Is that fair?

Photo of a peanut butter cup with a bite taken outAs a manager, supervisor, and leader, you want to treat your team fairly.

But just exactly what does “fair” mean?

When we’re little, we tend to interpret “fair” as “equivalent” (even though “equivalent” probably isn’t in our vocabulary!). If Johnny gets a peanut-butter cup, then we should get one too.

But as we grow up, we learn that maybe this isn’t what we really want, or what’s really “fair.” Johnny might love those peanut-butter cups, but if we’re allergic to peanuts, “fair” starts to look a little different.

It turns out that “fair” is both situational and personal

Welcome to yet another leadership gray area.

The people on your team are individuals. What works in managing one of them may not – probably won’t – work for all of them.

What motivates one person can actually demotivate someone else.

One person’s corrective feedback is another person’s condemnation of stupidity. (No, I’m not exaggerating; I have a client with exactly these types of people on her team.) Offering straightforward, no-frills corrective feedback to the self-assured individual is great. That feedback delivered in the same tone to a perfectionist who hates making mistakes can crush their initiative and motivation; they’ll only become even more anxious about mistakes.

Public accolades for work well done delivered to a life-of-the-party team member is rewarding for them in multiple ways. The same public recognition offered to a more reserved individual can be overwhelming and even embarrassing.

What this means is that how we offer feedback and recognition should vary based on our understanding of each person. Tuning our delivery to the individual is as important as the message itself.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should be coddled or protected from themselves – far from it. As leaders, we’re responsible for helping our teams learn and grow. But when we tune our feedback, recognition, and even work assignments to what we understand about each individual, we’ll reap the rewards of better results, higher productivity, and fully-engaged employees.

The perfectionist will learn (instead of closing down) when you deliver feedback in a way that makes it clear you’re talking about process improvements, not about their mistakes. The outgoing individual will appreciate the recognition from the team as well as from you, while the more-reserved teammate will be grateful for your heartfelt private “Thank you for doing this thing so well.” And although we want to encourage everyone on our teams to be collaborative and engaged with their colleagues, allowing people to do the types of work they do best is one way to be sure everyone is doing their best work.

Is that fair?

I think responsiveness to individual preferences and needs is the very definition of fairness.

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What’s your default answer?

Pushbuttons - the green one says Yes, the red one says NoDoes your imagination present you with all the reasons why something will go wrong?

That’s a great skill, and I mean that sincerely. Being able to see potential pitfalls and problems is part of risk management, and leaders need to be good at managing risk if they want to succeed.

But this ability to see all the ways something won’t work can cause you to say “No!” to proposals or suggestions that, with a few tweaks and a little focus, might actually be good ideas.

You see all the potential pitfalls in any scenario, so it’s way too easy to jump to why the new idea someone suggests just won’t work. But then you squelch creativity and innovation. And if you say “No!” often enough, people won’t bother bringing you ideas – including ideas that might solve current problems.

So if your default response tends to be “No!”, and you think you might be missing out on some good problem-solving, innovation-creating ideas (hint: you probably are), try these steps next time a team member or colleague suggests something new.

Pause. Breathe.

You’ve got time. No one says you need to answer one way or the other within ten seconds of hearing an idea.

Pause. Breathe.

Ask for details

If you’re a detail-oriented person and someone’s just tossed out a quick high-level idea, it’s super tempting to dismiss that idea.

If you’re not a detail-oriented person, it’s still important to get more information before making a decision.

Depending on the scope of the idea, you might ask for a written proposal, which can be a simple outline in email or a more in-depth report. Or you could ask them to expand on their ideas in a face-to-face meeting.

Either way, this has the added advantage of giving you time to think about what might go right, as well as all those things that could go wrong.

Using “and”…

Given your skill at problem-detection, you’ll probably never hear an idea that sounds 100% great right from the start.

So instead of saying, “Thanks for the idea, but it won’t work because…” try, “Thanks for the idea, and what about tweaking it like this…”

Turn that skill around

There’s nothing wrong – and a lot right – with understanding potential problems.

