Leading with Trust

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

10 Questions Great Bosses Regularly Ask Their People

Great leaders ask great questions.

Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.

If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:

1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).

3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.

4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.

5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?

6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.

7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.

9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).

10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.

Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.

How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

Biggest Mistake Leaders Make - Section 1Over 1,400 people were presented a list of common leadership mistakes and were asked to select the top five. Two of them stood out clearly from the rest: Not providing appropriate feedback was chosen by 82%, with failing to listen or involve others a close second, chosen by 81%. (Failing to use an appropriate leadership style, failing to set clear goals and objectives, and failing to develop their people rounded out the respondents’ top five things leaders most often fail to do when working with others.)

Why is that? Well, one obvious reason is most managers receive little to no training when they move into a supervisory role. One study suggests most managers don’t receive any training until 10 years into their career and research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 47 percent of organizations do not have a formal training program in place for new managers. Clearly many new managers aren’t getting the training they need to succeed in their roles. (If that’s you or your organization, check out our new First-Time Manager training program.)

A second, and no less obvious reason, is that giving feedback can be difficult and scary. Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts andFeedback details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

Top 7 Posts in 2015: Why it’s Hard to Trust People, Good Bosses vs. Bad Bosses, and More!

Top 7As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.

This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

7th Most Popular Post: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” — Originally published in 2013 for the Thanksgiving holiday, this post has stood the test of time. Check it out for creative ideas on how to recognize and reward employees.

6th: The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening — Listening is one of the most neglected leadership skills yet it is key to building high trust relationships with your followers.

5th: Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do — The best leaders make it easy for people to follow them. Here are 10 leadership practices you should consider.

4th: 8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss — Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, this post explores eight ways that distinguish whether you are a good boss or a bad one.

3rd: Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead — This post discusses the one thing that is a better indicator of an employee’s contribution in place of the traditional performance review.

2nd: 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships — Low trust rears its head in predictable ways and this post from May 2014 clues you in on the warning signs.

and the #1 most popular post in 2015…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears – 4 Tips to Build Trust

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do

Easy Way or Hard Way“He’s a pretty easy guy to follow.”

That was the response from a friend when we were recently talking about how much she enjoys her job. She’s worked with this person for several years, they have a great rapport, and she loves her work. She said the fact that her boss is easy to work with is a primary reason for her success and job satisfaction.

Her statement got me thinking about my own leadership. Am I easy to follow? I’d like to think so, but of course, the only real opinion that matters is that of my team members. Considering leadership in general, what makes a person easy to follow? I think the answers are pretty straight forward and common sense, but often not common practice because our own personality quirks and baggage get in the way.

As I’ve considered this question, the following 10 leadership practices have come clear to me as characteristics of leaders who are easy to follow:

1. Be nice – It’s kind of sad this has to be called out but it does. Too many leaders are jerks. They let power go to their heads and think they have the right to lord it over their people. Don’t do that, please. Just be nice. Smile every once in a while. Say please and thank you. Ask people how their day is going. It doesn’t cost you a dime to be nice and you’ll be amazed at how much more engaged and productive your team will be if you treat them nicely.

2. Give people your time – The greatest gift you can give your people is a few minutes of your time. Leaders like to say they have an open door policy, but is that the case with you in reality? When people stop by your office, do you stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention, or do you ask them to schedule a meeting with you for the following week? Does everyone on your team know without a doubt that they can meet with you regarding any topic, or are there barriers (real or imagined) between you and your employees that prevent them from opening up to you? Giving people the gift of your time shows you value, respect, and genuinely care about them. I know from experience that the larger your team the harder this is to accomplish. Get creative by scheduling regular communication forums (quarterly meetings, town hall meetings, etc.) and make sure you leave enough white space on your own calendar to be available for those impromptu drop-in meetings. We often over-schedule ourselves to the point where we don’t have any availability for our own team members.

