Last week I was on plane and the woman in back of me kicked the back of my seat throughout the flight. It made me nutty. The guy next to her talked so loudly, I’m pretty sure the people six rows in front and behind him could hear the conversation. And no one said anything.
Many of us don’t return food in restaurants that isn’t good. We often say nothing when people drop the ball and make mistakes. We replace ineffective vendors and service providers rather than tell them where they’re falling short.
People usually claim they don’t give feedback because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, think the person is not likely to change, or because they’re not sure if their complaint is valid. I don’t buy most of these reasons.
I think the real reason we don’t speak up is because we don’t want to deal with the other person’s reaction. We are concerned – often rightly so – that the person will kill us off. We will be given the cold shoulder, excluded from projects, or thrown under the bus.
You may be wondering why I, who wrote a book called How to Say Anything to Anyone and who teaches other people to give feedback, didn’t speak up on the plane last week. I too have been trained to pick my battles and that if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. Each day I also grapple with when to speak up and when to let things go.
The concern over giving feedback will get better if the people in our lives – personal and professional relationships – agree it’s ok to tell the truth and agree that there will not be negative consequences for doing so. Open and direct conversations will be had. Disagreements will be discussed and resolved as best they can. And when the conversation is over, it’s over. People can’t hold the conversation over your head or hold a grudge.
It would be difficult to agree to open and honest communication with the people who sit behind you on planes, but you certainly can make that agreement in your office and with your family and friends. Agreeing to tell the truth without consequence can be one of your organization’s values and a practice you establish in your personal relationships.
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You can hire people who understand they are expected to speak candidly and then let disagreements go. And you can manage people who don’t speak up, who hold grudges, and who punish people for giving feedback. You can tell friends and family that you want candid relationships in which challenges are dealt with quickly and then the disagreement is over.
Making the request for open and honest communication and assuring people there will be no negative consequence for doing so is the differentiator between being able to speak up when you’re frustrated or say nothing.
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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- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
When I was 27 my boss gave me a yellow sticky note that said “thanks” for something I had done well at work. When I was 29 he gave me a card when I broke up with a long term boyfriend. I still have both. And I’m way past 27 and 29.
He is the only manager in my entire career who wrote me a personal note. And it meant everything to me. He took the time to do something others didn’t. The notes were personal and thus they meant something to me – they still do. And the notes took him only seconds to write and cost almost nothing.
When is the last time you received a handwritten note? Not a note from Send Out Cards, that is made to look handwritten, or a note written by someone’s assistant, or a note that was typed and then hand signed? Rather, a real handwritten note, with a message, just for you? My guess is not in a long time.
Your employees like perks – paid time off, gift cards, bonuses, onsite yoga classes, concierge service, etc. But perks are not what result in engaged and retained employees. There is a lot of research on what results in employees doing their best work and being loyal to both their manager and to the organization.
Here’s a snap shot of some of the research.
- Need to trust senior management
- Want to work for someone who cares about them, is invested in their success, and with whom they have a good relationship
I won’t tell you not to give bonuses or gift cards, but I will tell you to give each bonus and gift card with a handwritten note. The handwritten note will mean more and last longer. I promise you.
I admit I love stationery. In fact, I collect it. I always have a stash of cards, ready to go for any occasion. And if you know me long and well enough, you will receive a handwritten note from me.
Because I love stationery so much, I’ve always wanted to create a line of greeting cards, and now we have. Today we’re launching Candor Cards. Simple cards designed to help you say what you want to say.
Use the cards at work and at home to:
- Say thank you
- Provide encouragement
- Give positive feedback
- Say you’re sorry
- Reinforce training
I hope you like and use them! Enjoy!
Spend less. Say more.
During the holidays we often see people we haven’t seen in a long time. Your family and friends care about you and want to hear what’s happening in your life. Caring and curiosity can lead people to ask questions that you don’t want to answer.
Over Thanksgiving last year I was holding my sister-in-law’s adorable baby. That prompted another family member to ask when I was going to have a baby. I was completely taken aback by the question and simply replied, “I don’t know.”
Friends and family don’t need to know everything that’s happening in your life. None of your business – said a bit differently – is a perfectly acceptable reply. You decide what to share.
