People leave feedback training armed with new skills and they unfortunately sometimes use those skills as a weapon. It goes something like this, “I need to have a candid conversation with you.” And then the person proceeds to dump, dump, dump. This couldn’t be more wrong, wrong, wrong.
When you give someone negative feedback you are essentially telling the person they did something wrong. And who likes to be wrong? The ego gets bruised, and people often start to question themselves. This normal reaction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback, you just need to do it judiciously.
Ask yourself these four questions when deciding whether or not to give someone feedback:
Do I have the relationship to provide feedback? Does the recipient trust me and my motives?
Do I have permission to give feedback? If the recipient doesn’t work for you, you need permission to give feedback.
Is this something the person can do something about? If it’s not a change the recipient can make, keep your thoughts to yourself.
Is the feedback helpful? Ultimately the purpose of all feedback is to be helpful.
Let’s say you’re on the receiving end of too much feedback. What should you do? It’s ok to say “no thank you” to feedback. Here’s what you could say:
“Thank you for taking the time to bring this to my attention. I really appreciate it. You’ve given me a lot of feedback today. I’d like something to focus on that I can impact right now. What’s the most important thing I should do?” You’ve validated the other person and demonstrated openness and interest. You’ve also set some boundaries and expectations of what you will and won’t do.
“Thank you for taking the time to share your requests about… We won’t be making any changes to that and here’s why.” It’s ok not to act on all feedback, simply tell people why you won’t.
“I appreciate your concern. I’m not looking for feedback on that right now.” Can you say that to someone? Yes. Should you? Sometimes. To your boss – no. To someone who offers unsolicited advice that’s outside of their lane, yes. They’ll get the message.
People can only act on and digest small amounts of feedback at a time. Be judicious and assess your motives. The purpose of feedback is to be helpful, when the feedback is requested, and when you have the relationship to give it.
If you receive too much feedback or unsolicited feedback, it’s ok to decline. You’re not the 7-11, aka you’re not always open.
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 those expectations, 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 to 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.
When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to want to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.
When someone does somethingfor the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.
Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.
When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.
Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.
When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”
In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.
Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give direct feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.
Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.
What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.
If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.
When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.
Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.
When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.
The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.
It’s been almost two years that we’ve been looking into people’s homes on Zoom. Life and work have changed, and people have a variety of feelings about those changes. Some people miss working in person and can’t wait to go back to the office. Some people love working from home and never want to go back. What’s important is the ability to talk about how we feel and what we need from work – with the people we work for.
Most people suffer in silence, concerned to ask for what they want or need at work. Managers find out their employees are unhappy when they come across employees’ resumes on the internet.
The world has changed and how we interact needs to change to. Your manager may not be able to allow you to work from home all the time, but she certainly won’t if you don’t tell her what you want.
We need to cross the line, having conversations that perhaps we haven’t had in the past.
Managers, in addition to checking in on work progress, talk about how employees are doing and what they need going forward to be satisfied and do their best work.
Questions to ask during regular check-ins:
I’m not a fan of asking, “How are you doing?” It’s a vague question, and vague questions produce vague answers. But many employees will go their whole career without being asked how they’re doing. It demonstrates caring. It’s a place to start.
Here are some better questions to ask employees:
What’s changed for you in the last 18 months?
What have you learned about yourself in the last 18 months?
What has changed about what you need from work, if anything, in the last 18 months?
What would you tell me if you weren’t concerned about how I would react?
Managers, even if you ask these questions, employees may not feel comfortable answering. Managers can lead by example by talking about themselves. Share how your life, needs, and desires have changed. Share your own constraints. When managers show vulnerability, they convey it’s ok for employees to do so as well.
Also, tell employees that you really want to know the answers to the questions and assure employees there won’t be negative consequences for speaking candidly. Projects won’t be taken away. Careers won’t be impacted. You’re just talking. If employees never want to come into the office or travel, or want to work part-time, yes, jobs and careers may be impacted. But a conversation is just that, a conversation.
Starting a new job is like the first day of school. It’s scary. Who will I have lunch with? How do I make copies and get reimbursed for expenses? Who do I need a good working relationship with? Starting a new job virtually is even more challenging. Who are these people I work with and how do I reach them?
