Thursday, February 13, 2020

EQ Does Not Equal Pushover

I recently presented at a leadership conference on Emotional Intelligence and shared with the audience that someone with high EQ understands he or she cannot always be kept comfortable, expecting the world to do the adjusting to them. Instead, they realize that often they must make the adjustments and that will mean they are the ones to sometimes be uncomfortable. At lunch, someone asked me if using EQ as leader meant that you were a pushover because in order to keep others comfortable you just give them what they want all the time. Think it's true? Read on.

At the heart of Emotional Intelligence are three R's: Recognize, Read, Respond.

Recognizing (Self-Awareness) your own tendencies - strengths, weaknesses, moods, drives, emotional states;
Reading (Situational-Awareness) the verbal and non-verbal signals of your environment to accurately assess it and its response to you; and
Responding in ways that are most appropriate based on the evidence gathered around you and within you.

When this is applied to managing others, powerful leaders (high EI) are able to recognize their downstream impact on others, recognizing when their own moods are influencing others' performance and their ability to voice ideas or challenges to them, and recognizing when they must own their disruptive (albeit often unintentional) behavior when they need to and take the necessary steps to adjust, repair and learn from the situation.

He or she is able to read the emotional make-up of their direct reports and connect with them on a level that meets the follower's needs, which may or not be the same style as the leaders'. They do this through empathy, seeing each employee as an individual and a complex person with unique talents, needs, and perspectives. Which is the opposite of one-size-fits-all leadership? He or she takes responsibility for responding in appropriate ways - by not taking out bad moods or misdirected or exaggerated performance intensity on those around him or her. And by providing praise when and how someone needs to hear it and clearly communicating expectations and desired outcomes instead of doing management by mindreading and assumptions.        

Leaders with high EQ are not just "yes" people. We have all had to hear bad news, and the way it is delivered is critical. EQ helps you to be fair but firm, assertive and sensitive. It allows you to show care while holding people accountable because you have made enough of an emotional investment in them to drive their engagement and loyalty to you; approaching each employee as a unique asset and resource, taking the time to tap into their internal motivations, passions, and talents. A leader with high Emotional Intelligence doesn't do this spontaneously or in a vacuum, instead, they mindfully practice "learning" their employees as a daily habit. Most who have learned to do this report it is their highest leverage leadership behavior - an important shift with a huge impact for all. So, I guess it is true, one might say leaders with high EQ do give people exactly what they want.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

How to Lead When You're Not a "Leader"

It’s not uncommon for employees to feel like they are at the mercy of an ineffective or absentee leader. During coaching engagements, we will discuss the ways someone can respond and manage the things within their control - which usually turns out to be a lot more than they realize. The solution to this situation usually requires some assertiveness/independence on the part of the employee and some patience/support on the part of the leader. Here are three things employees can do to lead when they aren’t technically the leader and improve the situation for everyone.

Over the years I have watched and coached leadership from different levels and perspectives. I have noticed a common theme among employees that report up to them: there is a frequent leadership lapse in which all the burden for leadership is placed at the top.

Two examples:

1) someone who is a mid-level manager/director that defers to their leader for decision making or problem-solving

2) someone who is not in a titled management role but is subject to negative behaviors and decisions of their leader, but takes no action

In both cases, when I ask why they don’t take more initiative to be leaderly, they say it’s not their place. Some are concerned about appearing too aggressive and overstepping their bounds and some are concerned that taking the lead on something could threaten the “official” leader. Executive leaders tell me that they would love to see more leadership coming from all levels of the organization. So how do you take a stronger position without crossing the line? Here are a few pointers on ways to do just that:

  • Provide insight. Do some research or analyze trends that affect the work group’s day-to-day output. This shows that you are adding value by thinking about better ways to work and/or making suggestions for removing obstacles that only those on the front lines can see. We were working with a finance company and one of the analysts presented a business case for changing the way information was being disseminated to the entire group. The recommendation was accepted and that analyst was viewed as a leader by demonstrating that they could do some critical thinking that extended beyond their own job.

  • Handle issues before they escalate. Every leader I know really appreciates the employee who is able to manage conflict, squelch gossip and be a positive influence on their peers, direct reports and office colleagues. At a family-owned company, a new policy was implemented that was not well received. One of the employees in the group heard the grumbling about it and instead of joining the complainers and fueling the feeling that they had no say in it, identified the ways it could work successfully and focused on a positive way to respond to their coworkers.

