Good leaders recognize that through feedback they can shape project outcomes and perhaps more importantly, their direct reports’ careers. When done right, feedback is helpful advice and guidance that’s intended to help individuals and teams (and the company) succeed as much as possible. Sadly though, many leaders get caught up in their own day-to-day responsibilities and often the weekly employee meetings are canceled in favor of other priorities. Sound familiar? Probably as sixty-five percent of employees indicate they want more feedback from their bosses. Assuming this is only your boss’s problem short changes you (and helps to increase dissatisfaction in your job). I propose instead to take a more aggressive approach and follow these tips for how to get more feedback from your boss. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Why You Should Want Feedback
Because of misperceptions about feedback, people often shy away from seeking it. After all, no one wants to have to listen to a laundry list of all the things they are doing wrong, right?
But when you understand the true function of feedback, you understand the many benefits it conveys to you. Its main goal is to help you improve your work, which in turn leads to several other positive outcomes:
- You get the satisfaction of a job well done. (That sounds a bit hokey, sure, but many great leaders get to where they are partly because they are truly motivated to improve their work for its own sake!)
- You have an improved relationship with your manager and your team, whose own jobs all depend on you fulfilling your responsibilities well and on-time.
- You raise your chances of getting a raise, promotion, or other recognition from your employer. The people who have the closest view of your work and progress—your managers—are the ones who put in the recommendations for those rewards.
- You improve your long-term career potential. When you’re being evaluated for a higher-level management position or a seat in the C-suite, your track record will be front and center. Among many considerations, the decision makers will pay attention to how your skills and abilities developed over time.
How to Make the Request
So you’ve decided to ask your boss for feedback. Great! But now you’re having a hard time pinning them down for a meeting so you can talk about it. Ugh!
You are not alone: tons of employees complain that their bosses regularly blow off their recurring one-on-one meetings. That stinks, of course—no boss should do that. But sometimes you have to play with the cards you’re dealt.
When you make the extra effort to work with your boss to find a meeting time that works for them, not only will you (eventually) get the feedback you need, but you’ll also get some props for taking ownership of this process. If you’re having trouble pinning your boss down for a feedback chat, try one (or more) of these strategies:
- Book 15-minute meetings. The shorter the time period, the more likely your boss is to keep the appointment. So don’t even try to get them to schedule a 30- or 60-minute meeting with you—that’s way too long of a commitment to ask for.
- Never (ever!) go over your allotted meeting time. Even if it means stopping yourself mid-sentence, end the meeting the moment you hit the 15-minute mark. If you adhere to the agreed-upon time commitment, you’re more likely to get one of these short meetings every time you ask for one. (And to help you stick to this deadline, at the start of your meeting set your phone alarm to 14 minutes. I follow this practice myself, and it helped me build my reputation as “Queen of the 15-Minute Meeting” at Oxygen!)
- Don’t book recurring meetings. The world is too dynamic nowadays (as are most folks’ calendars!). Instead, check in with your boss on a weekly basis to ask what potential meeting times look good for them that week.
- Book your feedback meetings on days (and times) that are outside your boss’s usual busy times. If Fridays are typically easier for them, for example, ask on Wednesday if you can have 15 minutes of their time that Friday afternoon.
- Once a month, try to plan a lunch or breakfast (or even just coffee) with your boss. Whether you’re sitting at the same table or sharing time and space via a video chat, “breaking bread” together is a powerful tool for building better communication and forming trusting relationships in the workplace. (Before the world fell apart and everyone worked in the office, when I was still based in NYC I periodically “had lunch” with my employee in LA. I would book the meeting for noon her time, which was 3 p.m. for me, and while she had her lunch I would join her for a snack. These meetings were productive not only for working on projects but also for strengthening our relationship.)
- Be creative and flexible about meeting times and locations. I used to meet one boss at her weekly blow-out hair appointment. She was guaranteed never to miss that appointment—and while she was the chair, she was a captive audience!
- Piggy-back onto other meetings. When a group meeting ends early, ask your boss if they can spare a few minutes for a one-on-one chat with you. Use this strategy only if you’re confident in your ability to read the room: if your boss is in a great mood and doesn’t seem rushed, then this may be a good opportunity to ask them for a bit of time. But if your boss doesn’t seem open to this idea (was the previous meeting a long one? were the discussions contentious? is your boss just having a bad day?), don’t push your luck by irritating them further with an unwelcome request.
