While feedback can be a useful tool in the workplace, asking for input on your performance may feel a little awkward, especially at first. It’s natural to worry about appearing self-conscious or taking up more of your boss’s time, but learning to request and accept feedback can be a key differentiator in your career. Below, we look at why feedback is important for growth and outline five steps to help you ask your manager for feedback.
What to Know Before Asking for Feedback
1. Getting the feedback you need is your responsibility.
No news doesn’t always mean good news. Just because your manager isn’t offering commentary on your work doesn’t mean they’re thrilled with your performance. Bosses are humans too, so it’s not unusual to have a manager who is conflict-averse and fears negatively impacting 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 by negative feedback at your performance review.
- You find yourself being overlooked for promotions and stretch assignments.
- Your job is suddenly in jeopardy and you don’t know why.
- Your blind spots remain blind, and you miss the opportunity to gain key input about your performance that will advance your career.
When you’re getting constructive feedback regularly throughout the year, you get the chance to adjust course and perform at a higher level in advance of formal performance reviews. While it’d be ideal if your boss shared this information freely, ultimately it’s up to you to ask for the input you need to further your career. By requesting feedback more regularly, you’ll also transform one-off discussions about career goals into an ongoing conversation, which will aid you in identifying the steps you need to take to progress and ensuring your manager knows what your career aspirations are.
Regular feedback from your manager shines a light on development opportunities and helps you identify your strengths. It also helps you stay aligned with their expectations for your performance.
2. Consider what kind of feedback you need.
Feedback exists along a spectrum and includes everything from real-time commentary to constructive criticism to employee praise. “There is certain feedback that’s not suited for in-the-moment but rather for a meticulously considered experience like a performance review, but companies want to make sure that at any given time there is an avenue for feedback and opportunity to ask for it,” said Lattice’s CEO Jack Altman in the Lattice webinar How to Create a Culture of Feedback.
As you ready yourself to make more regular feedback requests to your manager, consider the types of feedback you’d like to ask for.
- Timely feedback is feedback exchanged in-the-moment after an event or action, like a presentation, pitch, or meeting. It’s good to get in the habit of asking for timely feedback as it can help you build a relationship with your boss. Doing so also opens up the dialogue about your performance, which also helps drive a relationship of continuous feedback, so that requesting and receiving feedback doesn't feel so much like a special occasion.
- Evaluative feedback assesses past performance or deliverables. This type of feedback is commonly associated with performance reviews, where team members receive feedback on a period of time that has already passed. You may ask your manager for evaluative feedback on a recent project, campaign, or initiative you’ve spearheaded.
- Developmental feedback provides insight that helps you move closer to your goals. This form of feedback is prevalent in companies with cultures of continuous feedback. Developmental feedback is future-focused and centers around potential opportunities for growth, so you want as much of it as possible.
- Positive feedback — hearing what you’ve done well — is important for your career development and morale, too. Don’t feel shy or nervous about asking where you’re excelling. But remember to frame requests for feedback in an actionable way, like asking “What should I keep doing?” or “Where do you think I’m excelling and could further push myself?”
Keep your requests for feedback fresh by touching on these four common forms of feedback and you’ll support a well-rounded snapshot of your performance.
How to Ask Your Manager for Feedback
To make an effective request for feedback — and get the most out of the information shared — follow these five steps.
1. Decide which aspects of your performance you’d like to receive feedback on.
A key component to eliciting useful and actionable feedback from your manager is reflecting on what you’d like to learn from their commentary. Part of asking for feedback in an effective way is asking the right questions, so you’ll need to examine your motivations before reaching out. Here’s what to take stock of.
- Goals and OKRs: Refer to your personal and professional goals or OKRs as you consider how you’d like the conversation to flow and what you’re hoping to gain. People success platforms like Lattice make it easy to get an at-a-glance view of your goals and the progress you’re making toward them, so you can use these specific areas to make a request for feedback and drive the conversation forward.
- Recent wins: Consider what you’d like to remind your manager of vis-à-vis the feedback conversation. If you’ve excelled in a growth area, incorporating instances of your progress in your request for feedback or the questions you ask during the feedback session will bring your stellar performance to their attention. For example, if one of your goals is to increase new customer demos from 8% to 15%, and you’ve already accomplished this, you might ask, “From your perspective, what were the skills and competencies I applied in order to accomplish this?”
- Career aspirations: Reflect on your longer-term career goals as you prepare to ask for feedback. Touching on these regularly during check-ins or one-on-one meetings and then referring to your goals during a feedback session can help you draw out useful information about career development.
Taking time to think about your intention behind the request as well as examining your past performance will also help prepare you for constructive feedback. Plus, a study by the NeuroLeadership Institute indicates that receiving feedback that’s been asked for is less stressful than receiving unrequested feedback.