  • Get better at giving feedback to others. In one example, a senior leader was showing some questionable judgment and the staff level employees were sharing their concerns with the senior director. That person initially felt equally victimized by the behavior of the senior leader but realized that if anything was going to change someone had to bring it to their attention. Some think it is easier to do nothing and hope things improve on their own. Or worse, wait for it to get so bad it hits the radar of HR or even higher up in the organization. The senior director decided instead to sit down with their leader and share the growing departmental concerns. With much appreciation, the senior leader changed their responses and the credibility of the senior director went up with everyone.

Leadership isn’t about a title. It isn’t about an organization chart. Leadership is a behavior that anyone can exhibit and use as a tool for positive influence. Go for it!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

How to Give Constructive Criticism Using Emotional Intelligence

This article was written by Jennifer Fabiano for Ladders.
Providing constructive criticism within the workplace is an important skill for every manager to master if they are looking to build a successful, high-functioning team. If you’re nervous about delivering constructive criticism to your direct reports, don’t worry, that’s natural. The good news if that you can use those natural reactions to give constructive criticism at the right time and in the right way.
Ladders spoke with emotional intelligence expert Jen Shirkani and Michael Bungay Stanier, founder of coaching company Box of Crayons and author of the upcoming book The Advice Trap, to learn how managers can use neuroscience and emotional intelligence to deliver the most useful feedback that will actually be put into practice.

Constructive criticism definition

Constructive criticism is a bit of an oxymoron, according to Shirkani. ‘Construct’ means to build something, so something constructive should be something positive that builds an employee up, not tears them down. On the flip side, the word ‘criticism’ is received negatively by most.
“The goal of constructive criticism is that you’re giving feedback that builds and improves, instead of only identifying what’s wrong,” Shirkani said.

Constructive criticism synonym

“I try to avoid ‘criticism’ because it’s almost like right out of the gate it gets people somewhat defensive,” Shirkani said.
Here are phrases that you can use in place of constructive criticism:
  • constructive feedback
  • corrective feedback
  • realignment

How neuroscience plays into giving constructive criticism

Neuroscience comes into the conversation of giving advice because our brain affects the way we approach each conversation. According to Bungay Stanier, your brain, at an unconscious level, is constantly scanning the current situation to determine whether it is safe or dangerous. Your brain asks, is this a place of risk or a place of reward?
During a conversation of feedback, you want to make sure it feels like a place of reward. If it feels like a place of risk, their brain will kick into flight or fight mode, and they will instinctually back away, most likely in a figurative sense over a literal one.
“If it feels like a place of reward, then people are more open, they’re more able to see different points of view, they’re more willing to hear feedback,” Bungay Stanier said. “You basically get the best version of the person if it feels like it’s a safe place for them.”
So, how do you make a feedback conversation feel like a safe situation? Well, that is where the TERA quotient comes in. There are four main drivers that affect whether or not a conversation feels safe: Tribe, Expectation, Rank, and Autonomy.
“The brain is asking a basic question which is, are we in this together or is it you versus me? If it feels like we’re in it together, it feels safer. If it feels like you versus me it feels more dangerous,” Bungay Stanier said.
How to optimize tribe:
Even where you position yourself during this conversation affects the tribe aspect. Rather than sitting across the table from your employee, you can sit caddy corner or even next to them.
During the conversation, you should use “we” statements rather than “you.” Say, “we will figure out how to work on this in future projects” rather than “you need to sort this out.”
When it comes to expectation, the brain questions if it knows what is about to happen. If it knows what’s about to happen it feels safer, but if it’s unknown it feels more dangerous.
How to optimize expectation:
Managers can make employees feel safer by making clear what is about to happen.
“So I could say, ‘I want to give you some feedback about the project you just turned in. It’s really strong, but I want to talk to you about the opening paragraph and how you buried the lead and I think it will just take a couple of minutes,'” Bungay Stanier said. “Rather than me saying, ‘Come into my office…I’ve got some feedback for you.’ You can see the difference and the emotional impact of that.”
By providing you certainty, employees will be more likely to want to hear what you have to say.
When receiving feedback, the brain asks ‘are you more or less important than me?’ If a person feels of the same or a similar level of importance, that’s more engaging. If the person feels more junior, they will most likely feel less engaged.
How to optimize rank:
Rank is a sense of importance and one of the best things you can do to increase rank is to ask questions.
Here are examples of questions you can ask to level out how someone feels about rank:
  • I’ve got some thoughts about this project. Mostly I like it. I’ve got one or two things I might suggest to do differently next time. But I’m curious to know, what do you think is the strongest part of this article you’ve written?
  • In retrospect, what might you change?
  • What might you do differently?
  • What was the hardest part of putting this project together?
  • What came easy to you?
  • What feedback would you give yourself about the article?
When it comes to autonomy, the brain is evaluating whether the other person is making all the decisions or if they get to make some decisions, too. If your manager is making all the decisions, it feels less engaging. If the employee has some say in it, it’s more engaging.
How to optimize autonomy:
Asking questions is an important part of optimizing autonomy, too. By asking you questions and letting the employee make decisions, you give them more of a sense of control.
Here are examples of questions you can ask to increase feelings of autonomy:
  • I want to give you some feedback about this project, do you want to do it now or a little later on today?
  • Would you like to speak in my office or in your office?
  • Would you rather go grab a coffee?
  • Do you want to go first in terms of thinking about feedback on the project, or should I start?