Here are a few possible replies to questions you don’t want to answer:
Question: “What’s happening with that nice young man/woman you’ve been dating?”
Answer: “Things are going great. Thanks for asking.”
Question: “Are you guys serious?”
Answer: “We like each other a lot. If it goes further, I’ll let you know.” Aka, this conversation is over.
Here’s another scenario:
Question: “Are you dating anyone?”
Answer: “No, not right now.”
Question: “You know, I met my husband on Match.com. Have you tried online dating?”
Answer: “That’s great that you met online. I don’t really want to talk about my dating life. What else is happening?”
The next thing she says, “You really should try it. You need to be open. You just never know.”
Answer: “I really appreciate your interest. I’m not looking for dating advice right now, but I really appreciate your concern.” Aka, shut up.
The examples above are about romantic relationships but they could have been about careers, kids, or finances. Your response can be the same. You don’t need to tell anyone anything you don’t want to. It’s ok to tell people to back off and that something is none of their business. You can say it nicely. Just don’t let yourself get cornered into giving information you don’t want to share.
An appropriate answer to almost any personal question is, “I don’t have anything to report on this front, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
An appropriate response to any type of unsolicited advice is, “Thanks so much for your concern. I’m not looking for advice on _____, but I really appreciate you caring.”
Telling someone to back off is perfectly appropriate. S/he’ll get the point and your personal life will remain personal. Boundaries are your friend.
Read How to Say Anything to Anyone, and be ready to manage intrusive questions and unsolicited advice this holiday season. We’re offering a special holiday deal. It’s the best price you’ll find anywhere.
By Shari Harley, Keynote Speaker and Founder and President of www.candidculture.com.
A few weeks ago, a college student introduced me before I spoke at a conference. I heard him practicing out loud shortly before he was to read my introduction on stage. As he practiced, I heard him struggle with the word candor. Initially he pronounced it as can-door vs. can-dor. He’d never seen the word and didn’t know what it meant.
The word candor is not being used on a regular basis. Younger people may not know what it means. And, in my experience, people who are familiar with the word often misinterpret candor to mean bad news. Most people expect bad news to come after the question, “Can I be candid with you?”
The definition of candor is to be honest, truthful and forthright. We at Candid Culture define candor differently. The Candid Culture definition of candor: Telling people what you need before challenges occur. Anticipating everything that can take a project or relationship off track and talking about potential pitfalls before they happen.
Think about the projects and processes in your office – hiring someone new, sourcing a vendor, training people on new software. The potential breakdowns are predictable. You know the pitfalls that can happen when starting anything new because you’ve experienced them.
What if candor sounded like, “We want this project to be smooth. There are a couple of things that will make our work together go well and a few things that may delay the project and have it cost more than we budgeted. Let’s talk about what needs to happen for things to go smoothly, ways to prevent missed deadlines, and how we’re going to handle breakdowns when they happen.”
Some call a conversation like this setting expectations, others call it planning. In my world, these conversations are called candor –talking about what you need when projects begin, rather than letting the anticipatable train wreck happen.
Candor isn’t bad news. It’s telling people how to win with you vs. making them guess.
Examples of candor at work and at home:
“Here a few of my pet peeves… It would be great if you could avoid them.”
“What will frustrate you?”
“I turn off my cell phone alerts at night, so feel free to text or call me anytime. I’ll respond to all messages in the morning.”
“I respond to text messages mostly quickly, then voicemail, then emails. If you don’t get a reply to an email within two or three days, don’t take it personally. Chances are I haven’t read the message. Feel free to follow up with a text or voicemail.”
“I work best by appointment. Drop by’s are hard because they interrupt my flow. Email or text me if you need something, and I’ll tell you when I can swing by. Does that work for you?”
For the most part, we treat people as we want to be treated. Other people aren’t us. They don’t do things as we do and don’t know what we want. Don’t make people guess how to work with you, what you need, and what you expect. Be candid and tell them! Then ask what the people you work and live with expect from you.
You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Most of the feedback we give and receive puts people on the defensive. We don’t do this intentionally. It just happens. We say how we feel, usually when we’re upset, and the other person responds.
Most of the feedback we give and receive is judgy, like the examples below.