And you can bring that foresight to bear on more than just problems.

Try imagining all the things that could go right. What are the potential benefits? Where’s the upside on this idea? What gains in effectiveness, productivity, innovation, and/or profitability might arise?

Not every idea …

Not every idea should be pursued.

Not every idea should be thrown out.

Discerning the difference between an idea that’s irrelevant, impractical, or too risky at this time, and an idea that, with a little planning, tweaking, and revision could be a great boost – that’s a valuable leadership skill well worth developing.

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Interview: Empathy in conversations

It’s a real honor to be invited back by podcast hosts; it means I did a good job, they enjoyed what I had to say, and they feel like it’s worth hearing more of what I had to say.

Beth Buelow, whose Introvert Entrepreneur podcast I appeared on (was heard on, I guess, is the more accurate term!) a while ago, has started a new endeavor and a new podcast. Taking her skills and talents as an expert communicator to new levels, she completed mediation training a few months ago and is now working as a mediator – and has created the podcast How Can I Say This?  (If there was ever a sign someone’s on the right path – can you believe that website URL was available? Yay!)

She invited me to join her in a discussion of what I call professional empathy: the use of empathy to facilitate conversations in the workplace as well as in other everyday situations.

https://howcanisaythis.com/grace-judson-empathy-conversations/

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The perils of personality assessments

Woodcut blocks with the words "who are you?"Personality style assessments are everywhere. Myers-Briggs, DiSC (or DISC, depending on which version you take), Keirsey, the Enneagram, the Five Languages of Appreciation – the list goes on and on.

Organizations love these assessments, and with good reason. Using a reputable, validated assessment can help people understand in a felt way, rather than just intellectually, that people really are different from each other (or, more to the point, different from you). Different people respond differently to different communication approaches, different modes of recognition, different types of management, and so on. Understanding this is a great advantage for leaders and individual contributors alike.

The danger lies in taking any assessment too literally. Here are a couple of the most challenging potential problems.

The accuracy of the result

No matter how thoroughly any assessment has been validated and verified, the results can and will vary because the person taking the assessment operates from different perspectives at different times in their life – or even at different times during the day!

I know this from personal experience. When I took the Myers-Briggs at the company I worked for at the time, my results indicated that I was an ENTP. That never felt right to me, no matter how much the consultant administering the test assured me of the assessment’s accuracy.

Years later I re-took the test and came out as a much-better-fitting INFJ.

Big difference.

The danger of “that’s just how I am”

Every assessment does its best to accentuate the positive aspects of each type. And every assessment also describes less-admirable traits of each type.

The problem arises when someone accepts the less-admirable traits as “just how I am.” Then the limitations of the type become an excuse to relinquish responsibility for improvement. I’ve encountered more than a few people who, upon being confronted with their poor performance, shrugged and said, “Well, I’m a {type} – that’s just how I am!”

What to do, what to do …

I’m certainly not advocating against assessments. I use them in my work, and I appreciate the insights they provide.

What I am suggesting is that any assessment result should be viewed with appropriate discernment and even skepticism.

If someone says their result doesn’t feel accurate, they could be right. If someone appears to be using their type as an excuse for performing below the potential you believe they have, they need to be pushed. If someone’s results come out weirdly contradictory, then something’s gone wrong. (That was another of my personal experiences. When I pointed out that the report directly contradicted itself in several areas, the consultant I was working with blinked at me, re-read the report, and said, “Oh. You broke it!” (Assessment name withheld, but it’s a well-known and well-respected instrument.))

Obviously there’s a cost involved in hiring a qualified, certified consultant to administer the assessment. Therefore, my primary recommendation is difficult to implement. Nonetheless, the best option to avoid problems is to use several different assessments. In this way, each person gets multiple perspectives on themselves and their teammates.

How the organization approaches the process also matters. I’ve seen situations where everyone takes the assessment, the results are reviewed and publicized, and then business continues as usual, with no effective change.

