“Is there a way to share feedback and ideas with one another that works well?” The question had come up at a particular group’s team-building getaway.

Two of the participants suggested Shari Harley’s book, How To Say Anything to Anyone. They were hoping to short-circuit a longer, impersonal process that maybe didn’t get to the heart of the issues facing the team.

I found the story intriguing and since I hadn’t heard of the book, I decided to read it. Here’s a video of her speaking:

Below, you will find some of my notes from the book.

My Notes

  1. Introduction

    1. Harley introduces several scenarios where candor has been missing from relationships

    2. Harley says everyone is a wimp because they fail to speak up about the things that disappoint them.

    3. “They don’t want to cause conflict, hurt our feelings, or damage the relationship. But when someone does not speak up, the relationship is damaged anyway. If the offending behavior continues, friends drift away and the relationship dies.” This is quite true, isn’t it? How many work relationships have died in this way?

    4. One of my favorite questions that Harley asks is:

      1. How many “happy” employees suddenly left your organization? The reason why is they had ongoing frustrations and dissatisfactions. But they chose not to say anything. 
    5. Guessing is an inefficient way of finding out what others are thinking or saying behind your back.

    6. Harley advises to not guess what people want or what they think about your performance. Ask them.

One of the biggest points Harley makes is this very important one below:

In candid cultures, coworkers, employers, and employees say what they need to say quickly and easily. They have created relationships in which all parties can speak openly without concern.

The truth is, in most cultures (including K-12 districts), that’s NOT the case, is it? I worked in one organization where everyone ACTED happy but was not. In fact, they were afraid for their jobs. When people chose to leave, they were afraid to say why, except to lie and say everything was awesome. Ugh, the stress of that is unbelievable.

Chapter 1: How to Establish Candid Relationships

The main point Harley makes is that most people haven’t gotten permission to speak up. They have failed to make an agreement or contract about speaking up about tough issues. She asks the following question:

What if you started every relationship by creating an agreement about how you will treat each other?

She encourages you to make an agreement with others, then to post that agreement with a fallback/consequence.  The fallback “is a consequence that a group agrees to when people violate agreements.”

Harley offers a few examples of ways to get prior permission from others:

Coworkers: “I want a good relationship with you. If we work together long enough, I’m sure I’ll screw it up. I’ll wait too long to reply to an email, make a mistake, or miss a deadline. I’d like the kind of
relationship in which we can talk about these things. I always want to know what you think. And I promise that no matter what you tell me, I’ll say thank you. Is it okay if I work this way with you?”
Supervisors: I’m committed to my professional development. As such, I’m always looking for growth opportunities. I hope that if you hear me say or see me do or see me wear anything that gets in the way of how I want to be seen, you will tell me. I promise I’ll be receptive and say thank you. I also, of course, hope you’ll tell me the things I do well that are in line with your expectations.”

Chapter 2: You Get What You Ask For

Most relationships “lack a verbal contract,” says Harley. Such a contract delineates who does what and how issues that arise will be managed. She suggests that if there are problems, people may feel like they can’t say anything.

Shari Harley outlines some steps on how to set expectations with others. This is a face to face meeting. Here are the steps:

  1. State your goal. 
  2. Set expectations
  3. Agree on how you will work together
  4. Ask for feedback
  5. Ask for permission to give feedback
  6. Agree on roles
  7. Agree on the communication process

You can watch videos online. The book has scripts for each step shown above.

Chapter 3: Taking the Mystery out of Working with Others

“Don’t guess or assume what others find frustrating —ask them. Teach people how to work with you by telling them how you like to work and by asking how they prefer to work with you,” says Harley. She goes on to share several questions. The purpose of these is to gain insight into working-style preferences.

For example, she asks:

  • how do you best like to communicate?
  • are you a morning, afternoon or night person?
  • if we need to talk, do you prefer to work by appointments or would you prefer I drop by? Or give you a call?
  • What is the best way to reach you after hours and what times work best?
  • What are your pet peeves?

Again, these are questions best done face to face for the purpose of building rapport. It’s all about relationships, you know. She recommends putting the answers to these and other question in a paper or digital file with their answers.

Chapter 4: How To Create Candid Managerial Relationships

Managers need to be able to answer at least two questions about each employee:

  • What are three things that will keep you with the organization?
  • What’s the one thing that would make you leave the organization?

