Brown, a University of Houston professor and author of "Daring Greatly," has interviewed hundreds of business leaders during her years of research on professional advancement and human connections. She's found that those who are the best at giving feedback exhibit similar behaviors when they're in the middle of a meeting, which make all the difference.
But she first learned this lesson long ago in college, when she received feedback from a professor, she told the audience Thursday at the annual Inc. 5000 conference in Phoenix.
She had gotten a B on a paper, and she was livid. She had sacrificed just about everything else she had been working on in order to do well on this project, she said.
So she made a follow-up appointment with her teacher, and for two days she worked out what she would say at that meeting.
Finally, Brown indigently marched up to the door, ready to share a piece of her mind. Her teacher was genuinely warm and friendly and asked Brown to come in and have a seat.
"And so I sat down, and she sat right next to me. And then I pulled my paper out, and she put it down. And she put her arm around me and said, 'Let's take a look,'" Brown recalled. "And I was completely disarmed."
The two went through the paper together, and quickly Brown's teacher was able to see what was wrong. The content of the paper ws fine. It was the APA citations that Brown had lost points on.
"And she said, 'But you're the third student in here this week that lost points. I'm not sure that I did a good enough job teaching this,'" Brown said. So her teacher offered to review the subject and allow Brown to resubmit the paper.
That mentor did two things that great givers of feedback often do.
"You're ready to give feedback when you're ready to sit next to the person, not across from them. You're ready to put the problem, not between you, but in front of both of you."
And you should be prepared to own your part in the problem, too.
"Feedback should be as vulnerable for the person giving it as the person receiving it," Brown said. "You should have no idea what's gonna go down in that room."