How to Ask Your Manager for Feedback

It’s 2020, and yet not everyone has bought into the fact that people in management need emotional intelligence in order to effectively lead a team, empathize with others, and control even their own emotions. Does this remind you of a time someone got angry in a meeting? It seems that’s the norm these days. Emotional intelligence is something more companies are embracing since it affects workplace cultures, but it’s a trait that many CEOs and managers have yet to develop. This means it’s likely your manager may not be aware of your needs so it’s important to voice them, the earlier the better in your role. If you do so, there is less room for misunderstanding or less of an opportunity for you to miss out on chances for training, projects that interest you, and yes, even considerations for promotions.

By taking into account the following 5 things, you can be well on your way to obtaining the thoughts inside your supervisor’s head regarding your performance, behavior, interaction with others, capabilities and more. And you can then use this as a tool to get closer to where you want to be in your company and in your career path.

1. It’s all about timing.

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Just like anything else is life, if you don’t pick the right moment, what you’re trying to accomplish could fail miserably. Trying to ask your manager for feedback on how well you’ve been doing when you’ve only been in your role for two weeks may not be appropriate because he/she hasn’t had enough time to gather enough information to be able to answer this question, so they may feel pressured to give you an answer but also frustrated that they cannot give you an accurate response.

On the other hand, if you’ve been in your role 2 years, and the only time a discussion about your performance has come up is during your reviews, use that time to ask, “How have I been doing?” “Is there anything I could be doing better, or any areas of improvement you (or others) have identified?” There are others watching you all the time, you just may not have noticed it, and they may have insight to provide from working more closely with you on projects whereas your manager may be more removed from your day-to-day activities. Performance reviews are a great time to ask for feedback, because a manager is already in the mindset to give recommendations or praise to the person in front of them.

Otherwise, if you are far away from your next review, simply ask your manager when would be a good time to set up some time to discuss your performance. State that you have been working on specific projects, skills, or tasks and would really appreciate hearing his/her thoughts on how you are coming along in meeting their expectations and where there is room to grow. A manager who is given the opportunity to let you know when it is most convenient for them will not feel rushed and will likely come more prepared than a manager who is caught off guard and probably going to rattle off a few comments like, “Yeah, keep up the good work. Can’t think of anything off the top of my head,” to someone that just knocks on their door and embraces the “open door policy” to barge in and desperately pick their boss’s brain on the spot.

2. Remember it’s your manager’s responsibility as a leader to provide feedback.

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Don’t be scared of asking for feedback. I constantly hear my peers, whether it’s lunchtime conversations or in training chat rooms, talk about how they don’t want to waste their managers’ time setting up meetings to discuss their performance. In their mind, unless it’s a company-mandated review, some employees just don’t feel that it’s within their right to ask for feedback from their leaders, which is just a shame. How is one supposed to a) understand what is expected of them in their role and b) how they are doing in comparison to those standards if they don’t ask questions along the way or are guided before mid-year or end of the year reviews?

In my mind, by that point, it’s too late. You could have been hosting meetings, interacting with departments, or writing reports incorrectly for months, and you’re not meant to find out until it’s already been decided that you’re not getting a promotion that year? This seems like a flawed system. It’s like saying your teachers in school were not supposed to correct you when you made grammar errors on essays until it came time for your final exam. I asked for feedback on a biweekly basis in my previous role, because a) my manager didn’t really explain the role so it was hard to keep up with what he wanted and b) I was new to the field so I wanted to understand if I was doing things the way he wanted.

Additionally, by practicing receiving feedback, I gave him the opportunity to practice giving feedback, which in itself is more challenging than you may think–and a popular reason for why bosses are not eager to pull you into their office and tell you about the things you could be doing better (though they should if they want you to improve). Companies are working harder to train managers to be more fluent in this area, but feedback is a language many still struggle to speak gracefully.

3. Choose your words carefully. 

Choose Your Words Carefully

You want to be spoken to with respect, yet you may not want things sugar coated either. Remember this when approaching your manager. If the reason you are trying to obtain feedback from him/her is because you suspect they don’t like something you have been doing, try being direct but also empathize where they are coming from. For example, if you are having trouble conveying your point in a way your manager responds to, do not start by saying, “I noticed in my performance review that I received a low rating for communication, but you never mentioned that my emails were poorly written so I didn’t know, and so it doesn’t seem like my fault.” Instead, maybe phrase it by saying, “I want to work on writing more effective emails. I notice when you communicate with other managers, they respond well to you; do you have any tips you’d recommend for me specifically?”

Here, you have now taken out the personal aspect (the fact that you feel hurt by the review and disappointed that your manager didn’t coach you as well as they could have), and you complimented them so they know you admire them and are just trying to learn to do better in your job. It’s very hard to turn away an employee who is seeking ways to grow in their position, especially because an employee who aims for the gold star will reflect well on his/her manager in the long run.

4. Be prepared for the negative, as well as the positive.

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If you can’t handle the truth, don’t ask the question. You’ve opened the door for an open conversation by asking your management for feedback, and if they accept and are actually trying to help you, they are likely to mix the good, the bad, and the ugly into this session. Maybe you tend to come in late, or aren’t good in a team setting. Perhaps the way you dress when you visit customers is not always appropriate or makes you stand out from the rest of the team in a negative way. If you’re constantly turning down opportunities for training or projects, and other departments no longer want to work with you, so it’s making it hard for your manager to advocate for you, these may be things they bring up to you. However, a good manager knows that feedback is typically meant to be constructive, and it is followed by specific examples of how to improve. It is also rarely personal. Therefore, you shouldn’t hear phrases such as, “You’re making my job harder,” or “I don’t like the way you…” etc. It should lean more towards, “Your reports would be more concise if they had this type of content…” “At customer meetings, it is generally preferred that people wear business casual, so perhaps if you could be more consistent in following this rule.” “Communication is an important part of this business, and these are skills that could strengthen your cross-functional communication if you’d like help in this area…”

But don’t get upset and fight back, remember that it was difficult for your manager to find the right words to make this feedback constructive and useful for you and has taken the time to do so in order to benefit you as an employee. It may feel natural to get defensive but if you view it as your manager trying to help you, your feelings may subside and your brain may switch gears towards “fix it mode”. How can I do these things differently?

On the other hand, if you receive a lot of praise during your session, don’t consider that to mean you’re a perfect employee. Perhaps they weren’t ready to tell you anything negative, or perhaps there’s nothing noteworthy to mention on the “bad” side, but don’t rest on your laurels. Be proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back, and remember that in order to stay on top of your game, you must continue to aim higher!

And smile, because life is both negative and positive. It would be odd if there was only one or the other. If this is the first time you are meeting with your manager, there is likely to be a combination, encouragement and things to work on. If you have a regular meeting set up for feedback, then yes, there are probably not as many things to mention all the time.

5. Make it a regular habit.

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After one session is complete, take some time to process how the meeting went. Take notes for yourself. Things you liked, or would have liked to have gone differently–maybe questions you still have. Then, send your manager a follow-up email thanking him/her for their time and feedback and let them know if there are any questions they can help answer and ask if they’d be willing to make these sessions a recurring meeting in order to help you both stay on the same page and give you the opportunity to receive guidance earlier rather than later. Some managers will tell you on the spot when you make a mistake, or give you some freedom to make mistakes, just not huge ones before making comments, but I’ve seen managers let their employees crash and burn to the point where other managers gave that employee feedback before their own manager did! You don’t want to be in this boat.

Your manager is supposed to be your first line of defense. Mentors and other leaders are always good support as well, if you have it, but the person who has the final word on how you did during the year, and whose perspective matters most when it comes down to promotions and raises is whose mind you want you be somewhat aligned without throughout your time in your role.

 

 

 

 

 

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