The process can’t end with the delivery and review of the results. If you’re not going to support employees in using their new understanding in the day-to-day-workplace, nothing will change, and you’ve wasted your time and money.

Personality style assessments are like any other training effort: without ongoing support, you aren’t going to see the results you want.

gljudson Better conversations

The dangers of delegation! (A true story, with dog)

Photo of Bonnie, our Golden Doodle, waiting to be fedLast night, my husband fed the dog.

I usually do this, but I was busy, so I delegated.

With a certain amount of anxiety. Because, as all of us who delegate know, there are many potential pitfalls. After all, we’re the ones who know how to do the task correctly – right?

And sure enough, there were plenty of missteps.

  1. He didn’t wash the bowl. Argh. All those minute, invisible-to-the-naked-eye flecks of food that Bonnie didn’t vacuum / slurp / or otherwise scrub up when she was fed that morning were still there, inevitably contaminating her evening meal. OY!
  2. He grabbed the wrong dog food can. Bonnie gets two different flavors, and they’re supposed to alternate, first one and then the other. But noooo … he got the same one she had on the previous day. OY!
  3. He used the can lid to scoop out the food instead of a spoon. Seriously? Now his fingers were covered in – eww! – dog food! OY!
  4. And he gave her a bit more than the allotted half can. How could this happen? She’ll be hungry tomorrow because she won’t have had enough for breakfast! OY!

But let’s look at the reality.

  1. Bonnie is a dog. Yeah, it’s not a bad idea to wash the bowl in between feedings, but she polishes it pretty darn clean on her own. Plus, yegads, despite our best efforts, outside she eats sticks and who-knows-what-else. A very-tiny-itty-bitty-bit of leftover food isn’t going to poison her.
  2. Bonnie seriously doesn’t care – and probably doesn’t even notice – that she gets different flavors. All she cares about is that she’s fed.
  3. How is this my problem?
  4. A little more or a little less in any given feeding is so not a big deal!

Why is this relevant to leadership?

Show me a leader, and I’ll show you someone who’s struggled with delegation at some point.

Whether it’s the pervasive belief that “It’s easier to just do it myself” or “They won’t do it the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done” or “I don’t have time to teach them how,” every leader finds reasons to hang onto tasks that someone else could – and probably should – be doing. (There may also be a subtle, possibly subconscious, territoriality going on: if I give up this task, do I become less relevant and important?!)

But part of the job of being a leader is to develop your team. And that means challenging them. Which, ultimately, means delegating tasks that they need to stretch into and learn.

Yes, you may need to teach them how.

But the time spent now will be saved – exponentially – in the longer term.

Yes, they’ll almost certainly do it at least a little differently.

But as long as the end result is good, do those differences matter? Really?

In the end, Bonnie was happy because she got fed. And that was the outcome we all wanted. The rest of it? That was just me getting wrapped up in details that really didn’t matter. And that’s 100% my problem and something for me to work on.

What about you?


Delegation is just one of a number of leadership skills – and it’s one I cover in more detail in Module 5 of the Empowered Leadership program. Other modules include the skills of negotiation, conflict transformation, and the essential skill of self-leadership. To learn more, click here to read the full program description.


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Do you welcome feedback?

Cute dog on a Welcome mat in front of a doorThis is a guest post from Will Bontrager, the software wizard and writer par excellence behind Will Bontrager Software, LLC. His website and his newsletters are treasure troves of straightforward, reliable software tools, tips, tricks, and techniques. As someone who uses several of his software tools, I’m delighted to include links to his site in this article, and highly recommend his work.

I’ve known Will for years, and we share an appreciation for each other’s newsletters. Recently, we had an email conversation about feedback following the two articles I wrote about giving and receiving feedback. As I said, Will is an excellent writer, so – with his permission – I stitched together his email comments into the following article. While what he says is specific to his experience with his business, it’s relevant to any situation: being open to feedback of all sorts, while it may sometimes be frustrating and even painful, will ultimately enrich our lives. Thank you, Will, for enriching mine with your feedback to me!