- Keep a running list on your phone of issues (including getting more feedback) that you want to discuss with your boss. This way, if you find yourself next to your boss in line at Starbucks, for example, you can leverage that opportunity for a “mini meeting” and get some questions answered. At the same time, though, be sure you respect boundaries: just because you and your boss are in the same place doesn’t always mean it’s appropriate to initiate work-related conversations there. (So if you encounter your boss at your local gym, for example, waving hello might be okay, but leave them to their workout in peace. And if you run into them at the grocery store, don’t try to ask them about work while you’re both standing in the pasta aisle.)
- Above all else, be patient. The odds are good that your boss does not intend to blow you off but is just incredibly busy—and maybe even underwater—and simply trying to keep up. (It seems that everyone has too much on their plate these days, so you can probably empathize with that.) If they can’t book a regular meeting, make it your mission to find ad hoc meeting opportunities, even if it means checking in with your boss on a day-to-day basis. By demonstrating patience and resilience, you will strengthen your relationship with them.
Remember, your goal is to make this process as easy as possible for your boss, so they will be more likely to agree to these meetings—and then you will be more likely to get the feedback you need.
How to Elicit Useful Feedback
Once you’ve figured out a good way to schedule feedback opportunities with your boss, your next step is to figure how to shape those interactions to yield the information you need. I’m not suggesting you play head games with your boss and try to “trick” or manipulate them into certain conversational directions. On the contrary: you need to be as straightforward as possible!
Instead of “Do you have any feedback for me?” ask for specifics! This signals to your boss that you are thinking carefully about the feedback you get. These up-front suggestions for ways to focus their comments also makes this conversation easier for them, because they can use their time (and brainpower) more efficiently and get right to the point you want them to address.
Here are some possible ways to frame feedback requests to your boss:
- How could I better present my recommendations?
- What could I have done to better support my conclusions?
- Was the report clear, concise, and to the point?
- Would you like me to format my report differently next time?
- Would you like more or less data next time? Or was this the right amount to make my point?
- If you could change one thing about the support I provide for you, what would it be? What would you like to see more or less of?
Getting the Most from Feedback
Feedback has the potential to be transformative. But you get positive outcomes from it only if you approach it with the right attitude and follow up on what you learn.
- Listen to understand—not to respond. If you argue with your boss when they’re giving you feedback, they’ll be less likely to give it to you. They don’t always have the time or interest in engaging in a protracted conversation at that moment.
- Thank your boss for sharing criticism. If your boss knows that you’ll be receptive to constructive criticism, they will be inclined to give you more feedback. Feedback builds on feedback, so if you find yourself wanting to argue back, take a deep breath and remind yourself to focus on listening right now.
- Fix whatever your boss tells you is wrong. If your boss gives you constructive feedback and you don’t fix the issue, why should they give you more? Let them see that you’re serious about improving your performance in their eyes and that you’ll take it to heart what they tell you.
- If your boss doesn’t give you helpful feedback (or maybe even doesn’t give you any at all), seek it elsewhere. For example, ask your peers or your boss’s peers for their thoughts. Take advantage of opportunities to solicit feedback from anyone you work with who you think might be able to offer helpful information. If you get any really great feedback from those “outside” sources, share it with your boss: send it to them an e-mail with a note saying “If you have anything to add (even if it’s negative), I would love to hear it!” I’ve used this strategy in my own career, and it motivated my boss to add some of their own comments (usually some version of “I concur, and here’s what I think”).
- Don’t overdo it. Do you really need feedback on every project? If so, perhaps look inward at what is causing this lack of confidence.
Final Thoughts on How to Get More Feedback from Your Boss
Feedback is a valuable gift that your boss gives to you. It’s something you can use to get the information you need to improve your work, your connections with your colleagues and boss, and your career prospects.
It’s also a gift that you can give to others—including your boss! Next month, I’ll talk about why you should give your boss feedback and how to do it. Oh and if you’re a boss struggling to give feedback, check out an earlier blog post on The Art of Giving Honest and Effective Employee Feedback. It covers the “what” and “how” of good feedback.
In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for how to get more useful feedback from bosses, please add them in the comments below!