Back Pocket Coach Strategy #7: May I give you some feedback?

Delivering feedback is not an easy process, and it is even more challenging when the message is potentially negative.  Just the thought of this type of conversation commonly evokes emotional turmoil for both the giver and receiver. Frustrations with an employee, boss, colleague, or other that are not addressed can lead to apathy and an “it’s never going to change” mindset that demoralizes you and others. And, if the situation has existed for awhile, you may need more than one conversation to resolve it.

Also consider that the individual may have no clue there is a concern, because no one has really given him feedback. You or someone else might have hinted, but how clear was the message, and how self-aware is he?

In their book Thanks for the Feedback (2014), Stone and Heen encourage “creating pull” for receiving feedback as opposed to pushing through the resistance. The authors reinforce the value of creating pull for one’s own reflection and personal development.

Pulling or drawing someone into a conversation makes it easier to engage. It is also a smoother transition into a feedback conversation with them.

May I give you Feedback

So how can you deliver feedback with more ease and engage the individual in the conversation?

  1. Check your emotional readiness. What do you need to be at your best and ready?

  2. Create a safe environment for the conversation. Avoid open areas where others might overhear the exchange.

  3. Begin with the question, “May I give you some feedback?” Asking permission invites the individual into dialogue and offers him a choice to participate. It is a respectful way to gain agreement to proceed with the conversation, and it helps the person be more open to hearing what you have to say.

Remember, asking a question like “May I give you some feedback?” is an invitation into a conversation. When we give people a choice to engage, they will be more likely to participate and actually hear what we have to say.

8 Tips For Successful Collaboration at Work

Most of us have been part of a project when communication has fallen apart and our collective behavior has devolved into shouting and finger-pointing over the sorry state of affairs. Was it avoidable? In the vast majority of cases, yes.

Here are 8 tips for successful collaboration at work to support you in ensuring a successful collaboration and outcome.

8 tips for successful collaboration at work

1. Provide the vision and set the context: If you are leading the project, this is your job. ‘Paint a picture’ of your project vision for your co-collaborators. Then provide them with context. This means let them know the what and the why of your approach.

2. Persist until you have clarity: If you are a member of the team, it’s crucial to get a clear understanding of the project to avoid filling in the gaps with assumptions. For example, after your boss lays out the plan and the explanation still leaves you scratching your head, dialogue with her until you get the clarity you need. Don’t assume that you are stupid or that she provided a good explanation that you somehow missed. More time is wasted on the back end by not getting clarity up front.    

3. Establish a real deadline: If you are given a deadline that is ‘sometime before the end of the month,’ this does not constitute a real deadline, and your belief that it does can come back to bite you. A deadline without a date and time is not real and is therefore always open to interpretation. Whether you take on a project or are assigning one to someone else, you are entering into a contract. Agree on a specific date and time.

4. Summarize: At the end of each meeting, summarize what each of you understood to have agreed to and have a dialogue until you are sure you are on the same page. I recommend putting that summary in an email so you all have a written record of your agreements.  

5. Create operating agreements: Do this before leaving your initial project meeting. Operating agreements provide you with a playbook of understanding regarding how each of you operates and what you can expect from one another during the course of your collaboration. Imagine trying to play a board game if you don’t know the objective or the rules. Not having operating agreements is like that.

Examples of operating agreements:

  • What is your boss’s preferred form of communication — i.e. email, phone, in-person?  
  • How frequently does your project lead want to receive project status and what does this look like? A weekly written report or a quick verbal status?
  • What action will you take if the project deadline slips. Agree on the what, the who and the how in advance.
  • Make sure you know one another’s boundaries. For example, is it okay for your boss or colleague to fire off a bunch of emails to you on weekends and then expect a prompt response? Get clear on this before it becomes an issue.

Have an operating agreement that says you agree to talk about whatever is not working is a good idea, too. This gives all parties “permission” to address problems as they arise so they can be quickly resolved. By establishing operating agreements in advance, you create clarity and avoid assumptions. Get everyone’s buy-in on the operating agreements and make sure all have a written copy.

6. Establish and maintain clear boundaries: If you have a boss, colleague or client who has a tendency to take advantage of your good nature and step over your boundaries, operating agreements can help. If it happens, gently and firmly remind them of the operating agreements that you agreed to, then kindly request that you both stick to them. If you find that an operating agreement is no longer working, then renegotiate it -- together.

