Ask for Feedback. Do it. Often.

I have been working in professional team environments for thirteen years and I can count the number of times someone has specifically and directly asked me for feedback outside of a formal review process on one hand.

It is shocking how rarely people proactively seek input on improving, despite the fact that I’m highly confident the majority of individuals I’ve worked with DO have a strong desire to consistently improve.

I am and have been totally guilty of this as well. There seems to be an invisible barrier, which makes it feel scary or tough to explicitly seek feedback. Our brains tend to assume the worst. “They’ll tell me I suck. They’ll explain how wrong I was. They’ll become uncomfortable. They’ll judge me for asking.”, even when we rarely expect that to actually be the outcome.

Sometimes we rationalize not asking explicitly because we believe we are receiving feedback, just indirectly. That’s probably true, actually; however, if you make it a practice to explicitly ask for feedback, you won’t have to worry about interpreting or ‘reading between the lines’. And what’s great, is from my experience, most people seem to be far more comfortable responding to a direct request for feedback than they might be likely to provide you with unprompted feedback.

Like anything in life, repetition makes this substantially easier. The first time you ask someone, it might be a bit scary. The 12th time, you’ll look forward to it. There are additional benefits beyond the specific feedback you receive in response to your ask. By consistently and proactively seeking feedback, you are sending a very clear message: ‘I want feedback. I want to improve.’, which invariably makes it more likely your manager will regularly give you feedback and be more thoughtful about it. Whether it should be true or not, it’s much easier to provide feedback to someone who makes clear they want it.

I hope you aren’t thinking “why should I have to ask for feedback? Shouldn’t feedback be something I’m already consistently receiving from my manager?”. Take ownership for what you can control. You might have an amazing boss, or a shitty boss. It really doesn’t change the takeaway: seek feedback and do it often. In fact, if you have a boss who struggles to give you feedback, it’s even MORE important to explicitly seek it out.

Of course, your environment can have an influence on this. Certain work cultures are more conducive to and make it easier to seek feedback than others. Don’t let that hold you back. Focus on what you can control: yourself.

Principally, I’m referring to asking your boss for feedback. But really, this practice isn’t limited to your boss. You can seek feedback from a friend, colleague, peer, or someone you’re the boss of.