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How to Practice the Art of Managing Up and Navigating Feedback with Mary Abbajay

How to Practice the Art of Managing Up and Navigating Feedback with Mary Abbajay
How to Practice the Art of Managing Up and Navigating Feedback with Mary Abbajay

Many of us have had the boss from hell at some point–that person calling the shots who was absolutely horrible to work for. And while many in this situation just quit, walking away from the job isn’t your only course of action. You can practice the art of managing up instead.

As the author of Managing Up, Mary Abbajay literally wrote the book on it. So, if you want to move up, win at work, and succeed with any type of boss, then listen in as she talks about what it means to manage up and how it impacts your relationships.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn how to manage up within a simple framework as you build your brand. Mary will also teach you how to give constructive feedback and overcome three things that might trigger you when receiving feedback.

1:39 – What personal brand means to Mary, three words that describe her, her favorite quote, and the hype song that plays every time she steps on stage

5:10 – Mary’s journey to discover what she wanted to do and how she defined and built her personal brand

11:08 – How luck links to success and how it helped Mary become a LinkedIn Learning Instructor and an author

16:32 – What managing up means and how doing it impacts your personal brand

22:43 – The simple framework for managing up and how it helps you build better professional and personal relationships

26:52 – The art of receiving feedback, its effect on your brand, and how to deal with the three feedback triggers

31:17 – How to give potentially challenging feedback in a constructive way and how it impacts your brand

39:47 – A brand aspect that Mary will always stand by, her Branding Room Only magic, and a fun sidebar on bartending

Connect With Mary Abbajay

Mary Abbajay, author of the best-selling, award-winning Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss is the president of Careerstone Group, LLC, a full-service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to business and government. As a sought-after author, speaker, consultant, and trainer, Mary helps clients develop the strategies, skills, and sensibilities needed for success in the 21st century. 

Mary is the co-host of the weekly workplace advice podcast Cubicle Confidential and is a highly-rated LinkedIn Learning instructor. As a frequent expert contributor for television, radio, and print publications, Mary provides practical leadership and career guidance. Her work and advice have appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, Money Magazine,, Monster, CNBC, and the BBC. 

Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss by Mary Abbajay

Mary Abbajay on LinkedIn

The Careerstone Group | Instagram

Cubicle Confidential podcast:

Apple | Amazon | iHeart | Spotify

Mentioned In How to Practice the Art of Managing Up and Navigating Feedback with Mary Abbajay

“2024 Intention and Goal Setting Webinar” | YouTube

Is Your Women’s Group Winning?: Strategies For Building A Stronger Women’s Initiative In Your Organization

“Some People Are Just Lucky. You Can Make Yourself One of Them.” by Rachel Feintzeig | Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show. Hi everybody, and welcome to The Branding Room. It’s Paula Edgar, your host. Very, very excited to be here with really one of the funniest and one of my most favorite people ever, Mary Abbajay. Mary Abbajay is the President of Careerstone Group and the author of Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss. And she is the president of Cornerstone Group, which is a full-service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to business and government. Mary is also a LinkedIn Learning Instructor, the co-host of the popular Weekly Workplace Advice Podcast Cubicle Confidential, and a frequent expert contributor for television, radio, and print publications.

Paula Edgar: Also, again, she is the funniest person that I have met. Mary, welcome to The Branding Room.

Mary Abbajay: Oh my gosh, Paula. Now people are going to expect me to be funny, and that’s a really high bar.

Paula Edgar: I’m going to just say, I don’t care what they expect. They’re going to get what we’re going to give them.

Mary Abbajay: Of course, you didn’t say whether I was funny ha-ha or funny weird. So that’ll be up to them to determine by the end of this.

Paula Edgar: Well, for those of you who are watching, you’ll see me holding up her book, which she was just holding up. And I encourage you all to get it. It will be linked in your show notes. But Mary, you are in The Branding Room, so you have to answer some questions that everybody has to answer. Number one being how do you define personal brand?

Mary Abbajay: I define it as how you want people to think of you when you’re not in the room. So it’s sort of an expectation of experience. An expectation of what people are going to experience with you. So it’s kind of like your reputation and your intention rolled into one. That was really bad definition.

Paula Edgar: No, I love that. No, reputation and intention is perfect. It’s what you want and what they want.

Mary Abbajay: Yeah, exactly. Because we have an intention of how we want to be seen and experienced by people and that’s our brand, our intention. But our reputation is how people actually experience us. So I think when you think about branding, it has to meld both what you want to be and who you really are.

Paula Edgar: Yes. The intention and the impact. I love it. Okay, so how would you describe yourself in three words or short phrases?

Mary Abbajay: I would say enthusiastic, authentic, and positive.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I’m going to take podcast host benefit and say, also impactful. Yes.

Mary Abbajay: Thank you. That means a lot. I mean, that’s what my deep desire is, to be impactful, to help other people find the success in their work life that they deserve. So that means a lot. Thank you.

Paula Edgar: You’re welcome. And it’s true. So that works out even better.

