The annual review of a young woman who worked for me several years back stands out …. She was a good employee and I had almost exclusively praise for her work. But I firmly believe we can all be better … so during the review, I challenged her to try a new approach on a couple things. She was very upset—almost angry. She asked why I hadn’t mentioned these things to her before … a good question. Truth was, I hadn’t paused long enough to consider it before her performance review. I hadn’t taken the time to really think about her career or her professional growth. So yes indeed, bosses do make mistakes. But by taking responsibility for drawing feedback from your boss on a regular basis, you put yourself in the driver’s seat and won’t risk a similar incident.
Most businesspeople are used to getting feedback at an annual performance review. While this type of formal feedback is helpful, getting constructive suggestions or praise on a more frequent basis can help you grow. And asking for it demonstrates that you’re anxious to contribute and are willing to adjust to meet your organization’s needs.
But if you have a boss who isn’t offering up any specific feedback of your work, what can you do to encourage it? Experts agree that it might be as simple as letting him or her know you’re interested … and that you’re not just fishing for a pat on the back.
Ongoing feedback is informal and you want it to be that way. So rather than setting up an appointment with someone to review a project, try to make the exchange more casual. The trick is to know what kind of feedback you’re looking for and get the dialogue started.
Feedback comes in several forms, suggests hbr.org. Praise and appreciation are one form that we all enjoy. But if it’s growth you’re after, you should be looking for suggestions on how you can do your job better. And there are definitely situations with a busy or especially absent boss where you might simply need feedback because you want to make sure your boss noticed your work.
If your boss compliments your work, it’s a great time to ask what you can do better or differently. First, acknowledge the compliment: “Thank you for the compliments. They make me feel very appreciated.” Then ask, “How could I have done things differently or better?” “I’m really interested in expanding my skills—what’s one thing you would have liked me to handle differently?” You could talk specifics … “I thought it was interesting when _____ happened. How would you have handled that?” Open-ended questions start a discussion and give your boss an opportunity to truly consider your efforts. Try questions that begin with “how” or “what” to get the best responses.
Get examples if the feedback in unclear. If you’re told that you need to communicate with the team better, ask how. “What do you think would be the best way?” Or, if you did communicate, but your boss is unaware, outline what you did do, and then ask how he or she thinks you could expand on those efforts.
Related article: 10 Best Ways to Receive Well-Intended Criticism
Also, remember that your boss isn’t the only person at work who could give you constructive feedback. Clients, colleagues or even subordinates are also good sources. Ask: “What can I do to improve my work for you?” “How can I make this easier for you?” “How was my predecessor handling this differently … and did that work better for you?”
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Timely, helpful suggestions on how you can do a better job make you a more valuable employee. And getting that feedback in a steady, helpful flow rather than in one annual review puts you in charge of your own professional development.