Many people describe themselves as empathetic, saying things like, "I feel other people's pain" or "people vent about their problems to me because I am a good listener." These are misguided statements; rather than being emphatic, these well-intentioned people are sympathizing. While nuanced, there are important distinctions between empathy and sympathy.
Sympathy involves feeling sorry for someone, usually pity. It's relatively automatic, effortless, and often sounds like commiserating. "That really sucks. No wonder you're so mad! I would be, too!"
Empathy is the ability to understand other people's feelings because you have a shared experience. You can console because you have walked in similar shoes. Empathy sounds like, "I hear you, I've been there before, too. What can you do to make it better?"
The difference is subtle but important. While sympathy is an appropriate response in certain cases, many times it causes collusion, validating that he or she is a victim of circumstance. This only adds to drama and negativity.
Being empathetic is more effective; it fuels connection and creates accountability to solve problems. As Amy Fortney Parks, educator and psychologist states, "Empathy is when you're down in a deep, dark pit and I climb down with you and say, "It's really dark down here. How are we going to get out of here?" That's empathy. Stepping into someone's shoes, figuring out what he or she is feeling and how to solve the problem."
Here are some tips to be more empathetic:
Don't Give Advice
We naturally want to give advice, but this usually is not what the person is looking for, nor does it help him or her step out of victim mentality. Most people just want to be heard so listen thoughtfully and offer to help develop a solution.
Workplace example: someone just got moved in a company reorg
Don't say: "If I were you, I would put my head down and work hard."
Do say: "This must be very upsetting news for you. Once you've had a chance to process it, I'll help you brainstorm a path forward."
Avoid Saying "You Poor Thing"
Most people dislike being pitied; it makes them feel small. Since empathy is about understanding and empowering, acknowledge the situation and redirect to problem-solving.
Workplace example: someone just received tough feedback from his/her manager
Don't say: "I'm so sorry. That's awful. I feel so badly for you."
Do say: "That sounds like tough feedback and it must have stung. How are you going to address it?"
It's so easy to fall into the gossip trap when there is interpersonal conflict in the workplace. Don't engage, don't collude! Complaining about a coworker behind his or her back is toxic behavior; it tears apart a culture and it not only doesn't resolve the problem, but it also makes it worse.
Workplace example: someone is in a conflict with a co-worker
Don't say: "I would be upset, too. She never pulls her weight on the team. I wish her manager would do something about it!"
Do say: "It seems that you are upset by the situation. What can you do to make the situation better? Can I facilitate a conversation between the two of you?"
Don't Paint a Silver Lining
On a different note, being empathetic isn't about minimizing or putting a sunshiny positive spin on every hard situation. Most people don't want to hear how everything is going to be just fine. Instead, acknowledge the person's feelings and help him or her determine one thing that can be done to make the situation better.
Workplace example: someone is feeling overloaded with work
Don't say: "It's going to be okay; things will slow down next month. You can make it! And at least we are busy; it's job security!"
Do say: "I can imagine you may be feeling stressed about your current workload. What can be done today to make things feel more manageable?"
Empathizing with others will make them feel more respected, connected, and supported while at the same time holding them accountable for finding a solution rather than wallowing in a pity party. It takes intentional practice to be more emphatic but doing so will make you a better coworker, manager and friend.
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I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to apologize to someone I hurt. I was conflicted, my thoughts filled with self-justifying righteousness, “I am right, and I am hurt, too!” Yet at the same time, I was filled with regret, choking on unfinished words and self-reproach. “This isn’t turning out the way I want it to,” I said to myself. Ugh…the only way to get myself out of my self-inflected situation was to say, “I’m sorry.”
Apologizing is difficult, especially when the stakes are high and the hurt runs deep. It’s easy to let yourself off the hook, blaming the other person and minimizing your role in the situation. When you finally bring yourself to say the words, stress hormones flood the body creating fight or flight responses. Your brain screams, “Don’t do it! Run!” or “Get mad! Don’t go down without a fight!” It’s takes everything in your power to go through with it. Your mind spins as you think of the million ways to express yourself. But in the end, it’s worth it. When you apologize, it allows space for both you and the other person to move forward, to let go, to forgive. It will make you and the other person feel better.
