How to Ask for Feedback: Strategies for Professional Growth

How to ask for feedback

Asking for feedback can be one of the most effective ways to advance your career. By actively seeking feedback, you take ownership of your professional development, breaking the norm of passively waiting for feedback. This proactive approach, known in the academic literature as feedback-seeking behavior (FSB), helps you gain valuable insights into your strengths and areas for improvement. In this post, we’ll explore the concept of FSB, its benefits, and practical strategies for effectively asking for feedback.

Understanding Feedback-Seeking Behavior (FSB)

Definition of FSB

Feedback-seeking behavior refers to the proactive efforts individuals make to obtain feedback, either by observing the actions of others to infer feedback or by explicitly asking for it. Susan Ashford and L.L. Cummings first explored this concept in depth in their 1983 paper, which highlighted the importance of feedback recipients playing an active role in their professional development.

Historical Context

Ashford and Cummings’ research emphasized that getting feedback can and should be an active pursuit. They argued that FSB is a crucial component of the feedback process, helping individuals gain more accurate appraisals of their work when needed.

Importance of Proactive Feedback Seeking

Proactively seeking feedback demonstrates a commitment to personal and professional growth. It allows you to take control of your development and ensures that you receive the feedback necessary to improve and excel in your career.

Benefits of Asking for Feedback

Asking for Feedback: "Lifelong learning is crucial for professionals to continuously develop and update their knowledge and skills, and for organizations to create and sustain competitive advantage. In this regard, feedback seeking is a powerful vehicle to gain new knowledge and insights in one's development and performance." Source: Learning leadership and feedback seeking behavior: leadership that spurs feedback seeking (Frontiers in Psychology).

Enhancing Performance

Asking for feedback can serve as the foundation you need to enhance your performance. According to Ashford and Cummings, the positive effect of feedback on performance has been an accepted psychological principle since the early 1950s. While you may not always received the feedback you need when you ask for it, consistently doing so can ensure you make timely adjustments and improvements to your work. Additionally, when you routinely ask for feedback, you build the habit of doing so, which means you’ll get better at it over time.

Strengthening Relationships

Asking for feedback helps build trust and improve relationships with colleagues and managers. It shows that you value their opinions and are committed to growing and improving.

Increasing Self-Awareness

Feedback is a powerful tool for increasing self-awareness. When you clearly understand your strengths and weaknesses, which you’ll get a better sense of when you ask for feedback, you can focus on what you need to improve while doubling down on leveraging your strengths more effectively.

Overcoming Barriers to Asking for Feedback

Cultural Norms

In many workplaces, the cultural norm is to passively wait for feedback rather than actively ask for it. To overcome this barrier, you must shift your receiver mindset and recognize that asking for feedback is a proactive growth act.

Fear of Criticism

Many people fear receiving negative feedback. To mitigate this fear, approach feedback with an open mind and view it as an opportunity for growth rather than criticism. It’s important to hold the complexity here; asking for feedback with an open mind does not mean the feedback you receive is good or that you should adopt it.

Building Psychological Safety

Creating a psychologically safe environment is crucial for encouraging feedback-seeking behavior. As Professor Amy Edmondson describes, psychological safety is a “felt permission for candor.” When team members feel safe enough to share their thoughts and even feel valued for doing so, they are more likely to seek and provide honest feedback.

Strategies for Asking for Feedback

Asking for Feedback 1. Understand your intention 2. Ask your manager what they are seeing 3. Ask your team 4. Study those who inspire you 5. Connect with peers/equivalents 6. Ask for it after an interview

Understanding Your Intention

When asking for feedback, ensure that your intention is genuine. Seek feedback to gain new knowledge and insights, not just to get approval or perform humility.

Asking Your Manager

Ask your manager for feedback regularly, not just during formal reviews. For example, you might say:

“Hey, I’ve been watching a feedback course, and since we’ve been working together for [INSERT TIME PERIOD], I’d like to get your feedback on how I’m doing on X, Y, Z… maybe what you see as my strengths and areas for growth.”

