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The one rule that keeps Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg's work relationship strong

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Ah, the age old question: how to nurture the best employee/employer partnership.

Well, it seems that Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, has the answer (but seriously, when does Sheryl not have the answer?)

Giving her commencement speech to the graduating class of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, this weekend, Sandberg shared the one rule she stuck to in order to maintain a healthy working relationship with Facebook founder and Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

Sandberg told graduates that when she joined Facebook in 2007, she asked Mark for one single commitment: “that he would give me feedback every week so that anything that bothered him would be aired and discussed quickly."

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

“Mark not only said yes but immediately added that he wanted it to be reciprocal. For the first few years, we stuck to this routine and met every Friday afternoon to voice concerns big and small. As the years went by, sharing honest reactions became part of our relationship and we now do so in real time rather than waiting for the end of the week,” said Sandberg.

Sandberg said that Zuckerberg’s encouraging reaction to the idea of taking feedback from his employees is what keeps the company functioning at such a high level and maintains positive working relationships.

She said: “Getting feedback from your boss is one thing, but it’s every bit as important to get feedback from those who work for you. This is not an easy thing to do as employees are often eager to please those above them and don’t want to criticize or question their higher-ups.”

The Facebook COO also said she now asks colleagues, as a matter of practice: “What could I do better?”

“I always thank the person who has the guts to answer me honestly, often by praising them publicly. I firmly believe that you lead best when you walk side-by-side with your colleagues. When you don’t just talk but you also listen,” Sandberg said.

Sheryl and David

Sheryl Sandberg and husband, Dave Goldberg

Sandberg’s advice rings true for all boss/employee relationships- if you don’t give each other feedback and challenge one another, misunderstandings could occur, or relationships could turn sour due to underlying, unspoken problems. Openness is key.

Sandberg ended her speech by referencing her late husband, David (who died suddenly, earlier this year), saying he was a “truly inspiring leader,” who “raised the level of performance of everyone around him,” at his company SurveyMonkey.

You can read the full speech here.

Words: Harriet Hall

Images: Rex Features

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