So how do you apologize the right way?
Write Down the Outcomes You Want
Before you go into a high stress situation, know what you want to get out of it. Write down your desired outcomes and keep them handy during the conversation; it will help you stay on track if the person responds emotionally and you can review them if you find yourself getting emotional or making excuses. Examples of outcomes might be to repair a damaged relationship, defuse an emotional situation, or simply to own your part in a conflict.
Check Your Emotions. Choose How You Want to Feel
Emotions don’t have to dictate your feelings and reactions. Even when they are strong, you can still choose how you want to feel. You can choose to feel compassion, relief, or ownership. Or you can also choose to feel angry, justified, or shameful. It’s up to you to determine your outlook on the situation, so check your emotions and choose to see the bright side of apologizing.
Apologize. Own it. Don’t Over Explain Your Actions
It’s best to just say, “I am sorry; I own what I did.” Most people don’t want to hear excuses because they water down the apology and make it feel insincere. Sometimes though, it may be appropriate to explain your side, but only do it to help the person forgive, not to minimize your role in what happened. Over explaining sounds like excuse making.
Express Regret, Be Specific
In addition to saying, “I’m sorry,” you should express regret for hurting the other person. For example, “I regret hurting you; it was wrong of me to blame you and it damaged our relationship. Our relationship is important to me and I understand that I have to earn your trust back.” This validates the person’s feelings which is what most people want out of an apology. Being specific brings a tone of sincerity and it shows you understand how your actions affected the person.
Ask Questions and Listen
Remember, the person you are apologizing to isn’t there to only hear you out. Give him or her the opportunity to respond. Ask questions to draw out meaningful dialogue, listen carefully and don’t get defensive.
Make Commitments and Keep Them
After you’ve apologized and expressed regret, make a commitment to change your behavior. Outline what you are going to do differently and follow through. Everyone makes mistakes but there is nothing worse than repeating it because you didn’t change your behavior. Trust can be rebuilt quickly if you demonstrate that you’ve learned from what happened.
Smile, Say Thank You and Leave
At the end of your apology, smile. Smiling makes everyone feel better and it releases tension. Thank the person for listening and then leave. Most people need time to process and hanging around afterwards doesn’t allow the space required to do so.
Following these steps will help you deliver a sincere, meaningful apology and will start the process of forgiveness. As famous cartoonist Lynn Johnson famously wrote, “An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.”
Thanks for reading and as always, I appreciate comments, likes and shares!
We all have high maintenance people in our lives. You know the person...the one who is never satisfied, the one who never stops talking, the one who makes snippy comments, the one who doesn’t follow the process, or the narcissist who is always right. No matter where you work, you’ll have to deal with those who make things harder than they have to be. While it may seem like your life would be better if you didn’t have to deal with people like this, difficult people can actually make things better in an organization.
Humans are designed to solve problems; that’s why we are all so different. We each see the world through our own lens and bring different perspectives to the table. In the workplace, having different and even opposing opinions is critical to good decision making. While it may “feel” better to have peace and harmony, it’s not ideal. Conflict is good if it’s handled appropriately because it forces a team to look at all the possibilities. Conflict should be encouraged and managed.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about those difficult people who drive you crazy? How can you minimize their impact on you while still gaining the benefits of having different styles on your team? Here are my tips on how to handle yourself when you are ready to pull your hair out.
First Look Within
Always start with yourself. Is the person you find difficult really the problem or are you overreacting? Are you making assumptions or being too sensitive? While it’s easy to blame the other person, you may have a role in the situation. Ask for feedback from a trusted coworker about how you’re perceived when you are dealing with the difficult person. You may be surprised what you learn.
See it From a Different Perspective
Take a walk in the person’s shoes. Try to think like him. What are his motivations and fears? What’s his personality type and how does that show up when he’s stressed? If there is one thing you can do to improve your situation, it’s to try to see it from other people’s perspectives. Doing so will give you insight so you can flex your style to better match his, allowing you to have greater influence over the outcome.
