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.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice …

同僚にうわさ話されるビジネスマンYears ago, I was facilitating a customer service training session in North Dakota.  One of the service providers said to me, a Canadian, “I hate Canadians. They are cheap and always demand a discount.”  To say I was a little flabbergasted is an understatement.   Hating a large percentage of your customer base is not a good thing.

The one thing I will give her is that she didn’t talk smack about the citizens of my country behind my back … she told me straight up, to my face. There are a whole lot of service providers who have no problem labelling or mocking their customers behind their back.

I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that mock a customer’s intelligence.  I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that describe a customer as high maintenance, demanding and rude.

Yes, some customers are more difficult to serve than others, but laughing at a customer because they asked a “stupid” question (stupid in your mind, not theirs) is unkind and a true customer focused person is not unkind.

Labelling a customer as high maintenance, rude or obnoxious is assuming that your perception of their behaviour at one moment in time is exactly what everyone else would perceive as well.  It also assumes that what perhaps is a moment of rudeness is indicative of the way that person behaves all the time.

A moment that still causes me to blush with shame involved me, a plane and a mom with a young baby.  I’d been away on business for almost a week.  I was tired. I wanted to get home and I HATE the middle seat.  When I boarded, in my window seat was a young mom with her very young baby.  She explained that she did have the middle seat but with the baby, the window seat was a better option.  Did I demand my window seat back?  No, but I sure was grumpy and begrudging about sitting in the middle seat. There were huffs, puffs, eye rolls and  muttering involved. My ungracious behaviour caught the attention of the flight attendant. There was an empty seat on the plane so she asked the person in the aisle seat if she would be willing to move so I could move over one seat.  She did and I moved over.  The thing is, the entire time I was acting all high-maintenance and princessy, I knew I was acting badly and before the plane landed, I was having a lovely conversation with the young mom.  That initial bad behaviour did not reflect who I am 98% of the time.  But nobody on that plane knew that. The thing is, they also couldn’t say with an certainty that I was always like that.

When we mock our customers or start labelling them and warning other co-workers about them, we lose our focus on the customer and their experience.  Perhaps instead of leaving notes like “This customer is high maintenance … watch out” we can make an extra effort to be kind, to turn their day around and then leave a note that says “Seems like she had a tough day today … let’s all try to make her stay extra special.”

Thumper’s statement “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is especially important for customer service providers. When you have a challenging customer, don’t complain about it to your friends and colleagues, don’t put a warning note in a log book or a customer’s file and for heaven’s sake, don’t post it on social media!

You Gotta Spend Time to Make Time

Time Is MoneyWhich is more important? Completing a customer transaction in’ x’ number of minutes or having the customer walk away feeling valued, respected and cared for?

Too often, bowing down to the gods of efficiency and effective time management get in the way of building and creating relationships with the people we live with, work with or serve.

When service providers are expected to process ‘x’ amounts of call or customer interactions per hour, will they take the extra step of anticipating customer needs or responding fully to questions?

When the focus is on process and not service, customers feel like a number (because they are!), not a person. I appreciate it when service providers take the time to answer my questions and sincerely ask if I have any questions. We’ve all experienced the insincere offer to assist and been made to feel rushed. There are no warm and fuzzy feelings after that type of transaction.

Individual transactions take longer when we know enough about our customers to offer solutions or answers to questions they may not have thought of. Those transactions take longer when we stop, put down the papers, lift our head up from the computer, face our customer and give them our full attention.  When we do that, we are essentially saying “I am here for you” and that may open the door to more questions.

Efficiency is important. Effective time management is important. But when they become more important than the customer, you may end up having more time on your hands than you’d like when the customers stop coming.

Instead of saving time by reducing customer face time, look at your policies, procedures and processes. Why are they there? Is each step really necessary or is it there because it’s always been there?

Know the answers to the questions customers ask most often and train your team so they know those answers too. That way they don’t have to waste time trying to find the answer. When a new question comes up (and it will!), train your team members to share the question and answer with the rest of the team.

Ensure your team members received the training they need, which may not necessarily be the training you provided. Yes, training takes time initially, but in the long run, effective training saves time, money and customers.

There is the old saying “you gotta spend money to make money”. The same holds true with time. Spend some time up front reviewing and creating effective, streamlined policies, procedures and training programs to save time later.  Time is money … knowing where to save time is important.  Just don’t save time at the expense of service.

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This is a modified version of a previous blog post.  I was reminded of it during a very rushed, very efficient transaction recently.  The service provider was efficient .. coldly efficient.  In the end, taking a few extra moments would have been time well spent.