Criticism, Intrusion or Help? Decoding Feedback.

Everyone has something they feel the need to tell us at work. And we’re prone to decoding 385688469_50fa8bc03b_mreciprocate.

They may comment on:

  • Our attire, haircut, and interactive style
  • Organizational changes and the risks to us
  • The last presentation we made, data set developed, or marketing idea we created
  • The likelihood of our getting promoted or even downsized

We tend, at first, to take these comments at face value, as part of the background noise of work, until they strike a nerve.

Decoding messages

Workplace savvy is a measure of our ability to correctly decode what we hear and see.

What our colleagues tell us is important. Behind every comment there’s either support, caution, implied criticism, or an offer of help.

We tend to weigh feedback based on who’s giving it: our boss, a coworker we like or one we don’t, the department manager, the HR rep, a customer, or a project team leader.

Consider the following statements as if you were either a hearing them or making them. Each has a positive element but two have a potentially negative undercurrent.

  • Mary, your proposal for using social media to attract younger customers to our new product is a good one. Do you also plan to include messages that will connect with our long-time customers?

          Criticism: If this is feedback from Mary’s boss, there’s a subtle criticism that her                proposal missed a key customer segment.

           Help: If it’s coming from a coworker, it could be considered helpful input to ensure            the proposal’s success.

  • Jacob, I’ve successfully put together Power Point presentations for the VP in the past. Let me finish the one you’re working on to announce the reorganization.

           Intrusion: This coworker is saying, “I know how to do this and you don’t. Give it to             me, so I can be the agent of its success.” I’d be wary of the coworker’s next  step             which may be taking the credit and demeaning Jacob.

  • Paul, the last time there was a safety drill, I had the lead like you do now. Unfortunately, our department didn’t do too well. I learned a lot in the process, so if you’d like to talk over your plan, I’d be happy to share what I learned.

         Help: Here the coworker is reaching out, offering to share her knowledge and           experience so Paul can incorporate it into his plan.

Good feedback is information that enriches our knowledge and perspectives, so we can do a better job.

Decoding intent

Who’s giving the feedback, why , and how determine the way we take it.

I was inspired to write this post while outside spraying herbicide on the grass creeping through the stones on my driveway.

It was another hot, humid day with a forecast of periods of rain.

As I was spraying, an older man in a mid-sized, green pick up stopped in the street across from me.

With a smile and a friendly voice, he said that there was no sense spraying those weeds Sprayer 007when more rain was just going to wash it off.

I’d never met this guy, although I’d been maintaining my farm property for over 25 years.

I told him that I’d had lots of experience killing weeds, the environmentally-friendly material I was using was commercial grade, and that the leaves would absorb it in about an hour. (My feedback to him.)

I too smiled and spoke in a friendly voice.

He smiled again, wished me a nice day, and drove off.

At first, I thought he was just trying to be helpful. Maybe he was.

Then I thought he was actually both critical (“How dumb is that woman using herbicide when it might rain?”) and intrusive (“I’d better stop her from wasting her time and money.”)

Anyway, I kept on spraying and the rain held off as I expected.

Stay savvy.

Things are rarely what they seem. Words have more layers than a chocolate torte. Making sure you understand what’s behind the feedback you receive and the feedback you give enhances your ability to navigate the challenging waters of your career.

Photo by bubbo-tubbo via Photoree

 

5 Ways to Save Yourself from Blind Exuberance | Hold Your Horses

Nothing beats it–that heart-pumping excitement that comes from the prospect of:

  • Landing a great job or promotion
  • Getting an overseas assignment
  • Buying into a promising start up

Our minds are flooded with seductive images of what we can make happen.

That’s all good, except, to be successful, we need to be in touch with our naiveté, replacing it with solid knowledge .

Face what you don’t know.

It’s easy to get sold a bill of goods:

  • The job description isn’t what the job is
  • The promotion is a dead end, not a growth opportunity
  • The start-up was poorly managed so it folded

Our exuberance for an opportunity is often rooted in our emotions, so we’re inclined to make our decisions based on incomplete information.

Career opportunities are, first and foremost, business decisions, so they require the same due diligence as any corporate merger. Your life is your business, remember?

I’ve certainly had plenty of experience reining in my own boundless exuberance throughout my varied career..

