A Tool for Feedback: Situation – Behavior – Impact (SBI)

July 16, 2018

In last week’s blog, we discussed difficult conversations at work. Today, we are going to focus on a tool which helps give you a framework for starting that convo and offering feedback. Created by the Center for Creative Leadership, the SBI Feedback Tool offers a simple structure that you can utilize straightaway.

  1. Situation
    Puts the feedback in context by attaching it to a time, place, or specific circumstance

    For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project…”

  2. Behavior
    Describe what you observed and clearly state the observable action

    For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project, you interrupted and contradicted me three times…”

  3. Impact
    Outlines the feeling and thoughts which happened as a result

    For example: “During yesterday’s lab meeting, when you asked me for an update on my project, you interrupted and contradicted me three times. I felt I wasn’t given a chance to properly give an overview of my work and I was embarrassed in front of my lab-mates.”

Once you have given your feedback, be sure to allow the person time to comprehend what you have said. It is important to give the individual a chance to respond and you should check in with them by asking “How do you feel about this feedback? Is there anything you don’t agree with or that I missed?” Be sure to then offer specific suggestions that would help avoid conflict in future scenarios. For example: “Can we meet one-on-one to discuss your concerns with my work? Then, can we find time next week for me to present all of my data to the rest of the lab?” It is not enough to go into a conversation to just complain about what happened. Try to move the conversation into a more action-oriented and solution-focused approach.

The final step in this feedback scaffold is to summarize and express support. An example of how this might look with this particular scenario is: “I appreciate your willingness to review my project on Monday and it sounds like we are going to try again at next Thursday’s lab meeting.”

Conflict can be especially taxing when it is with your boss. Try your best to understand their preferred method in dealing with these issues and approach it in a way that will enhance their openness to hearing your feedback. It can help if you frame the problem in a work productivity way. For example: “I have found that I work best when X and I feel that putting Y system into place will help with my work flow. Would this work with you?”

Advertisements

Difficult Work Conversations

July 9, 2018

rawpixel-711098-unsplash

Are you dreading a difficult work conversation? Perhaps you are already anticipating it will result in conflict. At work, conflict typically occurs when there are different perceptions regarding: 1. Tasks/Goals 2. Process – Methods, Quality, Timing, Resources 3. Status/Roles and 4. Relationship – Personalities and Values.

In a survey of scientists, more than two-thirds report having between 1-5 “uncomfortable interactions” with people at work each week. More than 75% report spending about 10-25% of their time on “people problems”. Take a moment and reflect on how you typically respond to conflict? Some people feed off conflict and it energizes them; while others feel extremely drained by conflict and have a strongly avoidant reaction. Conflict is very personal and we all tend to respond in different ways, which can reflect both a mix of our cultural/familial upbringing, our own personality preferences, and our feelings about the issue at hand. Both sides often have strong emotions which leak into the whole situation. Here are some responses you might encounter in yourself or others when giving difficult feedback or having a strained conversation.

  • Avoidance – Not responding and withdrawing either immediately or in days to follow
  • Excess Emotion – Tears, anger, sarcasm
  • Denial – “No, I didn’t…”
  • Generalization – “Everyone else does the same thing…”
  • Over personalization – Feeling unnecessarily called out “Why don’t you like/support/value me?”
  • Rigidity and Focus on Rules – “You said do X and I did X.”
  • Attacking the Source – Yelling, threatening “Who are you to tell me that?”
  • Explaining without owning – Citing personal reasons, stress, deadlines, etc.

It can be easy to identify these responses in others, but not necessarily see it in yourself. Remember to pay attention to what your inner voice is saying; and, if needed, reframe it accordingly. How can you do this though when emotions are running high and your inner tape is on a constant negative loop?

