Two women seated facing eachother intense conversation

How to give feedback to peers at work without offering insult

A peer of mine, “Bruce,” was up for promotion. As part of his assessment, I was asked to provide 360° feedback for him, contributing to the confidential feedback alongside his boss, peers, and subordinates.

I liked and respected Bruce, and for the most part my feedback was very positive. But in the comments section I wrote:

“Bruce often gives me critical feedback or advice which I have not requested. I’m sure his intention is good, but it feels somewhat demeaning. He is my peer, not my boss. If I want feedback I will ask him for it. I think this behavior may undermine his effectiveness as a colleague and a leader.”

Two women standing talking holding coffee

How to motivate employees without raises? Ask them.

Many of my clients are struggling right now with how to motivate their employees (and sometimes themselves). Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and Delta is not helping anything. Masks? Vaccination passports? Are you kidding me? We are so done with all of that. But it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.

On top of that, people are just generally tired. Many of us have been working extra hard under very difficult conditions for the past 18 months. We’d like to see some reward and appreciation for all that effort, and it sometimes seems to be in short supply.

It’s all adding up to a lot of churn right now. People stayed in their jobs during the pandemic, even if they were not happy, because many felt lucky to have a job at all. But now the floodgates have opened, and people are switching jobs all over the place. A lot of those people are the most talented, high-performing employees that companies want to hang on to. 

work from home or in the office debate

Why a rigid work-from-home policy might mean more freedom

All the business leaders I talk with these days are struggling with the same issue: Whether and how to bring their employees back into the office.

Some are firmly convinced that everyone needs to come back full-time right now. Others are equally convinced that employees should be granted total flexibility — come in when you want and as much or as little as you want. Many are somewhere in between these two extremes. And almost everyone is feeling confused and uncertain about what is best.

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. In each company, it takes a unique set of circumstances to retain your best people while maximizing the good work you get out of them. Still, there are a few guidelines to keep front-of-mind.

Getting the benefits of coaching in the workplace firsthand

I had been a therapist for a few years when my mentor gave me a stern challenge. “Gail,” she said. “You cannot be a top-notch therapist until you have spent some time in your own therapy!” She gave me two reasons for this dictum. First, it’s important for therapists to unpack their own emotional baggage, so that it doesn’t get in the way of being fully available and empathic to their clients. Second, therapists need to know what it feels like to be a client, so they don’t do dumb things that get in the way of their client’s healing.

To be honest, I wasn’t very open to her suggestion. I had a good life, I was a happy person, I had a wonderful family and friends — why did I need to see a therapist? But I really respected her opinion, so I decided to give it a try. And she was right. It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life, both personally and professionally.

keyboard on fire

Why a mean email is the wrong way for leaders to give negative feedback

A long time ago I had to work with a very frustrating administrative assistant. I was a relatively new consultant and as far as she was concerned, it was way below her dignity for her to provide support to the likes of me. One day she said to me, “I am corporate and you are small business.” She was an expert at playing passive-aggressive games, like preparing documents for me at the very last minute before I had to go into a meeting. 

Frankly, she drove me crazy. I used to lie awake nights trying to figure out how to deal with her. I mean, for goodness sake, I’m a psychologist! And I’m generally regarded as pretty easy to work for. Surely I could fix this problem.

Why use a business adviser? For the outside perspective

The top company executives had been interviewing candidates for the CFO role. They found someone they really liked and were convinced he was the right guy for the job. In fact, they were already driving him around the town to show him attractive neighborhoods where his family could live. By the time they asked me to interview and assess the candidate, his hire was all but a done deal. I was just answering a few last-check questions: Was he the right leader for the job? Would he be a good fit with the company culture?

Man looking out window while working at computer

4 observations on returning to the office and the 3D world

We’re all old hands at virtual work by now. That technology that seemed impossible a year ago? We’ve figured it out. Working with kids and pets underfoot? No problem. Avoiding going into the kitchen for a snack every half-hour? Well, maybe that one we’re still working on.

And now we’re starting to think about returning to the office and the world of 3D work. Many of us are vaccinated and itching to get back to in-person collaboration. Others have found working from home (WFH) quite satisfying and aren’t quite so thrilled at the prospect of putting our business “uniforms” back on and heading out into the world of face-to-face interactions.

Man on walking steps confidently wearing a fashionable suit

How to build self-confidence at work in 5 steps

Reading an article about how to build self-confidence at work recently, I stopped on the first piece of advice: “Believe in yourself.” If you believe in yourself, you don’t need to be reading an article about self-confidence. You’re already there.

After decades of working with clients who lack self-confidence, both as a therapist and later as a coach, I have learned there are five actual steps people can take to become more self-confident. 

Various colors of sewing thread organized on a board

Career inspiration: 7 lessons from an artist’s journey

There’s a mind-blowing new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bisa Butler: Portraits. Butler creates enormous, extraordinary portraits of Black Americans, using elaborate quilting techniques to piece together brilliantly colored pieces of fabric. I have admired beautiful quilts for years, but I have never seen anything remotely approaching the artistry and impact of Butler’s work.

Who is Bisa Butler? The story of her career so far provides some valuable guidance in how to succeed at the career you were born for.

Child with a jacket sticking their tongue out mockingly

Bad behavior at work sets the culture. What will you tolerate?

Once in a while, someone shares a quote with me that captures an essential piece of wisdom. Today it was a line from Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker: “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”

Isn’t that annoying? Don’t you wish the culture was shaped by people’s best behavior? But having observed hundreds of organizational cultures, I know the quote is true. That’s why the “No Jerks” rule many companies have adopted is so important. 

Of course, the challenge then is to define what being a “jerk” looks like. That will vary from one setting to another. But nonetheless, in any organization there have to be limits on what behavior is tolerated.

woman in front of computer with confused face

Embracing Zozobra: A word for when two truths collide

If you read my blog regularly, you know I love finding a new word that has a special, unique meaning. I have written past columns about bricolage, JOMO, mentern, and sprezzatura. Today I have another discovery to share with you – “zozobra.” It is a Mexican Spanish word that means anxiety – anxiety of a specific kind.

I found the word in an article in the Chicago Tribune on November 3 by Francisco Gallegos and Carlos Alberto Sanchez. They explain that zozobra is the anxiety that results from being unable to settle into a single point of view. It is related to the Spanish verb “zozobrar,” which means to wobble or capsize. It is a feeling of instability, uncertainty, and unfamiliarity. It may result from finding that fundamental “truths” you depend on are not as solid as you thought.

view above meeting table with two hands shaking

The psychology of navigating successful M&A transactions

I am invited to a lot of networking events with M&A (merger and acquisition) advisors, PE (private equity) investors, and other deal-making types. It’s a fascinating world, and I enjoy talking with people whose language, leadership style, and goals are often very different from mine. I am often the only management psychologist in the room. People are mildly interested and polite, but for the most part they don’t really “get” the kind of work I do or why they should care about it.

In a recent small meeting with a number of M&A advisors and PE folk, however, my experience was different. The topic was “What is going on and what is the outlook for your industry?” Each of us talked a little about the work we do and what was new, exciting, or challenging. To my surprise, after I spoke many of the others started asking me about my work and my observations of the leadership landscape in the current context. That had never happened before in a meeting like this.