How to give constructive criticism

While some like to use the “sandwich method” of delivering feedback, which is to provide positive feedback followed by negative feedback, and then a positive tip, but Shirkani recommends that managers stay away from this method.
“People start to figure it out…as soon as they hear the compliment they’re bracing themselves for what’s coming,” Shirkani said. “Also, some people have a hard time with the hard, corrective stuff so they sugar coat the corrective and it gets sandwiched in with all this positive and people can leave not really hearing the message that they need to hear.”
Shirkani recommends separating feedback out instead of using the sandwich method. In one conversation, a manager delivers all praise.
Here is an example of that type of conversation:
“I’m going to give you some feedback on how you handled yourself in that meeting. I think it was wonderful. You had a lot on your plate and you were so prepared. You showed up, you made me so proud that you are on my team.”
When Shirkani needs to deliver some corrective feedback, she would rather just focusing on that correction and leave the positive feedback for a separate conversation. Instead, Shirkani likes to start a feedback conversation by acknowledging their good intentions.

Steps for delivering constructive criticism

According to Bungay Stanier, there are four important steps to giving out constructive criticism in the workplace: define it, diminish it, deliver it, and debrief it.
Define it
The first step to giving out advice is to define the right moment. When you’ve asked questions to the employee and been curious about a topic, but you get to the point when asking more questions will become irritating, annoying, and not helpful, now is the time to offer advice.
Diminish it
If you’re the boss of this person, advice lands like it’s the absolute truth, even if you just have a thought, a suggestion or a half-idea. Bungay Stanier recommends that managers start off by diminishing their advice a bit so that employees feel welcome to share their thoughts as well.
Here are some phrases to help open the floor to more of a conversation than a demand:
  • Here’s my best guess…
  • This is my first idea…
  • One option that might work is…
Of course, after delivering that thought, it is important to ask the employee how they feel about the situation.
Deliver it
This is where you deliver how you feel, your thoughts for improvement, and next steps in the process.
Debrief it
The debriefing portion of the oppress is extremely important for both manager and employee. Debriefing makes the employee own the advice, reflect on it, and extract the value.
“It forces you to go back, reexamine what I said and engage with it in a different way,” Bungay Stanier said.
Here are the five most powerful questions managers can use to debrief a conversation afer giving feedback:
  1. Did it help? Did it actually solve the problem?
  2. Does that give you what you were looking for?
  3. Is that what you wanted?
  4. Does this feel like the right advice?
  5. Does this idea spark any new ideas for you?

Constructive criticism example

Example for someone who has been running behind on deadlines:
“I know you’ve been working a lot of hours and I know you have a lot on your plate right now. I appreciate how hard you’ve been working. I get what is going on here, but something that has come up that I think you need to be aware of. We need to come up with a way that you can make your deadlines from now on. In your opinion, what is the biggest hindrance to that happening right now?”

