feedback and shouldn’t expect anything to change.

Men, you can’t have this conversation with the women in your office. Ask a woman the employee has a relationship with to have the conversation on your behalf.

Read How to Say Anything to Anyone to get the words to have other difficult feedback conversations.

Some of you are currently gasping, thinking there is no way you can have this conversation. Yes you can. I have these office dress code conversations with clients regularly without damaging my relationships. So few people will tell someone when they’re wearing clothing that damages their reputation, when the feedback recipient gets over being shocked and embarrassed, s/he’ll thank you for caring enough to give such honest feedback.

Advil Free Performance Appraisal

I’ve never had a performance appraisal that didn’t make me want to quit. Throughout my 15-year corporate career, before starting Candid Culture,I had some great bosses. And I always got good ratings and positive reviews. But there was always some comment or piece of feedback, in every performance appraisal, that frustrated me or impacted my raise or bonus in a way that felt unfair.

And each time I got feedback that felt unfair, I looked for how I contributed to the situation.

Performance Appraisal

Which means it’s our job to ask the expectations of the people we work with and collect their feedback throughout the year, so we’re not blind-sided at year end.

Below are some tips to ensure you give and receive a useful and trauma-free performance appraisal.

If you read my last blog post,you know that your boss may not know all the good and not-so-good things you do on a daily basis. It’s your job to let her know about your accomplishments.

Assemble a list of things you’ve accomplished this year. This list might include emails and feedback from people you work with both inside and outside your organization. Ask your boss’s permission to send her the list. And tell her the information is intended to make it easy to write your appraisal.

If you don’t have feedback from your peers and internal or external customers, ask for it. I define customers as anyone you need to get your job done and anyone who needs you to get their job done. Send a short email to five or six people with whom you work closely, and ask them to send your boss some feedback about your performance this past year. If they’re comfortable sending you the feedback directly, all the better. Guide your customers by asking specific questions. That way you’ll get specific feedback, versus, “Dave did a good job this year.”

Ask questions like:

  • What’s one thing I did this year that made the most difference to you or your department?
  • What’s one thing I could have done differently this past year?

Don’t be scared to ask for feedback from your customers. Most people are so hesitant to give negative feedback that they’ll typically be easier on you than you are on yourself.

Most performance appraisals only contain feedback from the last few months of the year. As managers sit in front of a blank appraisal form, it’s all they can remember. It’s your job to help your manager remember all the good things you did throughout the year. And I don’t know of a manager who won’t appreciate having written, bulleted data from which to write appraisals. Bullets are easier to read than paragraphs. Make it easy to scan your list of accomplishments.

Writing performance appraisals doesn’t have to give you a headache. Receiving appraisals doesn’t have to make you wish you stayed home that day. Plan specific, useful feedback conversations and then move on to planning for 2013.

Managers, here’s a video I created on how to give a useful performance appraisal. And my new book How to Say Anything to Anyoneis perfect preparation for both managers and employees. The book won’t be in bookstores or on Amazon until January, but we have advance copies on our website.


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