Thursday, June 20, 2019

Confrontation? No Problem! The Secret to Straight Talk

Loss of sleep, strained relationships, loss of productivity, injuries and sick leave, increased customer complaints - these are just a few symptoms of unresolved conflict in the workplace. Unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely ignored. 

Seems this would be motivation enough for leaders to identify and resolve workplace issues.  Yet managers and employees alike seem more willing to step out than to step up to the challenge of constructive confrontation. In this week’s blog, I will identify these reasons and provide helpful feedback to overcome this common workplace issue we all see more than we should. 

Confrontation? No Problem! 

The Secret to Straight Talk 

 Almost 50% of people have considered changing jobs in order to avoid confronting an issue, and 12% actually left the job to get away from the person or problem, according to a study conducted by the University at North Carolina.

It seems that in the scheme of everything we have to conquer on our formidable to-do lists, delivering some direct, honest feedback would be the least of our management worries.  Not so.  We have found that many leaders would rather procrastinate as long as possible before sitting down with a boss, peer, or employee to deliver just a few minutes of raw feedback - or Straight Talk, as we call it.

Straight Talk is the practice of initiating a dialogue to voice contrasting opinions, needs, ideas, hurts, disagreements, and observations, in a constructive and direct manner.  This is sharing instead of stewing, asking rather than assuming, and solving instead of blaming. 
Many people we coach suffer from a lack of self-awareness simply because they are out of touch with how their behavior impacts others and how they are perceived in turn.  No one has dared give them the very feedback they need to hear the most.  Even better, they actually want it too! 

A survey conducted by Lore International Institute of over 500 employees from all types of organizations and industries, found that 92% listed HONESTY as the number one thing they wanted most from a manager. 

Yet working with both novice and seasoned leaders alike, we have found that the number one reason managers tend to put off employee performance appraisals is because of a fear of confrontation.  What does this "fear of confrontation" really mean?  What are we afraid might happen if we get real with others?

The most common obstacles managers cite for why they avoid approaching a troubled employee include:

  • Fear of embarrassing the employee or hurting their feelings
  • Fear of upsetting the status quo
  • Fear of damaging a good relationship or demotivating a good employee
  • Preparation and confrontation require too much time and energy
  • Unable to predict the employee's reaction
  • Feels intimidated by employee
  • Hard to measure the performance problems
The truth is, strong leaders, learn how to balance support and candor, truthfulness with empathy.  Sadly, many leaders deceive themselves and others when they publicly proclaim a commitment to accountability, integrity, and standards of excellence, but instead cheat others out of vital growth opportunities by withholding or "packaging" the truth. 
When we sugarcoat or avoid performance or behavioral issues, we are choosing to place our temporary comfort level above the well-being of the other person's present and future professional life.  To confront is to care. Others may choose to use or lose our feedback, but we owe it to them to give it anyway.   

With giving feedback also comes receiving feedback. This concept is a two-way street and is crucial for managing your ego and being a role-model for your employees on how to successfully use performance feedback. It can be hard to hear honest feedback-especially when the feedback is not what we think or want to believe about ourselves. But the consequences of ignoring that feedback can be even more damaging. 

When receiving feedback from others, it is important to keep in mind the following:

(1) If there are negative consequences to them, they will avoid giving you information you need.

(2) If you get defensive and make it difficult for people to provide feedback, they will decide it's not worth it.

(3) If they give you frequent feedback, but you never make visible changes, they will give up on you.

Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.

Spend some time identifying feedback conversations you have been putting off and use the following tips on how to give Straight Talk.


