MBA Career Advice: A Closer Look at Your Comfort Zone

In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. 

A few months ago we talked about discovering the boundaries of your comfort zone with two polar and stereotypically opposite examples—soft skills vs. hard analytical skills. But the idea of your comfort zone extends to much subtler aspects of your work, not just these two broad categories. Let us look more closely at one very narrow area—giving constructive feedback. When you think about each of these, which of them, if any, seem like they fall outside your comfort zone?

Consider giving constructive feedback to…

  • A subordinate who is generally performing well
  • A subordinate who is flailing
  • A peer whom you also view as a competitor
  • A close peer who has helped you significantly so far but who is currently struggling with an important task
  • A superior with whom you have a great relationship
  • A superior with whom you have a challenging relationship
  • A beloved client who is struggling significantly with a task and putting the project at risk
  • A client with whom you have struggled to create an effective working relationship

Even if you have never given feedback under these circumstances, you can imagine that some of these conversations would certainly fall outside your comfort zone. In this case, the boundaries may be defined by where he/she is relative to you in your organizational hierarchy, how much affinity you feel for this person, and how well he/she is currently performing. Whether you feel comfortable delivering feedback to someone depends not on who they are, but on where your own boundaries lie.

If you have high ambitions for your career, you will put yourself in roles where you encounter the boundary of your comfort zone on a weekly, if not daily basis. Apply this lens to your work this week. Start just with the conversations you will have in the course of your work. Which conversations make you feel a little uneasy, nervous, or even scared? Then resolve to consciously step outside your comfort zone in those conversations. Be sure you have the support of your peers and mentors as you take these small risks. Communicate with them and solicit their counsel.

Every time you step outside your comfort zone, your comfort zone expands, and there is no exhilaration quite like knowing that something new, that once seemed impossible, is now possible. Seek these small victories and extend your professional limits bit by bit.

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