    1. Breathe & Slow Down The calmer and more centered you are, the more likely you will be to handle difficult conversations and/or any negative feedback you could receive. Take regular intervals or breaks on days that are especially stressful, whether that is a walk or an extra coffee break. Try to lower your overall stress level before the conversation begins. Likewise, during a conversation, try to slow the pace. Being mindful of your cadence and pausing every now and then can help defuse the tension.
    2. Be compassionate Try to adopt the other’s point of view for a moment. What frustrations might they be feeling? If you feel your boss is being too hard on you, it might be because they are getting pressured from their boss. Recognize there might be professional or personal pressure points on the other person of which you aren’t fully aware. It can be difficult when negative emotions are running high but try to assume the best instead of the worst.
    3. Change Mindset
      Once you label a conversation as potentially difficult, you are more likely to feel much more nervous about it beforehand. Likewise, this is true if you label a person as trying. Do your best to neutralize the interaction ahead of time and you will likely have a much more positive outcome. 

It can be tempting to avoid the face-to-face confrontation and try to settle conflict by email; however, it is extremely likely that an email communication will only exacerbate the situation. It is hard to read tone and other cues for meaning and usually the content is misinterpreted in a negative way. So, do your best to prepare yourself and go and have the conversation you have been putting off!


New to Your Lab? Tips for Making a Good First Impression

July 3, 2018

lost-co-178990-unsplashIf you are new to the NIH, then welcome!

No matter whether you are a summer intern, a postbac, or even a postdoc, starting a new position can feel stressful. You are most likely excited about this new opportunity and eager to make a good impression. Learning new names, discovering the location of supplies, and generally feeling comfortable in a new role can take quite a bit of time. Here are some tips to help make your transition a success:

1. Have a positive attitude.
Being a generally pleasant person can go a long way in winning favor. This can be demonstrated in small ways, like greeting your lab-mates and making small talk with them. A larger way this can be highlighted is by being positive about the tasks you are being assigned. A little bit of grunt work to help get up to speed should be expected. Too many times, we hear trainees complain that a lab isn’t a good fit for them because they haven’t been given complete ownership of a project yet, or they aren’t intellectually stimulated enough. Remember, it takes time. You can help encourage more trust in your abilities by asking questions and…

2. Make yourself visible and available.
You have probably been told at some point that when you are new to a lab/office, you need to arrive early and stay late. If your schedule (and level of excitement) allows, then this can showcase a genuine desire to become a contributing member of the team. However, you can also accomplish this by exploring and observing during the work day. Maybe you notice the postdoc in your lab seems frazzled everyday around 4pm as they try to wrap up their project for the day. Volunteer to pitch in and ask how you could be of help. Observing processes will allow you to ask better questions in meetings with your PI and will showcase that you are plugged into your new setting, which leads us to our last tip…

3. Stay off your phone.
Surely, you will be able to respond to a text here and there but don’t make it a habit to be index finger deep in scrolling. If you are bored and have too much downtime, then ask for more work. As a trainee, you are here to learn and build up new skillsets. Don’t squander it away by getting too caught up in your personal life during working hours. If you are not actively training for a project, ask if it is allowable for you to shadow others in your working space. This will help you become exposed to a wider array of positions and will hopefully help you identify what might be a good professional fit for you.

Remember, good impressions can lead to professional referrals and excellent letters of recommendation; both of which are important factors, especially early in a career.


Hate Your Job, but Scared to Leave?

June 19, 2018

A picture of a man working at a laptop and running his fingers through his hair.

At OITE, we often meet with trainees who aren’t sure what is the best next step for their career. There can be a lot of uncertainty around career decision-making. Perhaps you feel the same indecisiveness?

Sometimes though, things can be very clear about one topic in particular – you hate your current job. Maybe you loathe the work tasks or perhaps it is just not a good work environment for you.  Whatever the reason, most people are very aware when they truly dislike their job. Sometimes this will manifest in a feeling of dread every Sunday night or even every day, during your morning commute.

The answer seems clear. You should quit your job, right? Financially and professionally, this is a big decision to weigh. Many times, though, the true reason people don’t make a change is for psychological factors. Here are some common mental hurdles when making a job change.

  1. What if I hate my new job just as much or even more?

There is an idiom that many people unknowingly adhere to: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This is essentially saying that the unknown is super scary! It can be. Changing jobs will often require that you adapt to a new work culture, a new boss, new colleagues, and it might even mean that new skills are tested.  What if you don’t measure up? What if you don’t fit in?

