Effective Communication with Justin Sherman

Justin Sherman, CEO and Senior Executive Coach, in conversation with Evan Reiser, Co-founder & CEO at Abnormal Security.

Justin Sherman discusses effective communication and how we can utilize it to our advantage in this ever-changing remote world. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure that people we work with feel heard, encouraged and supported by their peers. Justin talks through advice he’s given Evan, as well as personal experiences that have taught him important lessons about the importance of effective communication, especially as a leader.

Evan: [00:00:00] Justin, thank you so much for joining us today. Um, you know, and maybe for context for the rest of folks, um, and Justin is my executive coach we worked together for a little over two years, and as we were thinking through kind of the content for today, um, you know, a lot of, a a lot of the past conversations a bit about specific kind of leadership points or kind of more general advice and as Justin and I were brainstorming, we thought about, you rather than kind of just talking about generic stuff, we wanted to really focus on some of the, you know, feedback we've heard from the team in the most recent pulse survey and some of the, you know, feed some of the things that people said they wanted to kind of w they wanted to see more in the leadership team and managers across the company is really thinking about how do we improve our communication?

How do we improve our expectation setting or alignment around, you know, what success looks like and how do we improve our coaching and feedback. And those are all topics that are not relevant just for people managers they're really relevant for everyone that's working in a group with more than one person.

So I'm Justin super excited to have [00:01:00] you here today. And I'm excited to dive into some of those. 

Justin: My pleasure. I'm looking forward to the conversation . 

Evan: So I think before we go into some of the specific topics for abnormal, I think one of the big themes that we're all thinking about is just the shift to remote work.

So when we started the company two years ago, There was 30 people in one office and five cube, another office. And we all saw each other day and saw each other every day. We had lunch together and now we're in a much different environment where, you know, we're working remotely. We're kind of jumping from meeting to meeting.

We lose, you know, there's some benefits, so I, we're probably more focused in some ways. We also lose a lot, both at the social level at the kind of, you know, just some of those ad hoc conversations don't exist. So i guess maybe just to help set the stage. Right. You know, how do you think about. The shift to remote work.

And what are some of the dynamics that carism a new dynamics that creates around, you know, how people work together and what, what teamwork and [00:02:00] leadership looks like? 

Justin: Sure. I mean, a couple of thoughts. I I mean, first of all, to hopefully, um, state the obvious, I I mean, and this is obviously endemic across every organization.

There's no organization that's not impacted by these dynamics. And, you know, I think, you know, beyond obviously COVID, um, changing the environment of all organizations and the challenges of, of, um, everybody working remotely and trying to figure out how to stay connected. You know, the other dynamic, which I think is, you know, in play in that.

Overstated in terms of its consequences and its impact. It's just, I think that the broader social political environment has become a lot more sensitive and, and, and a lot more, there's a lot more heightened, um, stress in the system more generally. And I think the combination of those things and not being able to see people and not being able to.

To connect as readily has created an environment where there's just a lot more room for [00:03:00] misunderstanding or miss attribution of people's intent or of what's really going on. And so, you know, what's the antidote to that. I think obviously there's a much higher premium on people being able to make their intent, you know, clear and to try and navigate through some of those misunderstandings.

You know, one of the themes that, um, you've heard a lot of in our time, and it just continues for me to be in many ways, increasing that the forefront of my work is just thinking about how do I, how do I want to think about partnership and how do I want to be a partner? And how do I want to fundamentally show up in relationships?

And, you know, no small part of that is, is trying to be as intentional as possible about, about making your entire. Clear and, and giving people context, or sometimes they don't have that context, which, you know, unfortunately in the current environment is more often than not people are, are, are dealing with more limited context.

And I'm the only other thing pragmatically to say on that, [00:04:00] which, you know, I think has been, uh, w was starting to become more of an issue. Even previous to COVID, but has only been exacerbated by COVID is just being thoughtful about the channels through which you have certain conversations, um, if there's potential for conflict or if, you know, you're dealing with a particularly controversial topic, um, doing things via email or slack or text is almost always going to be.

Um, is almost always going to have the potential for a lot more misunderstanding and misattribution. So, you know, think about the meetings, even if it's a 10 minute meeting or 15 minute meeting to have in-person that this is better off having the conversation, um, by zoom or by phone. So those are some of the first.

Evan: Um, Justin w you know, kind of what you're saying, um, I guess implicitly, right? It's just like the, the, almost like the bandwidth of communication, right. It It gets lost a little bit via Zoom, right? I don't mean like the technical bandwidth, right. But there's a lot of signals, a lot of feelings, emotions, right.

That are harder to communicate on zoom versus in person and [00:05:00] even worse. Right. Via slack and email a lot of time. Um, some of that extra contextual signals, you could be. Observed right. Just don't exist in some of these other channels. Right. And probably all texts is the worst. Zoom is maybe a little bit better, but you know, in person is certainly the best in terms of how humans communicate.

I think that, you know, one piece of advice you've given me repeatedly is one of the principles you've you've tried to impose on me is really trying to find opportunities to make the implicit explicit, right. As a, as a mechanism for. Um, ensuring like things don't get lost in translation or loss in communication.

Do you maybe want to talk about like, um, you know, I'll think about me about an example where I've kinda messed up here, but like, what do you say go wrong? Where do you see people making kind of implicit statements or setting implicit expectations and that being kind of a recipe for, you know, poor partnership or poor collaboration, or just, you know, Negative negative performance, different 

Justin: ways.

Yeah. I mean, I guess, I guess I'll just [00:06:00] say, you know, this is where again, um, you know, starting kind of with first principles on this, um, the basic construct of all, you know, human partnership in human relationship is that people only observe my behavior. And yet only I understand my intention and until somebody either inquires into, you more of the why behind the.

Or you make visible what is motivating you or what you're trying to really achieve and tell and tell people how visibility to that. You know, there's just always the potential for misunderstanding and misattribution. And I just, I just don't think it can be overstated even under the best of circumstances when people are working together in close contact and someone has a chance in a hallway conversation to walk up to you and.

