How to Have a Positive Career Development Conversation with Your Boss

Last night, I sat down to dinner with my husband in a busy restaurant in Manhattan after a long day of work. It was Korean restaurant in the heart of midtown down the street from my office, and at 7 pm, crowded full of young professionals. As I was telling my husband about my upcoming annual performance review, I overheard the couple sitting next to us discussing the very same thing. “How do you think I should talk to my boss about my career development?”, the boyfriend/husband asked his girlfriend/wife. “I think you should start with asking for their feedback,” she replied.

This quick exchange suddenly got me thinking. At my current organization, I spent some time surveying leaders and employees on the biggest challenges that they face. Time after time, having career development conversations come up. It seems like we often get mixed messages – do we appear too forward if we ask for a promotion? Should we wait for our manager to approach us first? What if my plan isn’t to stay with the organization for the next 5 years? Should I be honest? Will that prevent me from getting that raise?

“Career development, like dating, is messy. But just like dating, the best policy is to not play games; but to be honest, authentic, and assertive about what you want.”

— Nikki

According to Gallup, 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and opportunities” as important to them in a job, and 59% of millennials report that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. Knowing just how much we prioritize career development, why do we oftentimes leave this important task in the hands of others?

If you have regular one-on-ones with your people leader, you should be having career development conversations. And if your people leader doesn’t bring it up, you most definitely can! After all, it’s your career we’re talking about here.

Here are my top suggestions for having a positive career development conversation with your boss:


Plan for the conversation and start with a positive atmosphere. The last thing you want to do is to catch your boss off-guard. If you have regularly scheduled one-on-ones, let your leader know that you’ll want to spend some time during your next meeting to discuss your career development. If you don’t, ask to schedule a meeting. Before the meeting, find a quiet place, an office, or even a casual coffee shop to have the conversation. Limit distractions by putting away your cell phone or closing your laptop to demonstrate a commitment to the conversation.

Be honest about both your short-term and long-term goals. You don’t necessarily have to put time stamps on each of those, but giving your boss the bigger picture of where you want to go in life helps set the foundation for how he or she can best help you to develop. Be open about wanting something different from your current position in the future. If you have a supportive leader, chances are, they will be able to help you get to your next step in many ways. Down the line, they can give you stretch assignments or challenges to help you meet your goals, and potentially introduce you to your next role, whether it is in a different department or even outside of your organization.

Be clear about what you want to learn and how it will help the business. Spend some time thinking about areas in which you could either improve on or new skills you can build to get better at your job. Identify one or two concrete plans – whether it is a course offered internally or externally, a conference that pertains to your profession, or a book that you want to read. Make a strong connection of how the learning plan ties into your role and how it will enhance the business. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and the worst he/she can say is “no”.

Ask for actionable positive and constructive feedback. Once you have clued your leader in on what your short-term and long-term goals are, show that you are ready to take initiative to learn and grow. Ask for open and honest feedback about your performance. If the feedback seems vague, dive deeper and ask your leader to provide you with specific examples and ideas on how you can improve. Remember that feedback is truly a gift. Take on a positive growth mindset and see constructive feedback as a reflection of your performance at the time, not a reflection of you as a person or your character.


Having a career development conversation with your leader can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be hard. The most important thing to remember is this: be honest and authentic with yourself and your leader. Take the time to really imagine the life that you want for yourself and make bold steps towards those goals. You are in control of your career development, so don’t dream your life, live your dream.

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More than Listening to Understand, We Need to Listen to Connect

 Sometimes when people are speaking, this is what we hear.  Sometimes when people are speaking, this is what we hear.

A few years ago, I started to work with leaders to develop their ability to communicate better to drive engagement and results for their teams. When these leaders would show up in my classroom, often times, they bring with them their struggles and challenges to get their message across. “They just don’t listen”, exclaimed one exasperated leader after the other. It seems like they faced an impossible challenge every time – whether it was getting their direct reports to show up to work on time, or whether it was convincing their boss to adopt a new strategy. Several mentioned the difficulty of having to deliver tough feedback. “I don’t know what to say,” one manager said to me, “so I just don’t say anything at all.”

The misconception in communication is just this – that to be a good communicator, you need to be able to speak well. To most of us, it’s simple to imagine that getting our message across involves some sort of magical persuasion or influencing tactic. We have to be inspiring, to use the right words and grammatical structure, we have to elevate our tone, our posture, our gestures. In fact, there are so many “tricks and tips” all over the internet on how to say anything to anyone. From using “we” language to asking the right questions there are endless examples of how we can “say” the right thing to finally get our message across to the other person.