One of the scenarios (Hilary and the CEO) is spot on. In the scenario Harley shares Hilary’s thinking, which captures the internal conversation employees have:

“If my boss knows I’m unhappy and there is no other role for me, I’ll be dismissed, perhaps not literally but figuratively. I won’t be given decent raises or new opportunities if my boss thinks I’m unhappy and thus on my way out. What happens if the company takes action before I’m ready? If I’m going to leave, it’s going to be on my own terms.”

Believe it or not, that’s the exact same story I told myself early in my career. In fact, it’s advice that several colleagues have shared over my work life. My Dad even backed it up with a wise saying.

If you are unhappy, make silent preparations to leave. Don’t let on that you are unhappy with the boss until you have another job lined up. Only then can you leave but don’t burn any bridges.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” as my Dad would say.

It’s a bit dishonest, isn’t it? But what can you do when the boss has all the power to ruin your life? You have to take steps to protect your livelihood.


Harley points this out:

Most of your mature employees (read: older than thirty) will not tell you what they need or when they’re unhappy. Instead, they’ll gut it out hoping things will improve. In the meantime, their morale and productivity will drop, because unhappy employees are never as productive as those who are satisfied. And eventually they’ll leave.

That behavior is something I’ve seen time and again. But you know what? It’s only now that I have millennials for children that I’ve started to see the following behavior for younger workers:

Most young employees won’t hang in there for a few years, waiting to see whether things improve. If after a few months they aren’t happy and don’t see things getting better, they will be out the door and onto the next opportunity.

What’s amazing is that younger workers won’t wait for a new job. They’ll walk away without a new job waiting, hoping they will find another. That’s incredible.
Harley offers additional questions to ask employees, such as:

  • What three things do you need in a job to be satisfied?
  • What do you enjoy doing most?
  • What is something you want to do that you have never had a chance to do?
  • What skill would you like to develop?
  • How do you like to receive recognition for a job well done (public/private)?
  • Why did you accept this job?
  • What are you hoping this job will provide?
  • What are your concerns?
  • How will I know when you’re frustrated and need support?

Those are great questions for managers to ask employees.
I LOVE this point that is made in the book:

Human beings have a need to know. When we don’t know what’s happening and why, we make things up and talk about them to whomever will listen.

In the absence of knowledge, people fill in the gaps. And it’s never good. Give more information than you think you need to give.

Managers should ask employees a few more questions:

  • What is working for you about my management style?
  • What do you wish I could do more?
  • What would you like me to start, stop and continue doing?

I’m not sure these questions would ever get candid responses in some workplaces. Can you imagine answering a micro-managing boss who might only be going through the motions of asking? I remember one supervisor that I encountered in my early career who would have fired people for being so candid. Fortunately, she was re-assigned.

The Feedback Formula

This may be worth the price of the book alone. It’s the 8 steps that make it possible to say anything to anyone in two minutes or less. At least, that’s what Shari Harley says.

  1. Intro the conversation. Explain what you’re going to talk about and why. 
  2. Empathize
  3. Described the observed behavior.  Start with “I’ve noticed….” 
  4. Share the impact or result of the behavior
  5. Have some dialogue, ask for the recipient’s perception of the situation
  6. Make a suggestion/request for what you’d like the person to do next time
  7. Build an agreement on next steps
  8. Say “Thank you.”

In reading these 8 steps, I’m reminded of Crucial Conversations/Confrontations….from memory those go something like this:

  • Share an agreed upon expectation of behavior
  • Share what happened
  • Ask about the gap between expected and actual behavior while being curious, keeping it safe, etc.

Wrap Up

Lots more great stuff in the book but I don’t want to give it all away. Definitely check it out! It’s full of insights that are accurate and wise, like this one:

For women, the bathroom is a prime location for “the meeting after the meeting.” Women walk into the bathroom after a meeting in which some new, stupid policy was announced, see their friends who were in the same meeting, and talk. But they check under the stalls first to make sure they’re alone.

Women know men don’t do this. Men are in and out, and no one had best speak to them in the men’s room. But men have been wondering for years why women go to the bathroom in groups and are gone for twenty minutes. Well, now you know. We’re talking about you.

Amazing, right? Check it out.