Disagreeable Feedback

It is a simple fact that in order to improve in any skill, whether it be management, communication, or computers, feedback is needed. Great feedback happens when it is very specific, given timely, and in a way that is supportive of the recipient. However, we have all experienced feedback that doesn’t work for us. In fact, some feedback may simply be inappropriate or wrong. What is the best way to respond?

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, is one of the leading experts on effective workplace communication. In a post on her blog, 5 Tips for When You Disagree with Feedback, Kim is very straightforward with the notion that you do not have to agree with feedback.

You can and should tell the person that you disagree. If you just say, “Thank you for the feedback” through gritted teeth, you seem Manipulatively Insincere. Better to take the time to explain why you disagree. Once, a CEO to whom I’d offered criticism told me the next day, “I reject that feedback — but I love that you told me what you think! Do you want to hear why I disagree?” Of course I did — and I actually felt better about my coaching of him after that because he’d been so totally open to criticism before that moment that I wondered if he was really hearing it.

Kim Scott

Kim wants to ensure that the person providing the feedback is honored for doing so. That way they understand you appreciated the effort even if you disagreed with their assessment. She then provides five tips on how to deal with feedback. The first is to check your understanding.

Repeat back what you think you heard, and say, “Did I understand correctly?” or “Did I get that right?” This is a good opportunity to show you care about the person, and what they think.

Learn more tips about how to respectful respond to disagreeable feedback on the Radical Candor web site.

Important vs. Urgent: The Presidential Edition

Have you ever had one of those days where you were busy non-stop, but afterwards you felt like nothing got done? Most of us spend our days in a reactive mode as different people assign us work that is vital for them, but not for you. However, when we are caught in the busy trap it is easy to forget our own priorities. Is there a way to keep your own goals front and center in the face of worldly demands?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this challenge. As the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and then a successful two term President of the United States, Eisenhower had lots of urgent items brought to his desk. The difference for him was to make sure that the urgent never eclipsed the important. To ensure that he accomplished his goals he created a decision matrix now known as the Eisenhower Box. It was based on this line of thinking that he shared in a 1954 speech.

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

The Eisenhower Box (or Matrix) is a simple four square grid. A visual of this box can be found here. Whenever any item came across his desk Eisenhower would decide whether it was important (aka aligned with his primary goals) and/or urgent (aka time constrained). His choice of what to do next was based on the answer to those two questions.

  • Important and Urgent = Do it immediately
  • Important, but not Urgent = Defer it (aka place on calendar)
  • Not Important, but Urgent = Delegate to someone else
  • Not Important nor Urgent = Drop it immediately

For a more detailed explanation of the Eisenhower Box, please review this article at the Todoist web site authored by Laura Scroggs. Then go ahead and put it into practice yourself. After all, if it worked for President chances are it will work for you!

Forget about the 5%

As a senior public official for one of the big six Florida Library Systems, I sometimes receive complaints and criticism about my decisions. Even through it is part of the job it is never fun nor easy to endure. Sometimes when my decisions are seen as controversial the feedback can be fierce. Instead of thoughtful communication on their point of view, some people quickly devolve their message into an angry personal attack. For example, someone once accused me of sponsoring terrorism because I issued a statement supporting racial equity which included the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Recently my friend Shola Richards wrote about his own experience facing unjustifiably angry people in his Monday morning newsletter. For someone who has had to endure far more vitriol than I will ever see his perspective on the subject was inspiring.

As a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), it took me a while to get to a place of acceptance when dealing with trolls and haters. After seven years in this game, here is one thing that I know for sure: whether it’s my books, my speeches, my social media content, or the emails that I write to you each Monday, there will always be a percentage of people out there who won’t like me or my content. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them the “5%”.

Later in the newsletter, he shares insight on why it is so important not to give into this toxic group.

The key is remembering that the 5% do not deserve the power to stop us from making the world a kinder and more compassionate place. More importantly, we should focus our energy on the 95% of the people who, at least, are willing to give us a chance to connect in a meaningful way.  Of course, when you get constructive feedback, make sure to listen to it and adjust accordingly whenever appropriate. But the destructive and hateful feedback from the 5%? Yeah, feel free to brush that nonsense aside and keep it moving. As I said in a recent Go Together Movement email–if what you’re doing is not hurting you or anyone else, and it’s bringing you joy, then please keep doing it

To learn more about Shola and to subscribe to his newsletter, please visit his official web site.

