When Delivering Feedback — Should We Dwell on Our Strengths?

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

For some odd reason — performance feedback often becomes an exercise in dwelling upon our shortcomings. (Read a recent HBR post on feedback here.) As a psychologist, this concerns me deeply. I’m sure many of us agree that we learn more from shared feedback concerning our strengths. This likely occurs for a number of reasons, including not only how the information is delivered, but how we process the negative bits. We remain acutely aware that information about weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored. Yet when negative information enters the picture, things seem to go off the rails.

On the delivery side, we know we should be addressing both sides of the coin. As recipients, most of us really do want to hear the whole story (even as we brace for it, gritting our teeth.)

Still — we haven’t mastered the art. I fear that on many occasions we simply avoid it.

On a related note, this predisposition sets our managers up for the unsavory task of ripping us down. I’ve never heard a manager say, “I can’t wait to deliver performance appraisals”. I wonder in this moment, if negative information is the reason why. We know it is “loaded” and can drive a perfectly constructive conversation into the proverbial ditch.

Being honest about weaknesses while leaving our core fully intact, is not an easy stretch of the road to maneuver. Yet, we still need to complete the journey. As detailed here, confirmation bias can hide the deal-breaking flaws that affect our work (and organizations). But as human beings we have “tender” hearts when it comes to negative information. Resilience, that nifty quality that allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, is about self-efficacy — not self-doubt. So, I suppose “radical transparency” can have its pitfalls.

I’m wondering is there is a way for the two goals to marry? How do we deliver negative information, yet leave our inner work life core intact? There are options that may help us.

One theory, is hitting a comfortable ratio of positive to negative feedback that is offered. (Hint: We should dwell on the positive much more than the negative and a little negative information goes a long, long way). Another strategy is to use less judgemental language and present alternative behaviors, so that change doesn’t appear unreachable. This also demands that we note where someone is on the learning curve.

This is all a very delicate process.

You may have your own theory as well. There is probably a wealth of information living out there. Strategies that we have learned along the way.

I do know that solving this is imperative. Let’s share both our experiences and ideas.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Managing a Team? Turn the Small Changes Into Small Wins


I’m a huge fan of small wins when it comes to organizational change. (I believe Kotter is as well. Read his iconic article here). I’ve watched small wins reignite hope and forge forward progress.

I’m also a fan of Seth Godin. (If you know me well, this isn’t a much of a secret.) Not a professor of organization theory, or a psychologist — he has an uncanny ability to distill a semester’s worth of readings concerning organizational topics into a few profound paragraphs. I suspect he has an innate sense that allows him to fully understand human beings.

Here is an except from a recent blog post:

The worst kind of problem is precisely the kind of problem we’re not spending time worrying about. It’s not the cataclysmic disaster, the urgent emergency or the five-alarm fire. No, the worst kinds of problems are chronic. They grow slowly over time and are more and more difficult to solve if we wait…Seth Godin

You see it is the small things — those micro-events that repeat over and over again — that define an organization. It is the small things that speak volumes about a brand, to clients, customers and employees. Conversely, it is the small things that can become chronic points of contention. They are the overlooked bad habits of your team or organization. The less than stellar experiences that leave your organization weakened.

It is also the small things that offer us a tremendous opportunity to build trust and devotion among our customers & clients. These seemingly small events, can offer the possibility of growth and connection. They allow an organization to build a more worthy foundation. A stronger future.

My opinion concerning the smalls things isn’t random. It developed after years of observing the repeated ineffectiveness of top-down organizational change efforts. There are clear reasons that 70% of transformation efforts fail. Deeply connecting people to change is one looming abyss that we must consider. Why should they invest — if they feel they aren’t a part of the solution?

The small things are not a detached, heavily engineered project that must be monitored, poked and prodded, to affect change. They are simple. They are owned by your team. Those that know the work.

These small things are a gift.

These small things — can become the small wins that matter.

The wins that drive positive change.

I challenge you (your team, your department) to identify 5 “small things” that would make a huge difference to your customers, your employees, your patients. Find a way to transact these opportunities into a re-imagined reality.

Build that new habit, which changes the entire game.

You see, the small things — really aren’t small at all.

Have you applied this technique? Share your experience with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

How Letting Go (of Goals) Can Help Your Work Life


Most of us are challenged to let go of expectations within our work lives.

We bemoan the collaborations that didn’t prove fertile — or the client that got away. We are taught in no uncertain terms, to “stick with things” and to “not give up“.

But, I’ve also seen this strategy backfire and cause a great deal of stress.