Mary Abbajay: I think that’s one of the things when people do their brand is a lot of times I think, especially for women, we’re afraid to say how we really want to be seen. We’re afraid to really dig into our why and our purpose, and I think it’s really important. So I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Paula Edgar: Good. Alright, so tell me, do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

Mary Abbajay: Oh, my gosh. Well, I do have a favorite quote, and that is, I think it’s from Chrissie Hynde. And it’s something like, all of us are living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. It goes something like that. I just love that because no matter where you are, where you put your attention, your intention really matters. So that was my favorite one.

Paula Edgar: That’s a good reflection on perspective.

Mary Abbajay: Yeah. How about you? Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

Paula Edgar: I do. My mother used to say to me when I was growing up, “You can either be the wind or the leaf.” So for me, it is my guiding star, literally, where I think about my impact and I want to direct it as opposed to letting it direct me. I want to say, this is what I want and who I want to be, and how I show up.

Mary Abbajay: That is awesome. I might have to borrow that.

Paula Edgar: Oh, please do. Okay, so I’m excited for the answer for this. So what is your hype song? The way I describe this is it’s either the song that is playing in your head when you’re about to get on stage and walk in the room, or if you’re having a bad day, the song you’re playing to get you out of that space.

Mary Abbajay: Well, that’s really easy because I actually request it whenever I’m on a stage that will do that, and it’s Got To Be Real by Cheryl Lynn. I think that’s one of my things, is I try to be very authentic and very real. So I love that song very much.

Paula Edgar: Oh, that’s a good one. The mixtape for this is going to be so fire. I’m putting together all of my guest songs and making it into an annual playlist, so I’m just so excited. Alright, so in your bio, we talked about you being an author, we talked about you being a LinkedIn Learning Instructor, but give me a little bit about your career and then lead that into how you built your personal brand.

Mary Abbajay: Oh, so my career has been very varied. Like a lot of people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I kept just trying things and stopped doing what I didn’t want to do. Hopefully, I would find what I want to do. So I did a stint in marketing. I did a stint in public relations. I did a stint for a startup company. Then I did a stint in politics, working for the chairman of the city council.

Mary Abbajay: Then I was working for him when he killed himself. Yeah, the chairman of the city council of DC. This was in the 90s, this was the last century. So then I was like, “Oh, no, I need to find a job.” So my sister and I opened up a bar in Washington DC, and we owned it. It was super popular. It was called the Toledo Lounge. People, if anyone’s in the DC, in the 90s, and we did a nightclub after that, very popular.

Mary Abbajay: But I hated it. I hated both of those because they were very boring. I was trying to figure out, but I was fascinated by two things, one, the building of the business I thought was really neat, cool, and challenging, and the dynamics of watching people and the team, because we were so successful, people would come to us all the time, or to me and say, “How did you do that? How did you build a great team? How did you build that business?” And I found, Paula, that what I loved was helping other people be successful. I literally love giving people not advice, but helping them think through what they wanted to do and some advice. I heard several times from people, “Well, you should be a consultant because you’re so helpful.” And I’m like, “Hmm, that’s a good idea.”

Mary Abbajay: So I went back to school, got a couple of degrees, a couple of masters, and that’s when I started because I really found out that my passion was helping other people find their passion or find their value in their work life. So that was how I kind of built my brand around being helpful and being positive.

Paula Edgar: I love that.

Mary Abbajay: Because when we were starting our business, Paula, when we were starting the bar, one thing that I remembered was all the people that said to us, like 99.9% of people said to us, “You’re going to fail. There’s no way you can do that. That’s just not going to work.” I just thought that was bullshit. Can I say that on this podcast?

Paula Edgar: Of course, you can. I’m from Brooklyn. I just thought that was bullshit and unhelpful. So I really wanted to take the other talk as part of building my brand and really find a way to be positive in helping people achieve what they want to achieve, even when it means overcoming some obstacles.

I think people reverse engineer me all the time because if you tell me I can’t do something, then I’m going to do it. So people say things I can’t do so that they can get me to do the things they want. But that’s a whole nother story for myself.

Mary Abbajay: There’s something I don’t want you to do. I should say, “Oh, Paula, that’s so easy for you.” Then you’re like, “You’re right, it is.”

Paula Edgar: Right, exactly. I’ll leave that one alone then. Yes. Okay, so that’s helpful. So then taking all of that and putting that into the business owner, consultant space, telling people what to do, sometimes with advice, how then did you build your brand to be known in this space?

Mary Abbajay: So I think that for a long time, I didn’t really think about a brand. So for a while, it was all about building the brand of the company, Careerstone. So we built that brand by delivering great work and really focusing on a few dynamics in our work. So we wanted our training to be fun, to be funny, to be interactive, and to be really people-centered. So we really kind of broke the mold of the old baby boomer style of training where it’s like stage on stage, let me tell you, and really broke it up so there was no more than 15 minutes of content and then interactive activities. So we started building the brand of the business first and the consulting and the facilitation side,

Mary Abbajay: we started just really thinking about how we could be truth tellers with love. Like, how do we tell people the truth, especially when you’re talking about dysfunctional teams or leadership that isn’t cutting it? That’s how we did that, mostly through practice. And then I wrote a book, and then suddenly I was like, “Rut row, I’ve got to become a brand myself.” So that, I have to admit, was really hard for me. It’s really hard, I think, for a lot of people, I think a lot of women, to talk about yourself. I kind of thought the world was meritocracy and if I just worked really hard, all these good things would come to me.