Hey, I haven't, you know, I, I heard you made that comment today and in that meeting, you know, I'm not, what did that really mean? And, you know, I'm not clear what, you know, what was, what was your intent in saying and making that statement cause that, you know, that sounded really critical or I didn't [00:07:00] really understand what that meant.

Can you tell me more? And that's, that's hard enough to do, you know, when you're in, in meetings in person and when you're walking through hallways and you're, you know, you're bumping into people in, um, in the. You know, in the, in the break room, but when you don't have that benefit, you've got to really seek it out.

And so, you know, the bottom line is most people, particularly if it, particularly when you're, when you're someone's manager, most people aren't going to take that time or make that effort to ask you for more clarity about your intent. You know, there's going to make assumptions. Or they're just going to assume what they assume.

So again, I think particularly if you're managing people and leading people, but I think even if you're regardless, the more you can take the initiative to say, okay, I know I'm sounding really critical here, or I know this question sounds more leading, but let me [00:08:00] just tell you why this, you know, why this matters to me, or just, just being able to give people more visibility.

To why you're doing what you're doing or why you're asking what you're asking or why you're fundamentally behaving the way you're behaving. Is this helpful? Because it just, it preempts people's misunderstanding. That's the bottom line is the more you can preempt people's misunderstanding or misattribution things generally work better 

Evan: just as they're like.

Maybe you should make that a little more. You know, visceral, right. Is there like an example or anything feel free to use, you know, some mistake I've made right. As an example for the audience, but, um, you know, is there any kind of active that comes to mind when you think about, you know, here's a communication that had good intent versus really focused on the, what not the why and that got misinterpreted, right.

And kind of spiraled out of control and, you know, then maybe kind of contrast that to. Hey, here's the version. Here's a version of that. That's much more explicit, right? Where that intent is more vocalized or verbalized. Like, can you help us kind of contrast what good and bad looks like the, [00:09:00] 

Justin: yeah, I mean, you know, again, there's, it's hard to come up with great, you know, examples that just are consistently archetypal that, you know, that play out over and over again.

I mean, I do think. Again, you know, I've worked mostly with CEOs and, and, you know, you know, this very well, Evan, when, you know, when you're trying to raise the bar or trying to otherwise have people focused on, on being the best, they can be, comments can easily be construed as overly critical. I mean, and I think that's generally true in all partnerships and organizations.

You know, one person's excellence and striving to be the best they can be or striving to get the team to be the best they can be. It can be another person's criticism. And, and so Intel, you know, you start to say, and again, I mean, you can pick it, pick all kinds of examples, but when you're saying, Hey, listen, I think we can do better on this.

I think this could be, I [00:10:00] think, I think we can be fundamentally, um, more exacting and how we're doing this. Someone else could interpret that as, okay. Someone's calling me out here. They're, you know, they're fundamentally displeased with my performance. And so again, you know, as you raise the bar, are you trying to fundamentally get people to perform at a higher level?

Even simple comments, like, you know, let me tell you why this feels, so why, why the stakes feel so high around this right now? Let me tell you why this particular outcome feels so critical to me or to, to the success of the organization and just, and actually even being able to say, you know, I mean, you've heard me say this a lot sometimes.

Just speaking to what your intent isn't is also helpful. I mean, actually being able to say sometimes overtly. It's not my intent here to sound like I'm, I'm calling anybody out or I'm trying to be overly critical of the team's efforts, but here here's my concern that if we don't do this well enough where we fundamentally aren't effective enough, then here [00:11:00] are going to be the consequences.

So I think just again, putting a little more context around things can really be. 

Evan: Yeah. And, uh, maybe fabricating example, right? Let me know if this kind of what you mean. Like let's say Sandra comes to me is like, Hey Evan. I was, I was working all weekend on this, you know, architectural blueprint for where we want our technology roadmap to the next year.

You know, what do you think? And if I respond it's, it's, it's pretty good, but it's not. Right. That that can easily be interpreted as like a judgmental comments, right. In the, you know, that's all a con he's heard the words. Right. And he can be like, wow, maybe Evan doesn't appreciate my work. He doesn't, you know, he doesn't seem to care that I worked super hard on this.

Maybe he doesn't think I'm thoughtful anything I'm equipped to even do this job. And this is a way of signaling that to me. Or maybe a different version, right. Just using kind of your language would be. Hey Sanjay. Um, you know, just, I want to communicate, like, you know, I've told competence right? In your, your ability to get, you know, build you build great architecture.

And I, I don't doubt anyone's thinking through this more thoroughly than you. However, I all, at the same time, I also feel [00:12:00] like the stakes are extremely high here, right in this work is going to go have all these compounding effects. And so in the spirit of us, really trying to push to get the best possible outcome, you know, let me just try to challenge and push us so we can work together to figure out how to like, upgrade.

Right that that's, uh, is that how much you mean by? 

Justin: Yeah. And that's a good use case very well said. And, and I, and I've been like the language, and again, I mentioned it earlier, but I'll just reinforce it. I think giving voice to what the stakes are. I mean, really can level set everybody around that because again, one person can feel like, Hey, you know, this is, this is reasonably important.

And another person might feel like, Hey, this is really important. And if we can't. Level-set around just what we think the stakes are. What w what we fundamentally think is at risk or as is the potential cost of not doing something the right way. Then, you know, that that in of itself is, is often then, uh, set up for fundamental misunderstanding.

Evan: And Justin, um, you know, in the past you mentioned this earlier, right? When you talked a little bit about partnership, I guess, what, what is, [00:13:00] what does partnership mean? Right. At least in the professional context, right. If you know, we're partnering together either as coworkers or as a, you know, in a manager type relationship, you know, what is, yeah.


Justin: I think, you know, here's, here's the way I would actually frame it again. I mean, partnership's a vague word and it can be construed and attribute a lot of ways. But I think fundamentally, and again, I think this comes back to even more consequences in the virtual world or in the largely virtual remote world is the fundamental question of, of how do I want to show up and how do I want people to experience.

