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how to speak up as a group at work

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I sometimes suggest that letter-writers who are concerned about a problem at work get a group of coworkers to all speak up about it together — because there’s strength in numbers and it can be harder to blow off a group than a single person. But I want to talk more about what that looks like.

The first question is how to get this group together in the first place. This doesn’t have to be a big formal thing where you’re sending memos and organizing clandestine meetings. Just talk to people and see what they think of whatever the issue is, and ask if they’d be willing to join you in asking for it to be reconsidered. For example:

You: “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this new request that we all have our tonsils out in order to cut down on sick days. It seems invasive and wrong to me, and I wondered what you thought of it.”
Coworker: “Yeah, I’m not happy about it either.”
You: “What do you think about several of us going to Jane as a group and pushing back on it? If a group of us spoke up about it, I think she’d take it seriously and we’d have a good chance of getting the policy changed.”
Coworker: “Yeah, I’d be up for that. But would it just be me and you?”
You: “Let me check with a few other people and we can see who else is up for it.”

From there, the group of you talk to your manager or HR or whoever the decision-maker is that you’re trying to influence. Do it in-person, though; this isn’t a memo thing or an email thing.

If you already have regular team meetings, it can make sense to bring it up there while everyone is present, and multiple people can easily chime in.

Or, depending on what the issue is, sometimes it makes more sense for multiple people to each bring it up individually with the manager. If you do that, you can be transparent about the fact that you’ve all talked. You don’t need to make it seem like it’s a coincidence that everyone’s raising it — it’s okay to say “I was talking this over with Jane and Bob and realized I think X.” You generally don’t want to speak for Jane and Bob, but it’s okay to acknowledge that you talked about it, and that that was part of developing your thinking on it.

For something more serious, you might say, “My sense is that a lot of us have concerns about this. Could we set a time to sit down as a group and talk it through?”

In general, though, I wouldn’t recommend having one spokesperson going and talking to the manager one-on-one on the group’s behalf. There might be a rare time when that makes sense, but most of the time it will be less effective. The manager is likely to wonder why a spokesperson was necessary, and how accurately other people’s viewpoints are being represented, and if the person is really speaking for everyone else they say they’re speaking for.

For the same reason, if you’re meeting with your manager (or HR, or whoever) as a group, avoid having one person do all the talking. You don’t want to create the impression that there’s one person who really cares and the rest are just there for moral support. You want multiple people participating in the conversation.

To make sure that happens, be very explicit ahead of time that that needs to happen. Otherwise you may launch in and figure that others will speak up too, but in reality they may sit there silently, figuring that you’ve got it covered. Ask people to agree ahead of time that they’re all going to actively participate so that it doesn’t end up looking they’re not as invested.

In the meeting itself, the basic framework you want is this:
* “We’re concerned about X.”
* “We’re hoping we can share our perspective with you. Here are our concerns.”
* “Given those concerns, can we change the way we’re doing this/can this be reconsidered/would you be willing to try Y instead?”
* “Thanks for hearing us out.”

You don’t want to use this approach for every concern that comes up at work, of course! In most cases, it will make more sense to talk to your manager one-on-one. But when something is a particularly big deal or affects a lot of people, or when your manager has a tendency to personalize disagreement, this is sometimes the most effective way to go.

how to speak up as a group at work was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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pfctdayelise
23 hours ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Add “View Image” back to Google Images

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sorry, copyright maximalists, I can’t live without it

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pfctdayelise
1 day ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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DMack
1 day ago
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RIP google
Victoria, BC

Buzzfeed profiles the Florida teens working to stop mass shootings

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this is amazing

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pfctdayelise
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Melbourne, Australia
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Everything Easy is Hard Again

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Frank Chimero on resisting complexity in modern web design

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pfctdayelise
10 days ago
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I wonder if I have twenty years of experience making websites, or if it is really five years of experience, repeated four times. 

Melbourne, Australia
digdoug
9 days ago
This is a tremendously useful way to put it.
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jlvanderzwan
8 days ago
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> [It's] worthwhile to develop a solid personal philosophy toward change and learning. Silicon Valley has tried to provide a few of these. All are about speed.

> The most famous comes from Facebook, with their “Move fast and break things” mantra. This phrase has been thrown under the bus enough times by now, but it is interesting that so few are willing to commit to its opposite: “Go slow and fix things.”

