Fantastic Feedback: How to Offer and Solicit Good Advice

Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten


The ability to effectively use feedback or advice is essential to success in all professional roles. Great leaders know that advice is more of an art than a science, and it’s a skill that can be honed and mastered over time and with experience. By opening your mind to alternative viewpoints and encouraging others to do the same, you can encourage smarter decision-making, more linear and logical thinking, and avoid personal and cognitive biases that derail team and organizational success.

Being a good advisor means truly understanding another’s situation and circumstances before formulating and imparting your thoughts. It can often be difficult to untangle the details of a sticky situation, especially with limited information, or with only one side of the story. On the flip side, advice seekers need to be able to recognize when and how to ask for help. They have to overcome their instinctive inclination to immediately defend their views, and open themselves to other options and alternative viewpoints.

In a new article, Garvin and Margolis (2015) offer some guidelines on how to avoid common mistakes when asking for and offering advice. Here are a couple of pitfalls that top their list:



“Choosing the wrong advisers.” Seek out advisers who can offer you a robust assessment of your situation and circumstances. While talking things through with friends or those who are like-minded may be convenient, it can also serve to narrow your viewpoint.

“Defining the problem poorly.” Be honest with your advisor. At times we selectively remove certain details from a story because they portray us in a bad light. We tell our advisor about the mistakes made by everyone around us, and fail to admit to our own blunders.

“Misjudging the quality of advice.” Don’t discard advice solely because it’s coming from someone you don’t like. That person may know you better than you think. Also, recognize that advice conveyed confidently is not necessarily good advice. Use your head. Learn when to defer to the experience of others and when to hold strong to beliefs you know to be correct.

“Overstepping boundaries.” Don’t offer advice on topics you don’t know much about just because it makes you feel important. Doing so will make you lose credibility with the person you’re advising, and with those adversely impacted by your recommendations.

“Offering self-centered guidance.” Make sure that the advice you impart makes the most sense for your advisees. Don’t tell them what you would do, or how you would respond. Counsel them on how to play to their own strengths. Understand that actions may have different repercussions for them than they might have for you.

The authors also offer some best practices and recommended stages for people seeking and offering advice.



“Stage 1: Finding the right fit.” The authors recommend that advisees put together a personal ‘board’ of competent people who possess unique and diverse strengths, experiences, and vantage points. Advisees should then think about who might be most qualified to offer perspective on specific cases as they arise. If you’re sought out as an advisor, think about the particulars of the situation and whether or not you’re the best person to offer meaningful insight to your advisee.

“Stage 2: Developing a shared understanding.” The exchange only works if both advisor and advisee are on the same page. Advisee—you must tell your advisor the whole story, even those parts that may not paint you in the best light. Advisor—probe for details not offered by your advisee if they would help you get a better grasp of the situation.

“Stage 3: Crafting alternatives.” Advisers and advisees should work together to come up with a number of ideas and options that could lead to desired goals, or the resolution of the issue at hand.

“Stage 4: Converging on a decision.” At this stage the advisee may choose to seek out a second or third opinion. The advisor should help the advisee to whittle down options and come to a decision.

“Stage 5: Putting advice into action.” This is the tough part. The advisor takes a step back, and it’s up to the advisee to turn ideas, intentions, and plans into action.

Following these tips and guidelines should help advice and feedback become more useful tools that we can all use to enhance our workplaces and personal lives.

Workplace Privacy is a Growing Need

Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: Balancing “We” and “Me”
Reviewed by: Jonathan Wong


Workplace privacy is not something we think of often, but a new review by Congdon, Flynn, and Redman (2014) has highlighted this interesting and important topic. First, the review points to a growing percentage of US workers who are concerned about workplace privacy, say they can’t concentrate at their workstations, and don’t have access to quiet places where they can focus on getting work done. Why is this happening?

One of the reasons they suggest for this rise in the concern for privacy is social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. Large amounts of personal information are available on social media sites, which may make people feel vulnerable. Combine this with a workplace where there is no privacy, and employees may feel as if they are being watched the whole time. This may be causing people to crave more alone time.