I’ve been thinking about feedback and making forms for feedback and dealing with issues related to the forms for a bit over two decades.

For me, welcoming feedback is different than dealing with feedback once received.

You know what, I appreciate all the feedback I get, no matter the intent or tone. People are interesting. Feedback helps me understand where people are coming from. The more different points of view I’m exposed to, the more depth my life has. It’s all good. Feedback is one of the things I really, really resonate with.

One of my primary benefits of getting feedback is help constructing a gestalt of how our sites are perceived. Mari and I are the only ones who authentically see our sites from the creator’s point of view. Everybody else sees them differently.

To me, any feedback is welcome – good, bad, indifferent, helpful, whatever. Some feedback comes from assholes. Some comes from saints. Most from well-meaning people. And they all contribute to my impression of what others perceive about our websites and what their realities are.

The sites are ours. We are intimately familiar with them. Other people’s declarations of what would work better for us come from a dearth of information about what the sites are and our goals for them. Yes, some feedback isn’t relevant and it is a waste of time to try to make them relevant. Whether or not relevant, most feedback we’ve been getting are deserving of at least a “thank you.”

I’m not required to follow through or dive into their issues or drop my goals to help someone with theirs. We rarely change our website, other than for typos and factual errors or omissions, based on what others want us to do. But I do respect people and appreciate the fact they used some of their time for reaching out.

Some site owners approach providing a feedback form as a favor to their site visitors. Not me. My approach is providing an invitation to talk.

Site owners who see providing a feedback form as doing a favor tend to be the ones most likely to put blocks in the way, like the CAPTCHA things. Interactive CAPTCHA is a block because it requires the form user to go through hoops to submit the form. Further, having to prove one is human can make the human feel like their communication isn’t or wouldn’t be valued.

Sometimes I think about how much real, helpful feedback site owners are not getting and never will get while such a block is in place.

One day I was talking to a site owner and he said, “If they really want to tell me something, they’ll figure out a way.”

I was totally flabbergasted. The point of view is so incompatible with mine I felt we were existing in different universes.

He never did see my point of view, or refused to acknowledge it. I see his, and intellectually understand it, but I don’t want to live there.

Replacing interactive CAPTCHA with passive CAPTCHA is one of the main reasons for the existence of the Master Form series of software. And it is the primary reason for the ongoing development of the Spam-free Form service, that reason and also people’s seeming aversion to installing software on their servers.

Anyway, some feedback about feedback 🙂

gljudson Better conversations

The problem with promotions

Red ladder near white wall isolated on white backgroundPromotions are great. They acknowledge the quality of your hard work, they represent progress and feel like success, and hey, who can argue with a bigger paycheck?

So why am I suggesting that there’s a problem with them?

In general – there isn’t. As an individual contributor diligently climbing the promotions ladder, you typically (and, let’s face it, often very frustratingly) are doing at least 75 to 80 percent of the next-level job before you’re promoted into it.

But then comes the promotion into a management or supervisory role. And that’s a whole different ball game.

Managing people isn’t the same as managing work

As an individual contributor, each successive role isn’t all that different from the previous one. The skill level increases, the responsibility increases, the complexity of the work increases, but the fundamental job is still the same: do the tasks, complete the projects, deliver on time.

But now you’re responsible for ensuring that other people do the tasks, complete the projects, and deliver on time. It’s no longer just you; it’s everyone on your team. And people are a whole lot more complex than the work they do. They have personalities, needs, desires, problems, varying levels of skill and capacity, and you may not even like all of them very much.

And then there are the management structure variables: virtual teams distributed across multiple time zones, and dotted-line or matrixed reporting structures where you might not even have direct authority over the individuals on your team – but you still have direct responsibility for the work they’re supposed to complete.

It’s no wonder 60% of new managers fail in their first year

No matter how much responsibility you may have had in your previous roles, those roles haven’t prepared you for this new responsibility of manager, supervisor, and leader.

Every experienced leader I talk with rolls their eyes and groans when I mention that transition. Every. One. It’s not just you; it’s everyone.