In exploring how to help these leaders develop their communication skills, I stumbled upon a new concept – listening to understand. It was a huge light bulb moment for me. I tend to think quickly on my feet and react immediately to conversations, that is, I have a tendency to listen to respond. In fact, I typically don’t even wait for the person to finish speaking before I formulate my thoughts on what to say next. What happens for me is this: as the other person talks, the wheels in my brain continue to spin, just waiting for the right moment, the moment where the other person takes pauses for one breath, and then I swoop in to say my piece, whether it was warranted or not.

Listening to understand is all about being generous with your attention. It is about truly focusing 100% of your attention on what the other person is saying. It’s taking the time to learn about the other person’s perspective. When you listen to respond, you can miss important details, facts, and cues. When you listen to understand, you zone in, rather than zone out on what is said, giving you the advantage of truly hearing what the other person is saying, so that what you hear, is what you understand.

Yet having a conversation, especially a difficult one isn’t a one sided process. In fact, conversations are two-sided, they are didactic and dynamic. While listening to understand is a critical skill to great communication, I would argue that listening to connect is even more important. Listening to connect builds trust, and trust breaks down conversational barriers. According to Judith E. Glaser, author of best-selling book, Conversational Intelligence, in order to build trust and get extraordinary results, leaders need to listen to connect, not judge or reject. This involves taking listening one step further. Instead of trying to understand what the person is saying, try to relate to it. See the way they see, feel the way they feel. Observe the little nuances of what is said vs. unsaid, what lies beneath the surface or between the lines. Be intentional about looking for opportunities to understand and relate to the other’s perspective. Focus on being non-judgmental, and open up the conversational space for creating greater connections, sharing perspectives and discovery.

When we choose to listen to connect, we become better communicators. In the end,  it’s not about word choices or persuasion. It’s about making a connection, caring for and bonding with another human being.

 

The Character Strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Winter in New York is a dark and deary time. It’s also relentless – in that winter can last from October to May, bringing howling winds, bitter coldness and snowstorms. For that reason and many others, New Yorkers tend to spend most of their winters indoors. Especially after daylight savings hits, the days become rather short, with darkness falling around 4:30 pm. When the workday ends later than sundown, New Yorkers bundle up to leave their concrete jungle, putting on layers upon layers – scarves, hats, gloves, boots, and thick winter coats. There are no rooftop happy hours, no walks in Central Park, and strolls through SoHo. Just a quick hustle towards the closest train station, and then a miserable and bitter-cold walk home.

As a former California girl, I didn’t realize how deeply winters in New York affected me. Without access to sunlight, that sweet, sweet, vitamin D, I was feeling worse by the day. Whether it was with friends, colleagues, or even complete strangers, we complained about the weather. We lathered our skin in excessive amounts of lotion to combat dryness, wore a lot of black sweaters to cover our pale tones. Getting dressed for work felt like getting dressed to go into battle.

One day, a few friends and I were chatting, and we decided that enough was enough. If the weather wasn’t going to change as yet another nor’easter was going to be upon us, we would do it ourselves. We impulsively booked a long weekend trip to Bermuda.

 Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.  Horseshoe Bay Beach was secluded in off-season, perfect for us.

It wasn’t until we arrived, and I dipped my toes – actually I practically ran into the ocean, embracing 65F, which Bermudians consider “too cold to swim”, that I realized just how much nature meant to me. I was in complete awe of the beauty of what surrounded me. The pink sand between my toes, the cold, clear ocean waves upon my skin and the open, salty air. I felt connected to all of it. Gratitude, peace, and joy swelled in my heart. I was WOWed. I loved every moment of being on that beach. I felt a thrilling sense of overwhelming awe. At that moment, I recalled one of my top character strengths – Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is a character strength that has been studied by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, the pair who developed the VIA Institute of Character Strengths. Defined as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds,” it falls under the virtue category of Transcendence. Transcendence describes strengths that provide a broad sense of connection to something higher in meaning and purpose than ourselves.

Peterson and Seligman have determined that there are three types of goodness for which individuals high in Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence are responsive to:

Physical beauty. This may be visual, auditory, tactile, or abstract. This type of goodness produces awe and wonder in the individual experiencing it.

Skill or talent (excellence). This is often energizing, and makes the individual want to pursue their own goals. It produces admiration.

Virtue or moral goodness (moral beauty). Virtual goodness makes the individual want to be better, more loving, and produces feelings of elevation.