  • Admitting to yourself the conversation may not be comfortable but remembering it is in the person's best interest to have it anyway.
  • Remember it needs to be a 2-way conversation so resist the temptation to do all the talking and avoid doing the band-aid approach. Example: "I am just going to get everything off my chest quickly and get it over with."
  • Always assume the person's best intent. For example, the conversation could start with, “Amy I know you were just trying to get your point across in the staff meeting, but I don't think you got the result you were looking for. I noticed some things that shut people down to your point of view. Can I share with you what I observed about the group dynamics?"
  • The conversation should connect to what the other person cares about. Example: "If you change this behavior, you will become the stronger candidate for the promotion." 
  • It is important if you give the feedback you follow it up with providing recognition and support. By simply saying you noticed them trying to improve will be helpful to them and give the necessary motivation to continue using the feedback provided.
Ask yourself -what do either of you truly gain from your silence?  Would you want others withholding important feedback from you?  Are you prepared to receive Straight Talk in return? 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Month in a Minute

Clockwise from top left: Presenting at an annual legal retreat in Florida, delivering a workshop in Boston, presenting for Delta Airlines in Los Angeles, Me and Liz Buday from Architect of the Capitol In Washington DC.

May took us coast to coast again, from Los Angeles to Washington DC with stops in San Jose CA, Salt Lake City, Boston, and Bonita Springs, Florida. In addition to some coaching sessions, I spoke to a mix of audiences: a global sales conference for a major airline, leaders from a large government agency, employees at investment firms, and an annual retreat of attorneys from a large law firm. Everyone was able to apply the principles of EQ to their unique roles and industries and can gain advantages via more influence and credibility by utilizing it. It’s a universally powerful science.
One of the highlights of my travels this month was seeing someone who worked for me a few years ago who left after a few months of employment. At the time, this person had good reasons for leaving and has gained some great experience since they left. Even though I was upset at the time about their departure, we remained in contact and have connected online periodically. We saw each other in person for the first time in about 3 years and it was so nice to discuss what happened, understand it from both of our perspectives and discuss future work possibilities. It was their suggestion to meet up and I was so impressed with their maturity and willingness to do so.  There is a huge lesson in that: no matter what happens, staying professional is always an option. Life is long. I know everyone says life is short, but it isn’t. Ghosting current or previous employers will come back to hurt you. Successful careers are the result of years of good decisions and understanding that relationships do matter. Be smart when you part ways with a company, your reputation will last longer than you know. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Revenge of EQ

This article was published in Forbes and written by David Michels.  To view the original article click here.

The idea of “emotional quotient,” or EQ, is making a surprising comeback in the business world. Also called emotional intelligence, EQ is the ability to understand other people, what motivates them, and how to work cooperatively with them. Worthy enough, but why would this be rising in importance at a time when we are so focused on advances in artificial intelligence, the impact of increased automation, and the possibilities of machine learning? As machines increasingly take over jobs and complex decisions once the exclusive domain of people, it would not be so far-fetched to think that we are entering a “post-human” or at least “post-EQ” world.

