How to Practice Empathy in Times of Social Distancing
Let’s begin our quest for empathy and its role at the workplace with an exercise in imagination. During an online meeting, Sam, team leader, decides to initiate an “icebreaker”. All team members are working remotely and are just getting to know each other, so Sam proposes a simple game, encouraging everyone to tell the story of how they got their first names.
It all starts well, colleagues show themselves willing to participate. However, Mark, a senior colleague, says that he does not want to make friends at work, he just wants to do his job and then focus on his friends and family. This creates a slight disruption during the meeting. What would you do in such a situation? How would you convince Mark that our work interactions can have a great impact on how well we perform? They can make it easier, or harder. And this is where empathy comes into play.
Why we need empathy in the work environment
The term “empathy” is used to refer to a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, together with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Let’s see how this can impact the work environment, which some colleagues may regard as “just a place where we do our jobs”.
We asked Diana Dragu and Iulia Zamfir, organizational consultants at Gordon Trainingfor their opinion on empathy in the professional context. Here’s what they said: “understanding other people’s emotions is an essential skill in the workplace. It can help us improve our relationships with co-workers, and client. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, empathy is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence and it’s a vital leadership skill.”
As Diana and Iulia continue, there are two types of empathy, cognitive and emotional. While the first one seems to belong more in the workplace, it is actually the latter that can make a real difference. “We can talk about cognitive empathy as the ability to understand what other people might be thinking or feeling and it doesn’t involve any emotional attuning. It is a rational ability. But emotional empathy is the ability to feel with people, to be able to understand the other on a deeper level and this is the kind of empathy that we need to foster in our organizations.”
How to show empathy at work and use it effectively
In the current pandemic context, the most important advice that people can try to follow is to “look at this period as a pause, a moment when they can re-evaluate how they do things”, Diana Dragu and Iulia Zamfir determine. Empathy can be one of those things.
What we could do now, as interactions take place mostly online is to “start by looking at things from the other person’s point of view, trying to understand their perspective as their truth. It is important to receive what the other says without judging him/her”, note the two organizational consultants, emphasizing that working remotely with no video input makes things even harder. “The body language gives us clues on the intentions of the other person and without it, we are prone to making assumptions and seeing bad intentions where there are none.”
Ionuț Cociaș and Sorina Curtașu, certified coaches at Zitec, make similar comments concerning the need to see one’s interlocutor during video calls. “When working from home, both as a coach and manager, it is very difficult to connect to other people’s emotions, especially if they have their camera turned off. When you have the camera on, there is still a chance that you can see some emotions, but you would have to be a champion observer for that”, mentions Ionuț. He makes a very important point, by adding that improving one’s listening abilities is very useful during such times. “I have learned to identify emotions by voice. And it is not an easy task, but it can be developed if we pay more attention to our interlocutors.”
On the other hand, Sorina highlights another noteworthy aspect, emphasizing why we should bring into our professional discussions other topics too. “During this time of crisis, it’s important to have meaningful conversations, besides the usual work-related tasks. Concerns like personal safety, uncertainty, fear of the unknown can really impact our day-to-day activities. Therefore, I advise leaders to be authentic, to share their challenges, and encourage others to open up and share, without being judgemental. This can be a good approach to make people feel safe and accepted within a team.”
Again, it is brought to our attention that now, more than ever, we should try to jump less into rash conclusions. It’s easier to misinterpret the other person’s behavior through technical barriers. Yet, as Sorina mentions, “there are some signs that can be a good indicator about a person’s mood. During online meetings, it is important to listen to the tone of voice, to the pace of speaking, and observe the non-verbal communication. A professional with good emphatic skills will observe these indicators and bring them to the table. I recommend people, more than ever, to really listen to each other, share their challenges, be patient with their peers, and trust them.”
However, as organizational consultants Diana Dragu and Iulia Zamfir conclude, in order to observe all these non-verbal aspects and to “avoid making assumptions it helps to switch on your camera in video conferences as much as possible. When this is not an option try to switch from emails/texts to calls. Communication done exclusively in writing, without nonverbal cues that come from seeing one another, can lead to misunderstanding and a breach in empathy.
When in doubt, please remember that what you give is what you get. When you offer empathy it only brings back empathy. And if there is one thing we are sure of in these uncertain times, it is that we all need empathy in generous supplies.”
Can online tools help boost our empathy levels?
In the work environment, there are different generations and personality types that get to interact with each other. Therefore, we react to different stimuli. While some might prefer jumping into calls, others will always opt for chatting or sending emails.
However, regardless of the generation or personality type, people will always appreciate the sense of being part of a community. In the absence of the work cafeteria where people would gather for informal exchanges of information, other channels come to the surface.
My personal experience is with three such channels. One of them is an informal chat group specifically created for colleagues to share amusing content – their own, or found online. Another is a social media platform developed for the work environment, where people post both work-related announcements, as well as more informal content, across various groups for people with different interests and hobbies. Everyone is free to comment and express their opinions, thus getting to know each other better and eventually collaborating more successfully.