Address it Directly
The best way to resolve issues in the work place is to deal with them directly. First, make sure you are not emotional; you will get the best results when you can be pleasant and agreeable. Ask questions first; always seek to understand before launching into your grievances. You may learn that your perception of the situation is incorrect and you’ll then be able to pivot if necessary. Explain why and how her behavior is negatively impacting you and others. Offer solutions to how she might be able to more effectively work within the team. Yes, it can be intimidating to approach a difficult person to give feedback, but 9 times out of 10, you can make progress by addressing the issue head-on.
Many people lash out and act inappropriately when they feel they aren’t being heard. Sometimes, all it takes to positively affect bad behavior is to listen to them and validate their feelings and concerns.
Pick Your Battles
Some things are not worth being upset about or fighting for. Sometimes the best solution may be to just let go of your annoyance or frustration. How do you do this? Find something positive to appreciate about the person. Remind yourself that he is human and has hopes and fears, just like you. Smile to yourself, and say “how fascinating” when he exhibits poor behavior. Choose to accept the person for who he is and where he is on his journey. Only flight the battles worth fighting.
Don’t Take it Personally
It’s easy to make everything about you. I’m here to tell you that 99% of the time, it’s not, so don't take it personally. People are not purposefully trying to make your life miserable. Letting yourself become offended or defensive will only escalate the situation and prolong conflict. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is really about whatever is going on with the other person.
Difficult people are challenging but if you practice the above tips, you will be able to keep your cool, respond appropriately, and handle difficulty with grace and compassion. There is always something to be gained in every experience so ask yourself what you can learn and choose to let the situation make you a better communicator, coworker and person.
As always, thanks for reading! I really appreciate comments, likes and shares so please do so if you feel inclined. Click here to receive my blogs in your inbox.
We all know that trust is the key to any successful relationship. There are many ways to build trust but I believe one of the most impactful ways is to be transparent. If you aren’t transparent, it will be much more difficult to create the kind of long lasting relationships you desire.
While transparency is important in all relationships, it’s the cornerstone of businesses who want to create a culture of happiness, engagement, high performance, and mutual respect. Employees in any organization have a deep desire to know what’s going on and why. They want to give input and be heard. They don’t want to be scared of the future and scared of change. But the only way to reduce fear and motivate them to be their best is to be transparent.
What is transparency in business? One business dictionary defines it as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”
Simple enough concept to understand but how do you do it? Here are some ways to be more transparent as a leader, manager, and company:
Have a True Open Door Policy
It’s easy to say you have an open door but if you don’t have anyone walking into your office to ask hard questions, give you feedback, discuss strategy, or share concerns, your open door policy isn’t working. It’s difficult for employees to bring up issues so you have to do everything you can to make them feel comfortable doing so. Never get defensive, listen closely, ask questions, take action, follow up, and always say THANK YOU!!!! If your employees aren’t proactively coming to you, invite them in to talk. Ask easy questions at first. Say things like, “I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who aren’t speaking up about some of the issues we have here. I really need some insight so I can make things better. Can you tell me what you see?” You will probably get a softened truth as the person feels you out but this is how you start to build better relationships with your employees. If you handle yourself appropriately, take action, and be consistent, you will start to see people taking advantage of your open door policy and your organization becoming more transparent.
Get Out of Your Office
Don’t expect everyone to come to your office; take your open door policy to them. Walk around the facility and talk to employees…even those who report to other managers. Ask questions about their work, the issues they face, what they need in order to do their jobs better. Give them updates on what’s going on in your department. Share a customer story. Tell them about an issue you are dealing with and ask for their opinions. Even better, ask people to go for a walk. There is something magical about walking meetings and it’s a great way to share and learn information without the pressure of sitting in a cramped office, loud cubicle or cold conference room.
