5 Ways Feedback Can Help Your Career
I had a boss tell me, "Most of what I know, I'm told." He was a smart guy, he had a lot of experience, but in his position, he did not necessarily see things first-hand. He was informed by data, stakeholders and other people's first-hand accounts of events. Based on that information he had to make important, oftentimes tough, decisions. I have thought about that conversation often since then. We only worked together a short time, but his point made a lasting impact.
We really never know how we are doing at anything until we get feedback. Unfortunately, not every boss or organization is particularly good at providing it. Not every workplace has an evaluation process in place. Even for those that do, an annual or semi-annual conversation about performance is not necessarily going to be considered useful feedback that an employee can turn into actionable change. Feedback can be formal or informal, but in every instance there is value to it. As employees, it's up to us to turn that feedback into success in the workplace. If you do not feel like you are receiving useful feedback or you need to improve how you receive it, here are 5 tips to use feedback to help your career.
Ask for Feedback When It's Not There
Keep this in mind: Not all managers are created equal. They are human, fallible and not always great at their jobs. I'm not trying to knock managers, there are some talented ones out there, but at some point in everyone's career they will likely work with or for someone who is hesitant to give feedback. Researchers have studied the reasons why and some of the most popular reasons are pretty simple. It ultimately comes down to giving bad news. When everything is going great, feedback is easy. When there is constructive or negative feedback, most people are afraid the employee will get upset—either becoming mad or emotional about it. This aversion leads a lot of managers to not provide feedback often enough or in a manner that is useful to you, the employee. That means you may have to be proactive for your own good and seek out feedback when you have not received any or you feel like you need the direction.
Recognize Unspoken Feedback
Beyond asking for feedback directly, you can also read the tea leaves. A lot of feedback goes unspoken. Some business results give us feedback. The most positive unspoken feedback you can receive is if your boss is asking you to take on additional responsibilities and projects, this is a positive sign. You may want to be somewhat cautious to avoid overcommitting or getting in over your head. Be realistic and honest about what you can and cannot take on at any given time, but this should be considered positive feedback, even when it may feel like more work. Another good sign is when your input is sought out by those working around you.
Of course, the opposite is also true and can be viewed as negative feedback. If you find yourself in a position where you are no longer being sought out for projects or input, or you are just feeling isolated, take time to assess the situation and determine what, if anything, has changed. This may mean you have to be self-critical, but all of a sudden being left out of the loop can be a form of unspoken feedback. You may need to make an adjustment to your approach at work or it may be time to sit down with your boss to have a conversation about it.
Be Receptive to Feedback
If you have a boss that cares enough to give you honest feedback, be receptive to it. This may mean growing thicker skin at times. Let's face it, most people really like to receive positive feedback, but constructive criticism can be hard to take. When you trust the person delivering the message is doing so to help you improve, be sure to receive it and avoid the tendency to immediately go on the defensive. Use it to create a dialogue with your manager about your performance and growth.
Reflect on the Feedback You Receive
I am a big believer in self-reflection. It is easy to look toward others as the cause of a lot of our problems, it is much more difficult to look in the mirror. After you have received feedback, good or bad, take the time to reflect upon it. Are you really to credit for the praise? How will you make changes to improve on the constructive feedback? You also want to consider the source of the feedback and understand their perspective. Finally, don't forget to take into account the organization's goals and objectives. Think about how your actions and the feedback you received work together. If you find any conflicts between what is best for the organization and you, those are areas you may ultimately need to reconcile.
Put Your Feedback into Action
The final step once you have received useful feedback is to put it into practice. Keep in mind that habits and behaviors are hard to change. You may need time to modify your routines and practices, so part of your self-reflection may need to be a strategy about how you are going to make changes that will ultimately improve your performance and effectiveness. As you implement these types of changes, continue to self-evaluate how you are doing. One of the most effective ways to put these types of changes into practice is to be deliberate and have someone hold you accountable.
If your boss gave you feedback that she needed you to play a more leadership role on a project where you had been working behind the scenes, think about how you will assert yourself. If you have a good working relationship with someone on the team that you trust, you can explain your objective and then receive feedback from that person.
Not every manager or organization is going to be good about giving feedback, but it is important in employees' growth and development. You may have to seek it out, but don't be afraid to do so with the goal of turning it into career success.
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