Mirro, our performance management tool, also has some empathy-enhancing features that I try to use as often as I can. One of these is Kudos, in which people give thanks for the help received during various projects and tasks. Another is Feedback, structured in such a way that puts in a positive light even the things that require improvement. Last but not least, Mirro brings into focus certain milestones in the professional paths of colleagues. Like this, everyone is invited to celebrate, and why not, start a casual conversation on the topic.
To conclude, even if we no longer get to interact “in person”, there are other means to compensate and boost our empathy levels. Why does this matter? First of all, as individuals discover the things they have in common, they eventually collaborate better. Second of all, because it can be fun. You see, I tend to disagree with Mark from our example at the start of the article. Making new friends is always a good idea and showing empathy is a great start in that direction. Plus, by giving others a chance and discovering them, we might eventually get to know ourselves better. And that is always a win.
Improve Performance by Disconnecting Better (over the Holidays) – 7 Reasons and 7 Tips
Disconnecting used to seem like an easier task back when we were able to separate our professional lives from our personal ones. Our work mainly took place at the office and our homes were our havens, almost exclusively dedicated to more fun and relaxing activities, or to precious family time. Now, as the two occur in the same location, unplugging becomes harder to achieve and our minds never get the opportunity to properly disconnect. Which, as you may have guessed, can have negative effects on the way we perform at work because we never give our minds the break they need in order to function at their true potential.
But all this needs to change. This holiday season, we challenge you to take the time off that you truly deserve. First, we’ll dig deeper together into the science behind the importance of unwinding properly, and then we’ll share 7 of our tried and tested tips for relaxing more efficiently during the holidays.
Don’t forget to have fun while “implementing” our advice. Rewards as increased productivity, job satisfaction, performance, and creativity will soon follow. 😉
The science behind our need to relax – 7 reasons
In theory, we all know the benefits of a healthy work-life balance. Yet, according to a GFI Software report, judging solely by the email habits of survey respondents, the line between work and home life has become blurred. More than three-quarters of respondents (81%) said they check their work email on weekends, 55% check email after 11 p.m., and 59% keep on top of their work email while on vacation.
So, without further ado, here’s why you need to detach starting this holiday season:
According to a study published in the journal “Industrial Health”, mentally detaching from work has beneficial psychological effects. The results showed that even moderate detachment can lead to improved mental health. “Although high psychological detachment may enhance employee mental health, moderate levels of psychological detachment are most beneficial for work engagement,” the study concluded.
When an employee doesn’t take time off, it costs the company more if that person actually took a vacation. According to the American Psychological Association, job-related stress may cost American businesses up to a staggering USD 383 billion per year, through illness-related, absenteeism, and of course reduced productivity.
Every vacation hour counts when it comes to productivity. According to an internal study developed by Ernst & Young for each additional 10 hours of vacation taken by employees, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.
There’s a lot of focus on creativity at the workplace these days. Going outside our work routines and enjoying time off by doing new things can push our creative boundaries and make us more prone to innovate at our jobs, according to a study in social psychology.
Work stress can negatively impact our relationships. Studies have shown that individuals who experience stress at work become more anxious in their relationships and risk distancing themselves from their partners. These imbalances in the personal life may lead to a poorer performance at work, as one would expect.
Health is greatly affected by overworking our bodies. From eye problems to heart conditions, stress is the main culprit for some of the most common illnesses nowadays. Let’s also not forget about the well-known issues brought by sedentarism, caused by sitting for too long at our offices. A twelve-year study by The Women’s Health Initiative showed a reduced lifespan in women who spent too much on their chairs at work.
Last but not least, take into consideration that vacationing once in a blue moon is far from enough. Studies have proven that the benefits of a vacation can fade in two to four weeks. So remember to relax as often as possible – during evenings and weekends too.
Our 7 tips for unwinding during the holidays
Now that we’ve established why you need to do it, it’s time to reveal our tried and tested tips and trick for learning how to relax like a pro during the holidays.
Plan your vacation time ahead and start unwinding gradually, even while you are still at work. It would be extremely hard to work on multiple stressful projects at once and then to leave abruptly on holiday. So start this process a few weeks ahead by establishing your most important projects that need to be finalized before leaving. Make sure to leave as much as you can in order, so as not to overload other colleagues. Also, don’t forget to send an email to managers with project statuses, set up an explanatory out-of-office message with clear instructions for different situations, should they be needed. This will guarantee extra peace of mind over the holidays.
Set realistic expectations concerning your holiday. This means that you might have to check your email every once in a while, but that shouldn’t stop you from unwinding. In the end, it all comes down to the mindset that you decide to create for yourself. If you have an urgent task that requires your attention, then decide on a time you wish to touch base daily with your colleagues and try to stick to that commitment. If you are going to be in a remote location or wish to completely disconnect from work-related aspects, then delegate this to someone you trust while you are away. But by all means, it’s very important to consider all these aspects before leaving, so that all this relaxation time is not in vain and you do not have to face complete chaos upon returning from vacation.
Establish a clear definition of what emergency means and how & when you should be contacted. Communication is key in most work aspects, and going on leave is no exception. People respond well to boundaries, as long as you set them correctly and within reason. If you decide to leave your phone number for emergencies, it will show that you care about your work and wish to attain the best possible results. Most colleagues won’t call you, because they also wouldn’t want to be bothered in their time off. However, to make sure that people will not take your openness for granted, specify the exact situations in which you should be reached – for instance, if the client refuses the third batch of changes, refuses to pay, etc.
