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What Makes Feedback Hard?

By Musings

First, let’s be real – we live in a constant state of feedback without realizing it. In its most fundamental form – feedback is input and output. Think about it, you look outside each morning to gauge the weather (input) and decide what to wear (output). Inputs help us determine outputs. Pretty straightforward.

Somewhere along the way the idea of “feedback” became personal. It often begins with someone holding the perspective that your output did not go as expected. Something you did was not how they thought it should be. And they offer input to that effect, typically with the idea that their input will help you do it differently next time.

No matter how eloquently the feedback is offered, it can be confronting and leave you feeling diminished, misunderstood, confused, mad, sad, angry or…(fill in your typical reaction).  You get triggered. No one wants that – not you and not the person offering the feedback. So then what?

In their 2014 HBR article, ”Find the Coaching in Criticism” authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone note, “the (feedback) process strikes at the tension between two core human needs—the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way you are.  It is that tension that makes both giving and receiving feedback tough. For decades the emphasis has been on how to deliver good feedback. The secret Heen and Stone share is, while some delivery approaches are more helpful than others, feedback has the potential to hit any combination of three triggers: truth triggers, relationship triggers and identity triggers.

Truth triggers are set off by the content of the feedback. When assessments or advice seems off base, unhelpful, or simply untrue, you might feel indignant, wronged, and exasperated.

Relationship triggers are tripped by the person providing the feedback.  You are influenced by what you believe about the messenger and how you feel about your previous interactions.  So, you might reject input that you would accept on its merits if it came from someone else.

Identity triggers are all about your relationship with yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or baseless, it can be devastating if it causes your sense of who you are to come undone. In such moments you might struggle with feeling overwhelmed, defensive, shame, or off balance.

Awareness of these three triggers can be helpful for both givers and receivers. For both parties, when triggers get hit, your work is to stay in relationship with one another – to stay in the messiness of the moment and be present in the uncomfortableness of it all. Why? Because those messy moments are a catalyst to addressing the tension. It offers the potential to grow as individuals and to strengthen your relationship. And we get it…it’s hard to do. So, how do you stay in the messiness?

  • Take a breath. Pause and become aware of what is happening for you and for them. What triggers have been hit? What might that be about?
  • Get curious. Check-in with the other person. What’s needed?
  • Listen, deeply. What does your intuition say? What are they saying? What’s not being said?
  • Acknowledge the other person – see them.

There is opportunity in this feedback moment. It is a signal of potential growth. When you seek to understand what is happening and make meaning from it, you will each grow and so will your relationship.

Hello! We’ve been away writing a book…

We’ve been heads down writing our book for the past 6 months and are finally emerging from the writer’s den. The act of writing for both of us has been an experience of joy, hard work, humility and energy. In our last newsletter we talked about living purposefully, and there truly has never been a time for us that has felt this purposeful. Getting our work – our trainings, beliefs, teachings, inspirations and ideas – on paper has been a labor of love and one that we are delighted to be wrapping up and getting out into the world in October! The new title of the book is Humanity Works Better: 5 Practices to Lead with Awareness, Choice and the Courage to Change.

We will keep you posted as we near the fall publication date, meanwhile we are excited to share the lessons and learnings from our research and writing in our refreshed twice a month newsletter. We’ve learned so much along this journey of writing. Our research involved many client interviews, and hearing what others had to say about how our work impacted them made us even more committed to getting our message out. Our mission to bring more humanity to the workplace has never felt more timely and important as we are all navigating the challenges of the past year.

Our hope is that as we emerge from the pandemic, we all do so with a newfound belief in the importance of relationships, of being a good human. As the work environment continues to evolve, we hope you will join us in fostering positive work cultures, converting from toxic to healthy, from competitive to collaborative, from fearful to trusting, one human at a time. That human we are talking about is you!  Thank YOU for being a part of our journey. We are excited to be back!

How to Make it Safe? You Go First.

By Musings

Your vulnerability will make others stronger.

We take a stand that productivity is all about people and at the heart of productivity are the relationships you have with those you work with. Being in relationship means creating meaningful connections with another person, being truly and authentically interested in them – in seeing them for who they are and what they aspire to be. But when you are the leader, positional power can get in the way of even the simplest inquiry, like “how are you doing?” So, when you are the boss, or more senior to the other person, we have a prime tenant: You Go First.

Imagine this: Your organization just finished a heavy push against an ominous deadline. When it was finally complete everyone was exhausted: mentally, physically and emotionally. It had been a lot and folks were spent. You and your leadership team are concerned about folks being burned out and the potential for turnover. To be proactive, you decide to hold well-being checks. The idea was for the most senior members of the organization to reach into their reporting lines and spend about 30-minutes with each of the more junior members to gauge how they are doing, listen to any concerns, and offer support and assistance where possible. It’s a terrific idea!

But …what happens when senior leadership, that folks have little-to-no relationship with, puts a meeting on your calendar to ask, “how are you doing?” You guessed it; first folks will be worried about why you reached out to them. They may be suspicious or question your motivations. They may become guarded, saying only what they think you want to hear, something like “I’m fine.”  None of this will help you achieve the outcome you are looking for – to deepen the relationship and engagement of your people.