Judgy – Not Real Feedback
Just the Facts – Actual Feedback
|“You ignore me in meetings.”
||“When I raise my hand to participate in meetings, you don’t call on me.”
|“You’re rude to me.”
||“When you pass me in the hallway, you don’t say hello.”
|“You won’t work with me. You go around me.”
||“We were supposed to screen potential vendors together. You scheduled and held the appointments without me.”
|“You’re not responsive.”
||“You usually reply to emails a week after they were sent.”
|“It’s hard to get time on your calendar.”
||“It takes three weeks to schedule time to meet with you.”
Becoming defensive when receiving feedback is a hard-wired response, like slamming on your brakes when the car in front of your does the same. The more people feel judged, the more defensive they become. If you want to be sure people become defensive when you give feedback, be vague. If you want people to be able to hear you and take action on your feedback, strip out the opinion (judgment) and give people just the facts.
Referring to the chart above, the sentences on the left are opinions. And opinions can be debated. The sentences on the right are facts. Facts are harder to debate. When giving feedback give just the facts, not your opinion. This will take practice.
The first thing out of our mouths will invariably be judgment/opinion. People who have participated in feedback training with me or who have read How to Say Anything to Anyone know I call the tendency to be vague Cap’n Crunch. Cap’n Crunch: “You’re doing a good job.” That’s sweet but useless.
When someone upsets you and you want to tell the person, prepare for the conversation by asking yourself these questions:
- What did the person do that frustrated me?
- What behaviors did s/he exhibit?
- What actions did s/he take?
- What was the impact on me?
Then practice giving the feedback to someone outside of your workplace or group of friends (to reduce gossip and drama) and ask the person with whom you’re practicing what s/he heard. If your feedback is specific and clear, any lay person will interpret the feedback as you intended it.
Giving useful feedback, that others can hear, isn’t easy to do. It requires you to put your emotions aside, strip out judgments and opinions, and tell the other person the facts of what happened. The more you focus on the facts and less on how you feel about what happened, the better your conversations and relationships will go.
Coming to work in costume on Halloween? Whatever you wear to work is likely to be captured by someone’s phone and shared . . . widely.
On Halloween you should NOT come dressed as:
- Your boss
- Your boss’s spouse
- An employee who is “regrettably” no longer with the organization
- Whatever fit ten years ago
Sometimes people forget that work parties are still work.
This reminds me of a participant I had in a public speaking class several years ago. While doing a presentation, in class, he told a story about being ten years old and playing outside in his neighborhood when he realized he needed to go to the bathroom. He raced home, but didn’t make it. He ended up going to the bathroom outside, next to his house. After that class, every time I saw the guy in the hallway at work, I had the image of him pooping next to his house and years later the image remains with me.
Telling that story was a bad call. It created a long-lasting impression I doubt he wanted his co-workers to have.
Impressions are made more quickly than they are forgotten. Have fun on Halloween, just not too much fun. If you wouldn’t want to see a photo of you in costume hanging in your organization’s lobby or on your website, don’t wear it to work.
By Shari Harley, Founder and President of Candid Culture.
It’s not unusual for people to take credit for others’ work or to mysteriously have nothing to do with things that go wrong. It happens, sometimes purposefully, sometimes not. The key is what we do when things like this happen.
I’m going to suggest that you use the lowest level of intervention possible to resolve challenges. Give feedback while allowing people to save face. Don’t back people into a corner from which neither they nor your relationship can recover.
When others take credit for your work, you could say:
1) “I noticed that when talking about project X during last week’s department-wide meeting, my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. Why is that?”
Or you could say:
2) “Thanks for highlighting the X project during last week’s department-wide meeting. I’m glad the project got some exposure. I noticed that my name wasn’t mentioned in conjunction with the project. I want people to know they can come to me with questions about this project. In the future, will you tell people that I wrote the plan?”
Feedback can be given directly, “You did X and it frustrated me.” Or feedback can be given by asking a question and making requests, “Will you be sure to mention my name when you talk about X project?”
Some might call option one passive and even a disingenuous. Both methods produce the desired result –the other person knows that you know what happened, and you’ve requested different behavior. One method may incite conflict, one most likely won’t.
