Feedback Skills Will Help You Avoid A Toxic Work Environment

Feedback. This simple word, and the action it represents, has the power to create an open, positive and healthy workplace. When absent, it has the power to promote a toxic work environment.

Feedback is an integral part of organizational life. Evaluations, performance reviews, contract renewals, renegotiations, and day-to-day team conversations that move projects along all require the ability to give and receive feedback.

So how does this skill, or specifically the lack of it, lead to toxic work environments?

First, let’s look at workplaces where feedback is lacking. What happens when you aren’t given performance reviews – especially if wages or promotions are tied to these reviews? What happens when there is no direction for a project, yet you later find out through the grapevine that your superiors were unhappy with your work? What happens when you have a team member that constantly makes mistakes or doesn’t deliver work on time? How is everyone impacted if management will not directly address these important needs?

These are just a few of the ways that the lack of feedback can lead to feelings of betrayal that fuel toxic work environments. As you experience these things over and over, you begin to feel like your work doesn’t matter, that management doesn’t care about you or your success, or that you are being set up to fail. These feelings lead to disengagement.

What’s worse than no (or poor) feedback? Negative behaviors leaders, managers and team members engage in that further the growth of toxicity, such as:

  • calling out others when a mistake is made
  • shifting the blame from one team member to another
  • playing favorites
  • yelling, berating, or overtly abusing others
  • providing only negative input to an action or process

Feedback, when delivered thoughtfully, is a powerful vehicle for building trust, and ultimately, your professional effectiveness.

Feedback Can Fuel or Smother a Toxic Work Environment

It is not hard to understand how important feedback can be to preventing or eliminating a toxic work environment. But how do you give good feedback? How do you tell people their behaviors are negatively affecting performance or your working relationship?

How do you receive feedback without taking it personally, without getting defensive, or without getting your feelings hurt?

The key to giving feedback is to remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it – and the intention with which you offer your insights.


Good Intentions are Important to the Feedback Process

If your intent is to put a person down, to prove him or her wrong so as to make yourself right, you are getting it wrong! These personal attacks create defensiveness, an unwillingness to listen, and future apprehension about feedback. In essence, you’re promoting a toxic work environment.

If your intent is to make your colleague aware of how he or she is perceived and to strengthen the relationship, you’re on the right track. By focusing on specific behaviors and being true to your positive intention to help, rather than to judge or criticize, you are making your feedback productive. When you extend compassion while giving feedback, you support others to see opportunities to improve something – a behavior, a skill, an approach, a relationship. It is easier for the other person to receive the feedback when they can participate in understanding that their approach to a problem can be changed to achieve a different outcome.

In this way you’re demonstrating that you care for the other person and that you’re willing to invest in your mutual effectiveness. You build a deeper sense of understanding for how to move forward, together, in the most productive manner.


To give feedback effectively, you need to be willing to receive it in return.

When others give you feedback, listen closely for their intentions. Being defensive and focusing on your response prevents you from hearing, and learning. Instead, focus on what is being said, make an effort to be open and show genuine interest in what you hear.

When you practice this behavior people will experience your receptiveness and will feel safe in sharing their perceptions. When people feel that their opinions are both being heard and matter, they are more willing to engage. This dynamic helps avoid the apathy that accompanies toxic work environments.

Having the courage to engage in constructive feedback conversations is an ongoing discipline that demonstrates commitment to fostering strong, trusting relationships that eliminate toxic work environments while building your Trust of Communication and overall professional effectiveness.


What you can learn from over a million people who healed their relationships

“It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand.”

– Michelangelo


I don’t do well when I don’t know what to do next.

When I spin.

When I’m riddled with doubt.

I actually feel physical pain when I’m deeply uncertain about which course of action will produce my desired result.

How about you? I’d imagine you’re not a big fan of ambiguity, either. Especially when it comes to negotiating your relationships. And especially when it comes to healing relationships that have gone off track.

Here’s where I can help.

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3 ways to leverage self-awareness and keep from hurting people

Do you remember when you learned to read a stop sign? Probably not. You were pretty young.

But now that you know, you can’t go back to seeing just a bunch of white squiggles on a red background, right? You’re aware.

This awareness is potent. It keeps you from hurting other people or yourself when you’re behind the wheel.

Self-awareness keeps you from hurting people, too.