Fundamentally me working with them. And so here's some questions, you know, to, to answer, to help guide that is, you know, how patient do I want to come across as being, going to come across as being extremely impatient or do I want to come across as being directly? More patient and tolerant. Do I want to be seen as a mentor or as more of a teacher?

Do I want to be taking the time [00:14:00] to again, explain things to people, to help them learn something that they don't understand? Um, regardless of whether I'm a manager or whether I'm an individual contributor, do I want to take the time to help people learn things that they don't understand? The also the other question, which is fundamental a partnership.

Do I expect people do I routinely expect people to kind of come to my side of the field or am I going to go to their side of the field? Right. Do I, do I expect people to do things on my terms, consistent, my willing to, to, to go a little bit to their, you know, metaphorically 40 yard line and, and those are real questions.

And again, people's behavior would suggest. Very different modalities, a partnership. And so I think it does fundamentally start with the question of who I want to be. How do I want to show up? 

Evan: There's one theme we've talked about as kind of, um, around [00:15:00] partnership, right. Is really Alliant expectations.

Right. And that doesn't necessarily mean he has as a manager here, my expectations, right. It's act by more partly understanding the other side. Hey, what are your expectations? Right. And then trying to figure out between. Yeah. The two, the two people in that partnership, what, you know, what is kind of realistic that we can both align on and expect from each other.

Um, can you talk about like, you know, how do you know, what are your thoughts on just around common expectation setting and, you know, really. You know, really making sure this kind of like a good foundation, right. For understanding how the other person right in that partnership is gonna, you know, show up or not.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, this is again, I mean, you know, expectations is, is a very complicated topic and again, you know, there's a lot of, a lot of nuances to it. And so again, if we think more broadly about this in terms of, you know, You know, one of the things that always obviously has, has it always has the potential to break down in, in all the organizations is again, enough [00:16:00] mutual alignment and enough, um, cohesive understanding of, of what someone's role actually is of what outcomes they're really striving to create of what objectives really matter, et cetera.

Yeah. Yeah, while it's, it's critically important that there be alignment around that. This is where I can't, I can't put a strong enough stake in the ground to say that I think as an employee, you have ownership of, of initiating that as much as possible. And actually, I mean, first of all, I'll, I'll back up and say, I think as a manager of team, It is, it is far more empowering to ask people for their perspective and their take on how they define the most critical outcomes of their role of fundamentally what most matters to them.

Obviously what they feel is most important to anchor their outcomes or their role [00:17:00] on right. To be able to give them the chance to kind of go first, if you will, on that. Recognizing that as a manager, you break the tie in the sense that if you have a different opinion, you obviously work through that and ultimately have the prerogative to break the tie.

But I think from a, from an employee standpoint, you own, you own your job and you own the accountability for being clear about testing for an aligning expectations. With your manager. And again, not to get too prescriptive about this, but to me, that's a conversation that should be explicitly happening probably at least once a quarter.

I mean, were you literally sit down in a one-on-one and say, okay, these are my expectations right now for what my job is and for what. This is what I think is most important for me to focus on and why it matters. And I just want to test that with you [00:18:00] to make sure we're completely on the same page. And again, even if your manager's not initiating that conversation, you should, and ultimately, um, you have responsibility and accountability for, for that alignment.

Evan: Just in the middle of talking about just like the, what the contrast here, right? I'm like where, where do these partnerships fail? Right. What are some of the it's it seems we've talked in the past for a lot of it comes down to like people not having that conversation, not understanding expectations, or maybe having a, uh, a mental model of expectations that they haven't really tested right.

With their, with their party of their side. And there being some misalignment or different people have different mental models about what this partnership's all about, you know, where does that, where does that go wrong? And, you know, any other advice you, 

Justin: you. Sure. I mean to probably state the obvious, the absolute obvious, and for everybody listening, I'm sure you're going to test it.

This, you know, the gravitational pull in every organization is towards the tactical in the [00:19:00] immediate, I mean, that's where the gravitational pull always is, you know, to whatever the problem of the day is to status updates, to, to fundamentally focusing on tactics and immediate short-term outcomes. I I mean, that's where the gravitational pull is.

And so. Again, you know, I, I use the language of the hygiene of partnership, and this is really, I mean, to ground this, you know, thinking more deliberately about, particularly with your manager or if you're a manager with your direct reports being really deliberate about, about the construct of your one-on-ones and, and being clear about how that agenda gets established.

And if that agenda. It's only based on tactical outcomes and you're never having conversations about how am I feeling about my role what's working. What's not working. Let's talk about again, how we're working together. I mean, being able to overtly ask the question, you know, as an agenda [00:20:00] item and if you're a manager or even if you're an employee, you know, put that on the agenda.

Okay. I would argue at least once a quarter is how are we working together? And from each of our perspectives, you know, what's working and what's not working. And, and just it, unless you make that an explicit topic, it's not going to get talked about because the gravitational pull is always towards the top.

Evan: I think, I think it would be fair to argue that, you know, our performance of the entire company as an organization is somewhat like a, some of the quality of all these partnerships, right? The more we can explicitly, um, discuss those, optimize, improve those as a first class project and priority, right. That will help everything else.

Um, you know, uh, us perform better and all that work is even harder to do, but also more important, right? In this, in this remote, remote. 

Justin: Yeah. And you said it well, I mean, you know, it is the cumulative effect of those, of those partnerships and those, um, of the function of each of those relationships. And [00:21:00] again, you know, everyone in everyone listening on this call knows that, you know, a toxic relationship around you can be a real source of distraction.

And if you have influence over a relationship, whether it be with your manager, with one of your peers, With any bit of, one of your direct reports with anybody within the organization. If, if, if you are part of a relationship that's not working, I'm going to argue again, it's your responsibility. And ultimately you have accountability to take the initiative, to, to sit down and work on that and address again, what's working and what's not.