And the real tragedy is that most organizations don’t provide the support – training, mentoring, coaching – that a new leader needs.

So what can you do?

It really does start with recognizing that this is a common problem, and not just you. One of the biggest challenges for leaders at every level (all the way up to senior leadership and the C-suite – believe it or not) is the feeling of being unequal to the task – being a fraud (Fraud Factor) or an imposter (Imposter Syndrome). And this is especially challenging for the new leader, when you know you’re struggling but you don’t know why – or how common this problem is.

Becoming a leader is a process. As an individual contributor, you had specific skills to learn, and once you learned them, you were competent and capable. As a leader, there are always nuances; leadership is all about navigating a never-ending gray area, in which there are far fewer yes / no answers, and a lot more maybe / maybe not situations.

If you can (and I recognize that not all organizational cultures will be supportive), ask your management for guidance. Read books and blogs and listen to podcasts on leadership. Find professional organizations that offer peer-to-peer support (if you’re a project manager (and seriously, every leader should have some understanding of project management), the Project Management Institute is great for that, and has local chapters in most areas).

Get training.

The leaders who succeed are those who recognize the difference between their previous role and what they’ve now been asked to take on. They acknowledge the challenge and the learning curve, and set themselves to acquire the new skills they need to be the leader they want to be – and that their team and organization need them to be.

It’s not easy. But for those who accept the challenge, it’s both deeply rewarding and a lot of fun!

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The key to receiving feedback is…

Speech bubble sticker with the word FEEDBACKA couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about giving feedback (you can read it here). A reader wisely observed, “This is helpful not only for giving, but also for being open to receiving feedback.”

Absolutely true, and since I hadn’t thought of that, I was especially grateful she took the time to email me.

(I hope it’s no surprise that I appreciate reader feedback!)

Receiving feedback well is a skill, and it’s a skill leaders need to develop.

Leadership is all about the gray areas. Decisions tend to lack obvious yes-or-no answers, and managing people is always a subjective process. Every person on your team is a unique individual with different skills, aspirations, motivations, and desires. The only way you’ll ever know if you’re leading effectively is to pay attention to the feedback you receive.

One aspect of feedback is obvious: your team’s performance.

Another is equally obvious: is there turnover on your team – are people quitting on you?

But the key skill in receiving feedback is more subtle – and it’s essential if you want a team with top-notch performance and low (or no!) turnover.

Listen

Real listening means being willing to be changed by what you hear.

You might want to read that again:  real listening means being willing to be changed by what you hear.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything.

But it does mean you need to listen to both what is and is not said.

If you never hear anything negative, you’re not listening. If no one is willing to tell you what’s wrong, you’re not leading.

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How do you ask?

Question mark made up of multi-colored speech bubblesHow you ask affects the answer you receive.

Latin allows us to be explicit in this formation, as I learned many years ago when reading the classic British mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. This line appears in the next-to-last book of the series, Gaudy Night: “One First of April, the question had arrived from Paris in a single Latin sentence, starting off dispiritedly, ‘Num…?’ – a particle which notoriously ‘expects the answer No.'”

The corresponding “expects the answer Yes” particle is nonne.

Okay. Why does this matter? Well, the Latin part is merely me having fun. But when we understand how we can influence the answer to our question in more subtle ways than arguing, debating, demanding, or attempting to convince, we have new ways to guide a conversation’s outcome.

(If you’re thinking this sounds manipulative, read this post.)

Compare these two questions:

  1. Do you still want to go to the beach tomorrow?
  2. What time shall we leave for the beach tomorrow?

The first question creates doubt about whether we’re going. The second question is clear that we are going – it’s just a matter of when we’re leaving. Neither is “wrong” – it just depends on whether or not you want to go to the beach!

  1. Don’t you want to go home?
  2. You don’t want to go home, do you?

These two questions sound almost identical, yet it’s clear that the first expects “Yes, let’s go home!” and the second, “No, I’m not ready yet.”

These are obvious … or are they?

In spoken language (versus written in an article about asking questions!), it’s more subtle than you might think.