Announce clients, colleagues and partners of your vacation. Set up ground rules. Give details if needed and involve people in your plans – as mentioned above, the more informed they are, the more people will feel the need to “guard” your vacation plans. If you tell colleagues that you need this time in order to connect better with your family or go skiing in some remote location, people will respect your transparency and will defend you, if necessary, in case others may feel the need to comment against your decision to take a vacation in such a busy time of the year.
Turn off notifications – email, chat, phone and other work-related channels. if necessary, decide on a specific time daily when you are “allowed” to check these. Stick to just one electronic device and lock away the ones you are not using. Yes, physically lock them away. Make it difficult for “future” you to fall into temptation and obsessively check work channels when you should be spending time taking care of yourself.
Set up ground rules with friends and family – if necessary, tell them that you might need to take one or two work calls on a specific day or check emails. Communication is the best solution in personal matters too, not just professional ones. People like to know what to expect, will appreciate honesty and won’t feel like you are trying to avoid them purposely. Stick to that plan and try to be as present as possible during your “off” time. There is no point in occupying your mind with work matters uselessly, overthinking things will not help in any way.
Carefully plan out your return to work – don’t overbook your agenda during the first week back at the job, you will need a few days just to catch up with everything. Make sure to take that into account in advance and allow yourself the necessary time for going through your email inbox, coming up with well-informed replies, and getting up-to-date with project statuses. Overtiring yourself in the first week of work will too quickly wear you out and wipe out all the beneficial effects of your vacation.
End 2020 with a bang: work hard, play even harder!
Our proposition to relax more would look great on your resolution list for 2021, but what if you got a bit of a head start? End this atypical year on a fun note and challenge yourself to a more balanced new year.
The gist of it all is simply learning to be more present. Are you at work? Be there, 100%. Are you spending some time off? Then dedicate yourself body and soul to this mission of supreme relaxation.
Give this mission the importance you would give to a work task. Fill your “me” time with an abundance of activities to spur your creativity. Or just do nothing at all, it’s your call. But do it well and without a guilty conscience. Because, after all, you do it to improve your work performance, too.
How to make remote work easier with Mirro
When we created Mirro, we envisioned a performance management platform that would work efficiently for team members, wherever they are. Thus, ever since its first days, Mirro was intended as a tool for connecting colleagues and making them feel more integrated, even if they never actually had the chance to physically interact with one another. Now, more than ever, as social distancing is becoming the norm and remote work is replacing the more traditional office, Mirro’s features are becoming more and more in demand.
Five ways in which Mirro can simplify remote work
We put the pen to the paper and came up with five main ways in which Mirro’s features can simplify our work when we are working from home. Here they are, ready to inspire you:
Set up clear objectives, with an easy-to-follow progress
We created the Objectives feature in Mirro after the Key Results framework, believed to be the winning approach to keeping teams connected and aligned towards the same results. OKRs are a great way to improve team cohesion and boost individual motivation.
How? If you are managing a remote team, constantly touch base with your colleagues, discuss blockers, and encourage people to find solutions. On a personal level, do the same exercise, all while asking yourself the same questions.
Don’t forget to regularly check objectives as a way to always keep the big picture in mind, because we know that working from home can come with numerous distractions. Having them written down in a user-friendly tool makes them easier to follow.
Keep up with the latest accomplishments and anniversaries
Take a step back from your daily to-do list and enjoy a break for socializing. Your Mirro activity feed is simply packed with reasons to celebrate: work anniversaries, kudos, and even birthdays, too. Celebrating is easier if you never have to worry about missing a date.
Plus, kudos are a great way to give thanks and show appreciation, in a way that encourages others to do the same. This also inspires a more collaborative environment, as team members will become more aware of how everyone in the company is doing their part.
Know who to count on, when and where from
As a team leader, but not only, it’s very important to know if you can count on the help of a colleague or not. Mirro shows exactly who is on vacation and when, a piece of information very well synchronized with the calendars used by the individual – Gmail, Outlook, etc.
Moreover, Mirro also shows who is working from home or from the office – you never know when you need access to a tool available only at the company’s headquarters. Like this, you can find out exactly who to reach out to!
Give feedback more easily and in a balanced way
Mirro turns the feedback process into routine by making it easy, as it offers the possibility to provide user-friendly input in an easy-to-fill form. This form balances both positive and constructive aspects, and thus sets the tone for self-improvement.
Also, Mirro lets users ask for perspectives, driving the feedback process themselves. All this input is made available privately, so no one needs to worry about prying eyes.
Make performance check-ins an easy task
With Mirro, performance check-ins are no longer a formality. They become a friendly conversation between managers and their team members, who can decide to set them as regularly as they desire.
Reminders are sent in time so that everyone has time to prepare. Well, not that many preparations are needed – because asking for feedback is already part of the routine, and setting up goals is also a great way to get organized better.