Instead, and perhaps ironically, digitalization is fueling a renaissance in EQ. As digitalization, broadly defined, continues its revolutionary march through the business world, it brings profound implications for the human workforce. If we thought EQ was an “or,” it’s actually turned out to be an “and.” Rather than sideline EQ, digitalization has actually made it more important.
Let’s look first at the data (of course). The evidence shows that if you care about generating and sustaining results in your business, you should also care a whole lot about EQ. A recent study by my colleagues at Bain & Company found that companies that achieve or outperform their stated ambition are focused on the “people” side of the ledger, and significantly so. Culture, behavior change, management alignment, and dynamic capability building surface to the top as critical factors for success. This remains true even as we increasingly automate our businesses. A 2018 study from Singapore Management University found 87% of respondents agreed that culture created bigger barriers to digital transformation than technology, and 80% of C-Suite interviews highlighted the importance of purposefully focusing on “people aspects” during digital transformation journeys.
My recent experience with a large multinational bank is a good illustration of EQ’s revenge. Technology is dramatically changing the banking industry, especially on the retail side. Like most of its peers, this particular bank knew it would need far fewer retail branches as banking moved to phones and online. The CEO hired a chief digital officer, invested millions in a new online platform, and had grand plans to move a significant portion of its customer base toward internet banking.
But as the boxer Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” The bank’s numbers just didn’t move as they were supposed to, frustrating and perplexing the executive team. Despite all the money put into the new, impressive digital platform, employees and customers kept doing a lot of what they’d always been doing. To change behavior, the bank’s employees needed new skills, and their customers needed new routines. None of this was in “the plan,” but it didn’t take this management team long to realize that to accelerate progress, they needed to think about the problem from the human perspective—that of the customer and employee—not just from the standpoint of what was technically possible.
As management shifted focus, the numbers started to improve. Managers realized, for example, that if a customer representative in a branch engaged at least once a day with an online adviser to resolve a customer issue in real time, both the employee and the customer became more comfortable with the new digital platform. As a result, the company began to realize more of the expected savings, customers grew to appreciate the convenience of online banking, and branch employees gave better service. Subsequent leadership debates shifted from pure technology to more human considerations. After all, organizations don’t adopt technology, people do.
With technology increasingly automating routine white-collar tasks, the ability to apply human judgment, inspiration, and creativity carries an even higher premium. Consider, for example, the demographic and societal changes fueling the next generation’s desire to work with organizations with a clear and compelling mission. Part of the psychology behind this shift is the natural human desire for stability and predictability. Against the backdrop of technology-driven change and workforce fluidity, a strong and unchanging organizational purpose or mission provides a solid foundation. Emotional connection, empathy, and the capacity to motivate all take on new importance.
Business concepts that have their roots in technology, like distributed innovation, can also require new ways of managing and unlocking human ingenuity. I hear this all the time from executives across industries, including in the not-for-profit sector. Medair, a global emergency relief and humanitarian nongovernmental organization I collaborate with closely, illustrates the value of pairing distributed innovation with a front line that displays strong EQ. To bring innovative sanitation, health and energy solutions to those in greatest need in areas devastated by conflict, drought or natural disaster, Medair leverages its people-to-people orientation on the front lines. It brings insight and innovative ideas from the field back to headquarters, where Medair taps into a strong network of technologically cutting-edge institutions, both academic and private. Collaborating with these universities and organizations, Medair has developed effective approaches to such critical challenges as clean drinking water and proper nutrition.
Clarity on how digital disruption affects your industry and your business is critical. It is even more important to develop a clear picture of the implications for your workforce, their required capabilities, and your leadership style. Just when one might have thought technology was taking over, human considerations have assumed new forms and importance. Think of it as EQ’s revenge in the digital age.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

3 Ways to Stand Out at Work

It is graduation month and it always makes me think of all the fresh new employees who will be entering the workforce in the coming months. It’s not always easy to get on the shortlist or stay on the short list of most valued employees. This week we offer three ways to help yourself stand out at work.

The national unemployment rate remains very low so most everyone who wants to work is working. On top of that, the US has another 1 million+ college graduates entering the workplace this year. All of this makes for a crowded talent pool that might bring challenges when you are trying to stand out. So what can you do to differentiate yourself?

First, if you are a new employee who is just starting in a job, check out these tips for Onboarding Yourself Using EQ. Employees who are recognized as invaluable and indispensable enjoy several benefits, some of which include faster promotions and better bonuses. Some have more influence over their work conditions and resources. Many have more opportunity to grow and succeed in a career. Being smart or having technical competence is not enough on its own, here are three things you can do to be unforgettable:

1. Think continuous improvement. Job skills have shelf-life and employers value employees who are keeping their skills current. They attend company provided training, they are active in their industry associations and keep up with trends. The most valued employees are seen as coachable. They are open to feedback and make behavioral changes as a result. They understand that jobs change, competitive landscapes change, and expectations change and they must adapt accordingly.

2. Don’t be high maintenance. High maintenance employees end up in conflicts with supervisors or coworkers. They drag others into their drama. They play the victim when they don’t get the promotion/raise/transfer they want. If you want to be considered a low maintenance employee you will need to show some resilience. Don’t be easily offended, don’t let your emotions undermine you, don’t get caught up in gossip. Do your job earnestly and be accountable and conscientious.

3.  Own your work. Some people worry that by publicly sharing their contributions or accomplishments they will come across as arrogant. Others take credit for others’ work without giving it a second thought. There is nothing wrong with taking credit for your own work, being proud of what you have done, and not being afraid to let others know what you are capable of. When people mention you, you want them to think “confident," “well qualified," and “self-aware."