3. Don’t expect everyone to be like you – This can be challenging, particularly for leaders who have personalities that favor perfectionism. It’s great to have high expectations for yourself; that’s probably what helped you rise to a leadership position. It’s good to have high expectations for your staff as well, but remember, they may not do things exactly the way you would. Give people the freedom to be who they are and leverage their strengths to help them achieve their goals and those of the team. Don’t try to make them your personal mini-me’s.

idea light bulb4. Solicit and incorporate people’s ideas – Many leaders are great at asking for ideas; only a few actually do anything with them. One of the quickest ways to alienate your team members is to tell them you want to hear their ideas and are open to feedback, but not actually do anything with it when it’s shared with you. Incorporate the ideas of your team members into your action plans and they’ll be invested in the success of your team. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

5. Be good at what you do – This one may see odd, but people want to follow leaders who are good at what they do. Set a good example for your team by continually improving your skills, both in your technical role as well as your leadership skills. Many people get promoted into a leadership role because they were star performers in their role as an individual contributor. Leadership is a whole different skill set so be sure to focus on developing the skills and abilities that will help you lead effectively.

6. Empower people – Empowerment was a popular buzz word in the 90’s and soon fell out of favor, however, the concept is still valid and effective. Good leaders establish the boundaries of the playing field for their team members, make sure everyone is clear on the rules and objectives, and then let them play the game. They don’t micromanage and dictate how the work should be done, but they manage to the outcome of what needs to be done.

7. Recognize and reward good performance – Leaders who are easy to follow are experts in finding people doing something right. They take the time to acknowledge the good performance of their team members and to celebrate their (and the team’s) success. When I conduct training sessions with clients and this topic comes up, I will frequently ask participants to raise their hand if they are sick and tired of all the praising they receive at work. No one ever raises their hand. People crave hearing positive feedback about their hard work.

trust8. Treat people with respect and create an environment of trust and safety – The spirits of too many people die at the office door each morning because they dread their work environment. No  one should have to feel bullied, intimidated, or afraid to go to work. It’s the leader’s job to foster an environment of trust and safety that allow team members to unleash their power and potential for the good of themselves and the organization.

9. Show a sense of humor; make work fun – Making work fun and showing a sense of humor is a hallmark of leaders who are easy to follow. They create a sense of camaraderie within the team and keep the mood light when times get tough. They know how to take work seriously but themselves lightly. Showing a sense of humor and laughing at yourself once in a while shows your vulnerability and authenticity that draw people to you, not away from you.

10. Maintain perspective on the most important priorities in life – Work is important; life is more important. Easy to follow leaders maintain the proper perspective about what’s most important in life. These kinds of leaders understand they have to lead the whole person, not just the worker who shows up to do a job eight hours a day. Kids get sick, employees have personal challenges, life happens….good leaders understand this and are sensitive to the needs of their team members. Show a little compassion and understanding with your team members and you’ll earn their loyalty, trust, and commitment.

Leadership is a complex proposition, but it doesn’t have to complicated. It’s these common sense principles that help us be successful leaders, if only we can get out of our own way.

What else would you add to this? What makes a leader easy to follow? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas.

The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening

listeningThink of the best boss you’ve ever had. What was it about that person that made him or her your best boss? Did you trust them? Probably. Did they care about you? Very likely. Was he or she a great listener? Almost certainly.

Listening is one of the most underrated and unappreciated leadership skills. Many leaders don’t put any intentional effort into how they listen to their people. They just assume “it happens.” I mean, come on, right? You have ears…the other person talks…you listen…then reply with what you want to say because usually that’s more important than what the other person has to say anyway, right? Wrong.

Being an effective listener is one of the quickest ways to build trust with your people. People trust leaders who take the time to hear their ideas and empathize with their concerns. It’s also one of the best opportunities to learn what’s going on in your business and influence the activities of your team members. You can’t know what’s happening on the front lines unless you ask questions and listen to the responses.

Becoming a good listener doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time and effort to listen effectively, and in order to become a great listener, you have to practice the five fundamentals of listening.