I guess 

Evan: a very thoughtful Justin, um, maybe switch gears a little bit, um, Luke to mine or Luker Sam, do you mind kind of putting up the pulse survey results side? So, um, I'm, I'm kind of doing what I said I wasn't going to do, which is like, you know, talk to too broadly. I tell them what would be useful as for us to look at some of the feedback we got from, you know, people at the company about, you know, um, about, you know, their leaders [00:22:00] and their managers, and look for opportunities for us to, um, You know, improve a Luber.

Sam, can you pull up that? Uh, the slide,

if not, I will just do it. Yep. We're pulling it up now. Okay.

Do you want me to share, look at that? Would that be easier?

Okay, I'm just going to share it because you guys are too slow. Okay. So here's um, so this is, um, you know, we did this kind of pulse survey, right. And we asked for people with feedback about, you know, how is your, you know, what's working, what's not working with your, your, with your, uh, manager and, you know, one of the areas right.

Where I think we, we didn't, uh, We didn't do super well in this question around, are you clear what success looks like for you? Right. Um, in the second half of this year, next quarter, et cetera. And so I feel like that this is kind of, you know, very related to the topic [00:23:00] we're talking about Justin, right around kind of setting expectations.

And I actually think probably most people. Are clear on what their team okay. Ours are, but they're probably not clear about what success looks like for them personally. There's probably an opportunity for us to have more of those conversations and, you know, discussions. Um, I guess maybe for you, Justin, like, uh, I guess, what do you think about that?

Right. When it comes to like determining or explicitly describing what success looks like, both for managers and employees and having more, more active dialogue there. Right. What are some of the, you know, best practices or key principles or themes you'd kind of recommend so that we can just, you know, up our game there as an organization.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, again, without getting too tactical about it, it's a little bit of a reinforcement of what. Or reiteration of what I said earlier, but I mean, clearly, um, overtly it's a manager's responsibility to initiate that conversation with, you know, with, with every employee. I mean, there's, there's no doubt that that's a best practice.

And [00:24:00] again, what's the frequency or cadence of that. I mean, you know, that's to be determined. I mean, as far as. Ms rapidly as fast growing and is rapidly evolving as abnormal is I think those conversations should be scheduled explicitly in one-on-ones. At least once a quarter, you could probably argue, you know, more frequently, but at least once a quarter.

And, and again, that should be an explicit topic, you know? And, and, you know, again, I'm happy to share questions that I've, you know, used in the past have been used in the past with organizations I've worked with around, around, you know, how to templatize that a little bit more, but, you know, it's 

Evan: just, do you mind sharing those, right?

Like, you know, if I'm, you know, if I'm your manager, just send your. You feel unclear what success looks like in my eyes, in the company's eyes, what, you know, for, you know, what I think of you? How do you kind solicit that? Right. Um, and, and then obviously like, yeah, maybe, maybe from the employee side, right?

How do you kind of solicit that? 

Justin: Well, I'm just saying, so I think, you know, as a manager, just to finish this train of thought, you know, as a manager, it is your [00:25:00] responsibility to initiate those conversations, but I'm going to argue as an employee, like when I see those surveys, the results I'm also. Put a strong stake in the ground of say, as an employee with guard lists of what your manager initiates or doesn't initiate, you've got to have that conversation.

And so this is where again, you have the accountability and the ownership to own that conversation. Even if your manager doesn't, if your manager's not having that conversation with. You need to have the conversation and say, okay, manager, I want to make sure we're calibrated on expectations for my role is here's what I think my role is.

Here's, what's most important from my standpoint, et cetera, et cetera. And I need to make sure you and I are a hundred percent clear and aligned on that. And if you have a different opinion, I want to hear it.

Don't wait, don't be passive. 

Evan: I think you have a good [00:26:00] point, Justin, where it's like, uh, it's got everyone's responsibility, probably you'd like two-way streets. Right. And, um, you know, kind of everyone's a fault, right? If either party feels like there's some miscalibration or, you know, lack of clarity, right.

Kind of both, everyone needs to kind of lean into that partnership and help debug. And, you know, even if it's awkward and uncomfortable totally.

Um, maybe just, uh, I actually had to go to another survey question and a second range to hear your thoughts, Justin, but, um, I guess like, you know, sometimes there's, you know, actually a lot of the time there's some situation right. Where we're expectations do get misaligned. Right. And I've made the mistake personally, right.

Where I'm like, Hey Justin, like, I don't, I don't think this, the work you did is good. Right. And I'm, and I'm kind of falling to the trap we just talked about, about being, you know, being judgmental, you know, being implicit about why am I even saying that? Or what, what motivates you like when it comes to like, you know, giving feedback around kind of expectations or missed expectations, like what's, what's, what's covered helpful pattern there to make sure that.

You [00:27:00] know, both, you know, both sides, the, the communicator, that feedback has been both explicit and, you know, not being, you know, destructive to productivity by being judgemental or triggering some sort of emotional reaction. 

Justin: Well, and just to start with, again, the first principle here, which is I can't hold people accountable for something that we're not aligned around expectations of.

And, and this is why, again, this, this whole notion, and again, I don't know on your survey, I don't know what this question. Completely exposes or reveals and, and, and what, anyway, I don't, you know, there's context that I don't have around, what's beneath that question, but for every organization, for every, I should say for every partnership between a manager and an employee, um, if, if there's not, if there's not clear alignment around expectations, there can't be accountable.

So holding someone accountable for something that they don't know what's expected of them [00:28:00] is obviously not reasonable, although it happens all the time in organizations. And so any conversation about accountability has to start with reinforcing what were expect, what you believed were expectations. And that, and that, again, cuts both ways, but you know, certainly from a manager's perspective, I can't hold someone accountable for something that they don't, that we aren't clear.

There were aligned expectations around. 

Evan: And there's some, one piece of advice you've given me is, um, You know, w when you, when you feel like you're in a scenario, right. Uh, you know, whether a manager employee, and you kind of have the instinct to make kind of that judgmental comments, right. You've kind of recommended this scheme of like, Hey, here's the, here's the expectation of working with here's the observation, you know, you know, like you maybe talk about that framework.

