Three Well-Meaning Feedback Phrases to Avoid

donthearyouEmployee feedback is important.  Just as important is how we provide that feedback. As managers, it is our role to build, support and encourage. Three well-meaning phrases I used to use and have eliminated are:

“If it was me, …”:  

“If it was me, I would have said …”.  “If it was me, I would have made …”.

The problem with “if it was me” is … it wasn’t you!  “If it was me” tends to be used in conversations when someone, somewhere did not act or speak in a manner approved by the speaker. “If it was me” doesn’t acknowledge:

  • Different view points, methodologies or perspectives
  • The other person’s experience or lack of experience
  • The possibility that perhaps it was you who failed by not providing adequate tools, training or resources
  • What the individual did right

“If it was me” slams the door on conversations that could provide valuable information and insight.  Instead of saying “if it was me”, try:

  • What worked well?
  • Is there something you could do differently that would result in a better outcome?
  • Why did you try that?
  • Is there a reason …?
  • Was there something about the situation that made you uncomfortable?
  • Is there something I can do to help you?

There is no one just like you.  Get past you and focus on them.

You’re doing a great job, but …

Generally one of two things happen when this phrase is used. The employee immediately forgets the great job part as soon as you say ‘but’ and starts holding their breath, waiting for the bad news, or they stop listening when they hear ‘you’re doing a great job’.

Instead of trying to combine the good and the constructive all in one sentence, focus on successes and criticism separately.  It’s not that you can’t share both successes and areas where improvement is required in one meeting; just don’t combine them in one sentence.

And please, don’t only share the good stuff in an effort to soften the blow of of constructive feedback. You don’t want your team members to cringe every time they hear ‘good job.’

Good job

What does good job mean?

Instead of saying “good job”, be specific about what your employee is doing well.  Did he or she manage an unhappy company with grace and skill? What in particular was done well? Focusing on and sharing highlights and specifics is so much more meaningful than an off the cuff ‘good job.’

You don’t need to go into a long laundry list of each and every thing that was done well. That comes across as pandering or condescending.  Look for and then share specific areas of success and tie it back to how it helps the employee, the team, the company or the customer.

These are three phrases I have learned to avoid or adapt. Are there some phrases you no longer use?  Why and how have you changed them to be more effective?

Labels are for bins, not people – Repost

Labels let us know where the pens, paper or staples are in the supply room.  Labels save time.  Labels mean we don’t need to look in the bin, box or the jar.   Labels allow us to quickly scan and reject until we find the right label.  The label tells us everything we need to know.

That’s a great concept if the goal is to take a messy, unorganized desk or closet and turn it into a Martha Stewart approved oasis of calm organization.

Labels don’t work so well with people.

Slapping labels on customer or co-workers, based on external appearance or behaviours, does help us categorize them and our response to them.  Unfortunately, the problem with labelling people is we so very often get them wrong.

When we label the loud, angry man as aggressive and obnoxious, we don’t acknowledge the possibility that he may have just had a horrible, terrible day and that he’s reached the end of his rope. We resort to managing the label instead of seeing the person.

When we label young people as impatient and ‘wet behind the ears’, we don’t acknowledge their desire to help make positive change a reality.

When we label old people as stubborn and set in their ways, we lose the opportunity to learn from their experience.

When accountants become ‘number crunchers’ and sales professionals become ‘paid to golf’, the ability to connect and work together becomes exceedingly difficult.

When we label someone as strong and independent, we may assume they don’t need the same level of support as others.  We may miss the signs that show they are struggling and need some help.

Labeling employee as lazy or unmotivated takes away our responsibility to create a positive work environment, built on respect and recognition for their contribution.

Labeling managers or owners as demanding and uncaring takes away our responsibility to bring our A-game to work.

The one benefit to an unlabeled, unorganized closet is the sense of joy and satisfaction when a previously unknown or lost item is found.  I believe the same possibility holds true when we rip our labels off the people we interact with every day.

Ripping off the labels will make our life a little more chaotic and a little messier.  It means the easy answer or the neat solution may no longer work.  But I imagine that amongst the chaos, we may discover a treasure trove of undiscovered knowledge, possibilities and opportunities.