Mary Abbajay: So I had to really, literally read some books on it and start to practice it and really think about my social media, what do I want to be known for. If I’m promoting this book, who am I to promote this book? So I started doing a little social media, I started writing, and I really started asking my clients, “What is it about me that stands out to you?” They would say things like, “You were so energetic,” or “You’re so positive.” So I had to kind of define my brand and then figure out how to build it.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I hear often, because what we do is similar in that I talk to folks about branding and try to- I love them, I’m going to definitely steal the truth-telling with love. I’m going to be like, “Here, come here. You suck with love.”

Mary Abbajay: I bet you’re good at that, though.

Paula Edgar: I think people come to me because they know that I am not in the space. I don’t like to waste my own time, and so I want to make sure that our time together is valuable and I do that being authentic and being truthful as well. I come with every place with love because I try to be a joyful person every single day.

Mary Abbajay: People can tell whether you’re coming at them with love or you’re coming at them with ego, or whether you’re coming at them with some sort of other agenda.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, agreed, 100%. So tell me, how, then, did you become a LinkedIn Learning Instructor?

Mary Abbajay: So it’s funny because I work really hard, and then there’s luck that comes in. Rachel Feintzeig, I think that’s her last name, just wrote a really interesting piece on luck in The Wall Street Journal. I think anyone who reaches success and some measure of success, there’s got to be some luck involved. So the bottom line is somebody introduced me to a LinkedIn learning producer, and that person ghosted me. Then out of the blue, without even knowing that I was introduced to someone else, a LinkedIn learning instructor, happened to see either my book or happened to see someone told her about seeing me on stage, and she reached out to me, and that’s how it happened.

Paula Edgar: Look at the universe. I think that’s a really great story in proving something that I believe in deeply. So I believe in intention setting. Every year, I do an annual Intention and Goal Setting thing I do for anybody in the world who wants to take it, because I believe that there’s a collective space to the intention. Even though that person ghosted you, the intention was already set. It was like, “Yes, I’m going to be this,” and look at what happened. It’s crazy.

Mary Abbajay: I have to say, being a LinkedIn Learning Instructor, it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done, like, recording those. But it was thrilling. It was really thrilling. Since then, I’ve done another course. So it’s been really fun.

Paula Edgar: I love that, all of the folks.

Mary Abbajay: But, you know, the same thing happened with my book, too.

Paula Edgar: Tell me. Tell the story.

Mary Abbajay: So I was folding laundry one afternoon because I could, I am my own boss, and it was like on a Friday or something. This woman calls and she says, “Hello, this is Jeanenne Ray. I’m from Wiley Publishing. I’d love to talk with you about doing a book.” So I think, “Oh, my God, this is a crank call. This is like BS.”

Mary Abbajay: I’m like, “Okay, sure, what is it?” She’s like extolling the virtues of having a book out there, blah, blah, blah, and I’m thinking to myself, “This is some self-publishing hook.” I said, “Listen, Jeanenne, is that your name? Let me cut you off right here.” And I said, “How much is all this going to cost me?” And there’s this audible gasp on the other side. She said, “Mary, we’re Wiley. We would never charge our authors,” I was like, “Oh, my God, this is real.”

Paula Edgar: This is not spam risk.

Mary Abbajay: I know. Oh, my God. I thought she was pranking me, and then I said to her, “I’d love to, but I really can’t.” I had just put my father at the time into assisted living in Ohio. So I was flying back and forth all the time from DC, and she said, “You know what? Why don’t I call you back in January and we’ll talk then?” And I thought, “Great, thank you,” thinking I’ll never hear from this woman again.

Mary Abbajay: She called me back in January and we made it happen.

Paula Edgar: That is, first of all, I need your number so I can change it to mine.

Mary Abbajay: And I always tell people I’m not a lucky person, but every now and then I’ve had some really lucky things happen.

Paula Edgar: That is a fantastic, fantastic story.

Mary Abbajay: I’m blushing just remembering how stupid I was going, “How much will this cost me?”

Paula Edgar: Who is this? So the first time that I saw you speak, I saw you speaking about Managing Up, and I was so excited for two reasons. Number one is, and I don’t know if you feel this way, I’m just going to show, I’m going to be in a very vulnerable space, I often will sit when people are presenting. I’ll be like, “Okay,” waiting for what else can happen, and I’m like, “This is how they should do it.” I was sitting there riveted the entire time. I love, because I always say I’m never going to take another test and I’m not going to any other school so every time I get a chance to learn, it’s like me going back to school, and I love being in school.

Paula Edgar: I just refuse to take another test to do it. So I was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Paula Edgar: And she’s teaching stuff, and I loved it. I remember I actually pulled out the notes that I had from when I saw you speak, and I wrote like three pages of things down because I was excited and I was motivated and it was wonderful. So when I saw you that first time, I was like, “One of these days, I’m going to get her on my podcast,” and it just started. Then I saw you speaking about feedback, which is my favorite topic other than branding, to talk about, and the same thing happened because we can have the same topics in our dossier, but how you come at it and the perspective is really so innovative and very thoughtful. And I loved it. So I was like, “Okay, well, I have to talk to Mary about how managing up and giving and receiving feedback impacts your brand.”

Paula Edgar: So you’re here, and I manifested it. Anyway.

Mary Abbajay: But wait a minute, Paula. Wait a minute. All our listeners and viewers, to understand, I feel the same way about Paula Edgar. So I, too, go to different people’s presentations and I’m like, “Yeah, what you got? Show me what you got.” And then I’m usually pretty much like, “Eh.” But with you, I’ve seen you speak twice and each time I was like this.

Mary Abbajay: I thought you were fantastic. Listeners and viewers who’ve never seen Paula live on stage, run, don’t walk to see her. She has tremendous content and her delivery is fun, funny, and right on. So I feel the same way. So I’m so flattered then.

Paula Edgar: We go together. It’s all good. Okay.

Mary Abbajay: Fan girl. Love girl. Everyone’s like, “Okay, girls.”

Paula Edgar: Mutual fan club. Okay, so I want you to tell me and tell the audience about the concept of Managing Up. What is it?

Mary Abbajay: Favorite subject. So, Managing Up is about how you manage one of the most important relationships in your workplace, and that is the relationships that you have with your bosses, your managers, your leaders. So when I talk about Managing Up, I’m not talking about managing the person, I’m talking about managing the relationship. Managing Up, even though some people are misguided, is not about sucking up. It’s not about being a sycophant or someone’s patsy or kissing someone’s ass, that is manipulation. When we talk about Managing Up, we’re talking about intentionally, proactively creating the most positive and productive working relationship with someone above you in the food chain so that you can succeed,

Mary Abbajay: they can succeed, and the organization can succeed. It’s about really understanding how to navigate different personality preferences, different levels of power, different priorities, different personalities, so that you can win, they can win, and the organization can win. So that is really what I mean by Managing Up. It is not about sucking up, because, hey, our bosses, your bosses, listeners, your bosses, and we all got one, even Paula and I have bosses, they’re called our clients, our bosses have a lot of influence over our career trajectory.

Mary Abbajay: They have a lot of influence over our own leadership journey, and as much as we wish, it wasn’t true, we can’t change them or control them. So you’re much better off figuring out how to navigate them successfully. So that is what I mean by Managing Up.

Paula Edgar: Can’t change or control. Sounds like my therapy sessions.

Mary Abbajay: Oh, my God. Think about, you can’t change or control anyone in your life. I wish I could, because my husband would be emptying the dishwasher right now and folding the laundry correctly.

Paula Edgar: Somebody would be ordering me Chick-fil-A. But anyway, okay, so tell me, especially because you use the word influence, I always think about, influence can happen in so many ways in different organizations. As you know, I do a lot of things in law firms, and there are the titles like partner, et cetera, that you come with influence but then there’s also the sort of people who have been there for a long time or the different ways that influence shows up. But no matter what, to your point, if somebody is supervising you, they have an influence because they are controlling a part of your trajectory. So how does effectively managing up and thinking about the perspective of influence and how it works in the workplace, how does that impact a personal brand?

Mary Abbajay: Oh, well, a lot. Because your brand, it depends, if your brand is your intention, and if part of your brand is to be seen as a trusted colleague, a go-getter, a super smart lawyer, or whatever it is, that brand gets manifested by your relationships with other people. So if you want to have a brand, you have to think about what part of your brand is reliant on your ability to create these positive workplace relationships, whether they’re up, down, or across from the organization. So here’s an example. If part of my brand is “I want to be known as a team player,” which, by the way, I don’t, but if I want to be known as a team player, then I have to actually be a team player. If other people don’t experience me as a team player, and they don’t, then I need to remove that from my brand because that’s when we get into the difference between your brand and your reputation. Right? So your reputation is built by how other people experience you, like your leaders and your bosses.