Right. And, and, and how, how, you know, someone can apply that. 

Justin: Yeah. I mean, this gets a little bit, and it's just, you know, the art of good [00:29:00] feedback, I think. Maybe what you're alluding to a little bit. And this is for me, a huge distinction is between statements that sound like judgements versus, uh, or conclusions versus observations and feedback is far more powerful when it is.

On observations of, of what you're of the behavior you're observing. I mean, it comes back again just to tie this back to the statement from earlier that, you know, all we see is people's behaviors and we don't understand their intentions until we either see until we either seek those intentions, seek to understand those intentions or until they make those intentions more visible.

And so. It's it's far more compelling, right? To say, Hey, you know, I'm making this up as an example, you know, you showed up late to the meeting, you know, you must be lazy. You must not really care. You must not really be invested in this project. Right. [00:30:00] And that's kind of what you're thinking. And it's much easier to have your statements bleed out in to suggesting that as opposed to stay.

You know, I noticed you relate to the meeting. Um, I just am curious to know why that was. And if someone says, Hey, I thought the meeting started at 10 after, instead of top of the hour, then you're working from a different set of expectations. If someone says, you know, my kid was sick, you know, that gives you one framework when someone else says, yeah, I don't know.

I just got busy and I just, I just lost track of time. That gives you another answer. Right. But until you in quiet, Again, into first of all, having mutual expectations, you know, the example of, of, uh, of a meeting as a simple one, but someone thought the meeting started at 1215, and they show up at 12, 15, they weren't late.

Right. So it just, it just depends on the expectations and aligning around those. But, but also just again, you have to seek out, you have to name the behavior. Okay. So I noticed you showed up late. [00:31:00] Tell me more. And start with that as opposed to starting with a conclusion that someone's lazy or uncommitted or not really.

Evan: Yeah. I think the things you've told me just in the past that really resonated with me is just remembering that everyone has a different set of expectations in their own brains and they don't always overlap. Right. A lot of times we're on different pages. The other theme is that, or the other kind of, um, patterns that we all limited visibility into the world.

Right. So sometimes when we see things that don't make sense to us, it's, you know, know, if I say, Hey, Justin, like you were late to this meeting, right? Uh, I think he explicitly saying, Hey, Justin, I expected you to show up on time because they're super important. I didn't see that happen. Right. Like I do, but I don't know what else is going on in your life.

You know, let me know what's going on there. Right. So I have the wrong expectation. Did I, uh, am I kind of like, what am I not seeing? Do you kind of, or am I actually seeing the right stuff? And I had the expectations, there's a gap and like your audits or you don't care about it. [00:32:00] Right. So I think, you know, breaking, you know, breaking that down right from, you know, the, the judgmental kind of conclusion based comments into really kind of checking, you know, going back to.

Hey, do we have the same expectations? Are we seeing things the same way? Is there, is there information that I'm not seeing, right. That's kind of the enemy to a bad conclusion, or if those are both accurate, right. That's the easy, cool. There's some gap there, right? Let's talk about, you know, if we want to close that.

Or if it's even necessary or there's some other higher priority. I think that that's been a good framework you've you've shown in the past. 

Justin: Yeah. And so more pointedly, you know, this is really important actually as a distinction. And again, we could maybe use the meeting example as a simple illustration of it.

No, this could be a gap of expectations. Right? One person thought the meeting started at 12 and another person thought the meeting started at 1215. So, you know, they just were misaligned with their expectations, but it could also be. Uh, values, right? Some, some someone, I I mean, this is true by the way, this is actually a good use case in organizational life.

There are people that are routinely [00:33:00] 10 minutes late because it just doesn't matter to them to be a little bit late. It doesn't feel that important to be prompt. And for another person it's a real values thing to be on top. And so until you inquire though, and understand more, um, you don't know. 

Evan: It's just, just to practice, I think what we're preaching right around being, making the implicit explicit, whereas using this meeting example, right.

As a kind of generic example, not trying to signal the importance of punctuality, um, totally. Any other folks, real example, right. We'll make people feel like maybe we're making a jab at them, which isn't, which is obviously, yeah, 

Justin: no, but I mean, it's a good example cause everyone's in meetings and everyone has an experience of someone showing up late.

And then in your mind you go, why was this person late? You know, where they late. They don't respect me where they laid because you know, their kid's sick where they lay, you know, who knows. Right. And some. 

Evan: Well, it does not, I want to open up to Q and a, but I had to kind one more question relative to the pulse pulse survey feedback.

So a bunch of people felt like, um, [00:34:00] and we had some teams that felt like they weren't getting actionable feedback from their, from their managers. And I think that when I've worked with a bunch of managers at the company, it was almost kind of like. To kind of, you know, error cases or kind of failure conditions.

And they're all around this kind of spectrum of how much feedback to get on one side of the spectrum, right? Uh, managers are totally deferential. Hey, Justin, wherever you want to think of, just, you know, you, you make all the sit-ins, I'm just going to kind of sit back. You just let me know what's going on.

Right. And they kind of put all the decisions on their team, other side of the spectrum, right. They take in all the decisions, right. And they're overly directive. And they're saying, no, I don't, you shouldn't make any decisions. I'm going to make all the decisions. Both extremes are bad. Right. And, you know, I guess, how do you think about, you know, how, how will we should be striking the right balance there?

And maybe more importantly, how do we have the conversation to kind of tune what that balance is over different points of time to make sure that, you know, each one of those partnerships, each person is getting what they need. 

Justin: Yeah. I mean, this is where, again, the topic of feedback is so complicated. And so, you know, again, um, just to distinguish a couple of things, [00:35:00] um, If I understand the survey or, or would, uh, would, would surmise that part of the issue is people aren't, aren't getting enough feedback to actually get better and to grow and to fundamentally improve, which is a common theme across most organizations, you know, very few organizations in virtually no organization.