We need to help new employees acclimate to people and processes, and this introduction increases tenfold when starting a job virtually.
“People leave managers not jobs” is an old phrase. I’ll widen the net a bit – people leave companies, not jobs. People unhappy at one company often take a similar job at a different company. They like being an accountant, auditor, marketing manager, they just didn’t like working for __________ (fill in the blank) at __________ (fill in the blank).
Here are six practices for helping new, virtual employees acclimate and feel at home quickly:
Focus on relationships first and workplace goals second.
I onboard all new employees – virtual or in-person – with a handful of Team Building and Manage People Candor Questions. My first meeting with employees has nothing to do with goals or objectives. Instead, we talk about working-style preferences and pet peeves. We get to know each other and build trust. As Stephen Covey said in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Deposit into the emotional bank account.” And as William Ury said in his book on negotiation, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”
2. Make it safe and easy to ask questions.
Few people like to admit they don’t know something. I’d rather have my new employees pick up the phone or email me with a question than spend 60-minutes of frustration searching for an answer.
Ask, “What questions do you have” each time you meet and wait longer than you think you should for the answer. People always have questions. Make room for them to ask.
3. Have multiple people train new employees.
Training a new employee develops the person doing the training and builds immediate relationships.
4. Set up a system for people to ‘interview’ others throughout the organization – a virtual meet and greet of sorts.
5. Have team meetings on video.
I know, I know, people are tired of video meetings. Make them short, sweet, and regular.
6. Meet one-on-one weekly with new employees.
I suggest weekly meetings for at least the first six months, and protect the meeting time. If one-on-one’s with employees get cancelled, reschedule immediately. Cancelling meetings with direct reports without rescheduling sends the message that the direct report isn’t important.
Working with people virtually isn’t that different from working with people in person. Pick up the phone. Use video. Talk with people weekly. Ask questions. Wait for answers. Make sure new employees ‘meet’ and are exposed to a lot of people throughout the organization. People leave companies, not jobs.
You open an email (or a few hundred) telling yourself you’ll reply later, but never do. Feeling ambitious, you agree to a deadline you can’t meet. Needing a break, you take time off over the holidays but don’t put an out-of-office message on your email.
We’ve all taken too long to reply to an email, missed a deadline, or simply taken too long to provide someone with information. It’s ok to take time to respond, to not have all the answers, and to take time off. We simply need to provide a timely and accurate status update.
When people don’t hear back from us in what they consider a timely way, they start to wonder (at best), and judge us (worse), or tell others we’re non-responsive and unreliable (worst). Don’t make people wonder if you received their message, send a timely status update and tell the truth.
If you’re behind and need more time than usual to respond to emails, tell people that. Respond to each email within 24-hours and tell the person you received their message and it will be (fill in the blank) a week or two before they hear back from you. When you get an email that requires research, respond within 24-hours and tell the person it will take however long it will really take to find the information. If you’re out of the office and don’t plan to read or respond to emails, tell people the dates you’re out.
In the absence of knowledge people make stuff up. And it’s never good. Filling in the blanks isn’t malicious. People simply have a need to know what’s happening. And when we don’t know, we invent stuff. It’s how the brain works. When we don’t hear back from people in what we consider a timely way, we start to wonder. “Did she get my message? I haven’t heard back. She must not like me. Maybe she’s out of the office? Maybe she doesn’t work here anymore?”
It’s ok to need time to respond. It’s ok to be running behind. It’s ok to take time off. Simply let people know the true status. Manage your reputation and business relationships. Don’t make people guess.
A few years ago, I facilitated a company-wide training program for an 80-person organization. Early in the program, we were talking about career deal breakers and I asked someone in the group to share a deal breaker so I knew that everyone was clear on what is and is not a true deal-breaker. An employee spoke up. She said, “I’ve been here six weeks. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. If I don’t get some help soon, I’m leaving.” People in the room gasped audibly. And everyone surely thought the same thing – “She’s done. She’ll be gone by Monday.”
I ran into the organization’s CEO at the Denver airport two weeks later and we had dinner together. Over dinner, I asked if I could give him some advice. I said, “That woman who spoke up during the training did you a huge favor. You spent time and money to become a more candid organization; she gave you the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you really mean it. Make sure nothing (bad) happens to her.”