Unsurprisingly, I respond to all three. Feelings of awe and inspiration are absolutely critical to my well-being, and I need these moments to be happy, just like I need air to breathe. Now you might feel more drawn towards one or two types rather than all three, or you might find yourself like me – drawn to all of them.

Remember when you were a child? You probably experienced this type of awe and wonder all the time. Whether it was something new and novel, something that was physically beautiful, or seeing excellence in performance or art, you audibly exclaimed “WOW!” What does that for you now? Taking the time to cultivate the character strength of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence makes our lives better, more meaningful, more worthwhile. By reconnecting with the beauty of nature, we are able to get in touch with our sense of inspiration, awe, and wonder.

So here are some quick tips to help you reconnect with nature, even if you live in the city and it’s winter, like I do.


1. Get out. Go for a walk. Do something else that’s a change in routine. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Make it a slow stroll, and be mindful of the little bits of beauty and joy around you.

2. Make time and effort for little pleasures. Buy yourself flowers, plant a little garden (even an urban garden), and watch those documentaries on Netflix about people who have done extraordinary things or have excelled in their fields. Print out vacation photos and put them in your office to remind you of times where you truly were connecting with nature.

3. Travel. Traveling is one of the best things to do to open up our minds and explore new things that can lead to that sense of wonder and awe. When traveling, fully engage with the experience of being somewhere novel and new. Lose yourself in the experience and take full advantage of any nature experiences that are afforded by that location.


I’m not going to lie, coming back to yet another nor’easter after a beautiful 3 days in Bermuda wasn’t easy. But I came back with the new perspective of making time and effort for reconnecting with nature. And though it’s not completely the same as being in Bermuda, I ended up visiting the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, and it was amazing! Who knew that just 30 minutes away from my apartment in Queens lies a wonderful world of natural beauty.

What Would Be Your Signature Job Title?

A year or so ago, I met someone during a training seminar in Washington D.C., and she introduced herself as a Director of First Impressions. As a fellow Learning and Development professional, much of her job revolved around orientation and on-boarding new employees. She was bubbly, enthusiastic and kind – the type of girl who exhibited all the characteristics of what it means to Positively Sparkle. As we connected, I began to realize that her title was more than just a job. Being a Director of First Impressions was at the core of her identity, values and strengths, and it wasn’t just a title, it represented her purpose.

So what’s in a job title anyway? All of us seem to have job titles at work, and we tout them around even after hours– at networking events, at social happy hours, house parties, and family gatherings. They’re on our business cards, our email signatures, our name badges. Some of us find immense pride in our titles, others, not so much. In the corporate world, titles help us to establish hierarchy. We know that the letters C, or VP mean that you are a leader in the organization with significant impact. Some of us would say that our title represents exactly what our job functions entail, yet again, others, not so much. There are such a vast variety of job titles that even knowing which one to search for on online job posting boards requires intensive research. We mold our resumes to fit the job title and description, painstakingly researching keywords and applying relevant knowledge and experience to fit the “role”.

Yet, if a title is a representation of who we are and what we bring to the table, why shouldn’t we create our own? Several organizations have begun the process of letting employees choose their own job titles. At Berkshire Hathaway, there is a Director of Chaos. The IT department at Netflix are called NERDS, and the CEO of the Make a Wish Foundation is called the Fairy Godmother of Wishes.

People say that their self-created job titles help them to focus on the joyful parts of their job versus the hardships, and research shows that the titles provide self-verification, psychological safety and external rapport. Now while not all of us are going to be able to create our own job title at work, let’s take a moment to discover, just for ourselves, what would be our signature job title?

Mine would be: Sparkle Creator. Because I love creating experiences that delights, invigorates and brings joy to others. I seek to innovate on learning for leaders that spark positive change for people and organizations. My life purpose: to leave a little sparkle wherever I go.

Fancy Bites for a Upscale and Casual Girls Night In

I love planning parties. I love the idea of bringing people together and I love cooking for others. I love the challenge of planning a menu, especially when it comes to lots of different little bites.

To truly sparkle as a hostess, you’ll not only want to delight your guests’ taste buds, you’ll also want to be calm, cool and collected, and have everything nearly ready by the time people arrive so can you really mingle. Creating a menu with many things that have to be served hot and made to order can take away from the party’s ambiance. So to create the best experience for both you and your guests, I aim to plan carefully on what can be made ahead, what can be kept warm, and what can be plated and served at room temperature or cold.