The article defines two aspects of workplace privacy: information control and stimulation control. Information control is the ability to keep personal information private. Stimulation control encompasses the noises and other distractions that break concentration or inhibit the ability to focus.

How do employees control stimulation? Neuroscience discusses three separate modes of attention: controlled attention, stimulus-driven attention, and rejuvenation. When in the controlled attention mode, we need to control the environment around us so we do not get distracted. While in the stimulus-driven attention mode, we may tolerate or even welcome distractions. Lastly, the rejuvenation mode is a time-out for our brains; we stop what we are doing and go to either a quiet place or a crowded place depending on personal preference.

People need to be able to move between these three modes of attention when necessary, and workplaces should be designed so that employees can freely move between modes as they see fit. This will help their ability to control stimulation in the environment.



The idea of privacy and how it is valued is different across cultures. On average, people in Germany allocate 320 square feet per employee, people in the United States allocate 190 ft, people in India have 70 ft, and in China, people have 50 ft. On the other hand, natives of both India and China express more satisfaction with their work environment than either Germans or Americans. They feel as though they are able to concentrate more easily and work without disruption. Studies also show that Chinese employees are more concerned with information control, while Americans are more concerned with stimulation control.



Companies interested in enhancing employee privacy can give employees greater latitude in deciding how to minimize workplace interruptions. If employees decide that they work better alone, with less co-worker interaction, then organizations should allow them to relocate to a quiet place in the office whenever possible.

Another idea is for organizations to designate an area in the building as the quiet section and another area as the open section. This way, employees can choose the area that helps them get their work done efficiently. The bottom line is that privacy is a serious need, and people need it in different ways. Organizations that are quick to recognize and respond to these employee needs will best set up their employees for workplace success.

Back to the Drawing Board: Surviving Career Setbacks

Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: Rebounding from Career Setbacks
Reviewed by: Ashton Reid


Career setbacks can be pretty brutal. When everything seems to be going right, sometimes we are faced with unexpected challenges that change the course of our careers and our lives. So what do you do if you’re laid off, didn’t get promoted, or didn’t make the cut? A new article by Marks, Mirvis, and Ashkenas (2014) has highlighted three scientifically supported steps that you can take:

  1. Determine why you failed or lost.
  2. Identify new paths and goals.
  3. Be ready to seize the right opportunity.



Unexpected changes are usually perceived as unfair and lead to a period of shock, denial, anger, and self-doubt. Research in psychology has shown that people, especially high achievers, tend to exhibit attribution bias. This is a method of protecting self-esteem by taking all the credit for success and none of the blame for failure. This bias stands in the way of your success by encouraging you to ignore your role in failure and by making it difficult for you to learn from your mistakes.

A change in behavior and mindset is one of the most important indicators of a successful turnaround. Communication and honest feedback from supervisors and colleagues can help you realize some specific behavior that may be holding you back. Changing your mindset and using coping strategies can help change that behavior. This will help you move forward and be prepared to meet your goals and the goals of your organization.



It has been said that if one door closes, another door opens. A failed opportunity can sometimes be a wake-up call to change paths. Failures are learning experiences and can lead to new, better opportunities in the future. Sometimes the path deviates a little and sometimes it deviates a lot, whether it’s changing jobs within a company, changing careers, or even moving to a whole different state. Being open to change and actively thinking about possibilities will reveal many opportunities that may help things turn out even better than they were before. Studies show that people tend to avoid the problems that come from unexpected career changes instead of thinking of losses as new opportunities.



Finally, once you have a course of action, go with it. Uncertainty is normal when trying new things, but if you accomplished and believed in the last two steps, you have nowhere to go but up and forward. Even though we cannot foresee unexpected failures, we can always be ready for unexpected opportunities for success.



Organizations and their employees should be prepared for possible future failures, successes, and new opportunities. This will help them be better equipped to adapt to change. Employees can work on improving themselves by examining their role within the organization as well as the things that they can change or do better as preemptive measures for the unexpected. Organizations should always be thinking of new goals, so as to always be moving forward. Employees should be ready to change roles in response to the evolving goals of the organization. By following these steps, individuals and organizations should perform better, and be better equipped to handle failure.

