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Melanie Rembrandt of Rembrandt Communications: Giving Feedback; How To Be Honest Without Being Hurtful

When you speak to your employees, let them know you are available for them and open to their feedback, questions and more. And on a regular schedule throughout the year, send them a quick message to see how they’re doing. I’ve seen many fantastic workers leave a company because they were ignored… they just took […]

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When you speak to your employees, let them know you are available for them and open to their feedback, questions and more. And on a regular schedule throughout the year, send them a quick message to see how they’re doing. I’ve seen many fantastic workers leave a company because they were ignored… they just took their great ideas to the competition!

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Rembrandt.

Melanie Rembrandt is an award-winning copywriter and publicist, the author of “Simple Publicity” and “Secrets of Becoming a Publicist,” and the host of the “Simplify Your Small Business Podcast.” As the founder of Rembrandt Communications®, LLC, and The Small Business PR Academy, she helps clients boost sales, awareness and credibility fast with targeted copywriting and public relations. When not at her desk, you can usually find her kickboxing, dancing or scuba diving in the ocean!

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

At a very young age, I started writing articles and won several awards (including a toy frog from the local newspaper which was the greatest thing ever at the time!). In high school, I realized that I could use my writing skills to get into a great college, win contests, meet great people, raise money for various charities, and more.

These skills became ultra-important because I had to pay for my full, college tuition. (Yep. We didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t stop me!) While having a full class load at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, I held several public relations and communication jobs to pay the bills. It took a massive amount of time, effort and work, but I was able to graduate magna cum laude in just four years.

I then worked for various businesses and tech companies… and was laid off twice (why are communications people always the first to go in a downturn?!) After the second layoff, I decided to take matters into my own hands and start my own public relations and copywriting business.

Over 15 years later, I’m still helping small business owners, non-profit organizations, Fortune 500s, authors, and celebrities reach their goals… and having a blast in the process! With my in-the-trenches knowledge and experience, I now help small business owners avoid major pitfalls and unnecessary expenses while getting them the sales, awareness, and credibility they need to succeed!”

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Shhh. Almost all of my business comes from referrals, and Rembrandt Communications is kind of a hidden gem. Business owners come to me for help because they’ve heard rave reviews and know that I can help them. Not everyone is a good fit for my services, but those who are reap the benefits!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

After signing a new client, I was asked to come out to their offices and do a presentation for their team… in New Zealand. With just a few days to prepare, I packed my bags and headed to the Land of Kiwi and adventure. Everything went well with my meetings, and I stayed a few extra days to explore the surrounding area.

But, did you know that’s it can get really cold in New Zealand in mid-June? I knew it would be chilly… but not that chilly! So, here I am taking a boat ride on the canal, riding an open-air bus through the gardens, walking around town, and taking a tram to the top of Christchurch in their wintertime… with just a thin jacket!

No worries. I was raised in the cold weather of the Midwest, so I just moved fast to stay warm. The cool, New Zealand temperatures were a surprise, but it made for a unique visit I’ll always remember!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the end of a big promotional event I worked on at the beginning of my career, there was a big tray of chocolate-covered strawberries leftover just staring at me. Well, I couldn’t let them go to waste now, could I? (You see where this is going, don’t you?!)

So, I ate several of them and then went back to business. I spent the rest of the evening wrapping up the event and talking to the last, few stragglers.

Then, I finally got a break to use the restroom. And what do I see when I look in the mirror? You guessed it… a face covered with chocolate from the strawberries! No wonder people seemed to find me so charming that night! (Thank goodness is what at the end of the evening!)

Now, I avoid eating anything that will cause any possible mess while I’m at an event. You just can’t rely on others to let you know if you have something in your teeth or on your face!

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

It can be so easy to get overwhelmed with work when you have tight deadlines and little control over your time. Let your employees know that they can take breaks when they need to during the day. This can give them the room they need to breathe and actually get more work done… faster.

Also, allow them to take “mental health” days without giving them a hard time. Remember that we all deal with stress differently, and some people may need more time off than others to relax and regroup.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is allowing others to shine and reach their full potential!

When you work with others to do a specific task, let them use their expertise, skills and background to get the job done. If you constantly hover over them, complain, give constant tips, and more, you will just end up with bad results and disgruntled employees!

Give your team members the power to share ideas and do their jobs the best way they can. Really listen to them, provide feedback in a positive way and present them with new responsibilities and goals to reach. If they know you are there for them in a supportive way, you will see them succeed and provide better results.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

While I try to get at least one hour of exercise in on a daily basis, having the right mindset is an essential part of being healthy and stress-free.

