Are You Getting the Feedback You Need to Succeed?
Good feedback can be incredibly helpful for a person’s personal and professional development, yet based on the chatter I read from the HR community, it is apparently vanishingly rare. This isn’t too surprising, when you think about it. Honest feedback can include dealing out and facing uncomfortable truths. Managers and co-workers can find it hard to confront employees on these topics, and, of course, employees can find them hard to listen to. Useful feedback also takes work, on both sides, in order to be truly effective.
So how do you get the feedback you need to develop your skills and succeed in your career?
First, let’s discuss what constitutes good feedback. According to various experts, useful feedback is:
- Frequent and timely. Limiting feedback to the annual performance review is nowhere near sufficient. Seeking and hearing feedback becomes a lot easier when it is a regular habit, and the feedback itself is a whole lot more useful when it relates to specific, recent work. Which brings us to…
- Specific. “You aren’t so good on the phone with customers” probably leaves the receiver with nothing but bad feelings. “I noticed on that phone call that you interrupted the customer, and then didn’t respond to her question about x” might sting a little—but it also gives you exactly the information you need to do better the next time.
- Not just from the boss. Getting feedback from your manager is extremely helpful, of course, but he or she is not the only person who sees your work. Teammates and other co-workers can bring perspectives your boss may not have. And having a face to face discussion with them about it is a much more honest system than the secretive 360-degree performance reviews some organizations rely on.
- Positive as well as negative. You can learn from positive feedback as much as negative—so long as it follows the same rules. “Great job” is nice to hear, but not particularly helpful. “I like how you did x” gives you something to remember and repeat going forward, as well as to build upon.
- Constructive, not cutting. This one surely goes without saying. Feedback should never be mean or insulting. It should relate to your performance—not who you are as a person.
- Based on objective facts, not subjective conclusions. Saying “You’re over-confident” is just stating a conclusion the feedback-giver jumped to, based on one or more specific things you did or said. It leaves you to try to figure out what they might be referring to. How much more helpful if they were to point out the specific behavior that seemed to be over-confident.
As an employee, you can’t always control the feedback you receive or the way you receive it, but there are some things you can do to try to get the feedback you need:
- Ask for feedback—and ask specifically. “How am I doing?” can be too easily dismissed with a “fine.” Ask instead, “What’s one thing I could change in the way I did that?” or “What do you think I did well in that situation?” Note that not only do these questions ask for specific examples, they are open-ended. It’s a good idea to avoid asking questions that can be shut down with a simple yes or no. And don’t be afraid to follow up by asking for examples.
- Go ahead and ask your colleagues, as well as the boss. As I mentioned above, your boss isn’t the only one who can give you feedback. Some co-workers may be a little reluctant to give honest feedback (others may unhelpfully offer it, unsolicited, all the time). Explain that you are not trying to put them on the spot, you just sincerely want to know how you can get better at your job. Ask if they’d like you to provide them with feedback as well.
- Control your response. This may be the most important key to ensuring you get the feedback you need, on a regular basis. It can, of course, be hard to hear criticism—even constructive criticism. But your task in the moment is simply to listen, and ask follow-up questions if needed. If you react by trying to explain away your actions, you will very likely come off as defensive, and the person giving you feedback is not likely to want to do so again. If you react with anger, they almost certainly aren’t going to want to do so again! So if you want to encourage people to continue giving you feedback, reign in your initial emotional response. This will also give you some time to cool down—making it easier to take in and apply what you have learned.
By taking the lead on seeking out feedback, you are taking control of your own development. As a result, not only will you likely learn things that will help you grow your career, you’ll take the sting out of uninvited feedback. You may even learn to take that dreaded annual performance review in stride!