I touch do people feel like they get enough feedback? To be able to materially improve that that is still pretty rare inside of organizations. That's different than, okay. How do I give good constructive feedback when people are. You know, or making mistakes around me regularly, it's back to the whole issue of again, you know, being able to hold the bar high, but being able to give feedback in a way that doesn't feel de-motivating right.

So, you know, there's, there's two issues. Here are two dimensions of this, which, you know, can get conflated a little bit. I think on the first topic of just of just, you know, getting enough feedback, it comes back to the theme of just owning, owning your own, you know, being accountable for your own experience.

And [00:36:00] so if you want feedback, And feel like your growth and development is part of what's at stake. You need to invite the feedback. And again, it comes back to how do you want to show up in the organization? And if you want to show up as someone who's learning and growing and developing, then you need to leave meetings or you need to leave projects or, you know, what, whatever the context is.

Um, and, and, and explicitly ask people, you know, I'm curious. You saw my performance in that meeting, or, you know, as we work together on this project, I'm curious, you know, what'd you think, how could I have been better? Or what could I have done differently? What could I have done to improve? It's your responsibility to ask those questions and not just to expect that people will give you that feedback, including your, including with your manager.

So I think that's one piece is just owning, owning, asking for that input and owning and asking for that feed. 

Evan: Justin, like, are there, um, and what are some of the common like traps, like everyone [00:37:00] tries to get feedback, right? And there there's a big gap between effective feedback and there's sometimes destructive feedback, which is not helpful at all.

Like what are some of those kind of common traps that people fall into? And we get a feedback. Yeah. 

Justin: I mean, this is, so this is a GAM, you know, it's becoming. Just even over the years. I mean, you know, feedback probably is not lost on many people in this conversation, the whole topic of feedback, giving. And receiving has become a lot more loaded inside of organizations.

And I would argue hasn't certain organizations become a lot more weaponized. And, and again, I come back to, um, you know, the heightened sensitivity in a lot of organizations. I mean, anyway, it's, it's a, it's a big topic, I guess the only simple point on this that I would start with, which actually feel increasingly strongly about if you're giving someone feedback, do not start the conversation with, I want to give you a few.

I think there is a way in which just the statement of, I need to give you some feedback is become [00:38:00] so polarizing and weaponizing that, you know, the more that, that whatever input or, or, um, constructive comments you want to make for people. But you're just so much better than. Just having the conversation and literally saying things like, you know, when we were, again, I'm using the example of being in a meeting, we were in that meeting.

You know, one of things I noticed was X, Y, and Z. And I just, I just wanted to call that to your attention. Cause I just, you know, I don't know whether you're aware of that. And I just wanted to, I just wanted to make that again, more apparent to you or, Hey, I just, you know, I have a little bit of input here though.

I just wanted to provide, so just being able to make statements like that feel a lot more neutral than, Hey, I need to give you some feedback. 

Evan: Yeah. And Justin, any other kind of pro tips for like being more effective in giving feedback? I know you've talked about being explicit, that kind of two things back to the impact.

Right. You what else would you add on? 

Justin: Yeah, I just, again, you know, [00:39:00] always, always, always focusing on specifics, focusing on the behavioral, being clear again about, about providing. Feedback or input that is based on direct observations as opposed to assumptions, as opposed to hearsay, as opposed to, um, judgments or conclusions, the more, any feedback or any input can be based fundamentally on observations, you know, observable.

Uh, basically observable objective observations. The more that, that your feedback is based on that, the better, the better success you have other landing. 

Evan: I think it's really, really easy trap to fall into making judgemental statements versus like just sharing the observations and connecting it back to the impact.

So thinking about like everyone right. Wants to improve and have more of an impact right. To the company and to our customers, to the mission. So, um, you know, I think. I think [00:40:00] just like, you're gonna share it, sharing the observations. Right. I think people can kind of connect the dots about how to go do it, but, um, you know, just sharing the observations can know the impact would be really helpful, but 

Justin: there's real artistry to this.

I mean, it really takes, I mean, again, I, I, you know, this has been, hopefully the theme in many of these comments, you know, all this stuff can be really reductionistic and, and again, I mean, you can talk about having giving feedback that's based on observations. It takes a lot of time to practice that and get good at that.

And it's just, I mean, the bottom line is it's hard to give good feedback. It's not easy to do. 

Evan: So we'll, we'll switch over to Q and a. So if you guys want to click on the link in chat, you can go and, um, either add your own questions or upvote questions. I just want to start off with a question. Dallas asks in the chat and based adjusting the question is, you know, uh, in this world we're trying to be extra explicit.

Right. And trying to over, you know, when someone's trying to over-communicate, so things don't get lost, the details, like, is there a balance there, right? Can you go too far in that direction where it starts to feeling like you're being. You know, you're over-explaining or you're being insulting or pen, dantic like, [00:41:00] you know, what's the right balance there, right?

Or are we in a world where there is no balance? Actually, the more we know that direction, the better, like how do you, you, how do you think. 

Justin: I think of course, you know, an Evan, we can, you know, speak to examples in our work where, you know, you got feedback from, from, from someone that said, Hey, I don't need all that context.

You know, 

Evan: it a board member by the way. 

Justin: Right. And I think, you know, so, but again, I would rather someone in the spirit of feedback, give me that feedback because you know, it's more likely than not that I'm not going to be doing. I'm not going to be over contextualizing something. Most of us don't over contextualize most of us under contextualize, but yeah, I mean to answer the question, you can go too far, but then I'd rather let someone down me back rather than have to deal with.

Evan: Yeah, that's my experience too. And I, I have been, uh, I have been told I'm an over explainer at times, but I think it's better to it's. I think it's more likely that people are going to be missing context than having too much context. They have too much [00:42:00] context. I'll probably give you that feedback. Having kind of get it, you know, just kind of cut to the chase.

Um, for me personally, I'd rather kind of err on that side than find out later on the someone didn't have the contacts and therefore thought they have the context even worse, right. The extrapolate in some way they ended up being suboptimal. Totally. So, so, uh, Susie had a question, uh, what are some of the best practices that remote new hires can employ to get to know other staff, understand the roles and learn how to learn, learn who to reach out to with questions.