Here are 3 ways to develop it:

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5 steps to release anger and rebuild trust

I was just in Manhattan facilitating a trust workshop. Women leaders from all over the metropolitan area had rolled up their sleeves, ‘gone to work,’ and stepped into real conversations about trust.

In a powerful truth-speaking moment, one woman asked a provocative question about trust – or, rather, the lack of it:

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5 Trust Building Tools from the International Space Station

Astronaut Scott Kelly just spent an unbroken year in space, setting a U.S. record. TIME Magazine chronicled Kelly’s time aboard the International Space Station in its documentary, A Year in Space.

As I watched Kelly’s story, I was riveted. Not just by his passion and commitment, but by his remarkable capacity for trust. Trust in himself. Trust in his fellow astronauts. Trust that a million moving parts would get him safely into space and back.

Trust that when he returned, everything he left behind on Earth would still be here, waiting for him.

Among the many tools Scott Kelly gave us to develop our own capacity for trust, here are the 5 most critical:

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3 Truths about Trust and Betrayal from Maria Sharapova

For 11 years, tennis player Maria Sharapova has been #1 on Forbes’ list of highest paid female athletes. During a recent press conference, we learned for the last 10 of those years she’s been taking Meldonium, a medication the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has now banned as a performance-enhancing substance.

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Build Trust through Broken Promises

People often tell me how much they need to be able to count on one another to come through, particularly during this period of doing more with less.

Think about it for a moment. When you do what you said you’d do, you give people concrete evidence that you can be trusted. Trust is your relationships’ adhesive. Without it, everything gets harder and takes longer.

Simple, right?

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stepping stones across turbulent waters representing seven steps to telling difficult truths

How to Tell a Difficult Truth in 7 Straightforward Steps

Telling the truth can be difficult.

In my work, people ask me to help them strengthen trust in their relationships. I work with individual leaders; other times with teams or entire organizations. Regardless of the scope of the engagement or place in the world I’m working, however, I’ve found that when it comes to trust, the same core issues surface. Among the most challenging of these issues?

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8 Steps to Keep Distrust from Boiling Over

Betrayal is in the news. It seems like every time I tune in – to CNN, to The Wall Street Journal, to Twitter – people are shining the spotlight on people who’ve betrayed others through glaring, headline-grabbing offenses.

Government leaders. Police officers. CEOs. Athletes. Celebrities.

So many people are talking about the big things people do to break trust.

Yet, through more than two decades spent researching the ins and outs of trust and its shadow, betrayal, I’ve discovered this critical truth:

While betrayal can happen swiftly and dramatically, more often it creeps up on us over time.

Like water coming to a boil, distrust can occur cumulatively. It can gather force through subtle, fleeting incidents that, at first blush, may not even ‘count’ as betrayals:

“I know it shouldn’t matter, but it really upsets me that she’s late to every one of my meetings. I feel like she doesn’t value my time and energy.”

“I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t stand how he always talks over me. It’s like he cares more about his own opinion than about our relationship.”

“I wish that for once she would just let go and let me do my job. She constantly downplays my skills and experience. It’s as if what I bring to the table doesn’t even matter.”

“He never mentions my contributions. I’ve been here 5 years, and never even a ‘thank you.’ I feel like he thinks anyone could do my job. Like I’m expendable.”

Little by little, a sense of betrayal can build, as others’ behaviors chip away at trust…wear us down…cause us to question and doubt. While in the moment we may brush off each incident of the behavior, given enough time the behavioral pattern can create an impact that’s impossible to ignore. Why?

Because left unaddressed, minor, fleeting breaches of trust add up to betrayal, communicating powerful, enduring messages:

“To the other person, this relationship doesn’t matter very much.”

 “My time and energy aren’t important.”

 “My work effort is never enough.”

And perhaps even, “I, as a person, am expendable.”

Does this resonate with you? Have you or someone you’ve worked with closely been on the receiving end of behaviors that made you question if the other person valued their relationship with you…not just as a professional with assignments to complete, but as a person?

Let me ask you, how did this impact your work and life? Were you able to carry on as if nothing had happened? Or, might it be that your energy and confidence took a hit?

In my work – in every corner of the world – people tell me that when they experience this ‘incremental’ breach of trust, their physical and emotional well-being declines.

They suffer anything from difficultly concentrating on the work…to maintaining confidence in themselves…to trouble staying focused on the path ahead…to headaches and fatigue…to the loss of joy.

They tell me, time and time again, the impacts from incremental breaches of trust on their personal and professional lives rival the impacts of a single major betrayal of trust.

