Your manager is one of the most knowledgeable people you know. He/she knows everything about the project, has tons of experience, and has all the right skills to work on the project. However, nobody is perfect: he/she doesn’t know how to provide feedback. Communication between the two of you is not very fluent, he/she gives short and precise answers, and you are not sure how well you are doing. It is time for you to take some action and show your manager how to provide feedback and why it is important.
For some of us, providing feedback to our team members seems obvious; everybody needs guidance and confirmation that they are on the right path. If this is not so obvious for your manager, drop some of these facts at the next meeting:
- 72% of people think their performance would improve if managers gave them more corrective feedback.*
- 57% of employees prefer corrective feedback to just receiving recognition.*
- 43% of highly-engaged employees receive weekly feedback.**
Will asking for feedback make me look like I am lost?
Asking for feedback will not make you look weak. It will help you become more in tune with your manager and better understand the direction you should be taking at work. The top 10% ranked leaders are also at the top in asking for feedback from their managers.*** At the same time, the more open you are to feedback and the more you learn from it, the more you will resonate with the rest of the company and be less overwhelmed by the feedback you might get.
Provide context and processes
You can ask for feedback during your annual review, but more than likely, that is not enough. Help your manager to understand why feedback is important for you and the team and help him/her think about times when it would be useful to receive feedback.
Think about situations when it would be really useful to have his/her opinion about how you are progressing. You probably need more guidance and feedback at the beginning of a project, but feedback is also helpful when you have been working on something for a long time so that you can make improvements and get extra motivation. Explain to your manager how positive it would be for you and the team to get weekly or biweekly feedback. Helping your manager set regular feedback processes will help him/her incorporate this new task into the routine, and it will make the job easier for him/her.
During the first couple of times, you might have to take charge of the situation by sending concrete questions by email or by directing the meeting if you are having it face–to-face. Start by sending an
agenda explaining the points that you want to discuss so your manager knows what to expect and you are showing him/her how things should be done.
What if that doesn’t work?
If your manager has tried to provide regular feedback but it just doesn’t come naturally to him/her, yet you still need feedback, use every chance you have to ask for it: before starting a project, during presentations of objectives and goals, during the annual review – even on an everyday basis.
More than likely, your manager doesn’t even think about giving you feedback, so don’t just approach your manager and ask for feedback while he/she is getting a coffee or your manager may feel trapped and not give you a correct answer. Send a message, give your manager some time to think about the answer, and let him/her choose to communicate in writing or face-to-face.
When you get assigned a new project, always ask for one piece of advice from your boss. Always. That will help you better understand how he/she sees you and perceives the project; plus, you’ll be getting advice from a very knowledgeable person!
Ask the right questions
If your manager has a hard time coming up with feedback, you will need to help him/her by asking questions. Try to avoid imprecise, general questions like, “Do you think I am doing OK?” Instead, go for more precise questions that will really help you improve and that will give you guidance on how to improve:
- Of the work I have done during the last 3 months, what do you think could be improved?
- What can I do to help the team achieve our goals more?
- Do you have any advice for me so I can reach my goals easily?
- How could I handle my projects more effectively?
- Which parts of my style do you think are bringing more to the project and, therefore, I should keep?
- Which parts of my style do you think could be improved?
- If your manager has a hard time answering these questions, help him/her with examples; nobody knows you better than yourself, so throw in some of your characteristics to help them. But only do so if they cannot find an answer.
Use words that will take you further, such as better, more, improve, next, etc. Instead of asking, “Is my work good?” ask, “How can I make my work better?” The answer will not only give you an idea of what the person thinks of your work, but it will also give you the steps you need to take to do a better job.
Personalize and change these questions depending on when you ask them and your current situation. Do not ask them all at once; slowly introduce them so your manager feels at ease with what you are asking him/her to do.
Go deep in the answers
A lot of the managers that have a hard time giving feedback also tend to give really short answers, which makes us feel a bit lost and unclear about what they mean. Do not be afraid to ask more questions after you receive an answer. Try to go deeper until you have all the information you need by asking concrete questions that have to do with particular situations so that you give the person a context.
If your manager is not very good at improvising, leave it there and send him/her a message asking for a more detailed explanation of what he/she said. In the message, do not forget to explain the benefits that his/her answer will have and how appreciated his/her opinion is. Try to always use concrete examples of the tasks you are working on to better explain the benefits that your manager’s opinion will bring to you and the project.
React to the feedback
Your manager is learning something new. You are helping your manager learn about the importance of feedback. To show that, if you are in a meeting, write down some of the pointers your manager gives you; this will show him/her that you are taking it seriously.
Now your only duty is to take into account the feedback that has been given to you. So, follow the advice, and when you have a chance and when you feel like it is true, remind your manager that you got that feedback from him/her and that really helped you in such-and-such situation. This will give your manager the sense that what he/she did is important to you, and your manager will more than likely repeat the feedback process because he/she will see a benefit in it.
Avoid getting defensive
If you are asking for feedback, you need to be ready for it. Not all feedback will be positive, and it could be that your manager is not the most delicate person out there. Be ready to get some criticism and do not get defensive. If you think he/she is wrong, explain your reasoning in a non-aggressive way. Develop your ideas; show your point of view. Feedback processes are not moments where you explain what lead you to do some of the mistakes you did; they always need to be about looking to the future: “What can I do to do a better job next time?” or, “What can I learn from that situation?” Try to look at all the things you can learn and at the tips your manager is giving you.
If you have tried all these different strategies and you haven’t gotten anywhere, try to get feedback from your colleagues and then validate the knowledge you got from them with your managers.
Instead of waiting for direction and guidance to come from your boss, find it in your team. Listen to what your colleagues have to say, compare and contrast the information they are giving you and then bring these new ideas to your manager for approval. Yes, you will be doing the job for them. And yes, you are losing out on all the wisdom your manager has to offer, but sometimes this is the only way to improve and move forward!
Do you have more questions about how to ask for feedback? Do you have experiences you want to share with us? We would be happy to hear your comments and start a meaningful discussion with you!
*Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give Harvard Business Review.
**Towers Watson 2012
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