Any one of these traits can help you stand out from the crowd, but by demonstrating all three you really set yourself apart. It doesn’t matter what industry, job role, company size or length of service, you can begin using these techniques today and enhance the perception about how valuable you really are.  

Thursday, May 23, 2019

4 Things Highly Self-Aware People Do

Many people ask us about the easiest way to a higher EQ and honestly, it all starts with self-awareness. People with high self-awareness are clear about their strengths and weaknesses. They know how they "tick,” so they can put themselves in situations that bring out the best in them while minimizing the worst of them. This week we will discuss four activities you can do to increase your own self-awareness. 

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Those who maintain self-awareness are seen by others as connected, in-touch and humble. They often demonstrate the type of confidence that resides on the healthy side of ego and leverage their strengths, but they are also able to recognize when their own behavior is inappropriate or having a negative impact on others. They tend to get more done, take more accountability, and are enjoyable to work with.

1. They take assessments.
There are several good assessments available to measure personality, communication style, business acumen, and emotional intelligence, among other things. All of them help you get to know yourself, your tendencies and instincts, and how other people are perceiving you. This information helps you pick better careers, recognize suitable organizations to work for, and appropriate people to spend time with.

2. They practice mindfulness.
Give yourself opportunities throughout a day to assess your mood. Pay attention in meetings to how you're reacting to others and why. Keep track of when you are at your best and your worst. We find most people have patterns of behavior and by paying a little more attention you will recognize your own. People with the presence of mind are able to stay clear-headed in high-pressure situations and avoid difficult conversations when they know they are not in the right frame of mind.

3. They hire a coach.
Business coaches can give you feedback that no one else will give you. Even when practicing mindfulness, we all have blind spots so a professional coach can recognize behaviors you may not even realize you are doing and if they are ineffective, suggest alternatives. They provide you will valuable insight to see yourself from the point of view of others which can be incredibly valuable information to better influence or motivate coworkers, clients or colleagues.  

4. They identify their reactions.
We are all very busy and often we just know something feels good or bad, but we rarely stop to analyze what we're feeling and why. Throughout the day pause, and ask yourself, "What specific emotion would use to describe how I am feeling right now?" This habit gives you a new language to use when communicating with others, and when people see you as transparent and can track with your thoughts and feelings, you save time from less miscommunication and get better outcomes.

Self-awareness can be achieved by practicing these four actions, which become more natural over time. And just remember when your self-awareness goes up, your EQ does too. And then, you can bet that a lot of other good things are waiting for you!  

Thursday, May 16, 2019

4 Things Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Should Never Delegate

There is a common complaint from followers that their leaders don't delegate enough and create bottlenecks that slow everything down. I often write and speak about the risks of maintaining control of too much, heck, one of my ego traps is "Not Letting Go of Control.  But there are a few things that emotionally intelligent leaders know they shouldn't delegate. Read on to find out what they are.

It should be the goal of every employee who leads either people or a function to build a team of trustworthy, competent employees that they can delegate not only tasks to but also decision-making rights. However, those with high EQ understand that not everything can be delegated. There are a few scenarios when things must be done by the senior leader(s):

1. Bad news.

Leaders with EQ understand that when things are bad (revenue is down, profit is in the red, the loss of a big customer) it's important to be with employees in person to communicate information and show support. They don't chicken out or pass the buck.

2. Changes in someone's pay.

If an employee, contractor or vendor is going to be impacted by a wage freeze, a smaller bonus, a pay cut, or a change in payment terms, emotionally intelligent leaders understand that their credibility takes a huge hit if they delegate the conversation to HR, administrative support people or front-line contacts.

3. Modification of employment conditions.

Things like announcements of layoffs, reduction in hours, relocations, and changes in reporting structure are all examples of things that emotionally leaders understand have to be done by them, and in person. And they also get that they should never be communicated by email or text.

4. Big changes in the organization's structure.

It never feels good to find out your employer is getting bought out by first reading it on the Internet. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize the importance of being visible and available when big announcements are made. And they don't call an "All Hands" meeting, give the announcement, and then leave for the day (or worse, go golfing). They stay and answer questions. If there are other locations that need face time, they leave a 2nd in command available to the workforce.