How can you keep betrayal from creeping up on you?

A second critical truth I’ve learned about the erosion of trust is the vast majority of people do not set out to hurt, let down, or disappoint others. Yet, at some point in time, they do. We all do. You don’t mean to. But at times you loose sight, become over extended, and trip up.

I do as well.

On one end of the spectrum, the impact of our behavior may cause trust to be vulnerable. On the other end, to break trust down and cause others to feel betrayed. As if what they have to bring to the world doesn’t count. As if they don’t count.

So, here are 8 steps to avoid breaching trust and causing others to feel betrayed:

  1. Recognize that your behavior matters and has an impact on people.
  2. Set intentions for how you aspire to bring yourself to others. This clarity will prepare you to have a positive impact and be experienced as trustworthy.
  3. Remember what it is that you have to bring to others in your relationships.
  4. Consider how your current behavior aligns with your intentions.
  5. Observe where you may be tripping up and letting others down. Reflect on how you can redirect.
  6. Take responsibility for your actions and their impacts.
  7. Know that betrayal can be a teacher. At times, you can learn the most about trust from its loss.
  8. Extend compassion. 90% of the behaviors that impact trust are unconscious habits and knee-jerk reactions. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes time to shift ingrained practices.

And remember, should you discover that you’ve unintentionally let someone down, resulting in a sense of distrust in one of your relationships…there is a path forward.

Yours in trust,

Michelle Reina

A Leader’s Guide to Asking for Support

How do people develop into transformational leaders? Is it through coaching? Training? Educating?

According to Bank of Maroda Chairman Ravi Venkatesan in his insightful piece Building leadership: Unleash the disrupters, it’s none of those things:

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Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer Could Rebuild Trust. Here’s how.

Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Montersino

Under CEO Marissa Mayer, in the last year more than one-third of Yahoo’s employees have parted ways with the company – either voluntarily or involuntarily. In the coming months, another 15% of Yahoo’s workforce is slated to be fired.

Or, as Mayer prefers to say – “remixed.”

“Ms. Mayer has steadfastly refused to use the word “layoff” to describe the thousands of jobs eliminated since she joined the company,” reported The New York Times. “She even forbade her managers from uttering what she called “the L-word,” instructing them to use the term “remix” instead.”

Mayer’s termination policies have caught the attention of courts in California, where Yahoo is headquartered. Under California law, companies engaging in mass layoffs are required to give employees 60 days advance notice. Despite the large numbers of employees it’s forced to leave its ranks, reports are that Yahoo has provided no such notice.

If the courts determine Yahoo’s been conducting mass layoffs under the guise of performance-based terminations, thousands of former Yahoo employees will be eligible for back pay and damages. If the courts decide in Yahoo’s favor?

Yahoo – and Mayer – still face an uphill battle in the court of public opinion:
  • “Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer Has An ‘Invest/Maintain/Kill’ List” (Fortune)
  • “How Marissa Mayer is Spinning Yahoo’s Layoffs” (
  • “Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has a list of layoffs…but will she end up on it?” (Vanity Fair)

Clearly, Mayer – and by proxy Yahoo – have a trust problem. When it comes to the viability of an organization, compromised trust is the canary in the coal mine. Why?

Because business is conducted through relationships, and the foundation of effective relationships is trust.

The question is, can Mayer rebuild trust in her leadership and throughout Yahoo? In our nearly 25 years of experience in rebuilding workplace trust with leaders around the world, the answer is yes…if Mayer demonstrates a sincere commitment to leading her people through the following steps:

Step One: Observe and Acknowledge

Turning around an environment struggling with trust starts with honest reflection, courageous examination, and assessment. It takes courage to take stock of where trust stands and acknowledge the specific behaviors that caused trust to erode and for relationships to head south.

This isn’t the time for generalities and labeling. It’s not the time to attack character. This first step is to assess and acknowledge the behaviors that broke trust in the first place, and how those actions impacted people’s lives. After all, what’s not acknowledged can’t be restored.

Step Two: Allow Feelings to Surface

Trust is emotionally provocative. When people experience trust being eroded, they feel it. Consider the last time your trust took a hit at work. What emotions surfaced?

People tell us when trust is compromised they feel everything from frustration, to anger, to devastation. They feel loss – the loss of their energy, focus, and productivity. And, in cases such as this, the loss of their relationships, particularly with people they’ve worked closely.