Tips and tricks from our colleagues
As the developers of Mirro, we’re also its most dedicated “fans”. So we asked around in Zitec, the company that created Mirro, and we found three of its most adept users: Ana Ciupercă, scrum master, Costinela Nistor, marketing manager, and Adina Nichitean, head of eCommerce. We asked them how Mirro has been helping them, especially after March 2020, when remote work became the norm for the company.
Our colleagues came with useful, first-hand insights about Mirro, both on a personal and team level. Ana separated the two aspects very clearly and emphasized the importance of objectives and the possibility to constantly have a grasp of vacations. Even knowing whether colleagues are at the office or not can come in handy. But let’s pass the microphone to Ana, for further details:
“On a personal level, Mirro helps me set clear objectives, well aligned with the general business perspective, which I can keep track of, either individually or in a team. I like the fact that it also gives visibility to other team members and allows us to collaborate where actions either intersect, or one simply needs to ask for help from others who have identical or similar objectives to yours. Moreover, I find it easier to self-evaluate and discuss my performance with my manager.
From a team point of view, I can say that Mirro, especially during these times of social distancing and remote work, is a must-have. Not only does it help me manage my team better, by giving me information about colleagues who are on leave or who are working from the company offices, so they can help with certain tasks that can be done on location, but it’s also a great tool for staying connected. The fact that we can thank each other through kudos, or that we can learn about our colleagues’ promotions or anniversaries, is our method to permanently stay in contact.” (Ana Ciupercă, scrum master at Zitec)
Costinela on the other hand highlighted another important point which makes remote work easier for those using Mirro: celebrating and appreciating each other’s efforts!
“Especially since the pandemic started, I’ve been using Mirro to set and stay aligned both on company goals and on my marketing team goals, while also recognizing and celebrating our results. Moreover, since we all work from home and it’s more complicated now to interact with my colleagues, I’ve been using the Kudos feature to show my appreciation and constantly share feedback with them. This way, I feel like we’re all more connected and we can highlight the strengths of a project or make suggestions for improvement when needed.” (Costinela Nistor, marketing manager at Zitec)
Last but not least, Adina made sure to mention other important features for remote work: feedback, for instance. As you may know, Mirro gives feedback a balanced approach, encouraging people to always mention positive aspects too, apart from those they would like to improve.
“The last couple of months have been for sure difficult for all of us, but it also reminded me that I work with an incredible team. Working remotely is not new to us, but everyone working from home for sure was. The most important things for us were to make sure we are in sync; we focus on the same objectives and we received feedback on your work. Luckily, we use an amazing tool that makes our journey a lot easier, Mirro. The OKRs, feedback, and kudos features helped us a lot to have an overview of our journey, adjust and improve it, and celebrate our achievements.” (Adina Nichitean, head of eCommerce at Zitec)
How has Mirro simplified your remote work?
As usual, we’d love to hear from you. You’ve heard from our most avid users, now it’s your turn to speak up.
What helped you the most while working from home? Was it the option to set goals and follow their progress, give feedback to colleagues in a balanced way, keep track of vacations easier or the chance to never miss an accomplishment or kudos from a colleague?
Just drop us a line in the comment section below – we’re all eyes.
Oh, and ff you’re not a Mirro user, all these details may need a bit more background, so we’re happy to provide it! Simply schedule a free demo with us, and we’ll make sure no question remains unanswered.
Why Performance Management Needs a Social Twist
As the age of industrialism came to an end, step by step, man separated himself from machine. Emotions, as well as the desire to fulfill one’s needs, even the ones ranking highest in Maslow’s hierarchy, slowly garnered more and more interest. Thus, a worker’s performance stopped being analyzed from an exclusively quantitative perspective, i.e. the number of hours spent on a certain task. Other factors started coming into focus – for instance, how well we integrate and work in a team – since, in the words of Aristotle, we are all “social animals” and, might we add, we cannot shut down our needs during office hours, just for the sake of productivity.
According to Forbes magazine, there are at least five benefits to healthy work relationships a.k.a the social aspect of our work lives. Among these, we mention less stress, increased engagement, and loyalty, a healthier life, as well as increased happiness. Of course, simply providing people with a workplace does not imply they will take a liking to one another and the above results will automatically be achieved. There are also some methods through which these effects can be attained, and among these we will mention creating a social spot, giving people continuous reasons to celebrate, and connecting departments.
Being social in a virtual environment
However, what do we do now, that more and more people have started working remotely and some of them have not even met face-to-face? Just like social media can keep us all connected no matter the distance between us, there are ways people can connect for work purposes.
We would like to introduce the concept of Social Performance Management or SPM, in the sense of “the use of a social network platform, whether cloud-based or residing on an intranet, to optimize workplace performance and accomplish HR and talent management functions. Some of the most common applications of SPM are goal management, employee alignment and engagement, development and coaching, talent mapping and recognition”, as Best Practice Institute defines it.
Back in 2014, HR Magazine was anticipating the need for such a concept. “Successful teamwork necessitates interaction and dependencies. Given that team members are frequently scattered geographically and may never meet face to face, it’s essential to have a tool to ensure that they’re on track with their individual deliverables and that they’re knowledgeable about how the team is tracking against all of its goals. Today’s performance management processes rarely provide up-to-date information on performance that motivates and informs teams about their progress.”
