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Soliciting Feedback from Your Boss

What happens when your boss doesn’t give you feedback? At first it will seem like your boss is extremely pleasant to work with, but as time goes by you’ll start to realize that the only feedback you’ve received is “good job” and other vaguely positive comments. You’ll start to get the feeling you’ve done some things wrong, but you’re not sure what, exactly. You’ll never know where you stand, and you won’t be given an opportunity to learn or grow. Eventually, you might stall or get fired.

We received this related question from a reader:

I’ve been in my current position for less than 6 months, and things have been going pretty well. But I find that there are a lot more things that I could be doing but don’t have the time for, and I’m not sure how others think I’m doing in my role. I’ve asked my boss how I’m doing, but I only get positive responses like, “Yeah, you’re doing great. We’re glad you’re here!” I know I’m not doing everything perfectly — how can I get my boss to open up and tell me what I need to do better?

— Doing Great but wanting to improve

Thanks for the question, Doing Great! You’ve identified a key challenge, and it’s great that you’ve caught it early! Here are some thoughts to help.

First, don’t go down a rathole of moral indignation that your boss is not giving you feedback. Bosses are people, too. In all likelihood your boss is not giving you feedback for one simple reason: your boss is human.

speak-no-evil

Do you like giving feedback? If you’re like most people, the answer to that is a resounding NO. Most people dread giving feedback, even if doing so is important for their relationships and a part of their job. Odds are, your boss is like most people, and dreads giving you feedback, even though that feedback will help you get better at your job and help you grow in your career. And the fact that your boss dreads giving you feedback doesn’t necessarily mean that your boss doesn’t care about helping you get better at your job or helping you grow in your career. It’s just that for most of us giving praise feels patronizing and giving criticism feels mean. Almost nobody wants to feel patronizing or mean. So almost everybody avoids giving feedback — even when giving feedback is their job.

Ok, so what should I do to solicit feedback?

Make it EASY for your boss to give you feedback. There’s nothing inherently hierarchical about giving feedback, so many of the tips we recently posted for bosses on getting feedback from their teams are also applicable for you! Specifically, check out tips 1-4 in that article:

Here are some additional techniques we’ve seen work to get the conversation flowing from the employee’s side:

Ask for specific feedback at the right time

The easiest time for your boss to share feedback with you is when it is top of mind and the details are fresh. If you are wrapping up a big project or have just presented an idea to your boss, take the opportunity to ask for feedback on the work that has just been done. Your 1:1 with your boss is a great time to ask for this feedback — make it a distinct item on your agenda! Your boss will be able to say what’s on their mind much more easily for a specific, recent occurrence, rather than trying to come up with feedback if you ask more broadly about how you’re doing.

Propose your own feedback for confirmation

Take some time to reflect on areas that you want to improve. Think of some criticism for yourself and mention it to your boss. Ask if they agree and then give them time to respond and elaborate. Your prompting may help them share more of their thoughts on both the subject you raised as well as others.

Keep a tally

How many times each week does your boss criticize/praise you? If it’s all praise and no criticism, beware! You need to work harder to get the criticism. Try talking to your boss about the idea of Radical Candor. Tell them you’d welcome Radical Candor, but you’d prefer Obnoxious Aggression to silence. Print out the Radical Candor framework, and when you’re having a conversation and you feel like your boss is pulling their punches, point to Radical Candor and ask them to go there.

Soliciting feedback - Keep a tally

Ask your peers or your boss’s peers

If you’re still having a lot of trouble getting feedback from your boss, think about all the other people that you work well with. You undoubtedly work closely on projects with a number of peers. Ask if they have any feedback for you. If there are other managers or executives at the company who have seen your work closely, ask them for feedback as well!

Don’t overdo it

When you do get some feedback, work on addressing the issue before asking for more. And make sure you don’t act like this guy :)  — start watching at 1:57.

 

We hope these tips are helpful for soliciting feedback. Let us know how it goes, and share any other techniques that work for you!

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Kim Scott

Kim is the co-founder of Radical Candor and author of "Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity." Kim has built her career as a leader at Google and Apple and as an advisor at numerous other Silicon Valley companies. Her goal is to help people love their work and their colleagues (appropriately of course).

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