By demonstrating a sense of accountability to doing some of the dirty work, it shows employees that no one is above the difficulties of running an organization. A strong leader understands that everyone has their own version of grunt work, and doing it keeps them grounded and humble. Over the years, we have seen leaders lacking in emotional intelligence delegate all of these things and they always misestimate the fallout. The negative results include employee turnover, bad press, lower morale, disengagement and lack of respect for the executives. Although these scenarios are difficult and uncomfortable, it's vitally important to step up and face the music instead of delegating them to others. Employees don't just need their leaders to show strength and accountability on the best days, but even more on the worst.   

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Perils of a Feedback Free Culture

There are many reasons that managers avoid giving relevant feedback to employees. Surprisingly, even "easy" feedback that comes with positive praise is often watered down to "Good job!" However, a feedback-free culture in the workplace can only lead to discouraged employees and diluted performance. This week I will give you a list of the perils of working in a feedback-free culture. 

The Perils of a Feedback Free Culture

Without feedback, everyone works from individual vs shared agendas.

A feedback-free culture can destroy a team's ability to achieve a shared vision. If employees are left to use their own opinions of what "good" and "bad" performance looks like, these assumptions may be way off base and misaligned with what you are trying to accomplish in the long-term. Clearly, there is no way for an employer and an employee to share a common goal if performance is judged by different scales. Additionally, when employees are left in the dark about how they are doing, it's too easy to get complacent or comfortable.

Star performers feel neglected.

As mentioned in "Thanks for Being A Star Performer, Now I Will Ignore You," article, too often, we forget about creating a feedback dialogue with our best employees. Unfortunately, without any feedback, top performers won't know they are considered by you to be a top performer. This leads to eroding engagement and loyalty. Even high-performers may need the occasional correction to their performance. This kind of feedback exchange should not be avoided for fear of demotivating a star employee, however.  High-performers will have plenty of positive aspects which you can emphasize to balance the negative feedback. In the end, every strong performer wants feedback on what can be improved so the discussion serves only to help them self-adjust and move on.

Underperformers are unaware.

In a feedback-free work culture, underperformers are not given timely performance feedback and continue to make mistakes or flounder in ambiguity. Lack of feedback can lull an underperformer into thinking their below-average work is sufficient, thus stunting any motivation they may have to improve. On the other hand, without direction underperforming employees may feel lost regarding their work, unaware of whether their efforts are on-target or not. Constructing feedback that addresses poor performance is vital, and while it may be difficult to tell your employee their performance is lacking, it will dissolve any issues of ambiguity and pave a path towards reaching common goals.

Managers spend more time correcting outcomes than managing human capital.

Managers waste valuable company time correcting, explaining, improving, and/or changing work products of their employees, instead of spending that same time giving specific guidance and performance input. It is a better use of everyone's time to check-in with employee progress throughout a project's development so that mistakes are caught early on and can be corrected by the employee himself. Effective managers don't have to manage results because they have already put the effort into laying a strong foundation by communicating what is expected and making sure those expectations are consistently met.

Employees become stagnant.

When feedback is absent from the creative and planning processes, employees get stagnant and don't develop new skills or better techniques. This stifles the entire experience, halting an employee's ability to innovate because they have no idea that their work needs to be refreshed. Address your employees' weaknesses directly and give them a chance to strengthen their skills or learn new methods of delivering on assignments. Where there is a culture of open and reciprocal feedback, there is room to expand both personally and professionally.

Not just for middle management.

A feedback-free environment is not just the ailment of young, inexperienced managers but we see it at the executive level too. Often, executives will say that their direct reports are mature or experienced enough that they don't need candid feedback. Ignoring your senior employees is insulting and kills the credibility of the leader if they are seen as conflict avoidant or too hands-off.

Take the time to consciously create a culture in your company where feedback is not just present, but an integral part of your employer-employee relationship and how dynamic those working relationships become. By making the time to address the strengths and weaknesses of your team, you will not only reinforce your top performers but guide and motivate your underperformers, build trust along the corporate ladder and establish a structure that encourages self-improvement and creativity.