It might seem scary to ask your boss how you’re doing at your job—especially if you’re the kind of person who responds emotionally to criticism or breaks out in hives at the thought of it. But the experts agree: regularly asking for feedback is the easiest way for you to improve at your job, and get a clear understanding of what value you’re providing. You just need to know a few tricks of the trade to make sure you’re maximizing the ask—and timing it well. Here, we break down the dos and don’ts:
DO put care into the wording. Rather than just asking, “How am I doing?” which could make you seem less confident in your performance, Halelly Azulay, leadership development strategist and CEO of TalentGrow LLC, recommends saying something like, “I feel like I’ve made really good progress in my work on [XYZ project], and I’d love to keep getting even better. What’s one thing I could do differently on the next project to make me even more effective?” It strikes an authoritative tone while making it clear that you’re interested in self-development.
DON’T get defensive. A top example you want to steer clear of is comparing yourself to your colleagues (“Well, Jane does it that way all the time and no one says anything!”). This form of defensiveness is sure to be received poorly, says Matt Brubaker, CEO of FMG Leading, an executive development and coaching firm based in San Diego and Philadelphia. “[Defensiveness] is your boss’s worst fear—attempting to help you grow, and immediately getting sandbagged by a defensive response,” he cautions.
DO ask for feedback in a specific area. By asking for a specific “one thing” you can do to improve in an area or on a project, your boss can quickly provide constructive feedback, Azulay says. “When you ask for [general feedback], it can feel overwhelming to the person you’re asking,” Azulay adds. “It’s hard for their brain to focus on something helpful and specific in response to such a broad and vague request.”
DON’T wait too long. Ask for feedback frequently and in a timely manner. This means letting your supervisor know in advance of completing a project that you’d like her opinion, or shortly after you turn it in. If you wait too long to ask for feedback, you’re less likely to get specific, actionable answers, says Erin Daiber, founder of Erin Daiber Coaching and Consulting. But if your boss can mark down feedback in real-time, odds are you’ll walk away with clear, concrete steps to improve.
DO look forward. If you receive less-than-stellar feedback, “use it as an opportunity to grow, and don’t beat yourself up,” Daiber says. In other words, your boss knows you’re an adult and can handle the criticism—so course correct, and move on.
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