When I plan a menu of hors-d’oeuvres, I try to choose 5-7 bites. I like to err on the side of being able to serve most things room temperature or cold and have a balance between bites that are savory and sweet, decadent and refreshing, and a good mix of meat, seafood, and vegetarian. I always ask my guests if they have any dietary restrictions prior to the party and make sure that all guests can eat at least most of the items.

For my Valentines’ Day girls night in, I invited about 12 girls over to my tiny New York City apartment for a treat of fancy bites and cocktails. Here’s how I did it.

menu

Prep the day before: print out your menu, prepare a tealight candle and grab a neutral tablecloth and some spray roses. Nowadays, I opt to frame my menu in a simple gold 5×7 picture frame. I got this one from Target.

 

 

DSC_9134

Planning your display ahead of time can be really helpful. I typically place my buffet setting the night before – that way I already know how everything will look before the food is ready to be served.

gourgeres2

I had my guests start with gruyere gougères. These can be made in advance, frozen and placed in a hot oven for a few minutes to warm up. Not only does it make the house smell wonderful, it also allows you to greet your guests with a delightful, fresh warm bite with little effort and stress.

DSC_9121

As guests snacked on the gougères. I started to put together the rest of the appetizers. Several friends came a few minutes early and were able to help me with a few last minute touches.

eggs

These beet-pickled deviled eggs are not only beautiful, they also pack in so much flavor! A little bit of curry powder adds a unique twist to the classic deviled egg, and soaking the boiled eggs in beet juice gives them their pretty hue.

chicken liver

These almond financiers are made perfect with the addition of creamy chicken liver mousse. This sweet and salty combination is inspired by a dish I had at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. They use a duck-fat financier, but I opted for the classic brown butter version of the little french cake.

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Buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, paddlefish caviar and chives are the perfect fancy bite. It’s luxurious, delicious and makes a serious impression.

 

four appetizers on plate

Each of the bites were approximately the same size, and ranged between 1-2 bites, which is perfect since I didn’t need to provide my guests with serious silverware. Instead, I put out tiny cocktail forks in a glass.

DSC_9182

For dessert, I prepped a tower of sweets and refreshing fruits that the girls could dip in either dark or milk chocolate fondue. Not only was this easy to prepare, it was also really fun and delicious. I typically spend a lot of time baking, but wanted to focus on the savory food instead, so I ended up buying things like cookies from Trader Joe’s and pound cake for dipping.

dessert

We had so much fun! To me, this was the perfect way to treat my girls to a night of decadence, love and celebration.

friends


Menu

Paddlefish Caviar and Smoked Salmon Blinis

Chicken Liver Mousse on Almond Financiers

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs

Roasted Shrimp with Green Goddess Dressing

Carrot Ginger Shooters with Gruyere Gougères

Milk and Dark Chocolate Fondue

Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


Recipe Sources:

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/alain-ducasses-gougeres

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/carrot-soup-with-ginger-and-lemon-4083

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-shrimp-cocktail-with-green-goddess-dressing-2329991

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/blini-with-smoked-salmon-recipe-1950644

Here are a couple of books that I used for reference and recipes for this night:

State Bird Provisions: A Cookbook

By Stuart Brioza, Nicole Krasinski, JJ Goode

 

Payard Cookies

By François Payard, Anne E. McBride

 

The Latest in Mindfulness is Pasta Meditation: Making Garganelli

For a long time, I felt that I wasn’t good at meditation. In my mind, meditation meant that I was sitting cross legged, hands gently resting on my thighs, palms up, head clear, breathing in and out slowly and purposely without letting my mind wander of falling asleep. Whether it was guided or unguided, I felt like even 5 minutes was too long for me. Not only did I always feel like I didn’t have time to meditate, when I could find the time, I couldn’t even sit still for the short duration. Thinking that this type of meditation wasn’t for me, I knew I needed a different solution. And that’s when I stumbled upon the idea of cooking meditation.

Cooking is an activity that inherently requires us to be fully present. After all, if you’re not fully present while chopping vegetables, you might just cut your fingers off. You have to be fully present to put the right amount of salt and seasoning in your food, you have to be present not to burn dinner, and you most definitely have to be present while measuring ingredients for baked goods. Not only does it require full presence, it also allows for connection. To me, cooking provides me with a way to connect. I connect with food through my hands, and I use food and cooking to connect with others. It’s an activity that is both productive and creative, purposeful and meaningful. When we fully engage in cooking, we engage with all of our senses – our sense of smell, taste, sight, touch and even sound.

When I think about all of my favorite hobbies and things to do, cooking ranks up there as probably my favorite thing to do in the world. I love cooking for myself and my husband, entertaining our friends, or challenging myself to make something new and exciting. Cooking satisfies my soul in a way that nothing else does. It provides me and the people I love with nourishment and pleasure; it satisfies the the mind, body and soul.  It calms me down after a long day of work, and it gives me the space to be creative and to enjoy beauty and excellence.

So, of course, one of my favorite youtube stars is Andrew Rea, or Oliver Babish from Binging with Babish. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s basically short tutorials and recreations of recipes from television and movies. In one episode, Babish makes il timpano, a baked pasta dish filled with meatballs, boiled eggs, red sauce and garganelli. As soon as I watched the episode, I knew I wanted to make garganelli one day.

A few weeks ago, I finally got my chance to make homemade garganelli – a tubular shaped hand rolled pasta that requires fresh pasta sheets being cut into small squares 2×2 squares, folded on a wooden dowel and rolled on a small wooden comb called a pettine. Similar to their less glamorous cousin, penne, garganelli differs in that a “flap” is visible where one corner of the pasta square adheres to the rest, as opposed to a perfect cylinder in penne.

To understand this specialty of Emilia-Romaga, I  read a cookbook called Making Artisan Pasta by Aliza Green. Aliza described garganelli as coming from the Italian word garganeli, meaning a chicken’s gullet, or “gargle” in English. The dough contains a healthy amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and freshly grated nutmeg, giving it a speckled appearance and a delicious smell. The dough is slightly moist but pretty firm, and has the texture of a nice cool playdoh.

 Here I am, rolling out dough using this awesome kitchen-aid pasta tool. It's an absolute must have for all your homemade pasta sheets, and it's 100x easier than using a traditional hand crank pasta machine.  Here I am, rolling out dough using this awesome kitchen-aid pasta tool. It’s an absolute must have for all your homemade pasta sheets, and it’s 100x easier than using a traditional hand crank pasta machine.   Once the dough was rolled out to the right thickness, I used a ruler and a fluted pasta cutter to cut the dough into 2x2 squares. This particular cutter could cut either a fluted or straight pattern.  Once the dough was rolled out to the right thickness, I used a ruler and a fluted pasta cutter to cut the dough into 2×2 squares. This particular cutter could cut either a fluted or straight pattern.

Though immensely tedious, I gave my full concentration on each of those fluted square shapes, taking the time to gently place each one on the dowel and rolling it onto the board just so- that the tiny ridges formed and the edges sealed perfectly, resulting in a perfectly shaped garganello. Sliding the tube gently off the dowel, I reached for the next piece of square dough.

 The gentle yet firm folding technique on the board that creates the grooves in the pasta and seals the edges.  The gentle yet firm folding technique on the board that creates the grooves in the pasta and seals the edges.   Each completed garganello brought me a little bit of joy.  Each completed garganello brought me a little bit of joy.

The purposeful balance of being not too light- as to not stamp on the ridges and give the dough a proper seal, or too heavy- which would make the dough stick on the dowel and in the board was my only task. With each gargenello, I improved my technique. It was as natural as breathing, yet it required sheer concentration. When one didn’t come out as perfect as the others, I simply noted it, letting the pasta gently slide onto a wooden board without judgement. Soon, a portion’s worth of garganelli was laid in front of me. I kept going. 6 portions later, I was done. A few hours must had passed. I’m not sure exactly how much time had elapsed, but I felt so calm, so satisfied, a container of perfectly formed hand rolled pasta sitting in front of me. I had just meditated for hours and didn’t even realize it. My mind had been clear, completely in focus. My hands moved organically yet purposefully. I had entered into a complete flow state, where I lost track of time, the temperature, hunger or thirst. I was fully absorbed in this beautiful activity of making pasta.

 Once I got into the grove of this activity, I completely lost track of time.  Once I got into the grove of this activity, I completely lost track of time.   6-8 portions of garganelli, all done.  6-8 portions of garganelli, all done.

When it comes to mindfulness, I believe in doing what works for you. What calms your mind? What makes you feel completely at ease? What activity can you do where you feel completely absorbed, where you enter the flow zone? Where your hands, mind, and heart are all connected and fully engaged? For me, it’s making this labor intensive, beautiful pasta. If you don’t believe me, try it! It might just work for you too.

 The second best part of this mindfulness activity: eating it.  The second best part of this mindfulness activity: eating it.


Want to try making garganelli? Here are the tools that you’ll need.