Before an important call or meeting, I envision a positive experience and the best results possible. I take some deep breaths and move forward. From my experience, I know that things will work out the way they are supposed to in the long run (whether it’s the way I want them to or not) so I don’t stress about big events. Many people forget about their mindset in day-to-day functions, and it’s important to remember to put yourself in a positive frame of mind at all times… not just before a big event.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

As a consultant and business owner, I’ve assisted many types of organizations with both their internal and external communications over the years. To really increase sales and grow, it’s essential to provide customers with a positive experience that exceeds expectations, and this all stems from the way team members speak to others.

It has been exciting to help individuals and entire teams look at how they express themselves to improve the clarity of their messages and see great results because of it.

This might seem intuitive, but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Most people can sense whether you are providing truthful information or not, and when you are straightforward in your communications, it gives you credibility.

As a leader, you want others to trust and listen to you. But, if you do not convey honest and direct feedback, you lose their attention and any power of influence you may have.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to aa remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Set a specific time to talk that is dedicated to the discussion necessary.

If you just contact a team member without notice, they will be on guard because they weren’t expecting your call. It’s much better to schedule a dedicated time for your discussion.

This shows that this meeting is important to you and that you are taking time out of your busy schedule specifically for this employee.

Know the facts and prepare for the meeting in advance.

Like any important meeting, you want to prepare in advance. Learn everything you can about the employee’s specific activities, current deadlines, hobbies, past history, and more. Then, you’ll be fully prepared.

I’ve heard of supervisors contacting employees in a heated mood about a particular project just to discover that those employees had absolutely nothing to do with the current problem!

Listen.

This seems simple, but it’s important. How are you going to get a sense of what your employee is thinking and feeling if you don’t listen carefully to what they have to say?

Plus, you’ll get a better understanding of what’s going on to respond accordingly. Your employees will really appreciate being heard!

Be positive.

It can be so easy to take out your stress, anger, anxiety, and more on an employee. Instead of focusing on the negative issues, try to be positive. Explain any issues or feelings you have, listen to the employee’s comments and then respond with an action they can take in a positive direction.

It goes back to the “Golden Rule” of treating others like you’d like to be treated. Your employee may be nervous talking to you, and a positive demeanor can eliminate any intimidation they may have so they can really tell you their concerns without fear.

Let them know you are available with questions and appreciate their feedback.

So many employees feel underappreciated, especially if they are working in a lonely, remote situation. A simple “Thank You” can go a long way.

When you speak to your employees, let them know you are available for them and open to their feedback, questions and more. And on a regular schedule throughout the year, send them a quick message to see how they’re doing. I’ve seen many fantastic workers leave a company because they were ignored… they just took their great ideas to the competition!

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

If possible, pick up the phone! When you just have a simple message to convey, emails work well. But different people read email responses in different ways.

You may think you’re sending a positive communication, but your team member may think you are trying to say something else! Then, these small issues can elevate into bigger, time-consuming problems. If you must give feedback via email, keep it very simple, and take the time to review it carefully to avoid a potential miscommunication.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

When you need to provide feedback, your timing depends on the situation. Sometimes, you need to speak to the person immediately if there is a crisis brewing. If this happens, take a moment to collect your thoughts, take a breather and think about what you want to say first. This small step can turn a potential, heated discussion into a positive communication that helps calm the situation down immediately.

If you have more time, schedule a call with the person involved. Then, you can prepare accordingly and offer the appropriate responses for the best results.

Obviously, you want to have set review times throughout the year with an organized list of goals. This way, you can spell out exactly what is expected of each team member, and they know what they need to accomplish in a set timeframe. Then, you can simply go through the list together, discuss any issues and set new goals until the next review period. Make it simple and easy to understand. After all, no one wins when assumptions happen!

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

To be a great boss, I think it’s important to take the time to communicate with employees, listen to their ideas and feedback and take action to make them feel valued at your organization.

For example, after organizing the communication process for a new client and spending the time to speak to each team member on an individual basis, I was exhausted and wondered if my efforts mattered at all. Later on, many of the employees contacted me to let me know how much they valued having their opinions heard. Sometimes this little act can mean more than you know.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if everyone could make one nice compliment to a person especially a stranger each day? This would spread a little bit more positivity in the world!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Horace’s “Seize the Day!” All of my big successes have been from taking risks and pursuing opportunities I never thought I could accomplish. Well, guess what? This set the bar higher each time and improved my confidence. Now, the sky is the limit, and I pursue all of the things I really want in life! Life is short. Make the most of it and enjoy it!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

All of my information is available at www.rembrandtwrites.com.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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