Doing informational interviews can help shed light on new industries or organizations. This can help you assess if this will be a good overall fit for you. Don’t underestimate your opportunity to learn more about the lab/office when you interview. If you get a funny feeling, trust it. Be sure to ask lots of questions during the interview to measure if this will be a good fit.

  1. I was lucky to get this job. Nobody else will hire me!

Too often, people make sweeping generalizations about their marketability.  Scientific trainees, in particular, often minimize the number of transferable skills they feel they have for new professions.

If you see a job posting that looks intriguing, then you should go ahead and try to apply for it. It is a good idea to “test” your job candidacy/marketability every few years anyway. Do some searches and see what comes up that might be a good match. This could give you some ideas of new skill sets you might need to brush up on; plus, it helps keep your job search materials up to date.  Give it a try – you might just be surprised!

  1. I am lost about what I want to do.

Career exploration takes time and it is not always clear what you see as your skills, values, and interests. If you are unhappy in your current role, then you need to prioritize this activity and be proactive.  The OITE has resources that can help. Our series on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success could be a great start.  If you are at the NIH, feel free to visit the OITE website to schedule appointments with career counselors and to learn about additional programs and resources to prepare you for a successful job search.


Managing Summer Interns – Tips for Mentors

June 11, 2018

Last week, we started to welcome summer interns to the NIH campus and shared some resources which might be of interest specifically for them.  This week, we are focusing on tips for mentors. So, if you will be mentoring an intern this summer, be sure to read on!

Mentors may find it difficult to find time and energy to manage and train someone, all while trying to satisfy their own work demands. In addition, teaching and training someone is a skill that must be practiced. If you are new at it, it can cause stress for all parties involved. Wondering how you can improve upon your own mentoring skills?

Here are some ideas for mentors:

Be mindful in selecting your mentee. The mentoring relationship, if conducted with care, can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentee and mentor. If the match does not fit though, it can also result in a lot of stress and unnecessary effort on both ends. Therefore, it is crucial that the mentor chooses their mentee with care. Assessing the mentee’s motivation, taking similarities and differences into account, and starting the mentorship with a trial period are all steps both parties can take to ensure a successful match. Selecting a good mentee also requires self-knowledge: what are your strengths and weaknesses, how much time and effort do you have aside from your own work, and how many mentees can you realistically take on?

Set clear expectations for performance from the start. In addition to getting used to the new workflow, mentees are also likely getting used to personalities and working styles of their new colleagues and superiors. As this takes time, being explicit about your objectives and expectations for the relationship from the get go will result in more productivity and a better mentoring relationship. Be sure to challenge your mentee, but do not set expectations so high that they feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Once you have seen the mentee’s performance, it is crucial to offer honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Everyone loves positive feedback, but it is usually the negative feedback that sparks more learning and change. In instances where negative feedback is needed, it can be helpful to start off with a positive comment/suggestion, and perhaps end with one too. Once you have a sense that your mentee has attained mastery, escalate their responsibility over time to boost their confidence. Make sure to accelerate at a slow enough pace though!

Be accessible. Especially in the beginning. Even with the best communication and clear expectations in place, it can be difficult in a busy research environment to keep up to date and on the same page with both day to day tasks and long term goals. Projects and daily objectives change, mentees can learn of new opportunities that change their perspective. Therefore, keeping regular meetings, both formal and informal, can be a great way to check in, keep in the loop, and stay on the same page. Sometimes meetings are best in a formal context, but informal meetings over lunch or coffee can also help build rapport, and convey what you want in a more effective manner. No matter the context of the meeting, it is important for both parties to practice active listening, which includes dedicating full attention to the discussion, good eye contact, and engaging body language. In some settings, mentees could greatly benefit from even working directly with the mentor on a project; giving them direct exposure in your research and working methods could give them lifelong methods. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you spend time engaging directly with your mentee.

Although mentoring a young researcher does not always result in a tangible benefit for the mentor, there are many valuable results that come from mentoring a student. First, creating a positive teaching relationship with a mentee often results in more work getting done for the lab’s or mentor’s own research project, saving time and energy. Playing the role of a mentor can also result in a greater self-understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher and leader.  Lastly, mentoring a young researcher benefits the scientific field as a whole, because it provides direct hands-on learning experience for young professionals who might have no other way of getting such experience. If done correctly, it constitutes a win for all involved.