Talk (Truthfully) to Your Employees Often
At StoneAge, I hold regular Town Hall meetings to encourage questions and give my employees deeper organizational insight. A different department is scheduled each month. Every person within that department submits anonymous questions ahead of time and I answer them candidly during the meeting. Nothing is off limits. We also hold monthly company meetings where we share all major issues and wins. If a mistake is made, we publically talk about it. If we aren’t performing, we talk about it. We share financial information, give strategic updates, talk about changes we are going through, and initiatives we are planning. We are clear when something is confidential and must be kept that way; we show our employees that we trust them to use good judgement with the information provided. And we always answer questions from the floor.
Seek Organizational Feedback
There are lots of informal ways to get feedback from across the organization. All managers should be working with their teams to understand what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Whether it be one-on-one or in team meetings, you should always be asking for organizational feedback. I also recommend doing a formal, anonymous survey of employees. We recently did one at StoneAge and it was incredibly helpful. Sure, some of the feedback was painful but we were able to put together an action plan that addressed the issues brought up and our employees we incredibly grateful we asked their opinions.
Be Honest About Why People Leave
There is nothing that clouds transparency faster than misleading your employees about why someone is leaving the company. I have learned this lesson the hard way. There is a fine balance between protecting the privacy of a terminated or quitting employee and telling your employees the truth. Honesty is always the best policy. Assume they will find out the truth anyway. Plus, if you don’t tell the truth, they will make up their own stories about what happened…stories that are most likely far worse than what really went down. It may be hard for some employees to hear the truth but at least they know you are being honest and you reduce the chance that they will live in fear of “I am next.”
The only way to be transparent is to be vulnerable. Humans need to connect on a deeper level to build solid, high functioning relationships. It’s hard to connect with someone who you know very little about. I’m not saying you need to disclose your deepest, darkest fears but be willing to share some of yourself and always admit when you don’t have the answer or when you screw up. The better people know you, the more transparent you will be perceived to be.
To build a high performing organization, transparency is essential. It takes time to build trust so take it slow and be authentic. Be honest about your efforts to be more transparent. Ask your employees for feedback and to make a commitment to be more transparent themselves. Be forthright with information, keep your promises, and always tell the truth. It’s a worthy endeavor as employees who feel like they are in the loop and can voice their opinions are much more likely to be engaged, happy, and productive.
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments, likes and shares. To receive my blog in your inbox, click here.
How Having Regular Performance Conversations Creates Better Employees and Makes You a Better Manager
I was recently asked what I think is the most important thing a manager can do to develop his or her people. The answer is simple: a good manager who is committed to developing his or her employees is also committed to always providing meaningful performance feedback. And by always, I don’t mean once a year during an annual performance evaluation.
Every employee in your organization deserves to know where he or she stands at all times. That’s why the dreaded annual evaluation process doesn’t work. Having a once-a-year discussion with an employee about her goals and performance isn’t motivating nor does it change behavior.
So what do I do, you say? I recommend getting rid of your annual performance review and commit to having regular performance conversations. At least once per quarter (although I try to do it twice per quarter due to its effectiveness), you should meet with each of your employees to discuss what’s going well and what isn’t, and create an action plan for career development and improvement. This is also a good opportunity to ensure your employees are working on the RIGHT things…work that ties to strategy execution and that is of high value to the company.
To prepare for these performance discussions, ask each employee to write out his or her answers these 4 questions…
Once they have provided you with their responses, add your comments. Be sure to highlight examples of things you’ve seen going well and give candid feedback on what can be improved, even if it seems insignificant. Even the smallest of course corrections can yield big results. Analyze their responses to the third question about what they are working on right now. Notice I didn’t ask “what are your top two priorities?” Priorities don’t always tie to what an employee is actually doing and this is a problem. You need to make sure that they are spending their time on the RIGHT tasks, ensuring that their goals are aligned with the company strategy. This is far more effective than setting goals once per year. Lastly, the fourth question should never ever be overlooked. Even if he says that there is nothing you can do to help him improve, dig a bit more. Ask if there are things you do that get in the way or make his job harder. Don’t be satisfied with a non-answer. Getting feedback from your employees is how you improve your performance.