The Five Fundamentals of Effective Listening

1. Attending to Nonverbal Behaviors – Your nonverbal behaviors tell the speaker you are either interested and comprehending what is being said or you are disinterested and would rather be somewhere else. Are you smiling and nodding in understanding or are you yawning, scowling, or staring the person down? Is your body position leaning in to the conversation to show you are engaged or are you leaning back with your arms folded indicating you’re feeling defensive? Your body language should communicate “Go ahead, I care, I’m listening.”

2. Asking Questions – The best leaders ask questions – lots of them. But not all questions are created equal and different types of questions serve different purposes. Open-ended questions encourage the speaker to share more information and go deeper in the conversation. Clarifying questions help you understand the full context of what is being shared whereas prompting questions encourage the speaker to reflect deeper on their own thoughts. Close-ended questions allow you to limit the conversation or find out specific information and leading questions allow you to bring the conversation to a close.

3. Reflecting Feelings – Reflecting feelings is the skill of capturing the speaker’s feelings and restating them in nonjudgmental terms. It demonstrates to the speaker that you are aware of the emotion behind the content of what is being shared. Using phrases such as “It sounds like you’re really _______” (frustrated, angry, sad, etc.) or “I can sense your _______ (apprehension, anxiety, pride, etc.)” indicates you are empathizing with the speaker which allows him/her to trust you more and share more information.

4. Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing demonstrates that you heard and understand what was being shared. The basics of paraphrasing include restating key words or phrases, following the speaker’s sequence, listening to understand, and showing empathy. You don’t want to robotically repeat what the speaker said verbatim, twist the speaker’s words, or prejudge the situation.

5. Summarizing – Summarizing is the skill of being able to concisely recap what the speaker said over a longer period of time. The exact words aren’t as important as capturing the key ideas, feelings, or action items that were shared. It can help to take notes, summarize periodically throughout the conversation, and to follow the order and sequence of information shared by the speaker. Don’t act like a parrot and repeat the exact words shared or add your own conclusions to the summary.

These five fundamentals may seem like no-brainers, but the truth is that most leaders don’t do them very well, or even at all. Just like a professional athlete continuously practices the fundamentals of his/her sport, leaders should continually practice these fundamentals of listening.

Surviving Friendly Fire: 8 Tips for Dealing with Unfair Criticism

criticismSooner or later…sooner if you’re in a leadership position…you will get wounded by “friendly fire”— unfair criticism from a boss or colleague.

Friendly fire comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it shows up in your annual performance review when the boss rates you as failing to meet expectations in an area of performance where you had no idea you were falling short. Other times friendly fire shows up when a colleague criticizes you in an effort to deflect attention from his/her own shortcomings. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, friendly fire hurts. It erodes trust between people, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork. You can’t control when friendly fire comes your way, but you can choose how to respond. Here are 8 tips on how to survive friendly fire:

1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: the way you choose to respond to friendly fire will greatly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behavior goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day all they have is their integrity.

2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to the unjustified criticism (similar to responding to a loaded question like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”). Getting passionately fired up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the accuser and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.

3. Listen to understand; not to rebut or defend – Our most common instinct when we experience friendly fire is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to defend ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being communicated and instead focus on the macro implications of the criticism. Even if the specific accusations of the criticism are off-base, there may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the broader message.

4. Acknowledge any truth that is present – Agreeing with any valid part of the criticism is a way to acknowledge you’re hearing the feedback without agreeing to the entirety of what’s being communicated or beating yourself up over the situation. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth present in friendly fire and it may be an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself or the other person. If there are elements of the criticism that are blatantly not true, state your differences in a respectful and professional way without getting into a debate parsing the details.

5. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice when it comes to unfair criticism. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioral patterns, then you have more evidence to discredit their feedback. However, if the person delivering the criticism is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has been personally supportive of you in the past, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.

6. Probe for root causes – What’s being communicated in friendly fire is often symptoms of a deeper problem or issue. When you encounter friendly fire, ask open-ended questions or statements like “Tell me more…,” “Explain why that’s important to you…,” or “What is the impact of that?” Asking a series of “why?” questions can also help you discover the root cause of the issue.

