I must start this piece with a moment of gratitude for Susan Stolov, my first boss out of college and a savvy businesswoman. I still rely on so many of her business tenants 20+ years later:
- There is always so much work you never need to talk bad about the competition, let your work quality speak for itself
- It’s perfectly OK to fire a client
- How you tell a story changes everything, and it’s the research that gets you to a compelling one
- Creativity and data can gracefully co-exist, and should
- Unwavering attention to the details builds results
- You can have fun at work
While these and many other mentoring moments shaped how I approach work to this day, it was how she approach feedback for which I am most grateful. I’d had jobs in high school and college, but she was the first person to give me a formal end of year review. I am fortunate she set the standard for me.
First, she set the tone. She picked a fancy restaurant in Washington, DC indicating this was a special conversation that warranted a white table cloth. In this environment we were both relaxed and we were free of work distractions in a lovely venue.
Next, she came prepared. She had notes with specifics – examples of positive impact and areas that needed attention. We talked through the feedback in a conversation at the table which made it feel more collaborative. I always felt her feedback was ground in her desire to help me be successful, as well as her business.
Then, she was vulnerable. She revealed personal experiences in her career that helped me understand that we all learn and grow along the way … that no one starts out an award-winning TV producer, sought after expert, and business owner on day one. Her vulnerability made it easier to accept the feedback with a lens of growth rather than a sense of failure.
She moved on to the businesses. Because of how I contributed to the company’s and client’s success – my raise would be X and my bonus (based on a pre-agreed to structure) would be Z. It was all broken out on paper along with my benefits for an itemized view and grand total. The connection to the bottom line was transparent.
Finally, she ended with encouragement. Each year it varied. From a trip to the New Orleans for a news producer’s conference for training to the incentive of a spa day if I could produce 1 video without a typo. Closing with her thanks for me and a toast to our future together.
She laid out a model of mindful feedback that helped me grow in my career, but also gave me a positive connection to feedback and annual reviews. A true gift.
A few months ago, I attended a Mindful Leader Summit. One session focused on “compassionate performance reviews” – how to be more mindful when you give feedback. The session brought back memories of my past reviews, those I received and those I gave. A few of the presenter’s tips stuck with me:
- Check your own relationship with feedback before you give it – is your body tense just thinking about a review, and if so, take action to “unwind” or process the energy such as with a walk, meditation, several deep breaths, or listen/dance to a favorite song
- Prepare yourself to give mindful feedback by examining your motivations, recognizing the other person’s humanity, assuming positive intent, and feeling compassion
- Be mindful of when you give feedback, so you come prepared, aren’t rushed, and are fully present with the recipient
- Choose a setting that gives you both balance, and move from behind the big desk to be more connected with the other person
Finally, remember to “gift the other person with your attention.”