How to ask for feedback, and what to do when you get it!

How to ask for feedback:

Feedback is an important part of professional and personal development; you really do need to know what you’re doing right and where you may need support.  It can be tough to ask for–and sometimes people aren’t comfortable delivering it–but unfocused feedback isn’t very helpful.  So here are three little steps to help you get started.

  1. Know what you want to know.  Be as specific as you can.  “How am I doing?” isn’t going to get you as useful an answer as “How do you think I handled the contract negotiations?”
  2. Ask the right person.  Sometimes it’s your boss, but often it’s not.  Get feedback from the person who saw you in action and can comment on the behaviors and actions they witnessed.
  3. Be prepared to act on what you hear.  Asking for feedback sets the expectation that you’ll do something with the information you get.  Even if you get a glowing report, look for ways to do even better next time.

What to do now you’ve got it:

You’ve asked for feedback and gotten it.  There are some things you do well; some things you’re not so good at and never will be.  That’s true for all of us.  For example, early in my professional career I was told I was “great with people” and lousy doing any task that required more than cursory attention to detail.  Decades later, guess what?  I’m a great people manager–and I’m still lousy at detailed tasks.

So what do you do with feedback–especially when it addresses areas that are not your not strongest?

  1. Figure out a Plan B.  Find a way to supplement or buttress your gaps.  Not good at public speaking, yet your job requires you to make presentations?  See if you can enlist the aid of a colleague: maybe they can deliver part of your presentation.  It’ll take some of the load off you and give them an opportunity to shine.
  2. Build on your strengths.  That’s right: get better at what you’re already good at.  Become recognized as an expert in something.  It’s amazing what that will do for your reputation.
  3. Remember that nobody is perfect.  If you can’t change yourself, change your environment to take advantage of your strengths.  I had a very brief career in accounting.  I hated the job and my boss didn’t know what to do with me.  So I transferred into a sales job where I could talk to people all day about highly technical network communications issues.  I was in heaven.  Next to what I’m doing now, it was my favorite job ever.

One detail about feedback that lots of folks forget: it can be positive as well as negative.  Next time you give feedback to someone who asks for it, how about focusing on the positive?' About Mary Beth Deans

Mary Beth (MB), managing director of Douglas Partners, works with clients to simplify business processes and ease the pain of new or upgraded technology, especially for HR and Payroll. She leads complex teams to ensure client needs are met and that her clients are able to take full advantage of new tools and best practices. Read more of Mary Beth's at

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