human resources

How do I give negative feedback without making people defensive?

Occasionally my readers will send me requests for topics they would like to see me write about on my blog. The following is a question from a reader.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Photo Credit: Pexels

Dear Tara,

I’m looking at a new job promotion in a leadership role. At this time I feel I need help learning how to speak to people respectfully and without sounding bossy. To be honest, I am scared people won’t listen to me when I try to help them make their jobs better.


Compassionate Leader

Dear Compassionate,

Congratulations on taking the next step in your career! It is wonderful that you have such a big heart and you want to help develop your employees so they can succeed in their roles. A lot of times we worry about sounding bossy or disrespectful because we have had managers who made us feel disrespected when we have received negative feedback in the past. This is referred to as a fear based leadership style. It is very hierarchical and designed to make employees produce quality work out of fear of being reprimanded. It doesn’t leave employees feeling motivated, uplifted, or competent.

There are many things you can do to create a different workplace experience for your staff. The first thing is to recognize that you don’t want to lead in this way, which you have already done by asking for help. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It sounds like you want to make people feel respected, comfortable talking to you and asking for help, and motivated to improve upon their work.

If you continue to base your leadership style off of your past experiences and you focus on being afraid of being bossy, then your natural response will be to avoid communication until it becomes a big enough issue that the conversation will be punitive for the employee. Ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy for the exact scenario you want to avoid. This is a common occurrence when we have the best intentions and we don’t have the framework, the experience, or the skills to be able to change the way we want to be perceived. That also means you have to be willing to go outside of your comfort zone (and stay there consistently, especially when it gets really uncomfortable) to initiate these difficult conversations.

One way you can consistently communicate with your staff is through scheduling regular, expected times to meet with them. This can be done through team meetings after the completion of a project to evaluate its effectiveness, monthly staff meetings to discuss whether or not monthly goals have been met, and one on one meetings with your team leaders. If you have a large staff, it may not be possible to meet one on one with employees often (such as monthly) so in these cases, you will want to make sure you call meetings with them for positive reinforcement just as much as constructive feedback. You will know best what will work within your organization for delivering feedback when it comes to how it is delivered and how often. The important part is that you manage expectations for how this will be done so it is a habit and becomes part of the culture.

If you are working your way up through the company it is also highly likely that you have a good understanding of the work your employees are being expected to do. It’s important as a leader to be able to put yourself in their shoes and see the situation through their eyes. If you aren’t sure about what it is like to be in their shoes then it doesn’t hurt to ask open ended questions to clarify where a breakdown in the system, the employee’s education, or the communication may be occurring. This will also help you collect more information about the situation so you can give feedback that is both relevant and easy to understand by your employee.

If you aren’t in the habit of initiating a conversation where you give feedback, it can be difficult to change for both you and your employees. Since you are planning to start a new position in management, it will be important for you to manage expectations from the beginning about how you want to communicate with your employees. This means you will want to encourage employees to evaluate their progress during and at the end of specific projects as well as after taking on any new responsibilities. Get in the habit of making everything an opportunity for growth, development, and learning by including questions like “What are some areas for improvement or growth?” or “What can we learn from this experience?” The intention behind those questions doesn’t have to be pointing out when something goes wrong.

Lastly, you want to assume your employees didn’t wake up that morning and say, “I hope I go to work today and do a really bad job so my boss yells at me.” Give them the benefit of the doubt, allow them to try to improve upon the situation, and communicate openly along the way so they can be successful in turning the situation around before it gets to a point where you have to give a warning or document that they are not performing. Then if you do have to get to a point where you need to write up an incident, it will not catch them off guard and trigger a defensive response.

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How I Negotiated a 40% Increase in Salary

...and was offered a job doing something I had never done before.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Photo Credit: Pexels

When I found myself living in a city I no longer wanted to live in, ending a relationship I no longer wanted to be in, and wanting to quit a job that no longer fulfilled me, I chose to give it all up and start fresh. While I wouldn’t recommend hitting rock bottom in your love life, career, and home life all at once, it was the push I needed to be honest with myself about what I wanted. I put all of my belongings into a storage unit and moved to New York City with a temporary job, a three month plan, and a few suitcases.