As a coach, I’ve see this affect many types of contributors, from those new to the workforce to seasoned CEOs and business owners. On some level the unfulfilled expectations that we set for ourselves concerning goals and even people can get in the way of a fulfilling, productive work life.

Inevitably, the elements that we value the most — cause us the most trouble and heartache.

Big, audacious goals are often touted as a cornerstone of our work lives. (Some advice here, on how to set them wisely for your team.) We are encouraged not only to set goals, but to live them with each and every breath we draw. I’m good with goals and we all need them. However, just like the battery that feeds our favorite tech device — goals have a “life span”. They reach a state, where they may no longer be viable or serve as a meaningful motivator. How this affects our state of mind is something we should pause and note.

People also cycle into our work lives and then leave us, in many cases for good reason. There are expectations attached to them as well — and not all of these might be fulfilled. We (or they) might have changed somehow or circumstances influenced that outcome. However, this can also cause us distress. Sometimes our time with them may be drawing to a close and it is difficult to accept. We may simply not be ready to move on, or what we wanted from the relationship has not come to pass.

This all requires energy and “headspace”. Yet, our attention cannot be infinitely divided. Research has shown that our minds burns through 20% of our energy requirements — though it represents only 2% of body mass. Even at rest our brains remain quite active, and the quest for coveted energy is endless. Our minds are continually working. In a sense, wasting that precious energy, is squandering our own potential. Especially when it is in part, of our own making. Most of us have experienced an impasse where we must consider leaving something behind. We may feel that the rewards for a time investment will not be realized, or that we somehow we feel drained.

Sometimes we simply must move on — and let go.

How you would describe your own history in this regard? Do you find it easy to let go? Or are you challenged to do so? If you lean toward the stubborn and notably inflexible end of the continuum, the process can be arduous. Although tenacity can come in quite handy at times, problems emerge when we fail to revise an inflexible stance. However, all of this hanging on doesn’t always serve us well. It can bring a fog that clouds new opportunities and can fuel bitterness. Nevertheless, turning away and leaving these things behind can be challenging. (For some, this can even bring a certain sadness.)

Letting go of people and things that define yesterday can be quite good thing. This process requires reflection and practice. On a very basic level, we must change our mindset about letting go.

Here are a few thoughts (IMHO) concerning what letting go is and isn’t:

  • Letting go of a goal isn’t a defeat.
  • It does not signal failure on your part.
  • It may mean that the goal no longer serves you.
  • It may mean you have committed your best effort — and the outcomes/rewards weren’t there.
  • It is closure.
  • It is about shifting your energies to fertile ground.
  • It is about becoming more agile.
  • It can foster resilience.
  • It can build a sense of adventure; restore a certain hope and confidence in the future.
  • It can mark the moment of a new beginning.

In many cases letting go, creates room for pursuits that are far more rewarding — and carve out a place for the goals and people that will help move us forward.

I would say that could soften the blow.

Is letting go challenging for you? Have you mastered the art? Share your experiences with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

We Don’t Always Respect Our Own Strengths. We Need to Change That.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash


Strengths have endured as a focal point of career growth. Whitney Johnson speaks of our unsung “super-powers” that can drive both career disruption and growth. Massive training organizations, have arisen to discuss how we might find our strengths.

We all agree that strengths matter — and that their identification is vital.

However, no amount of press, research, training or persuasion, can help us avoid the wasted energy and missed opportunities that occur because of one simple fact: As individuals, we may not always respect those strengths. The idea deeply resonates with us — however, truly adopting a strength mindset may not follow. (I would venture to say that our behaviors reflect this discrepancy.)

We tend to treat strength alignment, as if it were a luxury item — when in fact it essentially functions like water. A fundamental. A basic. A necessity. In fact, respecting our strengths is integral to Core Stability.

We should attempt to normalize the notion of strengths and strength alignment. We might explore methods to bring them front and center, in our everyday work lives. Few things could sustain us career-wise, with as much power, as the opportunity to identify and apply our strengths. But, inevitably “noise” that presents while seeking to apply that “strength signal”. (For example, consider how we naturally give more weight to a failure or setback, than a success. This dynamic often distracts us from forming meaningful connections about our own performance.)

The bottom line is this: if we do not truly value strengths — we won’t begin the process of advocating for their use.

Weaving the notion of strengths into our conversations about work and work life, should become much more natural. There are opportunities that we often overlook. When have you freely shared with a team member: “You know, you have an incredible ability to do this — let’s be sure you have the opportunity to develop and apply this skill going forward.” Similarly, when is the last time you asked: “What do you see as my strengths? What am I missing that others might see in me? What do I complete decidedly well?”