Common ‘donts’ of delivering constructive criticism

  • Don’t be too vague or general.  Managers want to give specific feedback so that it is clear cut to an employee. Don’t say ‘I see this a lot from you,’ or ‘this is something you’re doing all the time. Instead, managers need to give a very specific example of the behavior that they no longer would like to see. If there’s a meeting in which someone is interrupting a lot, pull them aside afterward and have a conversation about the inappropriate behavior, using the meeting that just took place to show them how their actions affect the team.
  • Giving feedback that’s third hand, hearsay, or a rumor. If managers can try and see what they are giving feedback on firsthand, that’s always stronger than giving, ‘I heard through the grapevine’ or ‘your coworker so and so said that you’ve been doing XYZ.’
  • Giving feedback late. Sometimes companies have midyear or annual reviews and somebody did something or has been doing something for months, and they don’t hear about it until their review time. That’s always hard. You’re like, I would’ve changed this and done something different if you had told me sooner. Why have I been doing this for six months and hearing about it now? So the feedback that’s not timely is also a no-no. People feel set up when that happens.

Constructive criticism in the workplace

Timing. It’s something that is important in every aspect of life but is often difficult to get right.
The timing of giving feedback is critical because you want each participant in the conversation to be at their best.
If you’re not a morning person, don’t do it in the morning. If you’re not an afternoon person, don’t do it in the afternoon. If you’re opposite of the person you’re giving feedback to, if they are better in the morning and you’re better in the afternoon, then meet over lunch.
“Have the self-awareness, and social awareness, to pick a time when the person will be receptive to the message, and you might be in a better place to give it,” Shirkani said.

Why constructive criticism is important in the workplace

“We as leaders agonize over giving critical feedback to employees because it’s hard, we worry about it…sometimes we avoid it or delay it because it’s uncomfortable,” Shirkani said. “But if you remind yourself that the best employees, the ones who typically get a lot done every day and are the hardest workers want the feedback…even critical feedback.”
Employees you want to keep on your team are the ones that are very open to being accountable and want you to speak up if there’s something they can do better. If an employee is completely against hearing constructive criticism, you probably have a bigger problem on your hands.
“There’s a lot of research on turnover rates and the people who tend to not make it in a new job are the ones that are not coachable, which means that they are not open to hearing feedback,” Shirkani said. “So it is a critical factor for most employers to ensure that they have employees that are coachable, that are open to hearing feedback.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

2019 Year (and Decade) in Review

When I was young, my dad would always tell me that time moves faster the older you get. I was unsure if it was true but very hopeful it was since Christmas always took forever to arrive and time between school breaks practically stood still. And here I am, 40 years later and can confirm time does move faster. It’s amazing to me that another year has passed and we are charging full steam into the new decade of the 20’s.

The last decade was quite dynamic for me, personally, I went through a divorce, sold my house, had one daughter graduate high school, and moved across the country. Professionally, I published two books and upgraded the talent on our team. During the last decade, I also traveled to 26 states and 11 countries. It was filled with some of my most thrilling but also some of my saddest moments. 

I had phases of being emotionally generous but also intensely selfish. I remain optimistic but get discouraged too. I am so grateful for the work I do, for the wonderful relationships I have, and for the ability to experience everything life offers, good and bad. This article marks the 400th blog post as well. Thanks for being part of my story and I am wishing you a wonderful new year and new decade ahead!      

Friday, December 27, 2019

3 Ways to Use EQ for Goal Setting

As we wind down this year (and this decade) it’s natural to look ahead and think about what we want to accomplish in the coming year. If you are a New Year’s Resolution maker, consider using these pointers that leverage EQ to help you be more successful in reaching them. I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for being part of Shirkani's Musings readership, we appreciate your willingness to allow us to share our experiences with you and we wish you much good health and prosperity in 2020!

As you know, the stick rate of new year’s resolutions is pretty low so here are some emotionally intelligent things that can be done to improve the odds:
  • Be realistic – using the first R in EQ “Recognize” leverages the insights of self-awareness to pick goals that are within our reach. If you have never been a runner, don’t set a goal to run 5 miles a day. Start small and set a goal to run or even walk 1 mile a day. Or don’t say you will lose 20 pounds. Instead, commit to losing one pound per month.
  • Build in accountability – the second part of EQ is “Reading” as in reading others and situations accurately. Using situational awareness, pick times to articulate your goals to others who can both challenge you if they see you backsliding and support you when you need it to follow through
  • Celebrate success – a big part of resiliency comes from our ability to “Respond”, using our self-control to stay consistent in our behavior when faced with headwinds. When feeling weary or tempted to quit, focus on what you have accomplished, not what you haven’t. Use that positive emotion to give yourself credit and fuel confidence to keep pursuing your goals.
Another characteristic of EQ is self-actualization. As defined by Maslow, “…the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” Therefore, goal setting and personal growth are built into daily habits for those with high emotional intelligence.  