Often, the people who’ve been laid off are people others have cared about. People they’ve collaborated with…gone to the wall with…been with through thick and thin. When those people leave, it hurts. There is a loss, and with loss comes emotion.

In an environment of layoffs, people also tell us they feel vulnerable and fear for their jobs. Instead of stepping up to meet current demands, they withdraw. In these situations, people need a safe container to vocalize their concerns and discuss vulnerabilities constructively. They need support to move through the impacts of eroded trust, embrace the changes, and prepare to move forward.

Step Three: Get Support

We’ve seen people rebound, grow, and even prosper through broken trust…with support.

People can actually benefit from what disappointed them and took them down.

When trust is compromised (whether at work or at home), people – you – need support from impartial and objective confidants. Judging, criticizing, or heaping blame on the person who made trust vulnerable isn’t what’s needed. While those actions may be an easy default in the short term, they’ll only trap people dwelling in the past.

What’s most valuable at this time is perspective…exploring options…gaining an objective understanding of the bigger picture and working through doubt, confusion, and frustration.

Step Four: Reframe the Experience

With objectivity comes the ability to reframe experiences of broken trust within a larger context. Through looking at the extenuating circumstances that contributed to the break down, people can begin to shift from blame to problem solving. They can see options to move forward.

They may even begin to view the person who broke their trust through the lens of compassion, rather than blame.

Reframing helps people transform their traumatic experiences to opportunities for learning and growth for everyone involved. People can look at what they have, what they’ve learned, and how – as a group – they’ve even benefitted from what’s happened.

In our work, we’ve seen it time and again. When people are appropriately supported to reframe, they discover fresh appreciation for one another, both as colleagues and as human beings. They gain greater insight into what they truly need to from one another to do their best work, and learn how to deliver on those needs.

Instead of trying to trying to distance themselves from their situation, they step into it begin to leverage it.

Step Five: Take Responsibility

When people are suffering within a lower trust culture, it’s normal for them to project their negative feelings onto others – to lay blame and sidestep responsibility. However, people who successfully rebuild trust take ownership of their behavior in response to the conditions they are facing.

They ask themselves, ‘what can I do now to take charge of my situation? What I might be doing to contribute to a downward spiral of trust? Am I pointing the finger? Am I painting other people in black-and-white terms, as ‘all wrong’ or ‘all bad?’ Am I talking about – rather than with – people when I have concerns?

The truth? Even if not responsible for what happened, we all have responsibility for how we respond.

Step Six: Forgive

When people don’t forgive one another, they cling to their anger, resentment, and bitterness like a security blanket. We often hear people talking about a breach of trust that happened 5, 10, 15 years ago.

No matter how egregious they were, hanging onto past hurts doesn’t help you…or anyone else.

Learning to forgive releases people from this pattern of negative behavior and allows them to approach others with a sense of compassion. Forgiveness is less about letting the other person “off the hook,” and more about freeing oneself from the baggage of negativity, bitterness, and blame.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

Step Seven: Let Go and Move On

In this final stage, people are supported to accept the situation without blame. They look back over their experience, reflect on the lessons they learned, and think about what behaviors they can practice to ensure a healthier, more productive working environment in the future.

We are not here to judge or criticize Mayer’s decisions, words, or actions. However, we can use the impression of broken trust as an opportunity to learn.

The truth?

We all find ourselves up against a wall at some point in time as the result of what has happened either to us or around us.

What we do when we’re up against the wall is what builds trust…or breaks it.

Final note: Using these Seven Steps for Rebuilding Trust, we’ve seen people in a multi-billion dollar communications firm completely transform their relationships – both within top leadership, and throughout the company. Through taking responsibility to rebuild trust, these people repaired severely damaged management/employee relationships in time to successfully navigate a major change initiative.

In their own words:

  • “Relationships can overcome betrayal.”
  • “This process can and has made relationships stronger.”
  • “The good results we have as a team and as individuals are linked to the level of trust we have in the team.”
  • “I got my power back.”

Yours in trust,

Michelle Reina

Do your relationships have cracks?

Over the years, people have asked us why we called our book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.

Betrayal is a strong word. It’s complex and emotionally provocative. For some, it’s downright off-putting.

“When you used the word betrayal,” people have said, “surely you knew you’d risk losing potential readers. If you wanted to make a contribution – to make people’s lives better – why would you use a word that could make people uncomfortable? Or, even push them away from your message?”

The truth?

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