Now, what happened next? What was done with that information? Did anything change going forward? After we gather the information, that knowledge needs to serve as a guiding force, helping us (and others) through our own career journey. A campaign — so to speak.

Aligning strengths with career won’t happen without a nudge in the right direction. We have to act as though we truly believe in its importance.

On some deep, foundational level, it is up to us to champion the mindset and lead that charge.

Do you utilize a technique that helps others follow their strengths and incorporate them into their work lives? Share it here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.


The Everyday Guide to Workplace Confidence: Work Hard & Yes, Feel a Little Entitled


Confidence. One very tough customer to master.

If you’ve ever stood tentatively in front of an audience — or felt like an impostor after being praised or promoted — I’d wager those nagging feelings were rooted in your level of confidence.

When you consider confidence in the workplace there are so many platitudes, but few offer honest guidance. How do you truly “believe” in yourself when faced with the career moments that matter most? The situations simply cannot be scaled by rehearsed advice. They cannot be met by memes or empty platitudes.

How do we truly build confidence? Well, I’ve stumbled upon one perspective that may hit a relevant nerve (it stopped me cold).

I don’t often find time for magazines. Yet, when I visit the hair salon, I leave my phone at home and unplug. I thumb through Glamour, Vogue, Allure and they all seem offer their own brand of career advice. One column in particular, shared at Glamour was authored by Mindy Kaling. Granted, she is not a traditional career writer as she’s an actress. However, she has managed to accomplish career-wise what few have in her industry, which I find noteworthy.

Here is her thoughtful (second) response to this question, originally posed by a nervous young girl at a speaking engagement, which she admittedly got all wrong the first time around:

“How did you build your confidence?” Her revised response was direct and unapologetic.It went something like this (I apologize for the choice of words, they were hers and would lose something with an edit).

Work very hard. Know your $hit. Show your $hit. Then feel entitled.

I agree 100% that confidence is rooted in mastery. In experiences. Investing in our core stability. In owning what you bring to the table. Confidence comes from building feelings of self-efficacy. It requires challenge, a fair amount of balanced exploration and failure — mentorship, guidance and exposure.

True confidence includes the notion that we are not entitled to rewards, simply because we desire them. Rewards come with time and hard work.

  • Confidence comes from learning from those around you.
  • It requires patience and the belief that you can learn something from every person and every scenario.
  • It requires adequate feedback and reflection.
  • It is the deeper realization that you can handle the problems (and people) that stand before you.
  • Confidence is earned.

When you practice your craft — confidence is your entitlement.

So try the following:

  • Seek broad experiences and “challenge assignments”.
  • Develop a deep knowledge of your industry and its current experts.
  • Push yourself. Get up when you fall. Alter your course. Rebound.
  • Find a mentor who helps you recognize and invest in your talent.
  • Be aware of the competencies you may require ahead of the “disruption curve“.
  • Continue to learn.
  • Grow.

And then, yes — feel entitled to some measure of success.

Through all this, I suspect that confidence arrives unannounced with little fanfare. It takes hold, then lives in your workplace soul — and cannot be measured by the sum of your individual experiences.

It’s more akin to letting a gorgeous, glistening wave roll over you.

Thanks Mindy.

That clears things up.

What are your thoughts about building confidence? Share them.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, advisor and coach. Learn more about Core Stability & The Core Training Intensive here.

Is Loneliness a Growing Factor When We Work Remotely?

Photo by Thomas Litangen on Unsplash

To be honest, I’ve really never been a “joiner”. You may identify with this sentiment.

In college, I didn’t feel the need to belong to clubs or pledge a sorority to feel connected.I’m not a one to spend every weekend out to dinner — or at some king of gathering. In an office environment, I enjoyed conversing with other like-minded individuals. Meetings never seemed to be too much of a chore, as long as discussions of challenges and up-coming projects were on the docket. Somehow this ticked a box for me.

However, even knowing my somewhat ambivalent past habits, I never dreamed I’d miss face-to-face interaction as much as I do.

I’ve been working remotely for years now and I’ll freely admit it has its lonely moments. Certain aspects of working from home are fantastic. But, somehow all of the journal articles, posts and projects aren’t the same, without a work group nearby.

I often wondered if my coaching clients who work remotely, felt the same. Turns out, many of them do.

This week I had the chance to read an eye-opening piece at Slate, concerning the stigma associated with an admission that we feel lonely (even if only from time to time). In it, the author describes the immediate inclination we have to connect loneliness with being “less than” or dare I say “loser”. That has to stop, because it’s simply not true.

