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How to ask for feedback

How to Ask For Feedback (That’s Actually Helpful)

Receiving feedback is essential to reducing the blind spots that can derail a successful career. However, research has found that while 87% of employees want to “be developed” in their job, only one third say they have actually received the feedback they need to improve.

Furthermore, HBR found that women are systematically less likely to receive specific feedback tied to outcomes than men. While women were frequently offered vague criticisms overly focused on their communication style and “aggressiveness”, men were more likely to receive insightful, developmental feedback about their technical skills.

So how do you go about getting honest, thoughtful feedback as a woman leader if your colleagues aren’t offering it of their own accord? Odds are, you’re going to need to ask.

Today we’re sharing our top tips for requesting feedback so that you can start getting the constructive criticism you need to excel in your career.

Step 1: Request feedback the right way

Putting your boss or colleagues on the spot with a spontaneous request for feedback will likely only lead to vague or superficial observations.

Instead, email the person whose feedback you want to solicit ahead of time and request a meeting. Consider sending a list of 2-5 specific questions you’d like to cover during your conversation so that the individual has ample opportunity to gather their thoughts and you can make the most out of your time together.

Examples of questions you might ask include:

  • What are 1-3 things I did well? What are 1-3 things that could have been better? (It helps to be specific and ask about your performance on a particular project or in a particular meeting as opposed to your overall performance in your role).
  • What’s one thing I could start doing to contribute at a higher level?
  • What new skills should I develop to get to the next level?

When requesting a meeting, be mindful of the other person’s schedule. Do they have a big deadline coming up? Are they going on vacation? Make your request at an appropriate time when the individual will be more likely to have the capacity to give your request the attention that it deserves.

Step 2: Make it safe to be honest with you

So you’ve finally got that meeting on the calendar, you’ve outlined the specific points you’d like to cover during your conversation, and you’re eagerly awaiting all of the feedback to come. Success! However, the reality is, simply scheduling one-on-one time to discuss your questions still may not be enough to get the honest feedback you need to improve.

A survey conducted by HBR found that 37% of bosses reported that they are uncomfortable giving direct feedback about their employee’s performance that might result in a negative response. Likewise, if you are in a leadership position, those working for you may be more concerned with staying on your “good side” than with telling you the truth.

One way to go about this is to preface your conversation by saying, “Please don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m genuinely looking for opportunities to improve and I value your honesty above all else” or more simply, “Don’t be nice. Be helpful.”

If you are aware of an area where you have room for improvement, it helps to mention it upfront and ask for suggestions. This shows that you are willing to acknowledge areas where you can improve and that it is safe to discuss these things with you.

If you are a boss looking for honest feedback from your team members, you may want to begin by asking for their feedback on lower level issues like office ergonomics or meeting structure, and gradually begin asking for feedback about your performance. This will allow you to begin building trust with your employees that it is safe to be candid with you.

No matter what your position in your organization, another key to receiving honest feedback is seeking it out on a regular basis. As you engage in more routine conversations, your colleagues will become increasingly comfortable being more candid with their opinions.

Step 3: Listen with an open mind and seek understanding

Receiving constructive criticism can be tough, but whether or not you agree with the other person’s opinion, it’s essential that you listen without reacting negatively. If you begin to get angry or defensive, you’re signaling to the other person that it isn’t okay to be honest with you, and you’ll be much less likely to receive honest feedback in the future.

Instead, ask clarifying questions to help you fully understand the other person’s perspective. Start with “I appreciate you sharing this with me.” Then follow up with a request for more information, such as “Tell me more about what you recommend that I change in my approach” or “What specifically could I have done better in my presentation?”. The goal here is not to engage in a debate about whether their opinion is valid or to play the blame game, but rather to probe deeper into their comments and ensure you fully understand their feedback.

In some instances, it may be helpful to write down the feedback you receive so that you can come back to it later after having a chance to process the conversation.

Step 4: Express appreciation

At the conclusion of your meeting, be sure to thank the person for their time and let them know that you truly value them and their opinion. If appropriate, schedule a time to follow up after you’ve had a chance to begin acting on the feedback provided.

Leaders need continual feedback to gauge their impact and adjust their approach where necessary. More often than not, receiving effective constructive criticism as a woman leader requires you to take matters into your own hands and ask for it. We hope that these tips will help you do just that.

Our HNS Accelerate program is a feedback-rich leadership bootcamp that kicks off with a 360-degree assessment. Click here to find out how it unlocks potential and accelerates career development.