So, um, there's probably some things that we need to be doing as a company to like create more infrastructure here. So it's easier to see who's working on what, what are they doing? There's actually some projects which are on the people team to work on this, but maybe I'll modify his question a little bit for you, Justin.

You know, in this remote world where you, you know, you don't go to the water cooler, you don't go to the lunch table. It's harder to kind of just get that inorganic or that kind of organic context. So what's going on at the company? Um, what are some ways that you've seen other organizations try to, you know, combat that or kind of help, help employees be more connected to [00:43:00] other folks in the.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, I think again, you know, the, the, the, the common theme was, won't be a surprise. And again, most of the people I deal with are our senior executives. So it's a little bit of apples and oranges. Cause I don't, I don't have a lot of experience with in a particularly younger or, or early career new hires.

So I don't, I can't speak to that as much, but I think, you know, the truth is most new hires get too little attention rather than too much attention. I I mean, that's just the bottom line. And so. I think being able to, to, to fundamentally take the responsibility, to check in with those people, to, to just make sure you're, you're providing access, particularly in a road mode environment, just providing access is obviously, um, you know, the critical opportunity.

And so, you know, having, I mean, this can get really heavy handed, but just helping enough people who were just explicitly reaching, reaching out to that person. No check to make sure their questions are getting answered that they're there. Their learning curve is, is, is coming up to speed enough is, is one, you know, [00:44:00] one, one way to address.

Evan: Uh, I would say too that, um, you know, I don't think we know as a company. Right. And so if you guys, you know, I'd love to hear your guys' feedback and ideas, and like, let's think about how we can improve that. Cause if we can figure that out now, it's going to help us. You know, exponentially more. So in the future, we have hundreds, more people and accomplish more quickly.

So, um, there are probably some, there's some new social things going to be setting up right. Monthly social events and things like that. But the company level, the department level, we'll be launching some of that in next quarter, but that, that that'll probably be a step in the right direction, but also insufficient.

So as you guys have more thoughts, you know, please share with me or, or Liz Barker.

Um, so another question from anonymous, um, as one transitions from a junior to senior role, how can you practice giving feedback where it used to a mental model specific to how you receive feedback? So, um, naturally, totally impersonal. You know, how do you, I guess probably when you're earlier in your career, right?

Um, you're getting a lot more tactical feedback. It's maybe more logistical in nature, mechanical in nature. And over time becomes, you [00:45:00] know, more about like, you know, more, it's more concrete, mechanical things. And probably as you get, as you get bigger, writes more about strategic conceptual abstract things.

Right. And so I guess, uh, how do, uh, maybe just maybe more generically, just like, how do you. How do you up your game, right? Or how do you kind of tune your feedback appropriately? Yeah, I 

Justin: mean, one way I interpret this question, which I think is actually calling a a spade, a spade, you know, when you're really junior in an organization, you just feel more of the inequity of power, right?

I mean, it's pretty unlikely. Someone who's, you know, early in their career is going to walk up to you and, and give you feedback about how you show up in a meeting. I mean, that's, that's pretty unlikely because there's going to feel. You know, more the, the gap of that power differential and that as you become more senior, I think it comes back to again, what, what do you feel more ownership of?

And, and again, I'm going to use this language, a partner, and as I mean in a perfect world, even junior people in our [00:46:00] organization can feel empowered to give feedback and feel empowered to make their. Expectations clear where the lack of their expectations clear. Right. To be able to, again, coming back to some things we talked about earlier, being able to give voice to some of those things, but I recognize that it's hard to do, you know, when you're really junior in an organization, you just feel so much that you're, you know, you're kind of at the mercy of the organization.

So as you transition, obviously it's a chance to, you know, to be clear that. You belong and that you fundamentally are, are a member of the team. And that giving feedback is now part of your job and, and, and being part of the standard bearer. And maybe, maybe another way of saying it is this recognizing that it's your job to hold the bar higher for everybody and to help everybody else improve as well.

And that that's now more a part of your job because you have more experience and more seats. [00:47:00] 

Evan: And, you know, kind of another question that's adjacent to that, right. Is, you know, where are some good ways to provide feedback to a coworker? So with their manager, right? It's a little bit more normal for you to have a regular one-on-one right.

Something that's scheduled. It's a totally reasonable expectation for me to go to my boss, right. A board member and say, Hey, I want to sit down and use this time and get your feedback so I can improve my game. That's. Like that wouldn't be coming out of left field. Um, when you're talking with a coworker ready, the feedback for coworker, there's kind of this like increased awkwardness to it.

Right. Cause it's not, it's kind of not part of the normal cans of how you work. So any, any advice or best practices about how to 

Justin: the symbol, the symbol response, I think is that, you know, I think everyone can test this for themselves. You're way more likely to value and receive feedback from someone who you fundamentally believe supports you.

And so, um, I'm going to come back to again, if the, if the relationship is there and you feel like there's trust, I mean, trust is a major currency [00:48:00] that is at the source of all. Again, coming back to partnerships at the source of all effective partnerships. So if trust. Isn't there. If people don't feel like you fundamentally have their back, if they don't feel like fundamentally you value them and are genuinely committed to them, it's just a lot harder to give feedback.

You know, I, I, I feel pretty strongly actually that you should be really reticent to give feedback to anybody that you just don't have much of a relationship with the stronger, the relationship, the more comfortable and confident you should be giving feedback. Yeah. 

Evan: I mean, it kind of comes to go back to these, like, you know, all, all of our intentions are hidden, right?

So if you're talking to someone you've never met before and you're like, Hey Justin, like, here's somebody that you should try out to have a bigger impact. People don't know where you're coming from, right. If it's someone that you've worked with for a long time, that you, you feel like confident, Hey, when they give me feedback, it's all in the pursuit of helping me become a [00:49:00] better person, a better professional helped me do my job better.