7. Speak about your common goal: This is especially important when things get tense. Remind one other that you all want the same thing -- a successful outcome and happy stakeholders, for example. Explicitly speaking to this during the course of your collaboration will help you all stay in alignment when the going gets tough.

8. Last but certainly not least...appreciate: Appreciation is the number one thing that people say they want most at work and in life. So look for opportunities to offer appreciation: telling your boss how much you appreciate his taking time to clarify project details for you, or thanking your colleague for staying late to crunch those numbers, or appreciating someone’s upbeat attitude. Not only does this encourage more of the same thoughtful behavior, it will serve to create a spirit of collaboration and goodwill. And this supports a successful outcome!


2 Hours of Coaching and $3 Million to a Company's Bottom Line

How a senior executive restored $3 million to his company's bottom line and saved a key customer relationship with just 2 hours of coaching.

The senior executive was furious. He had just been told that his company's award fee had been cut from $3 million to ZERO for a recently completed project. Not only was this a financial blow to his company, it was shaming for him. Even worse, it could potentially put his job in jeopardy.

He was ready to go to his customer with "all guns blazing" to demand that his company's award fee be restored. "Not a good plan,” replied the person he confided in. "Let me refer you to an executive coach who can help you prepare for this negotiation so you’ll have the best possible chance for a successful outcome.”

2 hours of coaching leads to 3 million to a companys bottom line

That same day, I received a call from the executive. He laid out the details of his situation, which included a description of the strained relationship he had with his customer. We went to work using a process that I have used many times over the years to help clients prepare for high stakes conversations. Our coaching conversation concluded with a good strategy and some “homework” for my client. After a quick check in the following day, he was off to the airport to meet with his customer.

Our next conversation took place a day later upon his arrival back home. He enthusiastically reported a successful trip in which his award fee was restored and, just as important, so was his relationship with his customer. Not only did he keep his job but to this day, he remains one of the most respected senior executives in his company.


Appreciation is the secret sauce—now more than ever.

Several months ago when we were preparing to write this blog on appreciation, we went on Twitter and entered #AppreciationPolitics, thinking it would be wonderful to find an uplifting story from the political area that we could write about — something that would give us a reason to wax poetic and get a glow on.

Well, not so much. Twitter reported: “No results.” What?! Of all the hundreds of thousands of topics on Twitter that garner interest and are share-worthy, there was nothing.

Our spontaneous reaction was to burst out laughing. But, unfortunately this is no laughing matter. Why? Because appreciation is a crucial component for happiness and successful relationships. There is much research that points to appreciation being the number one thing that people want most at work and in life.

Appreciation is the secret sauce

It is important to find a way to open our hearts and appreciate others -- especially if those others view things differently than we do. Appreciation is not about being a Pollyanna or turning a blind eye to bad behavior or worse.

Voltaire, 18th Century French philosopher and prominent figure of the French Enlightenment, powerfully articulated the value of appreciation when he said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

Imagine the kind of world we could create together if we were all guided by this philosophy.

Considering this on an organizational level, we know from experience that both team effectiveness and a leader’s effectiveness closely correlate with a culture of real appreciation. Maybe you’ve had the experience of walking into a room where a team is meeting and were able feel  the appreciation and respect team members have for one another; it’s palpable.

And the reverse is just as true. Working in a team of people who are angry, hostile and totally lacking in appreciation for one another is miserable. It’s a no-brainer to know which team will be the high performing one. And have the happiest, most satisfied team members.

So while we’re probably not going to heal politics and violence in the world, we do have the ability to make a difference right where we are — within our professional and personal lives. A kind word and a gesture of sincere appreciation can go a long way.

Remember this: In appreciating others we acknowledge their value in the situation or relationship. Challenge yourself to notice what you can appreciate about someone, even (and especially) if it’s difficult. Here are a few simple guidelines: 1) be authentic: say what it means to you; 2) be timely: do it now; 3) make it a habit: look for opportunities to appreciate another.

Who will you appreciate today?

For help in creating a culture of appreciation in your organization, contact Alexandra Ross and Diane Brennan at

Updated from original post March 20, 2016, 

Strategy #13: I may need to renegotiate our agreement.

We’ve all had the experience of agreeing to something we were not able to deliver on. It’s a horrible feeling when you disappoint another person, not to mention disappoint yourself.