7. Understand their world – To understand a person’s motivation for being unfairly critical, it’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Organizational change brings out the snipers and friendly fire increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defense mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that friendly fire is often more about them than you.

8. Remember that you are more than the criticism – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience friendly fire. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when we have a boss or colleague criticize our efforts it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional make up, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, just to name a few. Remember that this too shall past, and in the big scheme of things this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.

As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Getting wounded by criticism stinks; there’s no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defense against friendly fire.

How do you deal with unfair criticism? Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom with others.

Santa Reveals His 7 Secrets for Building a High Performing Team

santa thumbs upToiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.

Every year Santa is gracious enough to take time out of his crazy schedule to share some of his leadership wisdom with me. In previous years he’s shared five keys to effective delegation, three lessons about motivation, and the fundamentals of leadership success. In our most recent meeting, held at a local Starbucks over a hot cup of Christmas Blend coffee, Santa shared his seven secrets for building a high performing team.

Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!

Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?

Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.

Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?

Santa: The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.

Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?

Santa: The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.

Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!

Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.

Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?

Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.

Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.

Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.

Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.

Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!

8 Essentials of an Effective Apology

I'm Sorry HandsI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 25 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 25 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Five Ways to Rapidly Increase Trust in Your Relationships

Trust Magnified“Trust takes a long time to build and just a moment to destroy.” You’ve probably heard that old adage before, haven’t you? Well, it’s not true.

Like many aphorisms, there is an element of truth to the saying as it applies to certain situations, but the statement itself is not an absolute truth when it comes to trust. Trust can be built very quickly (consider the trust you place in a surgeon, whom you’ve never met, performing emergency surgery on you) and be one of the most resilient forces in any relationship (think of the number of times you’ve eroded trust with a family member yet trust continues to survive).

When it comes to building trust in relationships, not all behaviors are created equal. What I mean by that is certain behaviors contain more “oomph” when it comes to building trust; they help trust develop faster. Much like a weightlifter increases his intake of protein to help fuel muscle development, people interested in rapidly building trust can leverage these five, high-trust behaviors:

1. Extend trust – Trust is reciprocal. One person gives it, another receives it and gives it back in turn. Since someone has to make the first move, why not you? It’s hard for people to trust you if you aren’t willing to trust them. Trust involves risk, and if you wait for a time when there’s no risk in a relationship, you’ll never trust. Be smart about who you extend trust to and how much you give, but don’t be afraid to make the first move.

2. Listen without judgement – Think of the people you’ve trusted most in your life. There’s a good chance that most, if not all of them, were people who listened to you when you were frustrated, angry, upset, or just needed someone to talk to. They didn’t condemn you for the way you were feeling but listened to your concerns and offered appropriate and timely counsel, without judgement or blame. Listening shows you care for people and is a critical component of building trust.

3. Show care and concern – As mentioned above with listening, demonstrating care and concern in relationships is critical to building trust. You can trust people you don’t know based on their expertise, but trust really accelerates when a genuine personal relationship is established. Take the time to truly build a personal relationship with others and you’ll see trust skyrocket.

4. DWYSYWD – Do What You Say You Will Do. Consistent, reliable, and dependable behavior is at the core of building trust. Follow through on commitments. Keep your promises. Be on time. Meet deadlines. It sounds simple enough, but unfortunately these commonsense basics are often the very behaviors we neglect the most. DWYSYWD and trust will blossom.

5. Admit your mistakes – Combined with number 4, admitting your mistakes is one of the most high-powered, trust-building behaviors you can use. Why is that? It shows your sense of humility and authenticity when you own up to your mistakes. It demonstrates to people that you are secure in yourself and you respect others enough to be up front and honest. Showing a little vulnerability goes a long way in building trust.

I’m not suggesting you use these behaviors in a manipulative fashion in order to further your own selfish agenda. Too many crooked politicians, televangelists, and corporate barons have already laid claim to that tactic. However, for people genuinely interested in building trust, these five behaviors can supercharge your relationships to new and higher levels.

What are your thoughts? Are there other behaviors you’ would add to this list to rapidly build trust? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

%d bloggers like this: