For the amount of time my former employer spent talking about feedback and training its employees on how to give feedback (but like, let’s call it feed forward because that makes it sound like something different that’s nicer), I sure didn’t get very much constructive feedback during my seven year career there. I remember exactly four specific items that I was told during that time:
Be warmer. Don’t isolate yourself so much.
I was told this when I had a position where I was physically isolated, sitting alone in the elevator lobby, and it was actually great advice. I had to break my little socially anxious shell and greet the 4380 people that passed me each day, rather than keeping my head down and ignoring them. This helped me pass the time in a really boring job not only because I was chattier, but because those people helped me get projects to work on. Ultimately, no one at work knew who I was, and I needed to bring more of me to my job to be effective.
Show more emotion. You do not react to anything, which makes it seem like you do not care about your job.
I don’t know what magical thing I was doing at that point (different position this time), but I apparently didn’t react to anything. I was very much in a mode of “kill at this job so you can get onto the next one,” so when someone presented me with an issue, I just put my nose to the computer screen and fixed it without too many dramatics. Perhaps I was spending enough of that emotional energy on my bad relationship at home; whatever it was, I needed to bring more of my emotion to work to show that I was invested in the work.
Communicate more concisely and more effectively.
This is definitely something I am still practicing. I am just a terrible story-teller and often get bogged down in all of the details instead of just the key details that make the story interesting. Turns out a lot of the corporate world is story-telling, which surprised me. So this one doesn’t actually have anything to do with bringing yourself to work, except that I guess my whole self is pretty crappy at relating tales?
Be more resilient and adaptable.
So after being told two years prior to show more emotion, this leadership dimension was brought to me as one of my
weaknessesopportunities because the week prior I had been owning up to a mistake that I made and was super frustrated with myself and started crying (frustration comes out my eyeholes). Because of that, I wasn’t deemed “resilient.” I never really knew what to do with this feedback, so I felt very much validated when I read these words in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She writes about how, a year into being CEO of Facebook, she cried in a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg. She goes on to say:
Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about. To really care about others, we have to understand them – what they like and dislike, what they feel as well as think. Emotion drives both men and women and influences every decision we make. Recognizing the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners, and peers.
It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time…Instead of putting on some kind of fake “all-work persona,” I think we benefit from expressing our truth, talking about personal situations, and acknowledging that professional decisions are often emotionally driven.1
Yes! Yes! Yes!!! The job that I had at the time that I received this feedback was the most rewarding role I had held yet. It was not only a job I had been working towards for a while, but I truly felt like I was able to bring my whole self to work and be valued for who I really am without putting on a special work mask…until I was told to put the mask back on. My manager, a woman, had the best intentions for me. Most people feel most comfortable in a business environment when their coworkers and team members are cool, calm, and collected, and not crying their eyes out.
But that was one piece of feedback that I just said, “ehhhh…nope” to. And it was a great decision. When I needed my team’s support through my brother’s sickness, they were completely understanding, because they already knew the situation.
Now here I am in Colombia, unfortunately wearing a mask again at least 60% of the time. That number is lower, though, than it was a few months ago, so we’re getting there.
I don’t know what life has in store for me after Peace Corps, but I hope to find a baller job where I can truly take my whole self to work. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to work for an awesome woman CEO like Jen Gotch (this Forbes article is worth a read!), or join a woman’s collective like the one that just debuted in Minneapolis today, Northeast Collaborative (as one member wrote, the founder closed her e-mail to the women involved with “the future is female”). So you know, if you’ve got any leads on super-fun jobs where I can hang out with women who are just killing it on the daily, holler. Like, seriously.
1 Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. WH Allen, 2015