How To Ask For Feedback At Work
If You Don’t Know, You Can’t Grow
Being that my love language is words of affirmation, receiving verbal feedback is something that helps me thrive in both my professional and personal life. Even if it’s not always positive feedback, I find it helpful to hear how I performed. Knowing what I have or haven’t done well makes it easier to pinpoint what I want to work on in the future. It also puts my sometimes anxious mind at ease—part of my brain likes to tell me that I am an imposter or that I failed (even when I totally excelled).
Receiving feedback, especially in our professional careers, is a crucial building block for growth. Knowing how to ask is half the battle—it sounds so simple to ask the person that hired us or the one who manages our day-to-day tasks, “Hey, am I doing this correctly? What can I do better?” But fear of negative feedback can keep us wallowing in the dark with our false, internal dialogues.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry, you are not alone. According to this study, managers and leaders are just as nervous about giving feedback—the reality is, most of us do not want to have tough conversations. And while we can’t force our bosses to tell us how we’re doing (although they should), we can ask for constructive criticism. The key is practice and preparation, and it helps to trust that whatever is being asked of you is for your benefit and growth.
All that said, below are some tips for how to ask for feedback (and how to receive it).
1. Asking for a Feedback Meeting: Timing is Important
This, of course, depends on the way your work environment is structured. If the only meeting you have with higher-ups is your yearly review, then it’s even more important to ask for feedback throughout the year.
Was there a big project that you spent a lot of time on? Are you ready to hear feedback about the outcome? Take personal responsibility and initiative and reach out to your manager to schedule a time to chat. Offer specific context in your outreach email, stating your goals and intentions for the meeting. Let them know that it won’t be long, but simply a way for you to gauge your performance and learn how to do better next time.
For a hack, I love using “stickies” on my work computer to jot down notes or thoughts that come up throughout the day/week. I have a sticky note specifically dedicated to feedback questions I want to ask. This helps me know how to approach meetings and be specific about my needs. If your manager takes time, let’s say, monthly to chat, use stickies or a notebook to keep a running list of points you might want to address in those meetings. You can even keep a work diary if that helps you stay organized.2. Preparing for Feedback: Start with How You Feel
Psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg developed a practice for communicating empathetically, called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). He theorizes that by clearly identifying our observations, feelings, needs, and requests, we can more openly ask for what we need. With this method, there is more focus on how we are feeling instead of just simply looking at the yielded results from our day-to-day tasks. You can apply this practice in relationships, with parenting, and at work.
When preparing for a feedback meeting, first reflect on how you feel about your job. Ask yourself: What might I need to improve my flow or overall mood on any given day? Are any of these things feasible for my manager to help with? What parts of my day-to-day tasks do I love the most, and which ones do I struggle with?
Our feelings at work can act like a compass pointing us in the right direction. If there is an area in your job that isn’t feeling great, use the NVC process worksheet to help pinpoint your emotions. It’s a wonderful resource for organizing your thoughts before your feedback meeting.3. Receiving Feedback: Be Mentally Prepared
My personal approach when entering a one-on-one meeting with my manager is to be mentally prepared to hear constructive criticism, including tough truths about my performance. Again, that imposter syndrome mind loves to creep in before a meeting—though I do think it helps me be realistic and aim to see the big picture. More times than not, the meeting is positive, and I can leave feeling relieved and proud of the work I am doing.
When going into a meeting, I like to have the following three questions ready to use as jumping-off points. Typically these questions are answered as the conversation moves along naturally. Still, I find it comforting to have these questions as an anchor if the conversation isn’t moving in the direction I am hoping.
What are your thoughts on how the overall project outcome (or my overall performance) was over the last [insert time frame]?
How do you think it could have gone better? How could I have done better?
Is there anything you want to discuss regarding my role?
Having questions or comments ready before a meeting helps me to feel mentally prepared. I will often make a Google doc and bring my laptop to the meeting to write down thoughts and notes that come up during our conversation.4. Implementing Feedback: Follow Up
When the meeting is over, you’re hopefully walking away with a list of answered questions and things you are excited about implementing into your work. Begin by writing down everything from the meeting that you can implement immediately. I like to add them to my “feedback” sticky on my computer. Also, consider asking your manager if they have a time frame for when they would like to see any changes or growth strategies. Ask to schedule a follow-up chat based on that timeline.
Then think strategically about what you know might take more time to actualize. If the feedback was constructive or difficult to hear, check back in with your emotions. There have been many times throughout my professional career when I received constructive criticism that left me feeling sensitive and insecure in my work. My advice for working through these feelings? First, allow them to come up. Maybe take a walk and reflect after the meeting. But also change your frame of mind. You aren’t “failing,” rather, your manager wants you to succeed as much as you want to succeed. Anything that feels like a push is likely going to help you in your role in the long run.
Be patient as you open yourself up to the vulnerability that is asking and receiving feedback. Allow the vulnerability to be what guides you in your growth within both your work and self. Don’t be afraid to show up for yourself and your emotions as this growth unfolds.
How have you approached professional one-on-ones? ✨Share your helpful tips in the comments below!
Courtney Jay is a writer at The Good Trade. She is also a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, and sustainable fashion advocate. She believes the most powerful way to nurture the planet is to nurture ourselves. You can find more of her writing and take one of her online yoga classes on her website Coincide.