Research completed by MIT Sloan, has explored this concern as applied to our work lives, discussing the isolation and lack of visibility that may come along when working remotely. These negative by-products of working remotely won’t affect all of us, as we are individuals. However, potential issues should always be on the radar. Discussions are sadly incomplete if we fail to address the common by-product of even occasional loneliness.

Even with all the available social networks, we need to feel real connection, not simply increase the amount of ambient chatter.

I have a couple of ideas for this. I’m sure we’ll uncover a number of other strategies. Here are a few for starters:

  • Check in frequently. Make a concerted effort to speak with someone in your office daily. Whether this is your manager, mentor or colleague — this will help retain a sense of belonging.
  • Visit your home office. Even if you are fully enjoying your remote work life, make plans to visit your home office as time and travel allow. If you are already feeling disconnected and you are within a reasonable distance, get there once a week. If possible, attend meetings that reinforce how you, and your work, fit into the larger picture.
  • Facilitate “on-site” sabbaticals. If you are affiliated full-time, you might consider spending a couple of weeks a year at the home office. Beyond the challenge of organizing proper a work space, this could allow far-flung colleagues to interact in-person for an extended period of time. This could do wonders for both team-building and strategy concerns.
  • Join a co-working space. Co-working is the perfect solution if you miss the “goings on” of office life. Most cities have at least a couple to choose from, so visit them and get a sense of the vibe. Sites such as WeWork and the Bond Collective, cater to those who need a place to land for work & meetings.
  • Schedule “meet-ups”. With differences in location and time zones, in can be difficult to get on the same schedule. This limits communication and a feeling of being connected. Identify a time of day, when you know you can intersect “time-wise” and speak — and hopefully a ritual will develop.

Do you work remotely? Share your strategies to limit remote loneliness here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist advisor and coach. She also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One


Please note: We are all aware of the personal/financial ramifications when we consider a job change. Take this post in the spirit in which it was written: to be helpful.

Many of us have experienced the wrong job. I would say that fault is difficult to assign. However, it may be dawning on you that your work life is dangerously out of alignment. Nothing is worse than throwing yourself into work with the best of intentions —  yet things seem to continue to go very, very wrong.

The trick to this situation? Identifying the problem for what it is (in very short shrift) and acting to make meaningful changes. Poor matches do happen. Recruitment is not always loaded in favor of applicants — and selection is not a perfect science.

So, take a deep breath. Let yourself off the hook and do what you can to avoid a long-term soul sucking experience.

Remember that “withering on the vine” is not a viable career strategy.

Here are 6 signs that you should be paying attention to:

  • You feel lost. Have you been experiencing the classic nightmare that you arrive at class, only to find that you’ve not read a single page of the textbook and it is final exam day? This should not be your experience with work during waking hours. If every task or project leaves you feeling unprepared, take note: fit errors do occur. Sometimes that “next step” in your career, has been the wrong step. It’s more than ok to acknowledge this.
  • You are in avoidance mode. Be honest with yourself — the process of going to work is absolutely excruciating. If you had your druthers, you would never set foot in the office again. If you’ve tried to make things work and you still can’t envision a future for yourself in your current role, you have a serious problem.
  • Your strengths aren’t being utilized. Ultimately our work should align with our strengths. If this is not the case, it’s time to start exploring other options. If you feel that your weaknesses have taken center stage, it’s unlikely you’ll stay energized for the long haul. Have a conversation with your supervisor now — and don’t wait.
  • You feel disconnected. Does it feel as if everyone else is on one page and you are on another? Whether you work in customer service, sales or consulting — if it feels as if you are not aligning with the vision of the organization, the person-job match may be off. If you see yourself as a lonely island (and everyone is speaking an entirely different “language”), it may be time to explore moving on.
  • You can’t seem to complete anything. Everything seems pointless and your level of motivation is at an all-time low. Are your psychological resources waning? Are you dealing with looming deadlines with a blank screen continually staring back at you? Have you simply stopped caring? All are telling signs.
  • You are entering self-blame mode. You certainly can own the part of the problem that you’ve controlled (you’ve ignored your “inner voice”, for example). However, I guarantee there were plenty of other factors in play. The bottom line is this: You are not happy and it’s time to act. Blame doesn’t help things resolve — only a plan to move forward will.

Of course — please pay attention to physical signs of stress. If you are not sleeping or eating take heed. Feeling depressed or anxious is a clear indicator that something is off. Time to take the issue to your supervisor, a trusted mentor or a health professional.

Has this ever been your experience? How did you move forward? Share the story with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work & work life life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.