What do you think?

The Grumpy Bear and the Sly Fox – Repost

bearfoxI receive a request to repost my bear and fox story, so here it is!

Not so very long ago, in a forest close by, lived a grumpy bear and a sly fox.

The grumpy bear was known to roar loudly when a gentle growl would have been more appropriate.   The grumpy bear was not comfortable at expressing any kind of emotion.   When the grumpy bear felt uncertain, he became even grumpier.  But underneath that grumpy, growly exterior was a big heart filled with love and good intention.

The sly fox on the other hand, was a smooth communicator.  He spoke softly and gently.  His words were chosen with care and always reflected exactly what his listener wanted to hear.  He never growled or challenged anyone and so many animals in the forest eagerly listened to whatever the sly fox had to say.

The sly fox used the grumpy bear’s gruffness and roughness against him.  The sly fox liked nothing better than to poke the fire and fan the flames of dissension.  He would say things like “If the grumpy bear cared about you, he would do this. That’s what I would do” or “The grumpy bear doesn’t understand you like I do”.  Sometimes the sly fox knew things that would help the grumpy bear, but instead of sharing information or offering to help the grumpy bear, the sly fox would go to others in the forest and say “Why isn’t the grumpy bear doing this?”

Of course, the sly fox never actually did anything to help anyone in the forest.  He left the hard work for the grumpy bear. The sly fox whispered, using his smooth, gentle words to turn the other animals against the grumpy bear, making the grumpy bear’s job even harder.   Then the sly fox would grin, rub his paws and skulk away … until the next time.

****

A lot of us have a grumpy bear or a sly fox in our lives.  We meet them at work, at play and sometimes at home.  The grumpy bear doesn’t realize how words and actions can be misconstrued when others perceptions and emotions are not taken into consideration. Sometimes the grumpy bear speaks poorly from a place of sincerity and positive intention.

The sly fox knows exactly what the other person wants to hear. He or she looks for and feed on insecurities, fears and weaknesses. The sly fox speaks and acts well from a place of deception and negative intention.

With experience comes wisdom and I have learned to look past the exterior to find the intention.  Some people grouse and grumble, then buckle down and act. Others sound positive and supportive,but in reality are only looking to stir the pot. They ditch and run as soon as their real objective, dissension, has been achieved.

Give me grumpy and sincere over smooth and sneaky any day.

When your nose is to the grindstone, all you see is the grindstone.

It’s too easy to get caught up on all the things we need to do or all the things making us unhappy.  But when we focus only on work or only on the negative, we miss making connections with the people around us.  We miss seeing new opportunities.  So look up. Look into someone eyes.  Start a conversation.  Enjoy a moment of silence. Take time to reflect and refocus.  You’ll be glad you did.

Make the most of this long weekend … rain or shine!

Are you too Smart for Your Own Good?

Young cute professor woman gesturing holding chalkA long time ago, people believed the sun revolved around the earth and that bloodletting was an effective way to treat a variety of ailments.  We now know none of those previous ‘truths’ are true.

Decisions are made based on what we know at the time.  Sometimes, poor decisions are made when all the facts or factors are not known. Sometimes, the opposite is true: For example:

  • When we know we’re not good enough or smart enough or rich enough or poor enough, we give up before we start.
  • Compassion dies and conflict flourishes when we use our knowledge to judge others who have chosen to live or act differently than what we know (believe) to be right.
  • When we know young people are lazy and old people have lost their usefulness, we lose the opportunity to see our world from a new perspective and perhaps, in the process, gain new insight and new ideas.

Many times, what we ‘know’ is nothing more than misconceptions, current societal expectations or even other’s truths we have taken on as our own. Just because something didn’t work once, doesn’t mean it will never work again. Just because it didn’t work for someone else, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. It takes courage to put aside what we know and ask:

  • Is that really true?
  • Is there a better way?

Knowledge is fluid.  Recognize, value and respect the knowledge, experience and wisdom you have, but don’t stop pushing against boundaries of that knowledge.

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This is a revised version of a blog posted way back in 2013.  I am working with a group of very dedicated people and as we continue to grow and improve, all of us have, at times, had to be reminded to open our minds and be willing to put aside what we know.