Writing performance reviews with positive constructive feedback

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Every 6 months at work, I need to write performance reviews for the people I work with (who are all excellent). I find this really hard! Who am I to review how well someone is doing? I’ve only recently started to feel a little more comfortable writing peer feedback, and what’s helped me is to focus on saying things about the person’s work that are both positive and constructive. My goals in writing a performance review are to write something that will be useful for the person to read, and make sure that the higher-ups reading the review understand why that person’s work is important.

It’s very easy to write positive feedback that isn’t useful – “X is so great!” “I love working with X!” “X is one of the best developers I know!”. But positive feedback can (and should!) be useful. My goal is to write really specific positive feedback explaining exactly what about that person’s work is great.

Positive constructive feedback obviously isn’t the only kind of feedback but I find it’s the easiest starting point for me. For a broader view (which also talks about negative feedback) the radical candor blog has some good posts.

Here are 3 strategies for giving useful positive feedback! I obviously didn’t invent any of this – lots of people I work with give feedback in this style.

talk about their strengths!

It’s super useful to highlight what you see as someone’s strengths! Like if you tell someone that you think code review is a huge strength of theirs, it’s a great way to encourage them to continue investing time in code review. For example:

  • X gives extremely useful code review and it helps folks on the team level up
  • X has a lot of expertise in and is great at sharing that expertise which has really helped us move more quickly on Y project
  • X is great at proactively working on systems that aren’t currently on fire, but are going to be on fire in 3-6 months if we don’t intervene. This means that as a team we spend way less time firefighting.

I like to give specific examples of how I see those strengths playing out in practice, like “X is really good at helping figure out tough technical decisions, we were really struggling to figure out what approach to take on Project Y and they asked helpful questions that let us figure it out”.

I also try to be careful about a couple of things – first, I think it’s important to highlight strengths that are actually a key part of the person’s job. If you’re talking about a programmer and your primary feedback is something like “X is really organized”, you can accidentally end up implying that they don’t have other skills that are more directly important to the job. Second, I think about what level the person is at and try to highlight things at the appropriate level. Like the kinds of strengths I’d talk about in an intern are different from what I’d talk about for a senior developer.

talk about their impact!

This is one of my favorite things to talk about! Why is this person’s work important to the organization? Did they do an especially good job on a specific project they worked on?

A few different possible kinds of impact to discuss:

  • X did <specific project> and executed it really well. Here’s why that project is important and some of the specific contributions/decisions they made along the way that I thought were especially good. For example “built especially great tests early on, which helped other folks contribute with confidence” or “did $HARD_THING which normally wouldn’t be part of their job but really helped the project succeed”
  • X helped me a lot, for example “I couldn’t have done project Y without X’s support, they helped me in these specific ways”. 1:1 mentoring is incredibly important but often not that visible to other people, so bringing it up in a perf review helps makes sure it’s recognized.
  • X helps raise our standards as a team in some way, for instance “X knows a lot about accessibility and always brings it up in code review / advises other team members on best practices in a way. Our site would not be as accessible without X’s work.”

Sometimes when doing this I’ll hunt through the person’s pull requests / emails they’ve sent about their work to make sure that there isn’t some Big Important Thing they did 6 months ago that I’ve temporarily forgotten about.

I’ve also started asking “hey, do you have a document listing your recent successes that I can look through to make sure I haven’t forgetten anything?“. Some people keep one, and it’s really helpful when they do!

talk about the future!

In our perf review form there’s a “what could this person be doing better?” section. This is where more negative feedback often goes (“what didn’t go well last year?”). But there’s also a lot of room for positive feedback here! Of course the work this person is doing next year is going to be different from the work they did this year. So how could their next year be even more awesome than this year? What would that look like exactly?

Here are a few possible forms of this:

  • Suggest a specific (maybe ambitious!) goal/milestone that you think would be great to reach.
  • Point out something they’ve been doing in a small way (for example leadership work) and suggest that they do more of that next year.
  • Suggest a focus area – “you’re doing a great job of A, B, and C, and I think focusing more on A next year would be good”
  • Pick something you know the person wants to do/prioritize in the next year (that you agree is important) and suggest that to them!

In general I think the “what could be better?” section is a really great place to affirm / reinforce goals that I know the person has already, as well as to suggest things to them that I think they might like to work towards.

negative feedback shouldn’t show up for the first time in a perf review

Negative feedback is out of scope for this post but one principle I find useful is “don’t bring up negative things for the first time in a performance review”. If I come up with a new thought about something that hasn’t been going well (especially if it’s something I haven’t thought about in depth!), I think it’s better to mention to the person outside of the context of the perf review instead.