It can be really hard when people disagree with us. Leaders institute a new practice, employees resist. Employees say they agree with a policy in a meeting but managers hear otherwise informally.
It may feel easier to introduce a practice and ask employees to follow it without asking what they think. And sometimes it makes sense to do that. You shouldn’t involve employees in every decision. But in an organization, it has to be safe to offer a counter-point-of-view. It must be safe to disagree – publicly and privately.
Disagreement is hard. But silence and the fear of speaking up is dangerous. Organizations full of yes people don’t innovate. They don’t solve problems or find new ways to save costs. They don’t grow, develop, or change. Hearing the truth takes courage and persistence. Put your ego aside and ask – again and again and again.
Every time I work with a new organization, at least one employee pulls me aside and tells me about the organization’s “list”. Employees who speak up and say things the leadership team disagree with get put on the “list”. And employees who make the “list” disappear from the organization. Mind you, no one has ever seen this “list”, but employees everywhere are convinced it exists. And this is a challenge for leaders.
Even leaders who do all the right things regarding asking for and being open to all kinds of input are up against the belief that it isn’t safe to tell the truth at work. It may not even be true. There may be no consequences whatsoever for speaking up, but the perception of the negative consequence is what matters. And this perception is powerful and pervasive across organizations.
So what is to be done? How do leaders get the truth when employees are afraid, disbelieving and perhaps cynical?
Below are seven practices for leaders and managers to get more truth in their organization:
Put your ego aside. It hurts when people disagree with our beliefs or approach, and we’ll be fine. Let curiosity rather than your ego run the show.
Ask for input. Ask again and again and again. Employees may eventually believe that you really want their input.
Ask for input in different ways – in-person roundtable discussions, email, surveys (if you wish).
Ensure there are no negative consequences for speaking up. You can coach employees on how they spoke up and make suggestions for diplomacy, but reward the courage it took to speak up.
Share what you learn after gathering data. Give more information than you think you need to.
Tell employees the ideas you’re accepting and those you’re rejecting and why. It’s ok not to accept and act on all feedback. But close the loop and explain the rationale for decisions.
Be human. Admit failure, fear, worry, and wins. People trust leaders who are human and humans have feelings and make mistakes. I’ll follow a humble leader further than a polished and seemingly perfect one.
We all know people who have been furloughed, taken pay cuts, or who were laid off over the past few weeks. It happened fast. Business has slowed or ceased in many industries, businesses are shut, people aren’t working. There are loans and tax refunds in place to motivate employers not to reduce employees’ hours or to reduce headcount.
Business leaders are doing the best they can to make decisions that will keep businesses afloat. It is a difficult time to run a business and manage people.
I too am confronted by these decisions in my own business. I had a new person who was supposed to start on March 16th. I have part-timers who aren’t coming in right now. I have an open job I’m not filling.
I want to
suggest you play the long game letting your personal and professional goals drive
your decision making, and I know this is very, very difficult. It’s difficult for
Maybe you need
to lay people off or reduce hours or compensation. Communicate with those
employees from a place of TLC – communicate early and often. Give as much information
as you can. Be as generous as you can.
comes in all forms. It is not necessarily financial.
Tell employees the benefits that are available to them. Be realistic about when employees may receive checks. But also share how you feel about these employees and how difficult it is to reduce compensation and jobs. People want to work for people who are authentic and care about them. Don’t be afraid to show you care. Call and check-in with employees who aren’t working. Ask how they’re doing. Demonstrate concern.
There is a
long game in how we make business decisions but also in how we treat people.
Treat people like they’re family and you’re working to have a long-term relationship.
Lastly, try not
to make decisions from fear. This is a tricky one and one I can’t say I’m doing
well. I’ve made a few too many recent
decisions out of fear. But fear is not a powerful place to stand. Fear is paralyzing
When making personal and professional decisions, consider your long-term goals. Ask, “What do I want my business to look like in one year, three years, five years? What do I need to do today to achieve those goals, within today’s scary reality.” Act from your goals, not your momentary fear. You may need to remind yourself of this from moment to moment. I know I do.
Be realistic. Act with care and humanity. Play your long game personally and