I learned the hardest lessons as a race and show horse breeder. My knowledge of the industry was zero before I started. (There’s your first sign!) I’d learned to ride as an adult, did a little showing on my first horse, bought a broodmare, and then a small farm that needed to be made horse-ready. Next I met a work colleague into horse racing and “I was off.”

This experience taught me these five lessons for any career move :

1. Understand the economics: Calculate the hard dollar benefits and exposures over time for any career change you make. Discuss this openly and without discomfort.

I learned: Horses are expensive even when you take care of them yourself: feed, vet care, farriers, trainers, gear, trailering, and endless supplies. There’s no escaping the cost.

2. Assess the physical demands: Be honest about whether or not you are up to the demands of the job over the long haul–the hours, the stress, the travel, the expectations.

I learned: Horses are work every day all year: lugging, lifting, stacking, dodging, restraining, and getting dragged around (mostly by foals). Hurting is a constant.

3. Face your emotions: Determine the level of your self-confidence and self-esteem, tolerance for criticism and disappointment, anticipating exposures that lie ahead.

I learned: Horses die, get severely injured, and often lack needed talent. Making the decision to euthanize a beloved sick or severely injured horse was tormenting. Learning to face reality is one thing; acting on it another.

4. Study the players: Dig into what’s driving your opportunity and who the beneficiaries are if you particpate. Ask probing questions about expectations, authority, and the key players.

I learned: Commercial horse breeding is an industry. Every product (horse) is one of a kind. If you don’t know how to sell or buy, it’s easy to get cheated. And I was, more than once.

5. Analyze the market:  Examine the path ahead and what it will take to get there. Your coworkers and others are also competing for available opportunities, so position yourself for the future. Don’t jump at just anything.

I learned: Horses aren’t easy to sell. The market is glutted, many buyers are clueless, games can be played, and seller “celebrity” often rules. Selling privately is different from selling at auction. In this game, it’s every horseman for him/herself.

Hold your horses.

We all need passion and drive to be successful. That’s how we weather the storms of disappointment and fuel our resilience.

No matter what career you’re in, there are cold hard realities that need to be grasped, managed, and overcome to achieve and advance.

I can remember every “beating” I took in the horse business. Each one left both a welt on my psyche along with a priceless gem of understanding. Some lessons I learned after one whack and others after many. In time, I was able to anticipate the obstacles and side-step them before they got me. I wouldn’t swap the experience and all the joy and excitement for anything.

These lessons are where business savvy comes from. Once you’ve got your arms around them, you can act on your exuberance with confidence. YAY!

How “Now-I-Get-It” Discoveries Expand Career Savvy

Careers are mysterious. We skip naively into them, assuming that our generally optimistic assumptions about the company, our boss, and coworkers are true. Then wham, the gilt flies off the lily.

That’s okay, actually. Careers teach us to pay attention continuously.

A pulse exists below the surface of every business. It may be:

  • Unseen or foreign to us
  • Outside our understanding
  • Separate from the work we perform daily

That pulse drives business all decision-making, actions which include both simple and wildly complex variables.

Directly or indirectly, that business pulse impacts us in ways we either like or don’t. When we “get” what’s going on, we’re better positioned to respond or react in ways that are good for us, building our savvy.

What you see v. what is

Marketing is the juice. The business markets its goods and services for profit; we market our capabilities for reward.

We are also marketing targets even when it’s not obvious that we are. When we feel the pulse of it, we’re likely on the verge of a “now-I-get-it” moment.

Consider this: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but several colleges have stepped out lately  in some wild, new football uniform styles and designs—from helmets to jerseys to shoes.

Journalist Mo Rocca did a piece for the CBS Sunday Morning Program (January 8, 2012) featuring the gridiron wear of the Oregon Ducks who won the Rose Bowl. Rocca’s piece described the Oregon Ducks as looking “less like football players and more like comic book superheroes, sporting mirrored ‘special edition’ helmets that had never been worn before.”

In fact Rocca reports:

This regular season alone, the Ducks wore eight different jerseys, six pants, five helmets and four different shoe and sock colors . . . a staggering number of possible combinations.

The Oregon football team isn’t the only one sporting snazzy new unis: Notre Dame and the University of Maryland did too.