My view right now is that poorly-considered negative feedback is much more destructive than poorly-considered positive feedback, so I’m much more likely to include positive observations that I’m not 100% sure of than negative ones. I’ve written a bunch of performance reviews which contain no negative feedback, which I’m fine with. I’d much rather include no negative feedback than negative feedback that’s poorly thought through and unlikely to be helpful.

spending time on feedback is worth it

The perf review feedback form at work says “this should take about 30 minutes”. I don’t really think that’s reasonable – to really make sure I’ve remembered all of the interesting things someone has been up to in the last year I often end up looking through their pull requests, which takes quite a while. I think spending a few solid hours making sure I’ve really thought through the person’s contributions, what impact they’ve been having on the team/company, and what awesome things they could be doing next year is a good use of time.

I really appreciate it when I get really thoughtful + insightful feedback about my work from other people, and if I can do that at all for someone else I think that’s a really good thing.

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pfctdayelise
10 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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fxer
10 days ago
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"negative feedback shouldn’t show up for the first time in a perf review"
Bend, Oregon

men compliment my handshake

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A reader writes:

I’m hoping you can shed some light on the phenomenon I describe below. It doesn’t bother me in any real way, it’s just so recurrent and increasingly out of place that I’m curious if this is a common experience shared by professional women, young professionals, or all people with a good handshake. I’ve been feeling mildly patronized by it these past few years, and I’d like to know if that’s justified or not. For my own peace of mind, I just want to know if I get to be secretly mildly annoyed by this or if I can brush that invisible chip off my shoulder.

In my life it is an extremely frequent occurrence that men, after shaking my hand upon introduction, will immediately compliment me on my handshake. For the first few years, I figured that I got this so frequently because I started working in office/clinical environments in my late teens and it was a case of older professionals being pleasantly surprised and/or wanting to reinforce good behaviors in a young employee. I thought nothing more of the compliments than, “Huh, nice.”

Fast forward to today. I’m now 26 years old and employed as a traveling project implementer/manager. Incidentally, I love my job. Anyway, I’m almost a decade older than when I first entered the workforce and my current position is clearly (given my company’s relationship to our clients) the result of a series of promotions. However, the frequency of men commenting that I have a good handshake when we’re introduced has not diminished in the slightest. Also, it’s always men who give me positive feedback on my handshake; a woman has never once commented on my grip. In contrast, I just had a new contract meet and greet and I probably got a “nice handshake” comment from four or five men in the two days I was around.

It’s not a big deal at all, and it’s something I’d never bring up at work because it’s entirely a non-issue. But it’s odd, right? And as I’ve crept on in years and up the ladder somewhat, increasingly I’ve been feeling mildly patronized when it happens. It has never occurred to me to comment on the handshakes of people I meet at work (although I do think … things … about some, of course). I’m kind of wondering right now how a male client would react if, upon meeting, I shook his hand and said, “Good handshake.” It’s just weird. A non-issue, yes, totally, but I’d like to know from an experienced businesswoman: Am I getting these extremely frequent comments because I’m a woman or because I’m still relatively young? Or, alternatively, do men frequently respond this way to anyone who happens to have an excellent handshake, female/male/young/old/whatever and I can brush that chip off my shoulder?

It’s because you’re a woman, and it’s particularly because you’re a young woman. People are often patronizing to women of all ages, but young women get a particularly heavy share of it.

The subtext for complimenting a woman on her handshake is “good for you, doing a manly and thus impressive thing I didn’t expect of you.” It’s a patronizing head pat — a compliment that’s given mainly to kids and to grown women.

That’s not to say that the men doing the complimenting intend that as their message — but that does seem to be where it’s coming from, whether they’ve examined that or not. And that’s probably why it bothers you.

I crowdsourced this on Twitter to see if perhaps I was wrong about this and if men are in fact getting lots of compliments on their handshakes from other men. The response from men was mainly “never” or “rarely, and it’s a little weird when it happens” or “when I was 11 and shaking hands with my uncle.” The response from women was mainly “it happens to me a lot.”

So yeah. Add this the annals of weird handshake-related behavior, this time with a sexist twist.

men compliment my handshake was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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pfctdayelise
20 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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