Tips for Virtual Speaking

It used to be that many people were afraid to stand up in front of a room to give a presentation. With COVID sidelining most public gatherings, the fears have moved to the virtual realm. On the surface it should seem easier to speak on Zoom. Many virtual participants leave their camera’s off or the presenter can choose to minimize them away. However, this makes for an even more challenging problem: audience disengagement. Virtual speakers have to up their game in order to hold the attention of the audience. In turn, presentations require even more preparation and practice to make them engaging.

To help improve virtual presentations, Ljana Vimont managing director of Stinson Design wrote an article for the web site Presentation Guru. In it she provides ten tips to create and present great virtual presentations. For example, number 5 is:

Involve Your Audience

When you give a live presentation, you probably ask the audience questions, tell them to raise their hands or involve them in some other way to help keep them engaged. The same is true when giving a virtual presentation.

Get comfortable with the presentation software and learn how to ask people to raise their virtual hands and let them know at the beginning of the presentation that you will be calling some of them out and asking them questions. Create a plan for how you will incorporate audience interaction.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Take a look at the other nine tips on the Presentation Guru web site.

Windows of Opportunity

The game show Jeopardy has been in the news this past year for several reasons, the most tragic of which was the passing of longtime host Alex Trebeck. Another reason was their all-time champion competition which crowed Ken Jennings as the show’s greatest winner. This was due in part to him being fast on the buzzer, having a wide range of knowledge, and good game board strategy. Recently Jennings stood in as the first post-Trebeck host. Despite his skills at the game, he is very humble about the streak of 74 games in a row that made him famous. In a recent article on SI profile, Jennings highlighted an important decision that helped him win that first game during final Jeopardy. The answer to the last question (or is the question to the last answer) was Marion Jones. Jennings only wrote “Who is Jones?” which might not have been enough information for the judges to consider it correct. As he says in the SI profile:

“That’s the moment it all hinges on,” says Jennings of the split-second decision to accept a Marion-free Jones. “It’s comforting to think of the world as a meritocracy, that the right people succeed, but that’s not always true. My whole life hinges on whether or not I put a first name down and whether the judge nods right there. I feel extremely fortunate and I think about it literally every day, because I love what I do.”

One of the great mysteries is why some people achieve enormous success while others doing the same thing get very little. Those who thrive usually credit it to their determination, hard work, intelligence, or skill. A few honest people also point to luck as Jennings does above, but it is also more than that. In 2003, Jeopardy eliminated a rule that forced champions to retire after winning five games. When he went on the show in 2004, this rule change allowed him to go on his record winning streak. Compete two years earlier and he would have finished as another anonymous five time champion. Ken Jennings took advantage of a Window of Opportunity.

In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte wrote about how our opportunities are not unlimited. They come in specific Windows of Opportunity, an idea he learned from Space Adventures founder Eric Anderson. As Tiago writes:

A Window of Opportunity, according to Eric, is “A rare set of circumstances and a brief moment of time in which an otherwise impossible outcome is potentially achievable.”

He then shows how understanding this idea can change the perspective on timing when crafting goals.

Windows of Opportunity is a revolutionary way to think about goal-setting, because it recognizes that there is now one factor that is decisive in your ability to reach your goals: timing. Timing has become even more important than vision, hard work, or planning. That “T” at the end of SMART, which stands for “Time-bound,” is no longer an afterthought tacked on at the end – it is the most important element of your goals.

Read the rest of Tiago’s article on the Forte Labs website.

Encouraging Reluctant Leaders

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. However, that does not mean it is only limited to a few brave souls born with the ability. Anyone can learn to lead. However, it is important to recognize that some potential leaders are reluctant to take on the responsibility. Yet with the right encouragement and situation they will step up to the challenge.

In an article from the Harvard Business Review titled Why Capable People are Reluctant to Lead, authors Chen Zhang, Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Susan J. Ashford,and D. Scott DeRue identify three reasons why some people avoid leadership roles. The first has to do with Interpersonal Risk.