But this takes so much time, you say? Yes, it does but the results you get from giving regular feedback far outweigh the time it takes to sit down for 45 minutes to talk about performance. I can promise you this...your employees need and want feedback; they crave it, both good and bad. It helps them get better at their jobs, which is a good thing for you as a manager. Don’t believe me? Check out this HBR article. Plus, what could be more important than helping your employees improve? People are your greatest asset and rock star employees are what make a company successful. Your number one goal should be to develop as many of them as you can.
But I don’t have the ability to influence my company’s annual performance review process, you say? So what? Follow the above process anyway. It will make your job easier at the end of the year when you have to prepare the annual evaluation; you’ll have four (or eight) documented performance conversations to refer to. You will also have motivated and productive employees because they are getting regular, meaningful feedback throughout the year. And if you have an employee who has continuous performance issues with little corrective action, it’ll be easier to manage him into another role or out of the company because you’ll have plenty of documented conversations to back up your decision. HR will love you for this!
Lastly, don’t wait for your quarterly (or bi-quarterly) meetings to give feedback; receiving it real-time allows employees to more clearly see how their behavior or effort is affecting their performance, especially when it’s tied to a specific instance. For example, if an employee is checking her phone during a meeting and generally not paying attention, pull her aside afterwards and ask her about her inattentiveness. It’s important to understand why she’s exhibiting the behavior before jumping into the feedback. This will give insight as to what’s going on without making her defensive. Then share with her that both you and the team don’t feel that she is engaged when she’s not actively participating, and this hurts her ability to be an effective teammate and it causes her to be perceived as unhelpful. Help her come up with a plan to solve her issues around why she wasn’t participating so she can actively engage and be a better teammate. This is highly effective…it would have lost its punch if you would have waited until the next performance conversation to share it…in fact, you probably would have blown it off and not said anything. Doing it real-time allows her to make immediate changes and it gives you insight to an issue she was struggling with, allowing you to help her move past it. This is great management.
I hope this inspired you to improve your performance review process. If this blog post didn’t, perhaps this will…
As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment, like, and share (just click the buttons below) and sign up to receive by blog in your inbox by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of the page to subscribe.
Candidness is such a rarity today; maybe it always has been. We say we want it but tend to become defensive when we get it. Fear of negative reactions, conflict, and hurt feelings cause us to not want to be candid. But without it, so much goes left unsaid leaving missed opportunities to see new perspectives, course correct, and improve.
What exactly is candidness? Merriam Webster Dictionary has a simple yet articulate definition: the free expression of one’s true feelings and opinions. Candidness is the quality of speaking with honesty, authenticity, and directness.
But in my (candid) opinion, what’s missing from these definitions is the fact that effective candor is a two way street. It not only involves expressing your true feelings and opinions, but also listening (and considering) what others are saying. It’s not about “just telling it like it is” and walking away. It’s about engaging in meaningful conversation or debate about topics that matter to those involved. Candor is a dialogue, not an opportunity to stand on one’s soap box pontificating, lecturing, or spewing hurtful opinions (think Donald Trump). When candor moves away from individual points of view, it opens the door to honest communication where you can explore meaningful, opposing, even uncomfortable, ideas and perspectives.
It’s simple…without direct, honest feedback, no one and no organization can improve. Smart ideas are left unexplored when people are too intimated to speak up and share their thoughts. Assumptions go unchallenged leading to poor decision making and failure to anticipate what might go wrong. A lack of straightforward communication affects every relationship and every organization. Candidness is essential to solving the problems we face on a day-to-day basis.
