Employee Feedback

How to Ask Your Manager for Feedback

September 24, 2019
June 23, 2022
Lattice Team

Asking your manager for feedback is an essential part of getting what you want out of your career. But asking someone to be honest about your shortcomings seems painful; especially if you're about to do it for the first time. It’s much less painful to believe that what happens in the workplace is out of your control. However, that’s a total myth. The reality is you have to take the reins of your career and drive it toward the goals and objectives you want to reach. Let’s debunk three misperceptions about management feedback and talk about how feedback can be your guide for moving forward.

1. No news doesn't always mean good news.

Just because your boss isn’t offering any commentary on your work doesn’t mean everything is going swell. Bosses are humans too, so it’s not unusual to have a manager who’s conflict averse and doesn't want to negatively impact their working relationship with a direct report. When a manager isn’t discussing your growth opportunities with you, a few things can happen:

  • You get blindsided at your annual performance review with negative feedback
  • You find yourself being overlooked for promotions and choice assignments
  • You've got a serious problem or your job is suddenly in jeopardy and you don’t know why

Reality: Feedback may never come unless you ask for it.

When you’re getting constructive feedback regularly throughout the year, you have chances before your annual performance review to right any wrongs. You and your manager will also be on the same page about your career goals, so you can ask what tangible next steps you need to take to get to that higher level. You’re able to address issues as they arise, so they never snowball into job-threatening missteps.

Types of Feedback:

  • Informal. You can ask for manager feedback following an important meeting or presentation. You requesting feedback establishes the norm that constructive feedback is welcome and wanted.
  • Regular one on ones. You should get a regular face-to-face talk session on your manager’s calendar so that you can ask specific questions and get better feedback. Doesn’t matter if it’s once a week, once a month, once a quarter -- as long as you know when it’s happening. If you have a performance management platform, posting status updates might encourage your manager to use the check-ins tool as well.
  • Peer-to-Peer. Your manager isn’t the only one who can contribute to the feedback process by offering perspectives on your performance. Fellow team members and colleagues in other departments you partner with regularly can likely offer up useful advice and suggestions, whether in person or through a feedback email. If you give feedback to your coworkers regularly, chances are you’ll get feedback back from them. You can also solicit customer feedback, or feedback from clients. Keeping them happy keeps them loyal.

2. Don't expect your good work to speak for itself.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Even the best products need marketing. We're familiar with company names like Apple, Nike and Toyota because are leaders in their respective industries, but every year they spend millions of dollars reminding the general public beyond their customer base how great they are. You’re not the only thing on your manager’s mind, sometimes they need to be reminded of your hard work, and that you’re a valuable member of their team.

Reality: You have to advocate for yourself in the workplace.

Not all feedback is negative. Often, an opportunity for any feedback is an opportunity for your manager to give you good feedback. Even just a quick one question check-in after a meeting such as, “I feel like that went pretty well, did you get the same impression?” can really pull your accomplishment front and center for your manager. While you may be concerned about coming off as needy with a feedback request, we all need positive feedback that we’re doing a good job and we’re on the right track for success. Plus, you want to make sure your perception of how well you’re doing lines up with your manager’s.

What to Ask For, Exactly:

  • “What should I continue to do? What should I stop doing? What would you like me to start doing?” When you ask your manager what you should continue to do, what you should stop doing and what you should start doing, you open the door for your manager to praise you, but in a balanced manner by also highlighting specific examples of where you can pick up the slack.
  • “Where did I excel during the meeting?” If your manager tosses you a “Good Job!” asking the right questions as a follow up to glean more information makes it easier for you to replicate the behavior in the future. Guiding questions like, “What action did I take that really stuck with you?” and “What are some things I did that I should always incorporate into my work?” are more helpful to you than taking a compliment at face value.
  • “Can I have some time to process your feedback?” Don’t come to your own defense if your manager gives you a less than stellar review. It might seem like the best way to neutralize negative feedback is to explain away your mistakes, but that’s not the route you want to go. It will just make you come across as defensive. Take in your manager’s criticisms, then say you’d like some time to process what they’ve said. Schedule a follow up meeting after your emotions have settled. Recap your manager’s feedback, clarify what your role was in the situation and outline the steps you’ll take to do a better job in the future.
  • “Do you have a sec? I’d like to show you how that advice you gave me paid off.” Feedback is a two-way street. If something you did well was a result of feedback your manager has given you in the past, let them know. By showing your boss how you’ve benefited from their coaching or the example they’ve set, they’re more likely to continue to invest time in making you a stronger employee.

3. Your manager may not always know what's best.

It can be easy to let your manager set the tone of your workplace culture, but sometimes managers need coaching or employee feedback on their management style (also known as upward feedback), too. Did you know that millennials are twice as likely to value feedback from their managers? Yet only 19% say they receive feedback regularly and of that subset, even less find it meaningful. How can this problem be solved? Ask for it. Less than a fifth of millennials are asking their managers for regular feedback.

Reality: Make time to discuss work expectations with your manager.

There’s generally gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us.  When you ask for constructive criticism in a feedback conversation with your boss, you’re closing that gap. Because what isn’t a myth is the old saying, “Perception is reality.” You can’t change how your boss sees you if you don’t know what their perception is, so requesting feedback and asking specific questions is a great way to begin to bridge that gap.

Staying On Top of Your Own Feedback Needs

  • Asking isn’t enough. Simply tossing out the question, “How I’m doing?” Isn’t going to get you the substantial insights you crave. You need to ask guiding, open-ended questions: for example, if your manager says you need to take more initiative ask, “Can you give me an example of a time you wish I’d stepped up but didn’t?” Or, “What would success on this project look like for you?”
  • Create your own benchmarks. When your boss speaks on your performance, take notes. Email them a recap, track your progress and schedule a follow up meeting to outline how you implemented their feedback.
  • Put out a welcome mat for feedback. Make your manager feel super comfortable giving you their honest opinion by receiving their input graciously. Always thank them for their words and their time. If you’re uncomfortable with something that was said, ask for clarity, “We you say this didn’t meet your expectations, where did I fall short on this task?” You can also follow up with a trusted friend to better assess if what your boss is saying is true. But even if it isn’t, it’s on you to change the impression you’ve made.

Don’t let myths in the workplace lead you astray. Get the truth straight from the source: your manager. Being open to honest feedback is the only way to grow your career. So, whether your manager is ready for real talk or not, it’s up to you to guide them toward it if you want to succeed.