"What are you doing for lunch today? Wanna go to Sonny's?"
I was a Project Manager on a team of about 8 people at a company of about 30 people.
Still, it was a pretty big surprise that my boss wanted to go get cheap BBQ for lunch.
I had been doing pretty well, impressing clients and even winning some awards. My co-workers seemed to like working with me. I tried to give good input and share my opinions in the right situations.
But I could sense this wasn't a back-patting sort of lunch—Humble Pie would probably be on the menu.
Sure enough, my boss had one central message for me:
"Your input in our team meetings is often critical but thoughtful. And that's good—we need that kind of input to keep improving as a team. But the way you share your input and accept feedback could be more collaborative and less harsh."
He told me my body language was negative. I didn't seem to be engaging to find solutions so much as simply venting about my frustrations. When my work was scrutinized, I wasn't open to suggestions that could help me improve.
This was pretty hard to hear, and I didn't take it well at first (reinforcing his reason for sharing this feedback).
But the more we talked, the more I understood that the actual words I spoke were only part of the equation. We work with people, not robots, so our facial expressions, body language, and tone all contribute to how others perceive us.
I began to see that he was simply advising me to get out of my own way. By seeming standoffish and resisting input, I was making others less likely to offer feedback that could be valuable for me and our team.
I made two major adjustments that I still use today:
- I forced myself to actively listen to all feedback without passing judgement in the moment.
- I decided that I would not criticize something without having at least one thoughtful solution to the problem.
If you've sat in a meeting with someone who has no idea what they're talking about, then you know how hard these things are to do in practice.
So it took a while to make these adjustments, but they paid off in spades.
It became easier to solve difficult business problems because I really listened when my colleagues identified things we could improve.
I also found that I had access to more unique opportunities because I became known as a thoughtful collaborator who could work with a team to solve difficult problems. Those opportunities helped me get promoted faster and get better paying jobs with more responsibility.
I'm glad my boss took me to lunch and shared difficult feedback over cheap BBQ that day. My career has been much better for it.
Something to think about
If you took yourself to lunch to share one piece of career advice, what would it be? That might be a good place to focus your energy as we head into the home stretch of 2017.