Taking Feedback to Heart: How To Find the Coaching In Criticism

Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: Find the Coaching in Criticism
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

We all know that constructive feedback is necessary for personal growth and development. Simply put, you can’t improve your performance if you don’t know what you need to work on.

But, with that being said, at times feedback can be a little difficult to swallow. After all, no one likes hearing that they’re doing something wrong, or having their weaknesses pointed out.

So how can you become a stronger person, and learn to take feedback without becoming defensive or getting your feelings hurt? The following six steps suggested by authors Sheila Heen & Douglas Stone (2014) will teach you how to “find the coaching in criticism.”

  1. Know Your Tendencies– How do you typically react when you receive feedback? Do you automatically put up a wall and get defensive, or do you try to really listen and understand the other person’s viewpoint? Being honest with yourself is the first step.

  3. Disentangle the “What” from the “Who”– Separate the message from the messenger, and assess each one accordingly. Consider the source: How well do you know this person? Do you value this person’s opinion? Is this someone you trust? But at the same time, don’t discredit valuable insight just because it comes from someone you don’t like. As difficult as it might be to admit, sometimes even your worst adversary may be spot on in their assessment!

  5. Sort Toward Coaching– Feedback can be evaluative or coaching in nature. Evaluative feedback focuses on past behaviors and where you went wrong, whereas coaching feedback provides you with ideas on how you can improve. Strive to focus on the future, and exploring new opportunities.

  7. Unpack the Feedback– Before you immediately react, take some time to understand the intended purpose of the feedback and why it was provided. Was the feedback you received given with malicious intent, or was it intended to help you grow and become better at what you do?

  9. Ask for Just One Thing– To avoid surprises at your annual performance review, ask for feedback regularly and often. Getting too much feedback at once can be overwhelming for even the most self-assured among us, so ask others for one specific thing they think you should work on. Ask your manager, colleagues or friends, “What’s one thing you see me doing (or failing to do) that holds me back?”

  11. Engage in Small Experiments– Try changing your behavior based on the feedback you receive. If it yields positive results, keep doing it. If not, try something different and see what happens.

Asking for feedback is relatively easy; it’s internalizing the responses of others and working on yourself that’s the difficult part. However, following these six steps will bring you that much closer to unlocking your potential and become a better, more improved version of yourself. Strive to find the coaching in criticism and see what happens. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Managing Your Emotions: Four Simple Steps to Success

Publication: Harvard Business Review (Nov 2013)
Article: Emotional Agility
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Fact: All people think negative thoughts from time to time.

We may feel sad or gloomy, or find ourselves in a funk that’s hard to shake. We’re human; it happens. Attempting to suppress such feelings (or even worse, buying into them) can leave a person feeling drained.

Strong leaders know that it’s okay to think undesirable thoughts on occasion. But being a strong person means keeping things in perspective and not letting these thoughts take over. Managing your emotions is a key skill that can benefit everyone, both personally and professionally.

Susan David and Christina Congleton, the authors of Emotional Agility, offer four practices that can help you manage your emotions and tackle negative thoughts in a healthy and productive way.

  1. Recognize your Patterns: Pay attention to signs that negative thoughts and emotions are beginning to take over and cloud your better judgment.

  3. Label your Thoughts and Emotions: This allows you to see your negative thoughts as transient emotional responses that come and go.

  5. Accept your Thoughts and Emotions: Validate your feelings of frustration rather than merely brushing them aside. Allow yourself to experience negative emotions in response to important topics or difficult situations.

  7. Act on your Values: Once you’ve given your feelings the credence they deserve, you free up time to achieve your goals and become the person you hope to be.

Following these four practices can make the process of managing your emotions much easier, removing the stumbling blocks that prevent you from achieving your highest potential.

What Does an Executive Coach Do? 7 Things You Should Know

Publication: Harvard Business Review (2009)
Article: What Can Coaches Do for You?
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

There is a lot of buzz around the term “Executive Coach” so what does an executive coach do and what do you need to know before you hire one? Courtesy of a Coutu and Kauffman’s survey of 140 seasoned coaches, here are some FAQs that may help:

  • How much does it cost?
    The average cost is $500 per hour, and the range is from $200 on the low end to $3,500 on the high end.