My first week at my new job, I made sure I told my manager that I would be okay with extending my contract from three months to six months because that was the amount of time I wanted to stay in the city. I remember the Brooklyn native looking at me and saying, “Let’s just see how the next three months go.” Challenge accepted! I made a point to be the most helpful, punctual, efficient employee he had ever seen and halfway through my contract he offered to extend my time working for him.

My three month plan had now turned into a six month plan.

It was about two weeks before my contract was ending that I started to feel a pit in my stomach. I was dreading leaving New York. Friends were reaching out to me asking if I was going to be sad to leave, my recruiter was asking me where he could place me next and my employer had already found someone to replace me at the end of my current contract. Not to mention, I was staying with a generous friend who had offered me up her couch during this time and I needed to find a new place to live.

I started looking for apartments first because I had no idea what my salary needed to be in order for me to be able to afford to stay in the city. Once I knew where I wanted to live, I started looking for jobs where I could make enough money to be able to afford to live here. I found one job with my current employer in a management role doing things I had never done before.

"That's the one!" I said to myself.

The next day I went and spoke to my current manager and told him I was planning to stay. I said I knew he had already replaced me in my current role and I wanted to apply for a different job. I showed him the job description and asked him if he knew the hiring manager. He said he might be able to find out who it was. So I asked him if I could send him my resume and cover letter to forward along just in case. He said he would be happy to help me.

That afternoon I sent him my cover letter and resume and, to my surprise, he wrote back and said he was hiring for an assistant manager role and he would love to have me apply for it. He also said he would send my information along to the hiring manager for the original position I wanted to apply for.

I ended up interviewing for both roles through three rounds of interviews each. The first interview was with human resources, the second interview was with the hiring manager and the third interview was a panel interview.

I was offered both positions and, in the end, had them in a salary bidding war over who would win me over.

Here are 5 things you can do to prepare for your next job interview so you can manage expectations of your salary from the beginning:

1.     Research what the salary range is for the position you are applying for. If it is not available online, ask! I asked the recruiter at the company what the typical range was for the role. She didn't want to tell me and replied, "It varies based on years of experience." I did know how much similar positions paid in other major cities where the cost of living was lower so I threw those numbers out there as an example, and prefaced my response with the fact that the cost of living is different and I am new to New York.

2.     Know your bottom line. I wrote myself a fake job offer letter on the letterhead for the company I wanted to work for congratulating me on accepting the position for the exact amount of money I wanted to make and I carried it around in my purse. I was so clear about what I wanted before I actually had to ask so that when it came time to say it out loud I sounded pretty confident.

3.     Be vocal about your expectation for your salary. In my first interview with the recruiters, they both asked me the salary I was expecting. I added 25% to what my bottom line was and they both sounded surprised by the number I told them. By the time I got to my job offer phone call, I ended up getting the exact amount of money I had written on my job offer letter. Knowing I had told them a higher number, I made sure to ask about incentive bonuses or other benefits that were important to me to bridge the gap between my inflated initial request and the salary they had offered me just to be sure I was getting the best possible offer.

4.     Justify the salary you want by listing your transferable skills from other jobs you’ve highlighted on your resume. While I may have told them my expectation for my salary, I also had specific examples of relevant transferable skills I had used in previous jobs that were highlighted on my resume that I could also apply to the new role I was applying for. I hinted at these in my cover letter and was prepared to explain them in my interview.

5.     Be able to explain gaps in employment or frequent job changes. While switching jobs is a nice transition to a higher salary, it can also look negative to a hiring manager. I was not an ideal employee for them because they were looking for someone who was going to stay with the company for a long time. I have changed jobs every 8 months to three years since I graduated from college, plus I was not originally from New York City so they didn’t have a lot of faith that I would stay with the company. I told them I was interested in growth and I wanted to use this role as a stepping stone to a bigger role in the future. I also mentioned the possibility of going back to school for my MBA and if an opportunity was available when I graduated to advance with this company I would definitely be interested.

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