Social media that boosts productivity
Yes, you read correctly – social media can boost productivity. “Inspired by social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yammer, SPM systems allow employees to exchange information quickly and easily, fostering ongoing dialogue, coaching, and recognition. Regardless of their level in the organization, all employees can share information ranging from goals to feedback to positive recognition,” according to HR Magazine.
SPM is, in fact, the base on which Mirro was created. The three methods of improving work relationships from Forbes, mentioned in the previous section, can all be found in Mirro, even if virtually. Thus, Mirro has a very strong social element, as it includes an activity feed, with various work-related updates posted by users, such as objectives, work anniversaries or kudos, to mention a few.
Reasons to celebrate take the form of “kudos”, a form of thank-you between colleagues, and work anniversaries, which the app “remembers” automatically. Teams are connected in Mirro through the aforementioned kudos, as well as feedback requests – thus, team members receive a 360-degree perspective of their work, and they also learn about their colleagues’ activity and achievements. The latter can also have another interesting social impact on the colleagues simply reading the updates, as they may eventually aspire to receive the same kind of recognition. Like this, we can say that Mirro also has a very strong motivational element, encouraging employees to become even better through the examples set by others.
Bogdan Ioniță, product manager at Mirro, takes the SPM concept even further, linking it to employee retention. “Nowadays, companies cannot afford to lose top talent on account of ineffective work relationships nor miss business opportunities because the workforce and management are not on the same page. Social Performance Management tools like Mirro can take an obsolete and often dreaded evaluation process and turn it into a user-friendly and fun collaborative communication tool that motivates the whole team to work better together, by giving everyone a better picture of the whole organizational mechanism and how important their part is in it.”
Another very important aspect worth taking into consideration about SPM is that it drives constant engagement, by enabling communication and collaboration on what matters most. By this, we are referring to the goals a company aims to achieve and which Mirro makes visible for everyone in the company. Like this, every team member understands the big picture, the significance of their role, as well as how important it is for members of the same team, and other teams alike, to work together.
Last but not least, SPM tools like Mirro are also a great means of feeling connected, especially in times of social distancing, and not just for productivity purposes, but even as morale boosters. Let’s think, for example, about the need for entertainment brought by the social element in our work lives. Just like employees take the occasional coffee break, go to lunch together, or participate in team-building activities, performance management works better if it’s a bit more fun and casual. By mirroring various social networks that we all take pleasure in checking every now and then, Mirro has implemented a simple feature: people can comment on kudos and work anniversaries, by writing a message and making it more fun through the use of emojis and gifs. Work becomes a bit more fun like this, and SPM helps people feel connected even when apart.
To conclude, SPM tools work best when combined with other efforts for engagement. For example, the Mirro team has regular online improv games like word association or collaborative stories, during which we get to know each other better and build stronger connections. We also occasionally hold virtual coffee breaks in the morning and even the casual after-work beer
How do you make your work life more social during these times? We’d love to read about your experiences in the comment section below. 👇
How to Ask for Help at Work: the Leader’s Approach
Asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness because it makes us feel vulnerable and dependant on others. This, we think, might reflect poorly in the way our managers see us, as well as our colleagues. However, asking for help is an important part of being an active and involved member of a team. In fact, knowing how to ask for help is a prerequisite for being a leader, and we will show you how such an approach can radically change your perspective on the matter, with email and face-to-face examples, as well as when never to ask for help situations.
The unspoken rules – never ask for help like this
Whether we realize it or not, most of our professional experiences come down to negotiation tactics. How we ask for help at work is yet another transactional exercise, which can often end in failure. Yet that is no reason to give up, but to try harder, and consider a different approach. But more about this a bit further down the line.
So, indeed, it all comes down to how we tackle such situations. People generally feel good about being involved, yet such positive emotions tend to fade out into the background as they begin to feel coerced into providing assistance. One such situation, as presented by Heidi Grant in the above-mentioned book, occurs when people “are instructed to help, when they believe that they should help, or when they feel they simply have no choice but to help.”
Does this sound familiar? At the workplace, such circumstances generally occur when there’s a new colleague in the team and the manager makes it a certain member’s exclusive obligation to provide support and assistance to them. When obligation leaves no room for personal choice, this may begin feeling like coercion, which in the end will lead to poor results.
People need to help because they feel that it was their option, rather than just another task that they have to cross off the list before the end of the workday, which removes the human part of a usually emotionally-charged effort. This, indeed, is a case for never asking for help in such a manner.
Another situation in which to never ask for help is when you’re not feeling prepared to do so yet. Whether we’re discussing a more introvert nature or simply an inappropriate situation, it is best to approach someone for assistance only when ready, which simply involves preparing a strategy that is hard to refuse.
Perspective shift: the power of asking for help
Here is a hypothesis that may come as a surprise to some: being vulnerable can be a strength. First of all, as Peter Bregman acknowledges in his Harvard Business Review article, recognizing our own weaknesses and limitations is more sustainable for us in the long run since it helps us realize our non-superhuman nature. Because only a superhuman would be able to pull through an interminable list of daily tasks without even considering the possibility of seeking support from others.