The Decision to be Candid is a Personal Choice
No one can make you be candid. It’s 100% up to you to decide whether or not you are going to engage in thoughtful, honest, mutually beneficial communication. Sure, some people make it easier to be candid than others, but ultimately, it’s your responsibility. It might be messy at first…there is always a learning curve when you are figuring out how to effectively communicate with those you live with and work with, but it’s worth the effort (and pain). Like any skill, candor takes practice and self-evaluation. When the delivery of your message isn’t well received, it may seem easier to shut down and clam up, vowing to never give feedback again, but this is the opposite of what you should do. Evaluate yourself. Was your tone to harsh? Did you have poor timing? Did you try to sugar coat the message? Which leads me to…
How to Be More Candid Without Damaging Relationships
We all fear being too candid. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or make them mad, we don’t want to be viewed as a jerk, we fear that our words will be held against us, or that we may be passed up for a promotion because we shed light on a problem. These are all excuses. Candor can be done in a way that improves relationships, builds trust, and helps you be more successful. Here are some suggestions…
Candid feedback does not mean cruel feedback. Remember that the person in front of you is a human being (rather than an obstacle) with hopes, dreams, fears, and feelings…just like you. Being direct can be (and should be) done with compassion. Candor is not about attacking, blaming, shaming, or finger pointing. It’s about authentically sharing your thoughts and feelings to improve a situation. This means being clear on your intentions, motivations, and objectives. Make sure they are in the spirit of building up rather than tearing down. That being said…
2.Don’t Beat Around the Bush
Candor requires direct, straightforward speaking. Say what you think, say what you mean. Sugar coating the message minimizes your impact and it leads to misunderstandings. But…
Remember that what you are about to say is your opinion and as much as it feels like the absolute truth, you might not have the whole story (read my blog on not believing everything you think here). You may be flat out wrong. Being candid is about creating a dialogue; remaining objective helps to keep the door open rather than slamming it shut. To do this…
4.Have Specific Examples
The worst kind of feedback is unanchored feedback. Without specific examples to support your opinions, it’s hard for anyone to gain deeper insight or take you as seriously as they could. Plus without them, immediate defensiveness is created. I’ll give you an example: “I believe this this is a bad idea” vs. “I believe this is a bad idea. We don’t have enough information to proceed. Recall the last time we made a knee jerk decision…we had to undo 6 months’ worth of work and start over.” And when it’s over…
5.Ask for Feedback
As I mentioned above, being effectively candid takes practice and the best kind of practice involves analyzing what went well and what went wrong. Plus getting the opinions of others on your candidness gives you the opportunity to get better at receiving feedback, showing that you truly value candor, even when it’s directed at you.
Make no bones about it, candor doesn’t come easily. As Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, states in his book ‘Winning’, “we are socialized from childhood to soften bad news or to make nice about awkward subjects… people don’t speak their minds because it’s simply easier not to. When you tell it like it is, you can so easily create a mess –- anger, pain, confusion, sadness, resentment.” We must let go of these fears to become truly effective communicators. We must be willing to the hard work.
In my experience, the deepest, most valuable relationships I have are with those who are candid with me and whom I am candid with in return. Effective candor = effective relationships.
Thank you for reading and as always, please feel free to share, like, and comment. You can also sign up here to receive my blogs in your inbox…just scroll down to the bottom of my home page and submit your email address.
Receiving feedback can be tough, but it’s critical to grow personally and professionally. How can you improve if you don’t know what to improve upon? Unfortunately, many people get defensive and make excuses when they get feedback. Reacting in this manner shuts down any curiosity about the perspective being shared and is a missed opportunity to grow as a person, better understand your impact on others, and improve in your job and relationships. Plus, handling it poorly increases the chance that you won’t get honest feedback in the future. This may sound ideal but it’s not. I can guarantee that people have feedback for you….they just don’t want to tell you. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear but feeling something different.
My goal is to be a fantastic manager and an inspiring leader and the only way to do that is by getting feedback, both good and bad. It’s very important to me that people feel comfortable telling me the hard stuff. To achieve that, I’ve had to develop feedback-taking skills. Here are some of my tips…
Just Say Thank You
The first thing I say when I am receiving feedback is, “Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing this with me.” This does two things. First, it puts the person who is giving me constructive criticism a little more at ease. It is never easy to give feedback and I can bet with high certainty that whomever is giving the feedback is nervous about my reaction. Second, it gives me time to process before haphazardly blurting out something that could make the situation go south. The key here is to listen actively and refrain from building your case as to why the person is wrong.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Because there is so much room for miss-interpretation in stressful conversations, asking good questions allows me to make sure I have a deep understanding of what is being shared (please read my blog here on how to improve your questioning skills). It also helps me pull more information out of the conversation. Because it’s nerve-wracking to give feedback, some people talk circles around the real issue or sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. It’s a shame to walk away with something left unsaid, mixed messages, and an unclear path forward. Consider your tone when asking questions; you should be inquisitive and open not defensive or sarcastic.