  • How long does it last?
    Typical engagements last 7 to 12 months.

  • Does coaching cover personal issues?
    Though coaches are rarely hired to address personal issues, life does tend to get in the way of work, and 76% of the coaches surveyed indicated that they ultimately discussed personal problems with the executives.

  • Who typically hires the coach?
    Human resources, management, and the coachee were the most common initiators of the coaching relationship.

  • Will the coaching sessions be confidential?
    Over half of the respondents indicated that they keep management or human resources apprised of the executive’s progress. The authors did not mention if these updates breached confidentiality or were terms agreed upon at the beginning of the coaching relationship.

  • Why do people typically hire a coach?
    The three most common reasons are to develop the potential of an executive, to serve as a sounding board, and to address counterproductive behavior.

  • What should I look for in a coach?
    According to the respondents of the survey, key characteristics of a coach include previous experience, a clear methodology, and a measureable return on investment.

    3 Tips for Effective Decision Making from the Expert

    Publication: Harvard Business Review
    Article: You Can’t Be a Wimp: Make the Tough Calls
    Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

    In his recent interview in the Harvard Business Review, Ram Charan, noted author, renowned scholar, and trusted advisor to the corporate elite, shares his tips for effective decision making in the twenty-first century. As someone who has counseled senior executives and board members alike, he admits that “getting to the right answer is tougher these days.” Technological advancements and the rapid pace of change within organizations, as well as in the greater marketplace, have made strategic planning a more important but more challenging endeavor than ever before.

    Charan explains that many executives have earned their titles because they’ve proven their ability to take risks and make tough decisions. The best CEOs are those who can gather and absorb a wide range of information from myriad sources, and siphon out the most important points and key takeaways for their businesses. They are also excellent at recognizing those assumptions upon which their decisions are contingent and consequences that may arise as a result of alternative courses of action. You may not be a CEO or even a senior executive, but we all make decisions at work and in our daily lives. Below are the three fundamental traits Charan believes are key to increasing the quality of your decision-making and improving the way you approach problems.

    1. Perceptual Acuity– The ability to anticipate change. This means scanning your surroundings for opportunities and threats, focusing in on the most important variables you must anticipate, and playing out potential scenarios and alternative courses of action in your head.

    3. Qualitative Judgment– Once you’ve thought things through, you’ll want to make the best decision, of course. Leverage your network of colleagues, co-workers, and friends. Ask for their opinions and input. Consider the consequences of your actions very carefully, and pay attention to important details.

    5. Credibility– Keep an open mind to others’ perspectives and build support among key stakeholders. Make tough decisions when you have to and have the strength of character to stand up for what you think is right. The title of this HBR article says it all, ‘you can’t be a wimp; make the tough calls.’

    How to Increase Your Productivity: Setting Priorities

    Publication: Harvard Business Review
    Article: Make Time for the Work That Matters
    Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

    How many of us frequently find ourselves with a never-ending to-do list, wishing there were more hours in a day? We want to achieve our goals and increase productivity, but there’s just no way to get it all done. Well, the trick to boosting your productivity is not necessarily having more time to accomplish your tasks, but instead simply making the most of what time you do have by setting priorities.

    To help you in your quest to become more productive and time-efficient, the current authors, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen (2013), developed a self-assessment that you can take to identify the low value tasks you perform every day. Managing your time effectively means being able to recognize what your priorities are, and delegating non-essential work when possible. However, that can be a difficult task when you are facing a list as long as your arm, all of which seem to be high priorities. This tool will help you decide which of your daily activities you should either 1) eliminate, 2) delegate or outsource, or 3) redesign.

    They suggest you sort your daily tasks into three categories:

    1. “Quick Kills” – Effort expended that may be appreciated, but is not absolutely necessarily; the kind of work that no one will notice if you stop doing.

    3. “Off-load Opportunities” – Tasks you can painlessly delegate to others.

    5. “Long-term Redesign” – Work that needs to be restructured, so it can be performed more efficiently.

    This will allow you to get rid of pointless tasks and clear up your schedule so you can focus your time on work that really matters.

    So what are you waiting for? Take the assessment today, and see how much more productive you can become!