If you want to read more about mentoring relationships, check out previous blog posts on: Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters  and Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships.

 


Welcome 2018 Summer Interns: OITE Blogs of Interest

June 5, 2018

summer-flowers-wallpaper-hd-free

The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) of the NIH extends a warm welcome to the Summer 2018 interns. Over the next few months, you will engage in many unique opportunities in biomedical research that will encourage you to consider pursuing careers and further graduate study in the field.  As you are settling in to your lab and meeting your PIs and fellow trainees, we want to make sure that you are aware of a variety of helpful blog posts that will help you to maximize your summer experience.

Getting oriented to a new lab and role as a researcher is both exciting and somewhat challenging for summer interns.  We suggest reading the blog Understanding the Impact of Change to learn about the key factors associated with any transition.  Next read Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

One of the challenges in most careers is how to achieve a healthy work-life balance. The OITE Director and our wellness programming staff encourage you to review our model of wellness and managing stress as part of your training to be a successful scientist.

Meeting your new mentor is another opportunity that you will have this summer. To prepare yourself for this essential growth opportunity, we suggest reading the blogs on Identifying Mentors and Learning How To Make the Most of Mentoring Relationships.

Many of you will also be introduced and encouraged to pursue graduate or professional school as a next step in your career planning.  In addition to attending our workshops, be sure to explore the variety of blogs related to topic including exploring the Md MD/PHD route, obtaining the Master’s,  PhD degree, or developing your plan for medical and dental school applications. Visit the OITE summer trainee website to learn about the services available to summer students to meet with a career counselor to help you prepare for careers in the sciences.

We look forward to working with you this summer. Visit the OITE website for further information.  For our readers who are alumni or outside of the NIH, we encourage you to seek similar services through your training director, or your college and university or in the community.

 


Saying “No” at Work

May 22, 2018

A picutre of tree bark with the words It can be anxiety producing to turn down work from a fellow colleague, or even worse, your boss. Sometimes, though, that is exactly what you need to do. In most work settings, especially competitive ones, employees want to be looked upon favorably as the “go-to person” or as a “good team player”. The problem happens when you take on too much and volunteer to pitch in on one too many projects. When doing so, you run the risk of not being as effective at your other tasks and it could leave you feeling stressed and stretched too thin.

If you have already fully assessed the request and plan to say “no” here are a few things to keep in mind as you say this small but powerful two-lettered word.

Give yourself permission to say “no”.
Even at work. Often people agree to requested tasks or favors simply because they fear disappointing the requestor. At work, you should earnestly evaluate whether you have the bandwidth to help with the request and you should always show a willingness to pitch in; however, you can still say no. When doing so, ask if priorities should be shifted to accommodate this request or volunteer to help in smaller or tangential ways for the project. Saying no at work doesn’t mean you are a bad employee, but rather that you are aware of your own personal time constraints and want to be respectful to all involved on the project.

Say it with the right tone.
This can be a hard one to do, especially if you feel stressed and overwhelmed by the request. Sometimes answers can come out overly harsh, so try not to conflate your overall feelings about your workload with this one favor. Sometimes it is best to buy yourself more time and say “Can I follow up with you in a few minutes? My mind is focused on X right now.” Then take some time to gather your thoughts and practice your approach.

Be firm with your boundary.
It is equally important not to waver or appear too hesitant when saying no. Be courteous but assertive. You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t be of help right now and I will let you know if that changes in the next few weeks.” This puts you in the position to follow up instead of inviting questions from the requestor of the “If…then” variety. Don’t give the requestor false hope that your answer may change by talking too much about shifting variables. Make sure your no is firmly understood.

If saying no to requests at work (or outside of work, for that matter!) is difficult for you, then you might benefit from the assertiveness workshops. If you are at the NIH, feel free to attend the workshop entitled “Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life” on June 19. The OITE also has some resources that might be helpful, including the OITE Career Library. One book you might be particularly interested in is: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.