So, You. Go. First. Create safety by setting context for the meeting in your initial outreach. Let them know what the meeting is about, what you would like to understand and why you are doing it (for real!). And when the time comes for the meeting, explain that you know how hard these times can be – share how it was for you at a similar career stage, “I remember what it was like when I tackled my first XYZ project!” Tell them how you felt, how you coped, and what you did to help yourself recover. By going first, by being vulnerable with your own experiences, they will come to know that you understand what they are going through, that you are not judging them and that you care. When you go first it creates the safety and trust needed for others to let down their guard and open up to you. Your vulnerability and humanity opens the door for others. Go first, and lead the way.
Here’s how:

  1. Share your own story. Be specific!
  2. Then ask, “what’s it like for you over there?” Get curious.
  3. Then ask, “what would serve you best right now?”
  4. Then ask, “how can I help you?”

This opens the door wide to being in relationship and building trust. Who will you invite to walk through it?

Listening is a Superpower

By Musings

Helping someone with a big decision? Don’t talk, listen.

The beauty of listening is it’s free and readily accessible. The secret to its superpower is not all listening happens through our ears – it also happens through our awareness of not just what is said, but how something is being said. The energy around it. People will give away their truest desires as they talk, but it’s not in their words. It’s in the excitement in their voice, the brightness in their eyes, or even the reverence with which they describe what they see as a faraway impossible goal. They are telling you their inner answer not just by what they say, but by how they say it.

We are making decisions all the time. Sometimes they are little, like what should I have for lunch and require little energy or thought. And sometimes they can be life changing like should I take that new job opportunity and move across the country?  We are all facing decisions about venturing out and gathering with others, inside or outside or getting on a plane for a much-needed vacation. Big decisions are being discussed about returning to an office work environment or continuing to work from home – and if you are working remotely, what should you be paid or what might it mean to your career progression?

We had a client that was deciding whether to take a job. It involved moving to a new city, which she was open to, and she wanted the position. But something was holding her back. As she spoke about the opportunity her energy was flat and dominated buy “should” and the weighty feeling of obligation. By listening deeply to her, we realized the narrative she was telling herself was about what she thought was expected of her – not what she wanted to do. By listening not only to her words but also the energy behind them, she came to realize that her hesitation wasn’t about the job, rather she really didn’t want to live in that particular city. She realized where she lived was more important than what job she had.

Listening is one of the core skills we teach teams and leaders because it creates more safety, more candor, more connection. By listening, you seek to understand not just what everyone is saying, but the deeper underlying issues and from that place, discern what is needed. This skill is key to unlocking misunderstandings and tensions, enhancing collaboration and deepening connection with the humans you work with. It is so basic, and that’s the beauty of it. No special equipment needed. Think about how you can listen better to others. Whether it’s helping someone make a big life decision or helping a team get unstuck. How can you help by hearing not just the words they are saying, but their energy?

Being Human at Work

By Musings

Humanity in the workplace starts with YOU

You can tell if humanity is at work by looking at the quality and depth of workplace relationships.

We realized the significance of this while working with a team of thirty directors and their boss. At the end of our first day together, we led an evening exercise on vulnerability. Each person was asked to come prepared to talk about a personal quality that was both a positive and a negative, and to share something that was going on in their lives that the rest of the group might not know about. There were these two guys, both brilliant engineers, close in age and from similar cultural backgrounds. It was evident from their interactions that they were each other’s nemeses as well as each other’s biggest fans. These two men had spent long nights together trying to solve some of the biggest technology challenges facing the organization, at times even staying overnight and sleeping underneath their desks to deliver on a product deadline.

One of them, we will call him Jonah, started his story by describing his background, his marriage and the birth of his beloved daughter. He and his wife began noticing their daughter, who was four years old, had a cold that just would not go away. As he was talking, the room got quieter and quieter. His colleague, we will call him Nik, leaned in a little closer. Jonah shared that after seeing a multitude of doctors and specialists, their little girl had been diagnosed with leukemia. They did not know what the outcome would be. And that is where his story ended for that evening. As he concluded, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Soon it was time for a break. Nik approached Jonah and hugged him, saying, “I had no idea you were dealing with this. I am so sorry.” The two left the room deep in conversation.

In that moment, the purpose of HumanityWorks—our coaching, consulting and training organization—crystalized. We saw it so clearly. Something is terribly wrong with our work relationships if people are literally sleeping on the floor next to their colleagues and have no idea what is happening for them as human beings. Think about your work relationships. What can YOU do to bring more humanity to work?

We’re Back!

By Musings

Hello! We’ve been away writing a book…

We’ve been heads down writing our book for the past 6 months and are finally emerging from the writer’s den. The act of writing for both of us has been an experience of joy, hard work, humility and energy. In our last newsletter we talked about living purposefully, and there truly has never been a time for us that has felt this purposeful. Getting our work – our trainings, beliefs, teachings, inspirations and ideas – on paper has been a labor of love and one that we are delighted to be wrapping up and getting out into the world in October! The new title of the book is Humanity Works Better: 5 Practices to Lead with Awareness, Choice and the Courage to Change.

We will keep you posted as we near the fall publication date, meanwhile we are excited to share the lessons and learnings from our research and writing in our refreshed twice a month newsletter. We’ve learned so much along this journey of writing. Our research involved many client interviews, and hearing what others had to say about how our work impacted them made us even more committed to getting our message out. Our mission to bring more humanity to the workplace has never felt more timely and important as we are all navigating the challenges of the past year.

Our hope is that as we emerge from the pandemic, we all do so with a newfound belief in the importance of relationships, of being a good human. As the work environment continues to evolve, we hope you will join us in fostering positive work cultures, converting from toxic to healthy, from competitive to collaborative, from fearful to trusting, one human at a time. That human we are talking about is you!  Thank YOU for being a part of our journey. We are excited to be back!