How To Ask For Feedback At Work

A feedback notepad on a white desk next to gold paperclips and white pens

Feedback is the first step in growing.

Let’s face it: Asking for feedback can be difficult. If you’ve found yourself in a work environment where performance reviews are either non-existent or not an often occurrence, then you’ve probably struggled with how to approach a manager or boss about how you’re doing. 

On one hand, feedback is a good way to gauge your own success, to ensure that you’re aligned with project goals, and to build a healthy work relationship with your team (even if it’s small).

On the other hand, it’s always a little awkward asking for an honest assessment of your work, especially if you’re in a place where you’re not really sure if you’re meeting performance expectations or if you’ve been with an organization for a while and are asking for the first time. 

The good news is that if you’re wondering how to get the best feedback, it means you really care about your work and want to make improvements where they are necessary, otherwise you wouldn’t put yourself in such a vulnerable state.  

Instead of dreading it, make a plan before going to your manager. Having an outline, prepared questions and open mind can help a great deal. 

Preparing to ask for feedback

Is there a certain project you want feedback on? Or are you looking for a more general assessment of your work? The difference is important because it dictates the conversation. Being too vague in your request might lead to feedback that isn’t as helpful as you would have hoped.

In preparing your request, think about the specifics you want your manager to cover. They’ll have their own agenda too, but being specific in your request helps them to help you. While you may have a lot of ground to cover, it will provide a roadmap for the both of you. 

Before your meeting, have a list of areas you want to focus on. This may include specific projects, aspects of the job, areas where you want to improve on and difficulties you’re experiencing. Even if you simply want to discuss how you’ve done over the year, that provides some context to your manager about what you’re looking for. Otherwise they might give you general observations that really don’t serve a purpose in reaching your own professional goals.

At this point you may be wondering what exactly qualifies as feedback.

Most importantly, it’s not advice. You may need advice on a certain piece of a project or your work, but it’s quite different from feedback. Though you may ask for both, when you’re seeking advice it’s because you’re not sure which direction to take or how to solve a problem. Feedback is different in that your manager is relaying observations back to you about your work. 

In both cases it’s up to you on how to proceed, but when you ask for feedback remember that your manager’s notes are specific to the work you’ve already done. This is an important tip for managers, too. 

“The best managers seem to know what the best neuroscientists know: We’ve got to get out of the advice business. It makes us feel helpful, it makes us feel confident and we feel useful,” Management guru Marcus Buckingham tells the Washington Post. “What we’ve got to remember is if you want to help someone grow, you’ve got to start with where they are and who they are.”

Feedback can act as a huge motivator, especially when it’s reassuring. We tend to be hard on ourselves at work, and feedback can be a good way for us to remind ourselves that we’re doing a good job. 

It can also serve as a course correction. Perhaps your intentions are well meaning, but they aren’t working for the project. A feedback meeting can help you make necessary changes. 

Ideally, you’ll get some of both.

Listen carefully to your feedback

Feedback can be difficult to hear, especially when it’s a mixed bag.

But it’s important to remember that feedback, no matter what it is, is ultimately for the best. You’ll grow from both the favorable feedback and the not-so-favorable feedback. Think of them both as opportunities.

When asking for feedback, being mentally prepared is as important as being professionally prepared. Along with your list of topics to discuss, make sure you’re ready to listen and take feedback seriously. 

Feeling defensive about some of the feedback is natural — everybody feels this way at one point or another — but how you deal with that feeling can make or break the meeting. Attitude is everything, so be sure you’re listening, taking notes and asking questions about what your manager expects from your performance that they feel is not being met. Responding with hostility will only make matters more awkward. 

Instead, try to see the issue from your manager’s point of view. If you truly feel they are in the wrong about an observation about your work, consider asking for a second opinion. Other times, it’s not worth dwelling over. Afterall, it might not be as serious as it is to you. The best you can do is work on improving to your manager’s standards.

Follow up afterwards

When performance reviews aren’t a normal part of your job, asking for feedback can sort of feel like it’s happening in a vacuum, especially if it’s not tied to a promotion or raise. You still might want to set a follow-up schedule though. 

Here are a few reasons why:

  • It’ll help you consistently meet the expectation of your boss and they’ll take note of your progress
  • You won’t feel like your goals are a moving target 
  • You may get more regular company updates, which can help you plan ahead and be prepared 

If you leave your feedback meeting with new goals, objectives or assignments, set a deadline on when you want to check back in, even if it’s informally.

Not having a regular schedule to talk about your performance can be tough, but if you set the schedule, you’ll have built-in deadlines for yourself and for your boss, so they’re paying attention too.

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