Second of all, as author and CEO Bregman continues, being a true leader implies knowing how to connect with others, and people always create better connections with those they find more relatable, rather than those who believe they can do everything themselves, the “one-man army” kind of individuals. Vulnerabilities become stronger when we don’t admit them – they do not disappear if we pretend they aren’t there, especially in the workplace, where our every move is so carefully analyzed.
The leader’s approach means involving others. By asking colleagues for help, in reasonable amounts, of course, they feel more involved and needed. But one doesn’t have to be a natural-born leader to have such an approach, just someone that uses a few simple tips and tricks:
Be clear and confident right from the start
Introduce yourself, if necessary – for instance, when you want to propose a business partnership and have never met your interlocutor
Begin with the issue you require assistance with
Make the next steps simple and clear, so that the person you ask knows exactly what is expected of them
Set a deadline for the support you need
Suggest that although help is optional, it is very much appreciated
Don’t forget to show thankfulness.
With these considerations in mind, it gets easier to ask for help. To better illustrate how these techniques can come in handy in real-life situations, we’ve created some email examples, that can also be easily turned into face-to-face approaches, should the context arise. However, knowing how many people work remotely these days, or how busy some days get, sending an email seems like a good strategy – with follow-up, if necessary.
How to ask for help in email, with useful examples
The first thing we need to consider when reaching out to someone via email is how full their inbox must be and how our email must stand out from the crowd. The subject line is our main hook, so it should be clear and provocative. Also, once this barrier is crossed, the second one is the email itself – so make sure to write it in a clear, concise, and scannable manner.
Example 1 – How to ask for help from a colleague
Example 2 – How to ask for help from a team member, as a manager
Example 3 – How to ask for help from someone from another department
Example 4 – How to ask for help from a higher-ranking member
I hope you found our examples useful and can apply them in your day-to-day activities. Apart from these examples, I was also curious how some of my colleagues ask for help or encourage such a culture because I also remembered my first days in the company and the initial need to ask many people for support while hesitating a bit to do so, because I was afraid of a refusal or maybe of creating the wrong first impression.
Right from the get-go, I was, however, happy to discover a culture where curiosity is nurtured and encouraged, so soon enough, no question seemed too silly to ask. In the words of Simona Lăpușan, COO and Founding Partner at Zitec, and Chief Dreamer Officer at Mirro, this is strongly encouraged in our team, because “Curiosity is one of the traits we built Zitec on, so it was natural for us to encourage our colleagues to ask questions, to share knowledge and to pick each other’s brains as part of our daily work. In our team, asking for help is not seen as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of trust and courage. It is only when you are eager to learn more, that you grow and improve.”
This is another great illustration of the leader’s approach when it comes to asking for help. Requesting someone’s assistance means trusting them enough to tackle a task you would normally, so it’s also a sign of courage, of boldness – which is exactly what another colleague of mine said, without knowing what other answers I may receive.
So, in the case of Diana Nicolae, our Product Specialist at Mirro, asking for help has always been encouraged, as a different way of approaching things: “I’m proud I’m part of a team that inspires me to be bold and to think outside of the box. My colleagues helped me from day 1 when I was asking all kinds of questions about Mirro.
You may wonder how we support this kind of way of thinking in our team. The Mirro platform is a great means of promoting this ethos of helping one another. The Kudos feature allows people to thank each other, publicly, thus emphasizing how helping is encouraged and applauded within the company.
Also, by nurturing a culture of feedback, Mirro enhances communication, which enables people to know each other better and sets the proper context for better collaboration, which paves the way for asking for help whenever necessary, without feeling embarrassed or worried of a potential refusal.
Refresh Your Mindset: How to Give Better Feedback, with Examples
Let’s face it. Giving feedback is one of the most difficult aspects of the job, whatever kind of job we’re talking about, even though managers are probably most often faced with it during their everyday activities. However, those in other positions are not exempt from the much-feared feedback, either, whether we “have to” give it or receive it. That is why we believe how to give feedback should attract a lot more attention from managers and non-managers alike, and mind you, here is some food for thought: it should even be a bit more regulated, as some may be a bit too loose with it.
But first things first.
Why you need a culture of feedback in your company
By definition, in an organizational context, feedback is the information sent to an entity, be it an individual or a group, about its prior behavior so that the entity may adjust its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result.
However, stepping aside from an academic framework, feedback is also something that is trending nowadays. Everyone gives it, but too many times, it is unsolicited, and if done without tact, it can even come with unexpected consequences.
How, you may ask?
Just imagine this scenario: Linda, a more experienced software developer refers to the code developed by Sam, the new colleague, as “sloppy”, in a probably playful, “like-you-kids-do-nowadays” manner. However, Sam, who looks up to Linda, is very affected by her comment and, since she is a senior member of the team, he considers her to be the voice of other members of the team.
Sam begins to feel underappreciated, starts underperforming, and maybe even begins looking for another job.
The above example may seem like a mild exaggeration, but the reality is that it is not. We are encouraged to speak our minds ever since kindergarten, however, we should do so considering a few simple aspects: that we should always keep things professional, as the office space does come with a set of dedicated rules, and maintaining a diplomatic approach when dealing with our colleagues should always be one of them. Familiarity is welcome, but perhaps other contexts are better suited for it.
