Feedback matters

Interestingly, I’ve come across a a fair number of people recently who don’t seem to be able to hand out a compliment when someone does something right. Even worse, during a recent social event a postdoc told me that it was really hard to tell whether his boss was happy with his work. He asked for more feedback, upon which his boss allegedly told him not to worry about it, that he would let him know if the guy did something wrong.

I mean, really?

All I’m writing here is personal opinion, but I am pretty sure you could find literature to support the statement that positive feedback is rather important too. Just let people know when you think they’re doing a good job, doesn’t hurt you and will make them happy! And happy employees are more productive employees…

If you have something negative to say, by all means, go ahead. I love getting comments because that is how you improve. The important thing here is how you do that. The golden rule is to first start a conversation on a positive note, say for example you really enjoyed the presentation. Then come in with whatever you want to comment on, for example tell them to give a bit more introduction next talk so people will be able to better understand it.

Make it constructive. Don’t just say “that talk was really rubbish”, but give them something to work with. Tell them how they can improve. I think some people here in the UK are really too polite, or for whatever reason too reluctant to really speak their mind, but even your boss should be open to your comments if you bring things up in a good way.

On the other hand: receiving feedback can be difficult at times too. Important thing here is to regard it as something positive. Apparently there is something you can do better next time! The person who gave you feedback is helping you grow as a person, which is good!

By the way – when talking about positive feedback. Do it. But keep it professional. On the work floor, hand out compliments about work related things. Keep the chatter about looks for the breaks – if at all.


Avoiding and resolving negative vibes

Our lab moved to the Institute last Fall. Actually, the entire floor did. Which of course means that everybody is looking for everything and nobody knows what goes where. This is slowly getting better.

Somehow, our lab managed to quickly gain the reputation of messy lab. Which I find kind of annoying, as I always try to be considerate and keep the communal areas clean. No matter how chaotic my bench and fridge spaces always are;  I keep the shared spaces tidy. There are a number of people in our lab though who see that differently…

Me, together with two colleagues, have been tidying up after them for a while. But at the time pointing that out to them – asking them if maybe they didn’t know where to get rid of certain chemicals and that’s why they didn’t do it? Turns out that that was too optimistic. They keep doing what they want whenever they want; leaving a trail of things for others to deal with.

In meantime, I’ve managed to get on pretty good speaking terms with all of the labs we share spaces with. And they somehow keep complaining to me about those colleagues. For a while, I apologised for them and kind of joined in the gossip how annoying behaviour X is. Last Tuesday, I somehow decided I’m fed up with this nonsense.

The main problem is, in my opinion, that we don’t have rules for cleaning our facilities. So nobody cleans anything. Which means we had some fungi growing in our sterile (!) workspace. A girl of one of the other labs sent an email she’s going to clean and looking for help; would be good if the person currently using the space could help. Turns out to be one from our lab, who goes there, collects his experiment, and takes off. Without offering to help. I again apologised for his behaviour, even though I guess I shouldn’t.

Our boss hates cleaning schedules, which is one of the reasons we don’t have one yet. The boss of the other lab, who also happens to be our bosses boss and our institute’s director, only said he will accommodate whatever the lab wants. Knowing that he will support his people, that they want a cleaning schedule and so do I, I sent out an email to them and to my lab to discuss things informally over a cup of coffee.

It was so embarrassing! The entire director’s lab turned up! And from my lab only one besides me… They just don’t care! But anyway, the others are happy I at least acknowledge the problem and took the initiative to solve it. We discussed what exactly the problems are and how we think we can solve them – without being able to change people (who of course did not attend this meeting…). Written up some minutes of the “meeting”. And guess what? Two days later, the rooms are already better.

Our lab manager sent me an email to say that this has been the most productive meeting so far (without disagreeing bosses…) and that he’s really happy to implement the changes we proposed. Especially because he also knows our own boss is against it, but knowing that we have the director’s support, our boss won’t complain. Hopefully, this will do our reputation some good and will give the others less cause to complain about us…

So yeah… What I basically want to say: if there’s something that’s annoying you, stop talking about it but try to change it. Don’t support the gossip but tackle the causes of the problems. Makes for a lot nicer environment 🙂 (although I still don’t know how to tackle the problem of the colleagues who think they’re living for themselves alone…)

Triggers and motivation

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what keeps people going. Why do we do the things we do and how do others influence this? Turning it around; can we steer the people around us by motivating them?

Talking to different people the past weeks, I realised that many of us are good at one thing: thinking in problems. Like not discussing the need for a new machine in the lab, because there is no space for it anyway. Or not asking to go to a meeting, because it’s too expensive anyway. And so on.

What I then often do, is asking those people if they can give me reasons why they DO want to have those things. Convince me. Followed by the question: why do you not go to your boss and tell her why this is an absolute brilliant idea, with all the reasons you’ve just given me? Might be you get what you want, even though you see a lot of difficulties. Maybe the pluses are more important to the boss than the minuses you see! Or maybe he even thinks it’s a brilliant idea as well and is happy for you to bring it up?

And to take that one level further; try to understand the people around you. What keeps them going? If for example your entire lab is very messy, as not unusual, and you feel seriously hampered by it. You might go to your boss and discuss it, to find that the boss doesn’t mind the chaos and says you shouldn’t mind either. You can leave it at that and be very unhappy. However, you might also try to argue why this isn’t right. If you think your boss is desperate for a publication, you might explain that your productivity really suffers because of it. Or if the money’s tight, explain that the mess leads to things being ordered multiple times because no one can find them.

You get the point, I hope. I think this really works. Do not think in problems. Give the others good arguments for your point of view. And if that isn’t enough, find the hot buttons and push them. Be it publications, be it money, be it something else. Determine what is really important to you and go for it.