Interpersonal Risk: The first concern people mentioned over and over again was that acts of leadership might hurt their relationships with their colleagues. For example, when asked why they were hesitant to step up to lead, one respondent explained that “sometimes you don’t want to risk that friendship and hurt other people’s feelings.” Another said they were afraid that if they stepped up, other people could “start to dislike you and talk about you behind your back.” The fear of leadership harming interpersonal relationships was one of the most consistent themes we found throughout our interviews and surveys.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

The authors proceed to share strategies designed to overcome the concerns, such as this one for risk sensitive colleagues.

Go the extra mile to support your more risk-sensitive colleagues. Our interviews suggest that employees who are earlier in their careers, newer to their teams, and/or of lower rank in the organization’s structure may be particularly sensitive to leadership risks. In addition, prior research has shown that minority gender or ethnic groups are also likely to be more risk-sensitive in many professional leadership contexts. To encourage these employees to push past the additional challenges they face, managers can proactively reach out to them when opportunities arise, explicitly seek their input in key meetings and projects, and publicly praise their leadership contributions in front of senior colleagues.

Read the rest of the article at the Harvard Business Review.

Basecamp’s Written Approach to Communication

It is a cliché nowadays to say how much people hate meetings. However, very few organizations have found a way to successfully avoid having them on a regular basis. It would seem there is a natural tendency for people to come together in a real or virtual room to discuss issues or advance projects. However, some organizations have tried to eliminate meetings by crafting a different priority straight into their DNA.

Basecamp, a company that produces project management and internal communication software, has decided that the company works best when its employees focus on written communication. According to their Guide to Internal Communication:

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time. Internal communication based on long-form writing, rather than a verbal tradition of meetings, speaking, and chatting, leads to a welcomed reduction in meetings, video conferences, calls, or other real-time opportunities to interrupt and be interrupted.

Basecamp Press Resources

Why do they believe long form writing is the better way? It has to do with an understanding that most communication is asynchronous.

Communication shouldn’t require schedule synchronization. Calendars have nothing to do with communication. Writing, rather than speaking or meeting, is independent of schedule and far more direct.

Read the entire Guide to Internal Communication to learn more about how Basecamp encourages employees to keep each other updated on their projects.

Reflections on How to Read Self-Help

Throughout my life I have been a regular reader of self-help books. Whether they spoke about yoga, leadership, productivity, habits, or grit, I often found fascinating tips and tricks to apply. However, there are times when I feel burned out by self-help material. Sometimes it can feel trite or repetitive to the point of annoyance. In down times it makes me wonder whether one can really change at all.

Recently, I was pointed to a fresh understanding of the value of self-help books in an article on Tom Cleveland’s blog called How to Read Self-Help. In the article, Tom reflects on the paradox of people’s feelings towards these books.

We’re embarrassed by self-help, but we’re also attracted to it. We like reading it, but we’re skeptical that it works. We suspect self-help isn’t useful, but every serious list of business books turns out to be comprised entirely of self-help books.

Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

As he explores it further, Tom comes to the realization that that subject of self-help is more complex than it first appears.

I’m going to argue that it’s both. Some self-help is terrible, individualistic hucksterism that the US has exported around the world. But good self-help also exists, and it provides a high-leverage way to lead a better, more fulfilling life.

He then formulates a theory about the way that self-help works. To find out what it is, read the full article.

Making Successful Resolutions

With 2021 a reality, many people around the world made New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions fail to make an impact. According to U.S. News, 80% of people give up on them within six weeks. Does this mean resolutions are useless to make? Not necessarily.

In an article from Forbes Magazine, journalist Jennifer Cohen shares reasons why people fail to achieve their resolutions. In those reasons are embedded ways to make them successful. For example:

We Fail To Pick Realistic Goals

According to Statista, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and eat more healthfully. These are achievable goals, yet so many of us can’t follow through. It’s because we don’t take an approach that’s rooted in reality.

Ask yourself the following question—which goal is more achievable? Losing 100 pounds or cutting refined sugars from your diet? The answer is obvious. If you cut sugar from your diet, you’re more likely to lose weight. 

You should also keep in mind that choosing realistic goals or resolutions and achieving them improves our mindset. Even a small victory is still a victory (like 30 days without sugar) and you end up preparing yourself for a much larger one.

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Not sure what resolution to make? Then you might benefit on a period of structured reflection. The good folks at Getting Things Done created a simple document to guide a review of the past year and to look ahead at the new one. The PDF handout can be found here.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!