This is where a carefully designed and well-thought culture of feedback steps in. By definition, a culture of feedback equips absolutely anyone and everyone in the organization with the proper tools to give constructive criticism to anyone else in the company. However, the emphasis here should be on “constructive”, because feedback is much more than just an opinion we speak, and that should always be considered beforehand.
Giving feedback is more than being randomly honest, it’s about being considerate too. And that, in the pursuit of appreciation from peers or just for the sake of standing out, is often forgotten.
In the words of our expert, Elena Ungureanu, senior HR specialist at Mirro: “Feedback is about honesty and it is a way to build trust. It’s important to recognize the people you work with, to help them understand both their strengths and contribution to the company, as well as the skills they need to improve. I encourage them to be honest, to give concrete examples, and to deliver it in a candid way. Also I suggest they think about how they would feel if they received that feedback, before giving it.”
So, without further ado, here is…
How to give better feedback in ten easy-to-implement steps
We know, ten steps may sound like quite the effort. However, you may have already implemented many of these and not even known it. All they need now is a more unitary approach so that they can integrate better into the concept of a feedback culture within your company. But let’s start at the beginning:
Be the first to set an example
True leaders inspire their followers through concrete actions. It’s your job to show that the company and its people are open to constructive feedback – so be the first to set the tone on how this is done. A moderate, diplomatic, and well-balanced leader will inspire the same kind of behavior throughout. However, aggressive and sarcastic comments, served with a superior attitude, may spread faster than wildfire and will surely not serve anyone. So be sure to avoid these and discourage them in others, as well.
Look for people with a growth mindset
People with a growth mindset are a true gem and can be easily identified right from the earliest stages of recruitment. Such individuals regard feedback as a natural part of their profession, as well as a natural way to constantly improve themselves, which is definitely something you need in your organization.
But solely hiring people focused on growth is not enough. Continuously invest in growth as well, encourage existing team members to constantly take new courses and upgrade their skills, and, why not, even invest in such things as feedback training. This may not even need to be a consistent investment – the colleagues that have aced this skill can simply hold training sessions for others.
Turn feedback into routine
No need to wait until the quarterly review to give someone feedback. When incorporated into the daily routine, feedback becomes less feared and is accepted as an everyday activity, just like anything else. Let’s not forget that culture represents a set of shared traditions, habits, artifacts, and language. Therefore, it’s in your power to create shared experiences around giving and receiving feedback, all in a positive and respectful manner.
Ask for feedback too
Sometimes, people regard asking for feedback as a sign of vulnerability. However, demanding input about initiatives that directly concern individuals is only another means of building a strong culture of feedback and trust. It is only a sign of vulnerability if we make it one. In reality, it is a desire to deliver constantly better results.
Always be specific
Feedback like “Your work needs improvement” can hardly be qualified as such. If you want to give input, make sure to refer to a certain task. Otherwise, a general comment will just leave an individual even more confused than before. On the other hand, a suggestion as “your presentation needed a bit more figures” hits the spot just perfectly and guides the targeted individual towards a desired action.
Negative feedback is welcome, but never publicly
The same applies to praise, too. It is best to discuss with team members during casual, informal meetings – walks can be a very effective meeting strategy, and talking over coffee can turn out to be quite productive and inspiring, too. Such less formal settings will remove authority barriers and will allow for more open communication – the perfect setting for even more negative feedback.
“Giving people positive feedback, pointing out what they do well, gives others a sense of increasing status, especially when done publicly. The trouble is, unless you have a strong director, giving other people positive feedback may feel like a threat, because of a sense of a relative change in status. This may explain why, despite employees universally asking for more positive feedback, employers seem to prefer the safer “deficit model” of management, of pointing out people’s faults, problems, and performance gaps, over a strengths-based approach.”
Pay attention to the questions you’re asking
Although it may come naturally to ask someone why they acted a certain way, a better approach would be to formulate more thought-provoking questions, such as: “What would you do differently to avoid this situation in the future, and improve your results?”. This technique allows the individual to better understand the situation and helps them feel more involved, rather than punished for their actions.
Consider performance, not personality
There’s a very thin line between taking feedback personally and professionally. Whether we decide to focus on the first or the latter makes it easier or more difficult for someone to take criticism. Example:
“It would be more efficient if we made casual conversation with the clients at the end of the meeting, to make sure we don’t run out of time for our eCommerce presentation.” (performance)
“Your superficial nature almost cost us a few important slides from the eCommerce presentation” (personality)
Make sure to end on a positive note
Let’s not forget: as we mentioned throughout this article, the goal of constructive feedback is to help someone improve. The best way to achieve this is by ending your input, verbal or written, in an optimistic manner, rather than by continuing to highlight what was done wrong. After all, feedback is just a conversation, and there should be no reasons for it to be feared in the future.
Empower your teams with the right feedback tools
If a bit earlier on in the article I asked for input from Elena Ungureanu, senior HR specialist at Mirro, it’s time for me to pass the mic to another Mirro expert, Bogdan Ionita, product manager, as this last point was written directly from his very own experience of working with CEOs, entrepreneurs, and HR experts from various backgrounds and cultures.