Don’t Make Excuses
Depending on the feedback, it may be appropriate to explain myself. For example, further clarification may be required if someone misunderstood what you were trying to say therefore an explanation is helpful. But many times, giving an explanation can sound more like an excuse. There is a fine line between explanation, justification, and excuse making. Tread carefully here…sometimes it’s best to just say thank you and incorporate the feedback into your work or life without offering justification for your actions or behaviors. Interjecting with excuses is a sure-fire way to be labeled as unaccountable.
Ask for Time to Process
If I feel myself getting defensive and I can’t get it under control with a few deep breaths, I say, “this is a lot for me to process right now. May I have a bit of time to think about what you are saying and come back later to talk through it?” Most people need time to process feedback and it’s completely reasonable to ask for space to think. Plus, taking some time to ponder the feedback can help you assess its validity. Just make sure you set a time to circle back. You don’t want to blow off the person brave enough to share constructive criticism. Have an open mind and heart and resist the urge to defend yourself.
After receiving feedback, I try to be hyper-mindful of exhibiting these behaviors. There are always opportunities to stop doing or start doing the critiqued conduct. For example, if you were told you interrupt people, pay close attention to yourself when conversing with others. Notice when you find yourself wanting to interject…how do you feel and why do you want to add your $0.02? Were you able to stop yourself? If not, did you take accountability for interrupting and apologize? Being mindful and making in-the-moment course corrections are great ways to improve.
I work hard at being coachable, approachable and at taking feedback with grace. It’s not always easy and I certainly have screwed up my share of conversations because I let myself get defensive. But I’ve gotten better at it because I’m committed to growth and development as a person and leader. Just like any skill, you have to practice to get better at it. Looking back over the constructive criticism I’ve received, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have cared enough to share it with me. Each time, they have offered me a golden opportunity to take steps towards becoming the person I want to be. To all of you, I say, “Thank you for the feedback.”
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments and appreciate likes and shares.
Do you know how to ask good questions? Really good questions? The kind of questions that get straight to the heart of the matter, that unravel the true meaning behind vague statements, that get people to share their fears and vulnerabilities, and that help you paint a truer picture of a story?
Asking good questions is the best way to gain powerful insight…the kind of insight that helps you understand yourself and others better, get more out of your relationships, improve your decision making, and have a more open mind. Knowing how to ask good questions is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your toolbox.
Sadly, most of us are terrible at asking questions and we don’t even know it. We ask easy questions when we should be asking hard ones. We keep it superficial when we should be going deeper. We stop asking questions way too soon…just when the answers are about to get interesting. We get tongue-tied, chicken out, make up excuses, give up, and don’t ask.
Asking good questions will improve your life, relationships, career, and business. They allow you to get the most out of every interaction. Better questions equals more insight, information, and knowledge. Who doesn’t want all of that?
Want to improve your question asking skills? Here are some of my tips.
I have found asking good questions has made me a better leader and person. They allow me to get past superficial answers and surface-level relationships and truly connect with those around me. These deeper connections have enriched my life and world. I have built the strongest of relationships through being curious about others. I have met amazing people in unassuming places because I am not afraid to make a personal inquiry. I have been able to help people in times of need and pain because I can ask questions that help them get to the root of the problem. I have increased self-awareness because I am not fearful of asking for feedback that gives me deeper insight into myself and my effect on those around me. And I have gained valuable knowledge about my world that helps me make better business and life decisions.
“Ask and thou shalt receive.” I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for reading and as always I appreciate comments, likes and shares.
