How are you doing? How to ask for feedback

Listening to feedback can help develop your career. When you know what others think, you can make choices about what and how to improve, and learn and develop competencies that will improve your effectiveness.

Why Get Feedback?

I’d say nine out of ten people have a healthy self-perception. They’re good at things, and they know what they are. They’re bad at things, and they know what they are. The other one in ten fall in two buckets: thinking they’re awesome when they’re not, or thinking they’re terrible when they’re not.

Net, I believe that most people actually know what they’re good at, and what they’re bad at. It’s good to have your list: try writing down your top five strength and weaknesses as you see them. But do they matter? Does anyone realize that weakness? Is it preventing career progress? Are people talking about it? Are you worried about a flaw that no one cares about? Are you great at something that doesn’t matter?

To find out what matters, it’s important to know what others think. You’ll generally need to ask them – good managers will give you feedback at review time, the rest of the time you’ll need to ask. Most other people aren’t going to burst into talking about you. Asking them is a good career move: it shows you’re interested in learning and growing, that you care what others think, and you’re open to feedback. Set up a 1:1 meeting with a few people whose opinions you know you will value, you know can help you create an actionable list, and find out what they think.

Who do I ask?

Who could or should you ask? I’d definitely ask your manager – it’s their job to help you grow, be successful, and have impact. Their opinion also matters – you’re not going to get that key assignment or promotion without their help (there are no exceptions to that rule). I’d ask a couple of peers, and someone who’s junior to you too (which could be someone who reports to you). That’s five people – a good sample. If you want more, try an ex-boss, your boss’s boss (you may find out what the boss says to his boss about you), or someone you admire in another team but that you don’t work with daily.

Receiving Feedback

Never ask for feedback and argue with the giver that they are wrong. It doesn’t matter if they are – you asked for their opinion, which is a subjective view that makes sense in the movie that’s playing in their head. If you argue, you’ll look foolish, you won’t get any more feedback, and you’ve ruined the discussion as a career move. So, listen, write down what they say, say “thanks” frequently, and ask polite inquisitive questions that help you understand their perspective (don’t ask leading questions that show you don’t agree). Basically, don’t talk much.

You may have trouble getting people to be critical of you. It might take a few explicit questions to get them started, and you’ll need to show you’re thankful for the feedback if you want to get more. Try saying things like “I want to have more impact – and I know to do that I’m going to have to learn new skills. What skills do you think I need to develop?” or “If you were me, what’s the number one thing you’d work on changing?” or “What’s the biggest challenge you think I’d face at the next level or in your role?”. Keep your body language positive: no folding your arms, no furrowed brow, no looming over them and pacing around. They’ll be more comfortable in their territory – go to their office if you can. And be very genuine – people can spot a fake from a mile away.

Most of the time, this is going to turn out great. Most people want to help others. And most recipients of feedback know what they’re going to hear – since most recipients do have that healthy self-perception. So, hopefully, you’ll come away with a great list of positives and negatives, and hopefully they’ll be reinforced by the various people you speak to.

One last word of advice: don’t enter into this process lightly. If you ask for feedback, people are going to expect you to do something with it. You’ll score negative points if you ask for feedback and do nothing – people expect you to do something, and they expect to see some signs of life that show you’re making progress.

Next time, I’ll share some thoughts on how to use feedback to create a development plan.

4 thoughts on “How are you doing? How to ask for feedback

  1. phi16

    Would you say that the same strategies could be used outside of a work environment? If so, would you do anything differently?

  2. Hugh E. Williams Post author

    Phi16 -> i think the strategies apply broadly, and have worked for me outside of work. As Ilari says, the key is to ask questions, listen, and accept the feedback

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