“Face-to-face feedback is a bliss for companies. Great team mates interact constantly, on the spot, and feel safe to share their feedback related to a certain, specific context. This creates camaraderie, which ultimately leads to better results.”
However, trying to count the number of companies for which this is a reality will take your efforts on a wild goose chase, continues Bogdan.
But why is it so? “It’s a matter of habit, safety, and timing or context. That’s what Mirro does, it helps with the context, it helps by making it a habit. It will not collect every feedback or interaction, of course, but it will stand for that nudge that takes feedback exchange further.”
Let this sink in, because Bogdan’s words deeply echoed mine: “Mirro will offer a sense of transparency in a culture that seeks it.”
How so, you may ask? Just think about it. We’re still very far from being capable of speaking our minds at work. In writing, it’s different. In Mirro, we have the proper framework for expressing ourselves, and the proper time to choose our words wisely.
As Bogdan continues, “Mirro brings people all the help they need, the right tone, the exact context, be it a milestone or a goal achieved, even a team event. People share perspectives in Mirro, opinions which may have a positive or a constructive vibe, but never an accusing one. Also, Mirro lets users ask for perspectives, driving the feedback process themselves to create a sense of greater safety and more willingness to share and to accept authentic, human, perspectives.”
So, without further ado, let’s move on to some clear feedback examples, for you to apply in your own company.
We know that time is not always our best friend, so we’ve worked on some feedback templates that you could use as inspiration when giving feedback in Mirro. Of course, these are all rather informative and the fields are quite interchangeable – so please adapt them in accordance with the person you are considering. Each individual is different in their own way, but we just wish to inspire you a little bit.
So here it goes – if you have examples of your own, we’d love to read them in the comments section:
Use case 1
I’m giving feedback to*:
Lara Johnson, Campaign Manager
June Advertising Campaign
What he/she did good*:
Lara, I especially appreciated that you communicated with the team so well and got everyone involved all throughout the briefing and creative process with the agency. I think you excel in facilitating group discussions, especially when the agency came over and we all got to brainstorm together. I also think that you are very good at putting plans into action, in spite of an, unfortunately, changing deadline.
What he/she could improve*:
I went through your list of goals for this campaign and some of them feel a bit unrealistic. No wonder you appeared to be a bit disappointed after today’s meeting – but don’t worry, everyone’s so happy with the results. Maybe next time try narrowing your goals down a bit to make them more attainable and measurable.
Use case 2
I’m giving feedback to*:
Matt Thomas, Tech Support Engineer
Tech support for remote teams
What he/she did good*:
Matt, congrats on tackling an issue no one has ever dealt with before in our company – our entire team working from home! It was great how you reached out to everyone and treated each situation with uttermost attention and dedication. I specifically appreciated how you handled the hardware issue – with many people complaining about sound issues or needing a secondary screen. I received positive feedback from many colleagues. Well done!
What he/she could improve*:
I understood that some colleagues answered the poll you had created after the deadline and you had to make runs to the office more often than anticipated. While your dedication was appreciated, I do not encourage it – people need to know that deadlines are created to be respected. Next time please come directly to me with such issues, and we’ll find a solution together.
Use case 3
I’m giving feedback to*:
Diane Phelps, UX Designer
App UX improvements
What he/she did good*:
Diane, first of all, it was great to have you volunteer to be part of this project. We really needed a designer, but were not allocated a budget for this, so I guess water cooler talk can come as a blessing in disguise because otherwise, you wouldn’t have found out about our project, and we wouldn’t have known that you have some availability to work on another project. Your dedication and involvement were priceless to us and we received excellent feedback from the client as well – we really hope to work on many future projects together!
What he/she could improve*:
Really nothing to improve here. Diane is amazing, she managed to tackle both her daily tasks and take on a separate assignment, which she treated just as seriously and professionally. Even though she is a recent addition to the company, she is an amazing asset. Happy to have her with us.
Use case 4
I’m giving feedback to*:
Sean Davidson, Senior HR Recruiter
IT Recruitment Campaign
What he/she did good*:
I don’t know how you managed, but getting 10 new highly qualified team members in the IT department, initiated in their new jobs and already working in just two months is quite an amazing feat. Nevertheless, you did this at no extra cost – we all heard this was mostly achieved through a campaign developed via social media and internal recommendations. So kudos to you and to our new colleagues, we’re already receiving good feedback about them from our clients.
What he/she could improve*:
I was very happy to hear that you managed to achieve this all by yourself and in such short notice, but next time, our junior colleagues in HR might appreciate being more involved too. I see great potential in you and am considering you for a management position, but in order to achieve this, I will need you to delegate more – I know what you are capable of, now it’s time to pay it forward and share the know-how.
Giving feedback is a form of art that can be easily learned through a few simple techniques. Above everything else, it’s important to know that the impact of our words can be a lot stronger than we thought, especially if they come from a position of power – formal or informal. That is why both positive and negative input should always be addressed in a more tactful form, to ensure that the proper result is always reached.
An app such as Mirro can make the feedback process a lot easier by setting clear expectations, in the form of OKRs, and by offering the possibility to provide user-friendly feedback in an easy-to-fill form. Get your demo here and see how Mirro can make your life easier.