One of the hardest things to do is deliver bad news. I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who enjoys it. As much as I believe in direct, honest communication, giving feedback, and working through conflict, I dislike giving bad news the most.
I recently had to deliver bad news to several people and it helped me put some things into perspective and I learned a few things along the way. Even though it was incredibly difficult, I am grateful for the experience.
So what did I learn?
I learned how important it is to simplify my message as much as possible. When getting bad news, most people shut down or go into fight or flight mode. At first, I tried to fit too much into the delivery of the news (such as all the reasons why) and it confused people. When I reduced it to one sentence, it made it so much easier. Just speak the one sentence.
Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable so we (ok, I) have a strong desire to fill it with more words. I screwed this up a few times by jamming in the WHY immediately after the message. I found I was much more effective and felt calmer when I allowed the silence to be silent. Therefore, after giving the news, I practiced letting the listener sit with it. This is so incredibly hard but so incredibly important. You need to let it sink in before going into the why of the message. And you need to take a deep breath before you continue with the WHY. Silence lets you do this.
I wrote a blog post on the importance of the WHY, so please feel free to reread it here if you would like to understand its significance. Just remember, keep the WHY simple so it’s easier to digest. Bullet point the reasons out, speak them in one or two sentences, and then give the listener space.
Back to taking a deep breath…more than ever before, I learned how important it is to stay in your body and breathe when giving bad news. I found that in anticipation of communicating the news (both in preparation and right before opening my mouth), I experienced the fight or flight rush of stress hormones. I really wanted to avoid this because it causes me to hurry…I want to get it over with as fast as possible. And I dislike the physical and emotional aftermath of adrenaline and cortisol. Before and during the delivery, I took deep breaths into my back and kidneys, paying attention to them the entire time. I can’t tell you how much this helped me keep my composure. I noticed that others matched my breathing, too, which helped them stay calm. Stay centered and just breathe.
I also gained some perspective on my need to try to fix things. I identify with being a problem solver and I found myself wanting to offer solutions when really, it wasn’t my place to do so. Understanding this before I went into my conversations helped me be okay with just delivering the message. Sometimes, you just can’t fix the problem for the person and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Throughout this process, my mantra was “compassion, grace, and gratitude.” That’s how I wanted to deliver my message, always keeping in mind the importance of treating my fellow human beings with dignity and respect, always being grateful for the experience, even when it’s uncomfortable. But I have to say, I’m glad it’s over.
Thanks for reading…writing this was very therapeutic. Now I am going to go breathe.
Those who know me well have heard me say this many times. It doesn't really matter how you THINK you're perceived. What matters more is how you are ACTUALLY perceived.
Leadership is about trying to breakdown these "perception barriers" so you can connect better with those you lead. And by breaking barriers down I don't mean convincing people their perceptions are wrong. They very well may be true! It's about looking yourself through others' eyes, being honest about the validity of their perceptions, and adjusting your style through positive action to show that it's either misguided or something you need to shift within yourself.
Here is a perception I have of myself: I am a caring, compassionate human who connects with and appreciates people. I am open and am willing to change my mind. I like getting to know people to understand what motivates them. Yes, I am driven and have a powerful personality but that doesn't mean that I am unapproachable. I see myself as really LISTENING to people...most of the time.
But the reality is that some see me as intimidating and hard to talk to. Some think that I don't listen. That I can overwhelm with my personality and that it's hard to win an argument with me. I have the power to hire and fire. And some people avoid talking to me at all costs.
So which perception is true? Well, both. Just because I see myself as open minded and easy to talk to doesn't mean that I am to everyone I lead. To be honest, I am all of the things I listed above. My strong leadership style HAS shut down people before and I am painfully aware of the times when I unintentionally alienated people in my drive to proceed and achieve. But it has also connected deeply with many people who look to me for guidance and friendship. My goal is to embrace the feedback that I get, whether I think it's accurate or not, and address it with curiosity and a genuine desire to connect with people on a deeper level. And that's what leadership is all about...breaking down the barriers of perception.
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.