And if you, if you really believe that, right. And there's, you know, it's not a binary thing. There's levels and scales of that. Right. It's very easy to, it's actually much easier to hear the feedback and act on it and then kind have that conversation. Um, so yeah, like I, I think you're right Justin, like without that underlying relationship and, and, and trust or not trust from an accuracy perspective and trust that the intent is a good intent and there's not some site objective or political thing.

Right. You could really take it at face value and go act on it. 

Justin: Awesome. Yeah, totally. Totally. 

Evan: So, um, the, the next question was, um, how do, how do you hold time to give and receive feedback when one-on-ones are viewed as internal meetings and ignored and customer meetings are prioritized not allowing for this?

Um, I mean, I think probably the real answer, it comes down to like expectations, alignment, but Justin, how, how your. 

Justin: Yeah. I mean, again, I mean, you know, to, to probably state [00:50:00] the obvious, this question implies that, you know, everything external, particularly customer meetings are, are, are way over pro prioritize relative to anything internal.

And so, you know, this comes back to again, um, and this is true for every organization. Is there enough of a prioritization for employees? Again, if, if you, as a, you know, as a member of a team, feel like you're always getting the short end of the stick and your managers never making time for you. Then again, you need to try and up the ante around, around shifting that, um, as much as possible.

And it's not easy to do, but again, that's something that I think you have a chance to, you know, to escalate a little bit and to specifically ask for. Um, because again, you know, even, even in a company, which I know abnormal is a company that values and prioritizes customers and fundamentally wants to be viewed as is [00:51:00] customer centric.

That doesn't mean that employees don't matter. It can't, it can't mean that employees don't matter. 

Evan: Yeah. And obviously our, our team, us investing congruent, our team is going to Trump, any other business objective, because the only way for us to become the great company we want to be is a really build a world-class team.

And just my response to this is that comes down to conversation, right. And manager and share. So, again, sharing expectations, observations for me, you know, for me to be successful in my role, I need ongoing feedback. It's really important to me personally, professionally, and for me to do my job well, what I'm, what I, what I'm observing right?

Is that these one-on-ones get deprioritized in favor of other stuff. Right. And I, I C I can't reconcile these two things, like help me, help me understand that drive the right expectations. Am I seeing the wrong things, or maybe I don't understand what the real priority is, or is that something that you actually acknowledged that we shouldn't, you know, um, we should try to fix.

So I think having that conversation, right, because then it's a little bit different, right? If, if your manager says I'm committed to give you kind of regular feedback and it doesn't happen, [00:52:00] that's like a different problem than, you know, that that could be a much different problem, which could be much, much more severe.

So it comes down to like really, you know, setting expectations and, you know, everyone needs to understand, like, what is. Needs on the other side of the partnership and what are they expecting out of, you know, each other. We've got time for one more question. Um, go to Sandy's question. Um, what are some of the most effective ways to solicit actionable feedback to really get the most impactful ones that are, that are needle moving?

So we've talked a lot about kind of giving almost like unsolicited feedback. It's got the other side, right? How do you solicit, you know, actual, actual feedback? 

Justin: Yeah. I mean, the challenge with this question, which I really do appreciate the question is that I, I can't easily, um, coach somebody to give me helpful feedback, right?

I mean, you know, one of the things I've observed for a long time is an oven. You probably probably talk about this. You know, one of the most important competencies to be able to cultivate across an organization is good observational acumen. I I mean, you know, learning how to [00:53:00] really observe people. And then think about how to translate that observation into language and into feedback that actually is actionable.

I I mean, there's real artistry to that. I mean, I've interviewed, you know, thousands of people inside of organizations and, you know, it's a constant revelation to me that most people are not that good at it. Really having acute thoughtful observations and being able to translate those observations. You know, when you ask what's the most effective way to solicit actionable feedback, you know, you have to, I think, expect that, you know, people aren't always going to be able to give you great feedback, but I think you can be intentional about if someone says, Hey, I just want you to be better.

I just want you to, you know, try, you know, I want you to be a little more effective when you're in that, you know, people give you feedback. That just feels super generic. Or too ambiguous. I think you can say, well, did you have any specific observations? I mean, did you, did you see anything that is more, [00:54:00] um, potentially actionable for me?

Something I can really go work on it. I mean, just ask for that, if you can, but you just have to expect people aren't always great at, of having really acute and actionable observation. 

Evan: And just, let me, let me share kind of two things I've learned from you, right? The helped me, not that I'm an expert, this, I think one is, I'm really focusing the feedback on what matters to you, right?

So rather than saying, Hey, how are things going? Right. Am I doing good or bad? Right. Specifically asked. You know, what are some things I should start doing? Or like, what are some things that I should double down on to help me improve my performance? Or where's the thing I should doing less of, right. That might be causing me to accidentally inhibit my performance.

That seems performance. Right? I I think those are really good questions. The other one is also really trying to get a sense of the privatization, because if you ask people kind of, what's good and bad that you don't know. Kevin nitpicky thing, or like, this is a really critical thing. So I think he's supposed to ask people, Hey, what do I do differently?

What, like, what do I swap in terms of my priorities? I think getting that, that helps give [00:55:00] context. Like, you know, what, what behaviors should I be changing in terms of how I work versus like what's good versus bad. Cause sometimes that's a little bit less clear. 

Justin: Yeah, that's good. It's well, we'll set up.

It's really well said. Very helpful. 

Evan: Well, thank you, Justin printed off from you. I know, I know we're at a time. Appreciate you guys. This, this, I know there's a lot more questions here. We probably can't go through all. Um, or we can't go through all of them. Really appreciate you guys listening. And Justin, thank you so much for joining us today and, um, hopefully we'll see you back in the future.

And in the meantime, I will share what I learned from you with the rest of the team. 

Justin: I'm delighted to help and support anytime I can, you know, you know, you know the commitment I have to you guys. It's, it's huge. So thank you very much for having me.

Key takeaways

  1. Find opportunities to make the implicit explicit, as a mechanism for ensuring things don't get lost in translation
  2. Giving voice to what the stakes are can level set the conversation 
  3. Our performance as an organization is = to the quality of our partnerships with each other.

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