The last meeting of my whirlwind trip to New York was with the SVP of Human Resources for our business unit.
I had just completed the most challenging and successful performance year of my career.
I had received all the good things that came along with that – the top performance rating, a nice raise, a special bonus, a new high-profile project to lead.
And an invitation to meet with an HR executive who had considerable influence over my career.
I was thrilled.
The SVP and I had a good conversation and he thanked me for representing the HR function so well. Then he paused and said……
“You need to smile more. You furrow your brows and have two lines that run down your face. It’s not attractive.”
I was stunned……and I don’t remember much about the rest of our meeting.
I do remember that my flight back home was delayed so I had a lot of time to think about his comment.
I was in my early 40’s and the indiscretions of my sunbathing youth had started to reveal themselves in some fine lines around my eyes.
And there was the beginning of a very slight ‘droopiness’ in my brows.
It had never bothered me…..until his incredibly personal ‘smile’ comment.
Even worse, I suspected he never would have made a similar remark to a male colleague.
I never spoke about this comment, but I did begin my first round of BOTOX injections. It was an immediate solution to the problem and a long-held secret.
In the intervening years, my career has progressed very nicely. Through a series of job changes and stretch assignments, I’ve finetuned my existing skills and developed new ones.
I’ve incorporated the gift of feedback – whether it lifted me up or tore me down – to learn new habits and behaviors.
I’ve grown older and wiser.
And I’ve chosen to reframe the smile comment.
Today, I choose to believe that the SVP’s comment about my smile and my face was not intended to hurt or diminish me. However badly worded, it was a comment about power blindness……and being approachable.
I forgot that others could find me scary. I had the title, the pedigree, the experience, and a healthy dose of courage. I was blind to the effect this could have on others.
It’s about perceptions……and deciding to reflect on, and perhaps change, the perceptions others have about you. It’s absolutely doable.
And if a genuine smile contributes to creating a safe space and building strong relationships with colleagues and clients, then I’m all in!
Every Brain Needs a Coach.
Are You In?