On the surface, you would think the change to more high-tech gear was strictly for on-field performance, safety, and durability. Well, as Coach Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

ESPN’s Paul Lukas explains to Rocca the story behind the new uniforms move:

…when you and I were kids, you couldn’t go and buy a jersey. That market didn’t exist…They hadn’t figured out that someone would drop $200 for a polyester shirt.

And…now that they know people will do that, ‘Well, you already bought this year’s jersey. Well, what if we change our jersey next year?’ You’d go and buy another one.

The “now-I-get-it” discovery is that this change was about merchandizing and not just great TV optics.

Savvy up

There’s a secondary story about most everything in business, that’s why you need to be savvy to the underlying pulse and needs of the company you work for.

Think of the last time you didn’t get hired or promoted. It’s likely the decision wasn’t all about you. The successful candidate may have been:

  • Representative of an under-represented constituency
  • Identified for a growth assignment
  • Someone’s favorite
  • Passed over once before and due a second chance
  • A non-controversial choice

We all want to think hiring is purely about talent and capabilities, but that would deny the existence of the pulse.

Human beings create and lead businesses in service to other human beings who buy from them. The human element creates the pulse. To succeed ourselves, we need to keep our fingers on it!

Photo from Monica’s Dad via Flickr

Career Success Takes Savvy. | Decoding Workplace Behavior

We get disgusted, shake our heads, and feel like we’re being played. But we’re not exactly sure why or how. 

Things happen fast at work. Assignments come in droves, meetings fill our calendars, and coworkers/employees want answers. We sense there’s more going on than meets the eye with no time to figure it out. 

Stop. Look. Listen. 

Your career is you future, so you need to watch over it. Sure, there are plenty of people ready to help you. But there are also others who will gladly put their load on your back or position themselves to overshadow you. 

Sometimes these maneuvers are intentional but, most of the time, they aren’t.

No matter where they come from, you need to identify, define, and counteract them professionally. 

What’s really going on here? 

You need ask yourself this question continually as you move through your workday whether you’re a supervisor, manager, or individual contributor. 

When you get a clear picture of how the behaviors of your coworkers are affecting you and the workplace, then you will know what to do. 

Coworkers showcase lots of wonderful behaviors that can help you and your career. It’s the people who do things for self-serving reasons, things that negatively impact your career, who need to be understood and addressed. 

Consider these situations: 

1. You’re a supervisor with an employee who: 

  • Pesters you continuously for advancement, a different cubicle location, or a better productivity rating
  • Claims certain work isn’t his/her job and tries to delegate it up to you
  • Complains about everything from the temperature in the office to the computer software

 The motivation: I can get what I want because these tactics worked before with a previous supervisor, so they will work again now. 

Your action: Deliver a clear denial of the advancement request, a refusal to accept work delegated up, and an intervention to stop the complaining 

2. You have a coworker who always finds a way to be in the company of internal “movers and shakers.” When there’s a meeting or an event, s/he maneuvers to sit with or talk to them, so others don’t have access. 

The motivation: S/he believes that the appearance of an alliance with key people rubs off, increasing his/her influence and opportunity. 

Your action: Periodically, join in those conversations with leaders (yes, insert yourself!); build alliances of your own that are more subtle and have real substance. 

3. Your colleague asks excessive questions whether you’re together one-on-one or at a meeting. You have another colleague who constantly challenges the logic, viability, and relevance of every new idea or past practice. 

Their motivation: They know that one way to hide their lack of skills and knowledge is to defer action. So they use questions and challenges to appear smart and avoid committing to delivering results, sidestepping accountability. 

Your action: After the questions and/or challenges are presented, ask your colleague(s) to commit to a specific action and give them a time to present the results. Make your own commitment to act, leading by example. 

Build savvy using salve 

Even if your colleagues are pulling the wool over the boss’s eyes, they need to know it’s not working with you. 

Three things are important here: You need to: 

  • See what’s going on around you and how it is affecting your career
  • Counteract behaviors that can/may spill over to you in unwanted ways
  • Let people know that you see what they are doing and are ready to respond 

This isn’t done in a confrontational way. Subtle actions can be very powerful. 

When you’re savvy, you know how to prevent the wrong work from being dumped on you, to build appropriate alliances, and earn respect from your colleagues. 

Please take a minute and make a list of the people who make you shake your head. Then add your observations about their behaviors. Try your hand at tapping into their motivations and taking an action. Now watch your savvy grow.