Mary Abbajay: If you want your brand to be promoted by other people, so let’s say your brand and your reputation are aligned, your bosses and people of influence and power have a lot of influence on promoting your brand. Right? Because if I have a great relationship with you, Paula, and let’s say I’m your boss, let’s just say for five minutes, and if I’m having a really positive experience with you, then I’m going to talk about you in a positive way to other people, and that’s how your brand gets promoted. If I have a not great experience with you, I might either say, “Ah, Paula, she’s okay,” or “I’d rather work with so and so.” That’s, I think, where it really becomes important.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I was in a conversation with a client earlier today, and they were talking about sponsorship programs and that there was a partner who would be working with an associate, and that associate had made a mistake. What that partner then did was to go around and tell every other partner that that associate had made a mistake. I was sitting there like, “But we’re supposed to be able to make mistakes and then get better, et cetera.” But when you think about your brand and how you carry it, but if you have enough influence that no one else will want to work with that associate because you said they made a mistake, that influence can work in a lot of different ways, for evil or for good. That’s why it’s really important to think about that. I find so often that people are just like, “Well, that’s my boss” without any real sort of strategy or thought about this.

Paula Edgar: Truly, if you’re Ambitious with a capital A like me, then you have to think about all of your interactions with folks who have influence and how they can impact your brand and how they can help you to get to whatever your goal is. So I love that. I love how you just wove that in there.

Mary Abbajay: Well, I like what you said, because when you think about building your brand, especially with people higher up or even people across, even people below you, but you want to think about every interaction. Every interaction makes a difference. I like to tell people that after an interaction with me, I want people to feel good about three things: I want them to feel good about the interaction, even if it was challenging, but I want them to feel like it was a productive interaction. I want them to feel good about me like I showed up well, but I also want them to feel good about themselves. I think when we can really understand that every interaction, especially with our bosses, matters and it matters for our brand, I think that helps people sort of be actually even more intentional around how they are showing up and how they’re interacting.

Paula Edgar: Agree with that. So what are some strategies, don’t give us all the strategies because everybody’s going to buy the book, but what are some things, maybe two things that you think that folks who are trying to be better manager uppers should do?

Mary Abbajay: I’ll give you the simple framework. Right, the simple framework. The simple framework is, first of all, you have to really notice who this person is. So if you’re talking about your immediate boss, pay attention to who they really are and how they operate, not who you wish they were. Don’t get in a judgy place like, “Oh, my God, they should do this or they should do that.” Pay attention to things like their communication style, their work pace, how collaborative are they? Communication is huge. Are they detail people, big-picture people? Really pay attention to their punctuality, these things, like their work style, how they communicate, and how they collaborate without judging them. Once you have a really good sense about how they operate, who they really are, not who you wish they are, then take a good look at how you are, who you are.

Mary Abbajay: And again, right, Paula, how you really are, not how you think you are. This is time for self-awareness. What’s it like to work with you? Once you have a good sense about who they are and who you are, then you can look in the middle and see if there are any gaps. Then when you can take a good look at the gaps and how you guys operate, then you get to determine what it is that you want to do about those gaps. You could either decide to do a little adaptive relationship stuff. So maybe I’ll talk a little faster when I’m talking with Mary. Maybe I’ll get to the bottom line quicker when I’m talking with Paula. What can you do a little more of, a little less of, a little differently in order to close that gap? That’s one choice, which I think is a great choice.

Mary Abbajay: The next choice is to basically be like, “You know what, we’re just going to be different, and I’m going to be okay with that.” That’s the key. I’m going to be okay with our differences. I’m not going to get wound around the axle and angry. I’m going to accept it. It’s like what the Buddhists say, accept it. Then your third choice of dealing with differences is always just to leave, just to go find another boss. But you don’t want to get-

Mary Abbajay: When you work differently than somebody, the anger and frustration is not your friend. That puts you into an amygdala hijack. So that’s why I’d say, really figure out who you are, who your boss is, what you can do more or less of or differently, or what you can request from them to do more of, less of, or differently to make that work. You know, people will often say to, “But you know, Mary, if you say to me I should ask more questions to my boss, or I should talk up more with my boss, that’s not being authentic.” Then I have to remind people that authenticity is not being the exact same person, it’s not the same behaviors everywhere. So people,

Mary Abbajay: Paula, I think she might join me on this in real life, I swear, like a sailor that wants to be a truck driver. But it doesn’t make us inauthentic if we’re not dropping F bombs every five minutes. It makes us appropriate. So it’s about adjusting your behavior or your choices of interaction a little bit in order to build that better relationship.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. No, first of all, yes, again, I’m a girl from Brooklyn, I do love a cuss word. But when I was just thinking about what you were saying, I thought, “This is also relationship advice.”

Mary Abbajay: Yes.

Paula Edgar: Not just your boss, but think if you think of me, I’ve been married for 20 years, he’s lucky. And I think to myself, “Yes, there are things that I have to choose. That is who he is, and it’s not going to change, and I just have to accept it,” and then there are things where I’m like, “Hey, it would be really great if you got to the point,” whatever the thing is.

Mary Abbajay: Land the plane, honey. Land the plane.

Paula Edgar: That’s what I need. So I do think that while you may think this is business advice, it is relationship advice that can help you in all different spaces if you think about it strategically. I think that all those things help your brand personally and professionally. So I love that.

Mary Abbajay: I mean, resisting who your boss is is not going to be helpful. They got to where they are based on who they are.

Paula Edgar: Not until you leave. Resist the way after you’re gone, when you’re still there, it’s not helpful to you. Okay, so let’s talk about feedback.

Mary Abbajay: Okay.

Paula Edgar: Let’s talk about receiving feedback first, because I do think this is the hardest thing for folks, and in particular how it impacts your brand. So I will just say this and then you tell me how this lands for you.

Mary Abbajay: Okay.

Paula Edgar: I always say you have to have what Tyra Banks used to say is a smize face when you are receiving feedback. For example, if you’re not telling me something that I like, I get blackface. I’m like, “What?” Like, my eyes are doing this, but instead, I have a very neutral face that just does, and my eyes are smiling at you and I’m just holding it in and I’m pinching the bottom of my thigh so that I don’t lunge at you like that. So tell me about the art of receiving feedback in terms of it impacting your brand.

Mary Abbajay: Yeah. So I think, first of all, in order to really understand your brand, you need to be seeking feedback, right? I mean, if you really want to know what your brand is, you need to reach out to people that know you and ask them, like, “What are the five adjectives you would use to describe me?” Do that exercise. What am I known for? And be ready to hear the feedback. Because the feedback you receive, the good, the bad, and the ugly, are almost always going to be directly related to your brand in some format. So the first piece of advice I would give while you’re giving your, what did you call it? Face, your smize face, I would say take a deep breath and really listen. That person is telling you something important. There is always a golden nugget in that feedback, even if you disagree with it.

Mary Abbajay: Even the golden nugget is simply, you now have a better idea of how this person thinks of you. Really try to accept, hear the feedback, and see what you can find that’s helpful, true, and actionable. The other thing I would say is when you’re receiving feedback, remember, even though it’s poorly given, and it usually is, there is something you can use. This feedback is usually going to be about a behavior that you did, an action that you took. It’s not about who you are as a person. Right? Sheila Heen has that book, Thanks for the Feedback, even though it’s dumb, stupid, and like, “I’m not in the mood,” and she talks about those three triggers, the “it’s not true” trigger.

Mary Abbajay: Well, it might not be true, but there might be something in there. The “identity” trigger, where what you tell me, I catastrophize it, and the “relationship” trigger, which is the third thing I was going to say. Don’t let the who that’s telling you the feedback get in the way of seeing anything that’s valuable. So take a deep breath, reflect, always thank the person, but don’t necessarily bat it out. See what parts of it can be true, and then see how you can use that.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I mean, that is excellent advice. I remember when I was a young attorney and I was working at a nonprofit, one of my bosses, because I had several bosses, they pulled me to the side. We were at an event and said, “I think you’re too familiar with folks.” For me, it was like, “Why don’t you just slap me across my face and tell me not to be Paula?” Because I personalized it. I was like, “Wait, I am familiar. I’m going to hug you. As long as you smile, I love you.”

Paula Edgar: It is what it is.

Paula Edgar: Then I was like, “Well, they’re wrong,” but I was like, “No, wait, she’s actually right. I am very familiar with people, but that’s what resonates,” as opposed to me not being that way so I had to choose to say, “I get it, that I’m not her people, and I also get that the people who I’m supposed to be there for, they connect with me, and that’s what I was doing.” Just taking it away from the person and what is my impact, what my mission is here, and am I feeding that mission by being how I am or not? And if so, then maybe I’ll shift. But I was like, “No, I’m going to stay the same. I’m good to go.”

Paula Edgar: And now I’m here. Anyway.

Mary Abbajay: Okay. No, I love that. But that is like, had you taken that too far and been like, “Oh, my God,” and pulled back and been cold, you wouldn’t be Paula. But that also was helpful because it probably alerted you that some people probably don’t really like so much familiarity, so you could start to pay attention to be able to gauge it. So that was really helpful.

Paula Edgar: 100%.

Mary Abbajay: I would think, because you get to decide what to do with it.

Paula Edgar: Absolutely. So that’s why that person never gets hugs from me. Anyway.

Mary Abbajay: You can always hug me, Paula. I’m an Arab. We love the hugging.

Paula Edgar: I love it. I love it. Okay, so tell me, giving feedback, people only want to give feedback when it’s good feedback, like, “Hey, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Bye. See you on Thursday.”

Paula Edgar: But when you have to give constructive and potentially challenging feedback, talk about that process and how it can impact your brand as a person giving and for the person receiving.

Mary Abbajay: So I think that’s such a great question, thinking about it from a brand point of view. So I’m just going to give a little context. One of the things that we know in organizational life is that people are not getting enough feedback. Study after study shows that 78% of employees say they’re not getting enough feedback, and something like 60% of managers think they are giving enough feedback. So we’re not giving enough feedback. Organizations with high feedback cultures have higher retention, higher engagement rates, higher productivity rates because it shows that you are invested in people. I’m saying all this because if you’re not good at giving feedback or you don’t like it, start liking it, because it is going to be helpful, because you will be seen as a person that cares about the development of other people.

Mary Abbajay: Before you go to give feedback, I want you to get really clear on the why of the feedback. This is the most important thing. All feedback should be given in the workplace with the intention of helping the other person. You’ve got to ground it in that. That’s the only reason to give constructive feedback, is that you want to help this person succeed, and then you really want to pick out, you want to get really specific around what the feedback is, your intention in giving it, and then you’ve got to figure out whether or not you do the whole SBI situation, behavior, impact, blah, blah, blah. But I think what I don’t like about that model is it leaves out the intention, which I think is most important. Because if I came to you, Paula, I had some difficult feedback, but I set my intention first, and I told you,

Mary Abbajay: “Paula, I need to talk to you about XYZ project. I’m bringing this up because I think that you are a spectacular performer, and I really want you to be successful here. And I fear this may be an obstacle that I wanted to make you aware of,” boom, I’ve already sort of taken your fear a little bit away, and I put you on the same side of the table with me. Then you go through the feedback, then I think people also, when they’re giving feedback, anyway, if you can do that successfully, successfully give people constructive, actionable feedback, then that is going to rise your brand as someone who’s a straight shooter, someone who cares about other people, someone willing to have tough conversations and people will respect you more.

Paula Edgar: I agree a thousand percent. Actually, when I saw you speaking about this, I thought to myself, because I love SBI, because it’s tactical, like, look, look, and look. And I was like, “Yes, of course. It’s missing the heart space.”

Mary Abbajay: That’s exactly right.

Paula Edgar: It’s missing that empathy where it’s like, “Hey, I want you to be good. So here’s why I’m telling you this thing.” I think that that is so core because usually it’s, “You get into my nerves because this is the thing that you did,” and that is why feedback hits. Because it’s personal and it’s coming from a place of anger and frustration, and again, relationship advice.

Mary Abbajay: Everyone’s going to get defensive. So the other thing that happens, I read a really interesting study on this a couple of years ago, and what often happens is people stay on the problem for a long time. Like, why did you do that? The longer you stay in that space, the more defensive the other person becomes. That’s when the fundamental attribution error rears its head. Because the feedback giver is going to keep thinking it’s about something that you did wrong the other person. But the feedback receiver is going to more and more blame it on the circumstances as they defend themselves. So when you give someone feedback, if you want a good brand around this, give the feedback and then move as quickly as you can into what’s going to happen next. Like, what’s the resolution? What’s the path forward? What are some ideas this person can use to move forward? Don’t keep them in that place,

Mary Abbajay: I call it that place of shame where we know we did something wrong for very long, name it, and then move on to the future place of love and honey and milk and cookies. I don’t mean like milk and cookies like, “Oh, my God, you’re fabulous,” I mean milk and cookies as resolution.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Do you think that it’s important to have follow up to say, “Okay, how did you incorporate this feedback with someone?”

Mary Abbajay: I do. I think as a feedback receiver, it’s really important for you to do the follow up too, to initiate it. But I do think for both parties, especially, let’s say I had to give someone difficult feedback and then I gave it to them, if I see a change in their behavior or the performance, it’s on me to go to them, and say, “Hey, so and so. I just want to say I really am pleased with what I’m seeing. Thank you so much for taking that feedback to heart. You are on the right track right now.”

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Because so often, organizational cultures is just your annual review, and it gives you zero opportunity to engage in those spaces and then to show the shift, except for the next year, which there’s a recency bias. So people are thinking about what you did two weeks ago as opposed to what happened in that whole time frame. I just think common sense in the corporate space is so often not common and that people continue to do the things that they’ve always done, and then they wonder, “Well, why isn’t it working?” It’s like, “Because you’re not doing it and thinking about the people, you’re just thinking about the process.” And the process is broken, too.

Mary Abbajay: Yeah. I mean, the worst thing you can do in an annual review is tell somebody information that they’ve never heard before. I mean, when you give someone information annual review that they’ve never heard from, or, “Oh, six months ago, you did this,” you’ve literally punched them in the gut and in the face, and they will never forgive you for that, ever. Hey, Paula, you know who’s really bad at giving feedback?

Paula Edgar: No. Who?

Mary Abbajay: Lawyers.

Paula Edgar: Look, first of all, I was like, “Who?” I was waiting for the name and Social Security number of the person.

Mary Abbajay: Here’s an example. Here’s an example. Many organizations are, but I find lawyers, it cracks me up because I don’t think of lawyers as being conflict-diverse. So I’m preparing a workshop for a law firm, a big law firm, and it’s a group in this law firm, and the partners want to get really involved and seeing what the material is. It’s like a 90-minute session. So they get on a call with me and I walk them through the entire program, “Here’s exactly what I’m going to teach, how I’m going to do it,” and then I end it. The whole idea is for them to give feedback on this program.

Mary Abbajay: And then I finish it, and I’m like, “So what do you all think?”

Paula Edgar: What’s your feedback on the feedback?

Mary Abbajay: And I was like, “Come on, you guys. I’m looking for feedback on the feedback,” and then I had to call them out individually, and they were like, “Oh, I thought that was great. I would change this.” I’m like, “Okay, so you want your people to learn how to give feedback, but you all can’t do it in a safe space like this.” So the other thing I would say is, if you are in a leadership position and you want people to give feedback, you have to model doing it. That should be part of your brand, too.

Paula Edgar: And you have to model receiving it well. I think for leaders, because being a leader, I would say it’s the hardest thing. The reason why you get paid the big bucks and you get all the crown that can topple if you don’t do this right is because it is hard. But having an authentic space and really being able to say, “I want it,” and then when you receive it to hear, even if you don’t agree with it, I appreciate it, leaders would change the game. They would change it. But again, that ego piece kind of gets in the way of building trust sometimes.

Mary Abbajay: It does, Paula. You know, I probably get more emails around, “How do I give my boss feedback,” or “My boss has asked for feedback. I don’t trust he, she, or they will hear it. What do I do?” It’s so common and you are so right, if we could just wave our magic wands, if you could do some Black girl magic, I’ll do some White girl magic and we’ll make this happen, if leaders would just be able to seek out and act on and hear their feedback, I think that would do wonders.

Paula Edgar: 100%. Yeah, I just got a thought in my mind. We’ll talk about it afterwards.

Paula Edgar: Okay.

Paula Edgar: I’m really glad we did that because I think there are so much actionable things that you just mentioned. I want to go into some of the things that I ask everybody on the podcast, and for you, the answers might be a little bit different because you’re you and fabulous. So there are two points in my podcast that I ask everyone about, which is one, what is the aspect of your brand that you will never compromise on? So it’s like your stand by your brand moment. So what about you? Values, whatever it is, how it showed up for you in terms of the question that you’ll never compromise on.

Mary Abbajay: I think I’m never going to be miss corporate, straight-laced. I am always going to be pow in your face, fun, energetic, truth-telling, but positive. So I’m never going to be like a professor on the stage. I’m always going to be a little rough. I’m never going to be perfection. I’m always going to be a little like that.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I thought to myself, “We could just switch windows and that would be the same answer that I would give.”

Mary Abbajay: We really are the same person.

Paula Edgar: Give me up tops and that’s enough. Okay, so the second piece is the Branding Room Only moment. So Branding Room Only is a play on standing room only, so for you, you have a lot of people who are in rooms who are there to hear you speak. But is there some talent, skill thing about you that folks would be in a room with, standing room only to hear, see you do, or experience?

Mary Abbajay: Oh, my God. I don’t know. That’s such a great question. Hopefully they would be there to hear me talk about toxic bosses or to talk about bosses in general. I think they would come to hear me tell the truth about the state of bosshood in America.

Paula Edgar: Bosshood. I love that.

Mary Abbajay: Or they want to hear old bar stories. Because people do love my old bar stories.

Paula Edgar: I’m going to go off script for a minute. Do you have a favorite cocktail that you love?

Mary Abbajay: To drink or to make?

Paula Edgar: One of each.

Mary Abbajay: Okay. So when I was a bartender owning my bars, I made a really great martini and a great margarita. So I used to love making those. I don’t drink either of those. I do kind of drink margaritas. For my drinking habits, I’m kind of a wine slut. I’m a sauvignon blanc, Sancerre kind of gal. But if I’m going to have a cocktail, I really like a mojito.

Paula Edgar: I love it. My favorite is an old fashioned. I know that you are a terrible, terrible bartender if you are unable to make one. Because I’m like, that was like 101. I took a bartending class in Boston when I was in college, and literally the only thing I remember was they taught us how to make an old-fashioned and I thought to myself, “I never want to do this because I don’t want to mess it up.”

Mary Abbajay: Old fashions are making a comeback. Like, old fashions, Manhattans are making a comeback. So you should have no problem having people make those. I’ve been thinking about dipping into the old fashions lately.

Paula Edgar: They’re really awesome. I’m going to Kentucky, and I’m just very excited to go there and experience bourbon in all of its shape and form. Okay. Mary, I knew this conversation was going to be fun. I knew it was going to go right quickly, and I knew that you were going to drop so many gems for my audience. I really appreciate you talking about managing up and feedback and being fabulous and all the things. How can people find out or connect with you away from my podcast?

Mary Abbajay: Oh, my gosh. Well, that’s so sweet of you. Well, people could always find me on LinkedIn. That’s probably the easiest thing. Mary Abbajay, easy peasy to find. They could check out our podcast, Cubicle Confidential. They could go to my company’s website,, or They can find me on Instagram, on Facebook.

Mary Abbajay: I’m at maryabbajay. But honestly, LinkedIn is the best place to find me.

Paula Edgar: Yep. And also take her LinkedIn Learning course. Thank you very much.

Mary Abbajay: Of course. Go to Amazon and buy Managing Up.

Paula Edgar: That’s right. This is a perfect stocking supper no matter what time of year you watch this. Go ahead and get Managing Up. Mary, thank you for joining in The Branding Room today. And everybody, make sure you share this with a friend, share with a boss, and have a wonderful rest of your day. Bye, y’all.