Breaking your agreement could have happened for a legitimate reason. Or perhaps you miscalculated the time required to complete a task. You may have even believed that saying no was not an option, so said yes when you should have discussed it first.

Regardless the reason, breaking agreements can strain even the best relationships and impugn your credibility. The good news is, there is a simple strategy you can use to effectively manage the agreements you make.

Strategy #13: I may need to renegotiate our agreement.

First, understand that agreements are verbal contracts, so take seriously every agreement you make. Next, only agree to what you know you can deliver. That said, sometimes an unforeseen conflict can make this impossible. If this happens, renegotiate your agreement immediately! This gives the other person a chance to look for different options, and it preserves your standing as a conscientious person of integrity.

Finally, the next time someone makes a request of you, don’t feel compelled to say yes on the spot. Try this: Let the person know that you would like to accommodate their request, and that you first need to review your current commitments to make sure you can confidently agree to their request.

Doing this telegraphs the message that you take your commitments seriously and that you are someone they can count on.

Women in the Workplace: How to Ask For What You Want -- And Get It

One of my clients, a senior executive in a large organization, came to our coaching session, livid. She had been passed over for a promotion that two of her male colleagues, also senior executives, had received. As my client explained it, she was in a more deserving position to have received the promotion due to her extensive contributions — which were qualitatively and quantitatively more substantial than theirs.

Women Don’t Ask?

When she met with her direct superior to find out why her colleagues had received promotions and she hadn’t, he told her, “They asked; you didn’t.”

In telling me the story, my client said, “Women don’t ask.”

This really started me thinking. Could it be true that women don’t ask?

women in the workplace


My client thought her good deeds and brilliance should have been recognized and rewarded without having to ask for it. Maybe so. And maybe, in some organizations, that is exactly what would have happened. Unfortunately, that was not the case here.

The outcome left my client feeling invalidated and victimized. As a coach, my stance would be that it’s okay to go to a place of invalidation for a few moments. This undesirable situation created what I will call a “contrast”, which created a strong desire — in this case, a desire for a promotion. That’s good! Because out of this desire can come the impetus to create a strategy that will move you in the direction of what you want.

Why Playing the Victim Hurts You

The mistake I find more than a few women making is going to that place of invalidation and staying there. Once there, it is easy to start to feel righteously victimized and go into a downward spiral that takes you away from the outcome you want — not toward it.

My client allowed her feelings about the injustice to fester for quite awhile. She made some assumptions about what was ‘true’. She did not have all the real facts available to her, and she was emotional. She then got herself worked up and charged into a conversation with her boss.

Though my client did not get her promotion, she learned a lot from the post mortem regarding what she can do in the future, whether she wants a promotion, a raise or something else.

You Can Get What You Want

The above situation extrapolates to a lot of scenarios in which you either feel used, unappreciated, overworked, underpaid or unfairly treated in some way. There are some common denominators for engaging that will support you in achieving a successful outcome in any of these. Before we look at some general guidelines you can use to get what you want, first identify the basis for your discontent or feelings of injustice:

  • Have you been working too many hours and every time you attempt to get your work-life balance realigned, more work gets piled on your plate?
  • Are you doing the heavy lifting on an important project and not getting the recognition you deserve — or even worse, someone else is?
  • Perhaps the new person is getting the best assignments and they have less experience than you?
  • Do you feel like you deserve more compensation for what you’re doing and somehow your boss seems to be too busy to have that conversation?
  • Are you beginning to think that a raise or a seat at the table with the executive council looks like a pipe dream?

Guidelines for Action

Here are some guidelines to start getting what you want. (And in many cases, there’s a lot to be said for going to the boss and asking for it.)