Seeking Feedback from Your Team

If you are a leader, regularly ask your team for feedback. You can do this through surveys, individual conversations, or group discussions after a project. For example, after completing a project, you could ask your team, “How do you think the project went? What worked well, and where could we improve next time?”

Indirect Feedback Seeking

Study and learn from those who inspire you. Observe their strengths and qualities and consider how to apply what you learn to your development.

Peer-to-Peer Feedback

Establish peer-to-peer feedback relationships within and outside your organization. Regularly meet with peers to share insights and provide feedback to each other. For example, if you’re a digital marketer, you might contact another digital marketer in a different department and set up monthly meetings to exchange feedback and ideas.

Post-Interview Feedback

Ask for feedback after job interviews, even if you don’t get the job. This feedback can provide valuable insights into how you are perceived and what areas you need to improve. You might say, “I appreciate the opportunity to interview for this position. Could you provide me with feedback on how to improve for future opportunities?”

Practical Tips for Effective Feedback Seeking

Be Specific

When asking for feedback, be specific about what you want feedback on. For example, instead of asking, “How am I doing?” ask, “Can you provide feedback on my presentation skills during our last meeting?”

Be Open and Receptive

Approach feedback with an open mind and be willing to listen to both positive and negative feedback. While most advice focuses on remaining open to negative feedback, which can make many of us close down, positive feedback is equally and perhaps even more important to listen to and absorb. Many of us quickly brush off positive feedback, which can be a big mistake considering that such feedback can improve our performance as much as or more than any other type of feedback. Remember, feedback is an opportunity for growth.

Follow Up

Follow up on the feedback you receive to show that you are committed to improving. For example, after receiving feedback on your presentation skills, you might say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’ve been working on making my presentations more engaging. Could you let me know if you notice any improvements in my next presentation?”

Expressing Gratitude

Some say you should always express gratitude for the feedback you receive. I believe you should express gratitude if you genuinely feel grateful for it. There’s no need to engage in performative feedback here. If you’re grateful for it, express that. If the feedback feels harmful and way off base, consider using a feedback fallback phrase which can give you some space to determine how to respond.

Case Studies and Examples

Kobe Bryant’s Feedback-Seeking Behavior

Former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sought feedback from his coach, Phil Jackson, but also from a group of the greatest living basketball players, which he called GOAT Mountain. This proactive approach to seeking feedback helped him continuously improve and reach new heights in his career. The point here is that Kobe didn’t limit himself to getting feedback from those around him; he sought feedback from whoever in the world he felt could give him the feedback he needed to be the best he could be.

Corporate Examples

In all the industries I’ve studied, proactive feedback-seeking behavior leads to personal and professional growth. For example, a marketing executive might regularly seek feedback from peers, managers, and industry experts to stay ahead of marketing trends and continuously improve their strategies.

I once had a colleague he delivered spectacular web design mockups on the first try. Still, even after years of working together, he would ask for my feedback on his early versions both to ensure he was growing and to ensure he was on the right track before spending a lot time polishing the design.

The Role of Managers in Promoting FSB

Creating a Feedback-Friendly Culture

Managers can create a feedback-friendly culture by promoting inquiry as a feedback-seeking strategy. You can do this by encouraging employees to ask for feedback and reducing the perceived risks associated with it. The best way I’ve found to do this is by modeling the behavior you want to see. It’s one thing to tell your team that getting feedback is important, and quite another to show them how it’s done.

Reducing Risks and Costs

Managers can reduce the risks and costs of asking for feedback by building a culture of psychological safety, where feedback is seen as a proactive and important act of professional and even organizational development rather than a sign of weakness.

Conclusion

Asking for feedback is perhaps your most powerful tool for professional growth. Proactively seeking feedback can enhance your performance, help you build stronger relationships, and increase your self-awareness. Implement these strategies to become a more effective feedback seeker and take control of your professional development. Remember, asking for feedback is a sign of strength and a commitment to continuous improvement.

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