This first step is critical to preparing to ask for and receive feedback, and it can also help you frame your request to your manager. Saying, “As part of my current personal/professional development plan, I’m focused on improving X. I was hoping you could share your experience [working with me, observing my skills/competencies in this area] so I can make progress on this goal” will prime your manager to give better feedback.
2. Propose an appropriate time in advance.
While it makes sense to ask for real-time feedback after a one-off event like a presentation or pitch, other feedback requests will be better met with a scheduled feedback session. Requesting a time to speak about your performance let your manager prepare and increases the likelihood that they’ll give you good feedback.
“One of the things we’ve seen to be very important is that the feedback giver is clear about what their context is,” Altman said. “Managers may have different modes of giving feedback,” he added, so it’s essential for employees to prime their boss for the conversation to ensure managers have the right context for the feedback session — think of it as just another form of managing up.
Email or Slack your boss and request a 15- to 30-minute meeting, noting that you’d like to hear some feedback about your recent performance. Refer to the goals you reflected on in step one as you sit down to formulate your request. It could sound something like this:
The message works because it spells out exactly what kind of information you’re seeking and reinforces that you’re open to receiving it, which will make it easier for your boss to give direct and honest feedback.
3. Ask guiding questions.
When it comes to requesting feedback, just asking isn’t enough to ensure a useful answer. Simply tossing out the question, “How am I doing?” isn’t going to get you the substantial insights you’re after. You need to ask guiding, open-ended questions. For example, if your manager says you need to take more initiative, you could 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?”
- “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, stop doing, and start doing, you open the door for your manager to praise you, but in a balanced manner by also giving them the chance to highlight specific examples where you can improve.
You can also ask guiding questions when requesting feedback on the fly. For example, if your manager tosses you a “Good Job!”, following up with specific questions meant to glean more information would make it easier for you to replicate the behavior in the future. Guiding questions like “What action did I take that 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.
4. Be gracious in receiving feedback.
If you’re asking for feedback, you should also learn how to receive feedback well. Your ability to accept input can determine whether or not your manager will remain open to providing it — key insight that can power better self-awareness and ultimately help propel your career. Feedback is a gift, and being asked to improve somewhere signifies that your manager believes you’re capable and trusts your potential.
Tips to Better Receive Feedback
- Take notes throughout the meeting to better retain what was said and signal to your manager that you value their feedback.
- If you’re unclear on something that was said, ask for clarity, “When you say this didn’t meet your expectations, where did I fall short on this task?” You can also follow up with a trusted colleague 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.
- If you’re uncomfortable with something they’ve shared, say “Can I have some time to process your feedback?” rather than defending yourself if your manager gives you an unexpected critique.
It might seem like the best way to neutralize negative feedback is to explain away your mistakes, but it will instead appear that you’re offloading the responsibility. Take in your manager’s criticisms, then say you’d like some time to process what they’ve said. From there, you can schedule a follow-up meeting and 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.
“Feedback is such a powerful, generous gift we can give to each other at work to give someone the advice that can help them improve and grow and develop,” said Olly Willans, creative director of Torchbox, a digital marketing agency, in Lattice’s webinar Moving to Employee-Ownership. Cultivating the attitude that feedback is a gift can help us see it as just that.
5. Implement feedback and communicate progress.
While most of this article focuses on how to ask for feedback, the real work comes once you’ve received it. Implementing feedback is the most crucial step as it brings you from awareness to action. For example, hearing what your boss thinks about a recent presentation of yours makes you aware of their perception of your work. Taking action would be pulling in cross-functional partners earlier on in the project next time for richer context and background to strengthen your presentation.
Implementing feedback also demonstrates to your boss that you value their time and what they have to say. Requesting feedback and then continuing with business as usual does little to encourage your manager to share openly in the future.
Take notes as you incorporate feedback and make changes, and follow up with your manager to review your progress. You could write:
Managers do their best to notice performance improvements but often get caught up in the busy day-to-day. Drawing their attention to the changes you’ve made will help keep your successes on their radar while communicating that you took their feedback seriously.
Establishing new dynamics in the workplace can be tough, especially when it comes to making an ask about your performance. But routinely requesting more feedback from your manager demonstrates that you’re eager to hear their opinion, and it helps cultivate better self-awareness in the workplace. You’ll also benefit from the chance to learn about your strengths to refine where you’re already succeeding, not to mention solve any areas of underperformance before they become a bigger issue.
Managers are people, too, and they may not so readily offer up constructive feedback. You can put them at ease by asking for feedback directly and specifically, and reiterating your openness to receiving it. Your desire to gain input on your performance helps support a culture of continuous feedback, which makes the workplace better for everyone.
Learn more about giving feedback by reading Lattice's workbook, How to Request, Give, and Receive Feedback.