I spent quite a bit of time writing, editing, and rewriting this post. Asking for feedback is a sensitive topic. It opens us up to be vulnerable and potentially not like what we hear. Conversely, it also gives us the gift of opportunity; opportunity to grow, change, or improve.
Feedback can come from a plethora of sources (your boss, peers, parents, other leaders, friends, etc) and manifest itself in different ways (in-person dialogue, non-verbal cues, emails). I see non-verbal cues and verbal but indirect feedback shared frequently, but if you as the recipient are not present and paying attention to the behavior of others, you will never capture this as feedback.
Asking others for their opinion, guidance, and input are crucial steps on one’s career journey. Tapping into their wisdom and perspective allows you to learn what they know without having to experience everything they have. It consolidates some forms of learning from experiential and occurring over a period of years to learned and occurring in a conversation.
I mentioned before that asking feedback is challenging. Giving it is equally so, as the giver exposes themselves to sharing honest, well-intentioned feedback to someone who may not accept the feedback. As the receiver, if you want to continue to receive feedback, it’s important to accept it gracefully. It’s great to ask for clarification and examples, but avoid active disagreement with the giver. I’ve received all sorts of feedback in my career, from a memo I worked hard to write being thrown out and asked to start over, to being told I dress like a Supreme Court justice (I was going through a period where I wore a lot of black suits and dresses in an attempt to look older). In response to the first one, I stayed calm, took the edits and notes, and rewrote the memo in the way the person wanted it written. After being told I dress like a Supreme Court justice, I wore a neon pink and green tweed skirt to the office to show I could accept feedback and made the situation lighthearted. Over the years, I have received countless pieces of advice on how to approach a challenging situation and how to improve as a leader and professional. Unless I do not trust the person and view their feedback as counterproductive, I always implement the feedback. Right now I’m working on taking my presentation and speaking skills to a more senior, visionary level based on feedback I received. Wish me luck!
So who do you ask for feedback, and how can you do it effectively?
You can ask for feedback from anyone. Everyone you interact with has a unique perspective of, and interactions with, you. Your boss is always a great person to obtain feedback from, but don’t limit it to them. I’ve asked for feedback from our Executive Assistant team after working with them on an event, someone who directly reports to me and has a line of sight for my blind spots, peers that I work with closely, my parents…the list goes on.
How you ask for feedback is crucial. Remember when I said people are just as apprehensive about giving feedback as they are receiving it? With this in mind, there are ways to make the experience positive and considerate for the giver.
- Give them time to prepare. Not many people can come up with thoughtful feedback on the spot. Send them an email or ask in person if they would be willing to share feedback with you at a future date.
- Provide some questions. If you do not know where to start or are looking for feedback in a specific area, share this with the other person. This doesn’t mean you have to limit them, but it may give them something to reflect on as they prepare their comments. A general starter question might be something like, “what should I start doing, stop doing, and continue doing?” A specific topic would warrant a more honed question.
- Create a comfortable situation. Everything sounds better over food, am I right? Schedule your feedback session over breakfast or lunch, get out of the office, and find a quiet place to talk. This sets the conversation up to be more of a dialogue and a time to connect. As a plus, you can thank the person by purchasing their meal.
- Send a thank you note. This person spent time investing in you and your career, so make sure to thank them. A handwritten note is best, though email will work as well.
Good luck capturing feedback and continuing your career journey!