Be as direct as your relationship will allow. There are people with whom you can be very direct, without consequence. And there are some relationships that can’t withstand direct feedback.
Most of the people I talk with in organizations believe they can’t give feedback without negative consequences. The only way to know how direct you can be is by trial and error. Give a little feedback, see how it goes. Give some more, see how it goes. You might be surprised at how honest you can be. And when there is backlash for giving direct feedback, next time, give less. Ask a question or make a request instead. Asking questions is another form of feedback. It’s just less direct and thus less confrontational.
We train people to treat us as they treat us. You will get both what you ask for and what you allow. What are you allowing?
Written by Shari Harley owner and President of Candid Culture a training and development company making it easier to tell the truth at work.
You get an email that annoys you, hit reply, type up your thoughts, hit send and feel instant regret. We’ve all done this. We’re frustrated and we let the other person know.
Feedback via email is always a bad idea. You don’t know how the recipient will read and interpret your message. You can’t manage the tone of the message or give the person a chance to respond. And more often than not, he’ll reply equally frustrated. And now the non-conversation begins –back and forth, back and forth.
Email is for wimps and voicemail isn’t any better! No texting either. End the madness and pick up the phone or swing by someone’s desk. Things are resolved most quickly and easily by talking about them.
I’m consistently surprised at how much feedback is delivered via email. And I’ll admit to occasionally being guilty of it too. I’m in a hurry or on a plane, and I want something to get done quickly. Or my emotions get the best of me, and I feel compelled to respond to a situation quickly. So I send an email or a text message that I know I shouldn’t send. Then I regret it and spend the rest of the day apologizing and feeling badly for communicating impulsively.
If we want people to want to work with us and perform, we need to consider how our actions impact them. Yes, it’s easier to send a quick email or text. But it invariably annoys the other person and damages your relationships. People can work with you, around you, and against you. If people want to work with you, they’ll work harder and produce better work.
Never underestimate the human ego, which is easily bruised. You are ALWAYS dealing with someone’s ego. The ego needs to be seen as good. When someone (anyone) calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback or when someone questions us is a gut reaction. Not becoming defensive takes a great deal of self-management and is unusual.
Slow down.When you have communication to deliver, ask yourself what you want the other person to do. Then ask yourself, how do I need to communicate to get the result I want? Then pause, breathe, and pick up the phone.
My last few blog posts focused on giving feedback. The posts were designed to help managers get ready to write and deliver performance appraisals.
Giving feedback will always be hard. No one wants to hear that she isn’t doing a good job, thus no one wants to tell her. Part of the performance appraisal process is to set expectations for the next year. And asking for what you want, before problems happen, will always be easier than giving feedback.
If you’ve seen me speak or attended one of our training programs, you received a list of Candor Questions designed to eliminate the guessing at work. They may have been questions for leaders, managers, strengthening business relationships or managing careers. Regardless of which Candor Question Cards you received, the goal is the same. Ask more. Assume less.
The most frequent request I get is for feedback training. Managers tell me, “The communication in our company isn’t good. Can you help our managers and employees be more candid?” And I tell business leaders, “I teach people to be more comfortable giving feedback. But why start with something hard? Why not start by asking more questions and getting to know people better, which is much easier and will reduce the number of feedback conversations you need to have?”
When we know what people expect, we can give people what they need. We make fewer ‘mistakes’, requiring fewer feedback conversations. So start with what’s easy. Ask more questions.
Start with what I call Introductory Candor Questions:
- How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail or text message?
- Are you a detail-oriented or a big-picture person? How much information do you want to receive and in what format?
- What are your pet peeves at work? What would I do that would be frustrating, and I’d never know it?
Then move on to Candor Questions for Managers:
- What had you choose to work here, and what would make you question that decision?
- What kind of work do you love to do most? What kind of work do you like to do least?
- What do you wish I would start, stop, and continue doing?
You can download samples of our seven types of Candor Questions here.
People are not us and don’t do things the way we do. Don’t assume someone will create a report as you would, participate in a meeting as you would, or dress for an event as you would. Tell people before the event what you want, giving them a chance to be successful.
Giving Feedback is Hard – Asking for What You Want is Easier. By Shari Harley.