    Genuine Leadership: How sincerity is the key to successful organizational leadership

    Publication: Harvard Business Review (Oct 2013)
    Article: Be Yourself, but Carefully
    Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

    By now surely everyone knows that the key to successful organizational leadership is sincerity. Genuine Leadership — that is, leadership by individuals who make an effort to be open and honest in their dealings — has become the gold standard for successful team building and a basic expectation for professional advancement. No one wants to work for someone who is cold or aloof. Master networkers and business leaders earn their titles by being authentic and real. However, there’s a fine line between being genuine, on the one hand, and over-sharing or talking about yourself in a self-deprecating manner, on the other. If you ever hope to be seen as a credible source, you want people to be able to trust in you and take you seriously. That means you must be able to walk a tightrope between the two extremes. Not an easy task. Fortunately, the authors, Rosh and Offerman (2013), have explored this issue and bring us new information regarding leadership psychology that provides some helpful tips and advice on how to balance along that line.

    1. Build a Foundation of Self Knowledge’- Take a good, hard look at yourself and reflect on how your experiences have enabled you to become the person you are today. Ask for some feedback. Think about which stories portray you in the best light or show healthy growth, and which ones you might want to keep to yourself.

    3. Consider Relevance to the Task’- Share anecdotes related to the task at hand. Don’t simply make small talk in an effort to ingratiate yourself to others. Genuine leadership is about building a strong, functional team, not about shoring up personal insecurities by becoming everyone’s pal.

    5. Keep Revelations Genuine’- This one is simple: Don’t make anything up. Successful organizational leadership is based on trust. Need I say more?

    7. Understand the Organizational and Cultural Context’ – Be aware of cultural norms, and consider how others from different countries, companies, or functions will react to what you’re saying. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and sensitivity. It isn’t mere political correctness to respect the feelings and experiences of others.

    9. Delay or Avoid Very Personal Disclosures’- Ummm… Not everyone has to know that you fell flat on your face in the elevator this morning, or that your skirt is being held together by some strong masking tape and a couple of push pins you found in the supply closet. Those kinds of stories should be reserved for friends, after the work day is done.

    HR 101: Human Resource Management isn’t as simple as it looks

    Publication: Harvard Business Review
    Article: HR for Neophytes
    Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

    When people think of Human Resources, they usually think of those pesky reminders that flood their inbox nagging them to fill out paperwork, or perhaps they think of performance appraisals. In my experience, it’s usually one or the other. Many employees see HR as ‘the fuzzy side’ of the business. To most of us, it’s the department that deals with people-related issues no one else wants to get involved in and that everyone else pretends are not there. Of late HR has a gotten a pretty bad rep, but as line managers increasingly begin to take on traditional human resource management and development tasks, they’ll find that there’s more to human resource management than meets the eye.

    Here are a few key questions that Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School, suggested that anyone managing talent (whether a line manager or HR professional) should be thinking about.

    1. What are your talent needs? What kinds of human resource metrics does your organization keep? How can those be used to determine key trends and inform important decisions?

    3. How should we meet our talent needs? You’ve got three options: build, buy, or borrow. Each vacant position can either be filled by someone you have a) developed from within b) hired from outside the company or c) by a temporary or contracted employee. Striking the optimal balance of external hires and internal promotions is key to filling vacant positions with the right people and keeping within budget.

    5. How can we do a better job of hiring? Remember that hiring is a two-part process. You want recruit and attract the right talent, and then you want to make the right selection or hiring decisions.

    7. How can we develop internal talent? How are you investing in your employees? Are you giving your prospective leaders stretch assignments that force them to advance? Do you encourage your employees to take advantage of tuition reimbursement opportunities, so they gain knowledge and build skills after work hours? In short, are you making every effort to put the “develop” in human resource development?

    9. How can we manage employee career paths? Are there opportunities for internal mobility within your company? Do employees know when they’re likely to be promoted? Do they know what their next job title will be? When there’s no clear path to promotion job satisfaction suffers and turnover becomes more likely.

    Are you finding it hard to come up with concrete answers to these seemingly simple questions? Many do. Upon closer examination HR preforms more complex functions than its given credit for…