Ask for Feedback

Excerpt from Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead by Jodi Glickman (St. Martin’s Griffin; May 2011).

By Jodi Glickman, President and Founder, Great on the Job

There are two overriding goals of getting constructive feedback—they are both equally important, and neither trumps or negates the other:

  1. Make the feedback as useful as possible to you.
  2. Make the request as easy as possible on the person giving the feedback.

Goal #1: Make the Feedback as Useful as Possible to You

Hearing you’re doing a great job when you’re, in fact, doing a mediocre or sub-par job is, at best, a minor disservice and, at worst, a grand injustice to you. No one cares more about managing your career than you do. If everyone tells you you’re doing a great job, but year-end review time comes and it turns out everyone was just being nice, well, you’re the one up a creek, not the folks who cheered you on disingenuously.

So how do you get useful, helpful actionable feedback? It starts with planting a seed in advance, making your request specific, and soliciting concrete and actionable ideas for improvement.

Goal #2: Make the Request as Easy as Possible on the Person Giving the Feedback

No less important than making the feedback useful to you is making the process as easy and painless as possible on the person giving the feedback. Asking someone to give you feedback on your performance requires an investment of their time, energy, and resources with the express purpose of advancing yourcareer or professional development.

While the benefits of feedback go both ways (improving your performance ultimately should benefit your manager, colleagues, and organization), you should, by all means, be extremely considerate of the time and energy required of your manager or colleagues to provide you with cogent, helpful feedback.

Be generous by making your request in advance, scheduling the session around the other person’s calendar, and, most important, giving your reviewer some direction on what concrete areas of performance you’re looking for feedback on.

The Strategy: Here’s how to put these goals to work:           

  1. Plant the seed.
  2. Schedule the conversation.
  3. Provide specific guidance (of what you’re looking for).

Plant the Seed

Feedback is a tool that can make you better at your job, but it has to be given and received with anticipation. Let people know at the outset of a project that you’re open to, and interested in, getting feedback. That puts others on notice and gives them an opportunity to prepare and collect their thoughts over time.

Planting a seed also improves your chances of the feedback actually being useful and constructive. Giving someone time to think about your performance in advance opens the door for an honest and constructive conversation.

Schedule the Conversation

You’ve asked for the feedback, now you need to make it happen. Don’t wait for your manager or supervisor to schedule the conversation and/or take the lead. It is your sole responsibility to make sure this conversation gets on the calendar.

While you’re at it, go ahead and be as accommodating as possible in terms of finding a time that works on her calendar or fits into her schedule. The easier you make it on the other person, the more likely it is for the dialogue to actually take place.

Be Specific in Your Ask

To be fair, all of the advance notice in the world and thoughtful scheduling around your manager’s calendar won’t make any difference if you don’t give the person a set of specific questions or topics you’d like to discuss in advance. Be clear about what you’d like feedback on. Are you looking for your manager’s thoughts on how you’re managing your workload, keeping a project on time and on budget, or interacting with suppliers and vendors? Whatever you are interested in learning more about, be clear from the start.

Excerpt from Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Aheadby Jodi Glickman (St. Martin’s Griffin; May 2011).

Jodi Glickman is the president and founder of Great on the Job, where she teaches people how to communicate effectively in the workplace. Clients include Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Harvard Business School, Wharton, NYU Stern School of Business, Citigroup, Baird & Co., The Forte Foundation, Kellogg School of Management, and 85 Broads. She is also a regular blogger for Harvard Business Review. You can follow her at @greatonthejob.

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