  • Identify how you are feeling: Ask yourself what you are feeling and what triggered your feelings about the situation in the first place. Put this in writing because when you are upset and thoughts and feelings are swirling around, it is helpful to get a snapshot of your initial trigger points because they will morph and/or you will forget them. Making a written record will help you create an anchor point for later reference. This is for your reference only. Don’t sent this to anyone!
  • Take stock of the facts: One of the best ways to do this is to write down everything you consider to be true about your situation.
  • Do a critical evaluation of ‘the facts’: This means playing devil’s advocate for everything you wrote down. Is it really true or is it your perception or opinion? Going point by point, challenge yourself to determine whether each ‘fact’ is true or whether it is a figment of your perception. Ask yourself how you know. One of the surest ways to know whether it is really true or whether it is your opinion is to ask yourself if the ‘fact’ is arguable. In other words, is it possible for the other person or stakeholder to see the ‘facts’ differently? Make note of what you believe to be fact and opinion. This is an eye-opening experience and can really start to give you some objectivity and clarity.
  • Identify the outcome you want: If you aren’t clear about your desired outcome, how in the world will you ever achieve it?! This outcome should be something that is meaningful to you and has a tangible quality. In other words, if you get this outcome, you will know it. Maybe it’s making a specific request of someone and receiving it. Or perhaps it is simply agreeing on the best strategy forward with a stakeholder.
  • Create a plan of action: If you have gone through the above steps, you are in the most clear-headed, objective place you can be. Ask yourself what your first logical step forward should be. Is there anyone else who needs to be included to achieve your outcome? Once you have done the above work, you may find that reaching your desired outcome might have a few simple steps. If it is more complicated, write down the steps to make sure you capture everything you need to execute it.
  • Be curious: When you are ready to engage in a conversation, take a stance of curiosity rather than arguing for being right. Make sure to provide context for what you are doing, saying and asking. Don’t let stakeholders rely on their own assumptions; this is what gets us all in trouble in the first place.

This is a very rich subject. And because I’m a coach — not a know-it-all — I believe people have their own inherent wisdom. So I’d like to open up a discussion on this topic with everyone.

Is it true that “women don’t ask?” Do you have a story from your workplace that you’d like to share? Or do you think it’s not true? Let me know in the comments section.

What to do when the objective is unclear

Back Pocket Coach Strategy 12: What expectations do you have of me?

“I’ll never do that again!”

In the post-mortem of “what went wrong,” you discover that no one was on the same page from the get-go regarding the objective of the project. It’s a big aha moment for the team, with quizzical looks and much head scratching, implying, “How could that have happened?!”

The funny thing is, it happens more than you might think, and for a variety of reasons. One prevalent reason is that the leader, and perhaps some other team members “assume” that everything is abundantly clear and it never even occurs to them to validate that assumption.

Another big reason is that team members are afraid to ask for clarification because they are concerned that they will sound stupid, out of the loop, or simply unknowledgeable. I have coached many leaders and teams in aerospace over the years and observed that the fear of sounding stupid is alive and well with really smart people.

The fact is, if you are unclear about the objective, chances are pretty good that you’re not the only one. There are many different ways in which an unclear objective shows up in our lives. As such, Back Pocket Coach has more than five strategies that can help guide you out of the weeds and into greater clarity.

what to do when the objective is unclear

Here’s one you could try. Strategy 12: “What expectations do you have of me?” By asking this simple question, you are demonstrating your authentic interest in being part of the solution or success of whatever it is you are involved in.

Whether we realize it or not, we all bring different expectations to the table. Instead of assuming you are both on the same page regarding, for example, who’s going to do what by when, clarify! By asking this simple question, you are implicitly conveying your commitment and interest in being aligned with what needs to be done.

Fortunately, all of these strategies / remedies are quite simple to use. And if you use any one of them, it just may leave your colleagues with a newfound appreciation for your commitment to clarity -- and results.

For more strategies on this and other situations, visit or

3 Guidelines for Valuing Someone's Work or Contribution

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #1: I would like to appreciate you for…

3 Guidelines for Valuing Someone's Work or Contribution

Have you ever found yourself silently appreciating something about a colleague or family member, yet failed to articulate it? Before you beat yourself up for answering in the affirmative, know this: we have all done it; and we will all do it again.

Let’s talk about why it is worth cultivating the habit of appreciating others. For starters, research shows that appreciation is the number one thing people say they want most at work and in life. Being authentically appreciated is valued even more than getting a raise. Think about it: getting a raise is really a token of how much you are appreciated.

Another reason to make appreciation a habit is that it is a powerful relationship builder. Why? Think about the last time someone took the time to really appreciate you. How did it make you feel? How did it influence your relationship with the other person? How did it influence your outlook?

Here are three guidelines for appreciating others:

1) Be authentic: say specifically what their behavior or contribution meant to you. Example: “Tom, thank you so much for staying late last night to crunch those numbers. Your work really saved my presentation this morning. I appreciate your commitment to our team.”  

2) Be timely: do it now;

3) Make it a habit: do it regularly.

Start scanning your environment now for opportunities to authentically appreciate someone’s work or contribution. Then speak your appreciation. And notice the impact you just made on someone’s day. Maybe even their life.