Things get even more interesting when we factor in the asker’s state of mind. If you’re feeling full of confidence and self-assurance, and firmly believe you deserve to get what you want, you’ll ask in a way that expects “Yes!” On the other hand, if you’re discouraged, un-confident, and not sure you can actually have what you want, you’ll tend to ask in ways that generate exactly what you expect: “No!”

Our desire for a particular answer influences how we ask – but our expectations about the answer we’re likely to receive almost always take precedence, albeit usually unconsciously.

So if you have an important question to ask or request to make, you’ll want to do two things.

  1. Make sure you use words that lead in the right direction, and
  2. Take the time to boost your confidence and convince yourself that you deserve and will get the answer you want.

One final note: If you’re someone who often feels unheard or that your wants and needs – whether professional or personal – are overlooked or denied, take a long look at how you’re asking. You may feel as if you’re being clear and definite in your requests, but the reality could be that you’re quietly hoping others will read your mind.

gljudson Better conversations

Corrective feedback: are you making one of these 3 mistakes?

Cartoon faces - happy, sad, angryAs a leader, giving feedback to your people is part of your job. And while we all enjoy giving “yay, you!” feedback, it’s safe to say that no one likes having to deliver correction. That said, it’s still part of the job of developing your people and ensuring they deliver top-quality results.

Here, then, are three mistakes and myths you may have encountered about giving feedback that can get you in trouble – demotivating employees instead of motivating them, or creating disconnects about what you really want and need from them.

(Note: these tips assume that the employees in question are generally performing well, and you’re coaching them to improve and / or correcting a specific, but not massive, problem. For tips on managing more difficult situations, click here to get access to the mini e-book The 5 Most Challenging Employee Types – and how to manage them.)

Fairness for all

In an effort to “be fair,” many leaders strive to treat everyone exactly the same.

But your employees aren’t all exactly the same.

In giving feedback to someone eager to learn and open to correction, you can be far more direct and blunt than when giving feedback to a perfectionist who’s afraid to do anything wrong. Being direct and blunt with the perfectionist causes them to close down and become even more likely to make mistakes. On the other hand, offering delicate feedback to the eager-to-learn may cause them to completely miss your point.

What to do instead

Giving effective feedback requires you to be sensitive to the individual personalities on your team. Take the time to ask yourself some simple questions about each of them. Are they introverts, or extroverts? How open are they to coaching and guidance? How do they react when you make suggestions or offer correction?

And it never hurts to simply ask (privately, of course), “What’s the best way for me to coach you and give you feedback?”

“Why” questions

When someone makes a mistake, especially a particularly big mistake, there’s always a temptation to ask, “WHY did you do that?!”

But “why” leads to defensiveness, which means a tightly-closed mind and resistance to new ideas and learning.

What to do instead

Employee errors often originate from a lack of understanding or a lack of resources.

Ask questions to learn more and review the lead-up to the mistake. Then you’ll discover whether the employee needs additional training, or if there wasn’t enough time, or they didn’t have the right materials.

Often it’s a combination of multiple elements. Customer service errors, for instance, can arise from a lack of training on empathetic listening plus time pressures.

The feedback sandwich

The feedback sandwich: start by saying something encouraging, then deliver the correction, and close with another round of positivity.

I’m not sure where this technique originated, but the fact is, it doesn’t work.

That closing round of positive feedback sends the employee away feeling good about themselves – which, let’s face it, isn’t what you want. Of course you don’t want them to feel miserable, but you do want them to think seriously about how they can improve.

What do do instead

Use the tips from the previous two sections to understand your employee and learn what might have led them to go astray. Make it clear that you want to support them in improving, but that their performance right now isn’t acceptable.

A few more notes

Corrective feedback should always include specific action steps for improvement and a schedule for checking in to evaluate whether that improvement has happened.

And note that positive feedback should be just as specific as corrective feedback. While “thank you” is good, “thank you for … ” is better. Check out the article “Why ‘thank you’ isn’t enough” for more on this.

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