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Feedback After Failure

Obviously, no one wants to make a bad decision or make a mistake. Yet if we consider the things in life that have shaped us the most, there are likely more than a few failures and tough lessons on the list.  However, we rarely allow employees the benefit of this "fail forward" environment; the freedom to feel fully empowered to experiment and take risks.

Most leaders have difficulty letting go because of trust issues, image management motives, and/or a need to protect people from the deflating failure experience. However, to be a fully effective leader we are required to delegate and trust employees to take responsibility and accountability for their own decisions.  This is a significant distinguisher between management and leadership.  Are you directing or developing?

Rest assured that if you have an engaged employee who fails, no one will feel worse about it than they will, so your feedback through it will be vital. A borderline employee will need the post-mortem to collaboratively sift through the experience to find the valuable lessons they can leverage to improve their performance.  A poor performer will tire of the consistent communication, expectations, and accountability, and will likely pick up their anchor and move on. 

After all the recovery plans have been created and implemented, it is time to schedule the meeting to do a debrief. Here are some ideas:
  • Let them talk.  Think coaching, not instructing.  Ask questions that allow them to process what happened and self-discover any warning signs they may have missed.  A lesson learned personally has far greater power to change than accepting someone else's truth.
  • Don't play the blame game - and stop them from playing it too. If it really was their decision that led to failure they must own it, but you also need to ease up on your urge to lecture or say I told you so. If others truly were involved in the mistake or poor decision, allow this fact to be acknowledged on one condition. They must also acknowledge what they personally could have done to influence other's behavior to have achieved better results. How can they be more successful working with and through others going forward? 
  • What lessons have been learned - what can you both take away from the experience? 
  • Moving forward - how can you help them re-establish credibility or trust? Identify what resources may be missing to assist them. 
  • Remind them of past success - you don't want to make them fearful of risking again. Build their confidence. Remember that they will beat themselves up worse than you ever will. You can verbally communicate a safe environment, but if your actions at any point contradict this message, there will be no growth in performance or personal ownership. 
  • Check-in intermittently with your staff to ask how effective you are being in delivering a consistent message of safety in risk-taking.
The only way to delegate more is to trust more. The only way to build trust is to give people room to prove themselves, including the risk of failing.

Keep the conversation objective, make it safe for them to try new things and grow, and if things don't go as planned, ask what contingency plans he/she would have put in place knowing what they know now. How can you both use that information for the next time? Don't stop providing autonomy because of failure; be there to give them what they need, just when they need it. Someone somewhere gave you an important chance to learn and grow. Be that someone for your team.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Cure for Constant Disappointment

I was working with an organization one time and the business owner shared with me that he was struggling with his sales leader.

“He is very good at account maintenance but weak at prospecting (hunting) skills. I really need him to be more aggressive at getting new business. It’s creating a lot of frustration for me.”

“Have you shared this with him?” I asked.

“Yes. Since the day he started.”

“How long has he worked for you?”

“Ten years.” He replied.

“Over the ten years he has been with you, have you ever seen him be a strong prospector?”


This sums up the dynamic that plays out in relationships every day. We do it with family, friends, and spouses. We want to see some new behavior in someone...give them the feedback...and every time they don’t change we get frustrated and annoyed.

Now, I am a firm believer that people can change and new behaviors can be implemented. But they are often gradual changes and don’t require a wholesale change in temperament, personality or values:  those things are pretty fixed. So most of the time, what you get is what you get. And there are always those who choose not to change, they are comfortable being comfortable and expect everyone to adjust to them.

I have a friend who is unhappy with her husband. And although he has some good traits, he drinks too much, doesn’t keep a job, prioritizes himself above the family, and is a chronic liar. It has been this way for 20 years. But instead of seeing it for what it is, she wakes up every day thinking, “Today is the day he will be responsible, honest and selfless.” And every day, when he doesn’t do those things she is heartbroken and furious. I love her optimism, but you can see how delusional it is. Instead of seeing him for who he is, she sees him how she desperately wants him to be. And every day he doesn’t live up to it, she hates him for it.

My advice? Lower your expectations. It’s really unfair to expect someone to be a person they have never been and then resent them for it when they aren’t. At some point, you have to accept the person for who they are and the behaviors they are choosing, then decide if you can live with that. Trust me, it usually lowers your stress level to let go of the negative cycle of hoping, judging and continual disappointment. 

And there is one huge upside: if your expectations are low enough, the person just might pleasantly surprise you.