Emma: I have no doubt my millennial will be showing when I say: I don’t think we as a work culture are very good at reassuring the people on our teams that they’re doing a good job. To quote my dad’s all-time favorite line from Mad Men: “That’s what the money’s for!

Andy: As a fellow millennial, I relate. There’s a knocking in my brain, which has eased over the years, that goes, “But what if you’re not good enough? And what if everyone knows it but you?”

Emma: I’ve been thinking about this especially as we head into Year Two of working from home, away from the validation we might get simply by sitting in the same room as other people. I know a few folks who have started brand new jobs in this time — I live with one of them! — and they’ve all been onboarded via email, chat, the occasional Zoom. It’s so hard. How’s anyone supposed to know they’re doing it right?

Andy: It’s worth mentioning that the majority of people I know who have this fear — that they’re doing it wrong, that they’re not doing it well — are super high performers. They’re invested. They want to do well. And they’re not getting enough real feedback to let them know either: yes, you are; or here’s how to get there.

Emma: It’s an odd thing. If I had to pick my top five things for any manager to do better, “be reassuring to anxious high performers” would probably not make the list. I’m not sure how many managers would even know who fit that profile since we all try so hard every day to show them that WE GOT THIS.

But that’s also kind of why I think we should just do it all the time anyway. Providing reassurance is such an easy win for any manager. Everyone benefits.

Andy: The worst reassurance is vague reassurance. “Oh, you’re fine.” “Looks great.” Generic sentences aren’t anchored in actual evidence, and my brain can’t hold on to them as truth. My imagined doom is far too powerful for these puny lines.

Emma: It also doesn’t really matter how many extra goodies are attached to generalized, non-specific feedback. I remember one time a good friend was telling me about the raise she’d just received at work. It was a big juicy one, but she was fretting. “I don’t know why they gave it to me!” she said. “What are they going to expect from me now?”

Which, okay sure, maybe she had blacked out while her boss praised her accomplishments and walked through the various elements of her standout performance. But I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they’d simply done a crap job of explaining it.

Andy: My second least favorite attempt at reassurance is a version of no news is good news. “If someone has a problem with it, they’ll let you know.”

Emma: “Just carry on until the other shoe drops!”

Andy: No news very well could mean that someone has a problem and they’re just slow about telling me. Maybe it’s been going on for a really long time! Maybe they avoid Not-Fun Conversations and they’d rather spring a PIP on me in six months!

Emma: Reassurance is different from giving someone a compliment (which hey, let’s do more of that too). Rather, it’s filling up the space that “no news is good news” leaves vacant for insecurity to slither in.

Andy: Here are a few of our favorite ways to give the gift of reassurance. I suggest popping a sticky note on your notebook or computer that says, “Who can I reassure today?”

9 Ways to Reassure Someone

Reassurance isn’t the same thing as coddling. It’s simply telling the truth as often and as unprompted as possible. In our experience, most people who’d like reassurance don’t ask for it outright. (If they do, consider yourself a lucky manager who’s probably holding some consistent 1-on-1s — nice work.)

If your team isn’t sharing these inner fears, that’s okay! You can reassure them anyway. Here are a few of the most common fears you can assuage.

Common fear 1

I have no idea where I stand. Am I terrible at this? Am I great? Am I where I should be?

Reassure them by: Showing them where you track their performance / Being explicit and open about expectations

It might sound something like: I track everyone’s personal performance metrics right here on this dashboard. If you ever want to know where you stand, this is a good place to check. We’ll also reference it a lot in our 1-on-1s — the point of this isn’t to be overly obsessed, but to give you insight into some of the raw data I’m looking at.

Or like: I’m so glad you’re on the team! I built this 30-60-90 plan for you. It outlines what you’ll be doing, and the pace you’ll be taking on more ownership. Throughout the quarter, you can use this as a touchpoint if you’re feeling iffy on how your onboarding is going — and of course, I’m here to answer questions and talk about it more, too.

Common fear 2

My work is disappointing. They aren’t getting what they thought they were getting when they hired me.

Reassure them by: Spending time in their work together / Using your own experience as an example

It might sound something like: There’s some really great stuff going on in your work lately! Let’s set up a quality review. You’ll pick out your two best and two weakest pieces — and I’ll pull some favorites, too. We’ll talk about what’s working well and what could be even better.

Or like: I’d like to be direct with you. The work you’re producing here isn’t at the same level as your portfolio. I understand that. It took me about two years to comfortably turn around quality work on these timelines. No one is expecting you to be there yet. Let’s check in every 3 months about your progress — if the quality is headed in the right direction, we have nothing to worry about.

Common fear 3

I’m way behind. I’m dropping the ball.

Reassure them by: Giving specific kudos and compliments / Offering support

It might sound something like: Just wanted to say from over here you’re doing a stellar job with this complex project. I’m really impressed with the way you’re on top of your deliverables and managing to keep so many loose ends straight. I also want to remind you that I’m here to help. Let’s go through what else is on your plate and find where we can offload. We have resources we can deploy! I don’t want you to feel like you’re constantly under water.

Common fear 4

I’m messing up, but no one is telling me. They’re all just secretly whispering about how awful I am.

Reassure them by: Explaining how and when you address problems / Walk them through it the same way you’d explain to someone who’d never been to the dentist what it’s like to get your teeth cleaned

It might sound something like: I’ll always be straight up with you about your performance. There’s nothing I’m going to keep secret from you. In fact, I think it’s important for me to get you timely and actionable feedback.

Or like: With the recent layoffs on our team, I can certainly understand if there’s some anxiety about where you stand. You’re doing great. I have no bad news — but if I did, I want you to know how it would go so you aren’t nervous that you’ll be ambushed some day. Okay, first I’d most likely give you feedback in a 1-on-1… [Go through your whole process, how and why issues escalate in severity, what a PIP is, etc.]

Common fear 5

I know I made a big mistake. But how bad is bad? Is this it for me?

Reassure them by: Putting the error in context / Sharing as much and as fast as possible / Giving feedback that doesn’t crush spirits

It might sound something like: To be honest, the Project X issue is bad. It looks like we’ll lose at least $180,000 for the quarter, and that’s a big deal we’ll have to continue to address over the coming weeks. But I can reassure you of two things: You’re not losing your job over this. You are a crucial member of our team and that’s unchanged. The second thing is that I’ll share any information I can, as soon as I can, so you don’t feel like you’re in the dark.

Or like: Hey, I want to reassure you about the Project Y snafu — this happens at least once every season. It’s expected and is even built into the budget. That said, making more mistakes like this could pile up. It’s my goal to prevent that. So, we’ll add a few extra layers of checks the next two rounds and see how you’re feeling after that.