As human beings, we’re naturally curious and desire to have our questions answered. But there’s one area of questioning that overwhelms most of us with anxiety: asking for feedback. It’s not an easy or natural task, asking for someone’s opinion or evaluation of you and your work, but it’s an essential part of career development. We can’t promise that it will be painless, but with the proper preparation and the right questions, asking for feedback can be a smooth process.
When to ask for feedback:
1. During an annual review. This is a routine and formal process where your boss will evaluate your progress/contributions over the last year. If your company doesn’t have a formal review process, you should ask your boss for a meeting, says Jaime Petkanics, Founder and Job Search Consultant at The Prepary. “If those opportunities don’t present themselves naturally, I think asking for feedback once per quarter is helpful without being too overwhelming,” she says.
2. Before an important meeting, presentation, or project. Think of this as an opportunity to be coached or mentored by your boss. After one of these scenarios is also a good time to ask for feedback. Petkanics says, “It’s a good moment to take a step back, get your managers thoughts, and learn from the experience while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind.”
3. During your day to day. There are small moments that occur everyday when it’s appropriate to ask for feedback, or when your boss will openly give feedback. This is ongoing feedback and the more often this happens, the more opportunities you have to grow in your career. It’s an indication of a healthy working environment.
How to Ask for Feedback
When it’s time to meet with your boss and review your work, the general question, “How am I doing?” won’t get you very far. It provokes a simplified, one word answer. Instead, Petkanics recommends asking about both the good and bad.
“Don’t just focus on the negatives,” she says. “Managers enjoy giving balanced feedback, so give them the opportunity to do so. You can ask ‘what are some things that I did well?’ and ‘what are some things I could have done differently or better?’”
The Prepary founder also recommends asking for details and examples. This will ensure that you know what steps to take and how to improve. Petkanics says, “For example, if you get feedback saying ‘you could be a stronger communicator,’ you can follow up by asking for an example of a time you communicated something effectively and a time you had room to improve. This will help you put that feedback into action.”
During your meeting, it’s important to ask both open-ended questions and specific questions, so you can get a true and thorough understanding of your boss’s outlook. Karin Hurt, the author of Overcoming an Imperfect Boss and a former Fortune 15 executive at Verizon Wireless, recommends asking these questions.
1. What specifically can I do to better support our team’s mission?
2. If your boss were to give me one piece of advice what would that be?
3. Who should I be working with more closely?
4. Which parts of my style concern you the most?
5. Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for (insert the job or assignment you’re most interested in here)?
Hurt also advises going in with an open mind and accepting feedback graciously. “Whatever you do, say thank you, and don’t get defensive,” she says. “You don’t have to agree with them, or necessarily follow their advice. But asking for feedback and then reacting poorly will do more harm than good.”
Read more: 10 Tips For Taking the Sting out of Feedback
Who to Ask for Feedback
You don’t just work with your boss, so it’s important to make sure you’re the feedback you’re seeking out is well rounded. Approach all sorts of people. Speak to your boss, reach out to coworkers, engage with clients, and even try communicating with competitors. If you have contacts in competing companies, casually ask them, what did you think of this strategy? Or what do you think of this product we just launched? They may tell you when you’re onto something worthwhile, or something they envy about your company or projects.
And when you get all this feedback? Write it down. Keep a “compliments file.” Anytime you receive positive feedback, note it in your file. This list will keep you motivated at work. Noting the positive feedback you receive will be useful when you’re interviewing for new positions with other companies, when you request a promotion, or when you rightfully Ask4More.