6 Ways to Boost Your Self-Awareness (Hint: It’s Good for Business)

To start building a process in self-reflection, try this: Use these starter questions to reflect on the results of a recently completed project or conversation. Bring a mindset of curiosity, openness and honesty to your answers. Adapt the questions to fit your situation.

reset your mind self awareness in business
  1. What went well (with this conversation, task or meeting)?

  2. What could I have done to have made it work even better?

  3. Did I have unexamined assumptions (regarding the information I had, or about a person or situation)?

  4. Who else should have been included here and how might I do that in the future?

  5. Who needed to be appreciated, and for what?

  6. What follow up is needed now and by whom?

Next, Try This

After answering the questions, reflect on what you wrote. Did you discover anything that surprised you? Or something that you hadn’t previously thought of? Did you get any new insights into your own behavior or have a new perspective about someone else’s? Whatever you did, congratulations for engaging in the process! You now have the foundation for a self-reflection discipline.

Look for opportunities to use the process whenever and wherever you can. Adapt the questions to fit the situation. When you’re ready, find an opportunity to try it out in your team environment. And remember to have a conversation about the process itself.

There are lots of opportunities to use this skill -- even at home! Remember that supporting others, and particularly your direct reports, in developing their skill in self-reflection can have huge payoffs, helping them and you become more self-aware. And, just like anything else, it takes time to cultivate a new habit, so have a patient heart -- with yourself and others!

When you give this a try, let me know how it went. I’d really like to hear from you!

Potent strategies for turning conflict aversion into effective conversations


What is conflict aversion? Broadly stated, conflict aversion is an indirect way of dealing with an issue or a person to avoid confrontation. Conflict averse people tend to avoid conflict at all costs and have inner dialogues that rarely get voiced – much to their detriment. Consequently, their viewpoint is usually not represented in situations and discussions they may care passionately about.As coaches, we find conflict aversion at the core of many situations our clients are working through. We believe this is an important topic because If not managed, conflict aversion will likely have a negative impact on relationships and outcomes at some point in one's life or career. When people who have something to say don’t join the conversation, good ideas may never come to light and unique perspectives will not be shared. Even worse: assumptions are inevitably made from the various parties’ perspectives and the environment becomes ripe for misunderstandings, resentment, and further disengagement that can lead to project or program failure.

Conflict aversion is not rare. Many people we’ve coached with over the years report conflict aversion to some degree. You might wonder why a person is conflict averse. Often it’s a reaction to the environment and a question of safety. When leaders encourage competition among team members, the intent might be to motivate or encourage creativity and output. But the outcome more likely discourages conflict averse team members because it threatens safety, trust, and relationships. Conflict aversion may develop from experience or it may be temperament –  an aspect of one’s personality that runs deep. No matter where it comes from, you don’t need to stay there.

So, if conflict aversion sometimes gets the better of you, take heart. There are effective strategies you can use – whether you are a conflict averse person or whether you are working with one. The end goal is to improve relationships and outcomes and this can be done by improving your communication.

Okay, so how do you do that?

Being conflict averse is an emotional reaction. It’s a feeling of impending doom when you think about having to speak up because you have a sense of what will happen. The words aren’t even there to say because you may be too nervous to talk. Thoughts are running through your head like, “I’ll sound stupid,” “No one will listen, they’ll just argue,” “I’ll look bad.” Know this is common –  even and especially for super smart people.

The first step is to take control of your nervous system by breathing slow, deep breaths (no one has to know that you’re doing this). This will help calm you. Next, ask for clarification from the other person. Repeat back exactly what they say. People love this because it tells them that you were listening and you heard them. Example: “What I think I heard you say was….Is that correct?” This give you further opportunity to calm yourself as you continue to breathe and slow the pace, reflecting back what you hear. You created a conversation rather than a confrontation. How great is that!

Now that you’ve calmed yourself by using the above process, you might consider a few additional strategies available to you in Back Pocket Coach. One that comes to mind immediately is Strategy #20, the powerful and simple question, “May I ask you a question?” This is a great multi-purpose strategy. And in this particular example, using the question leads you further into the conversation in a polite and non-confrontational way. You show up as curious and interested in what the other person has to say. And you are taking all the confrontation out of it. Before you know it, your conversation will be proceeding smoothly.

Know someone who’s dealing with conflict aversion? Share these strategies.