Adapted from the Wake Forest University Mentoring Resource Center’s tools for mentors and mentees.

Phone laying on top of yellow leaves with the words "Ask More" on the back of it.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Depending on your company culture and the manager (or colleagues) with whom you work, you may not receive regular feedback outside of annual performance reviews. Regardless of your situation, it is an excellent practice to be proactive about asking for feedback from others. And, as an added benefit, the more that you ask for feedback the easier that feedback becomes to hear. Gathering feedback from managers, peers, clients, mentors, wise counselors, friends and family, and even networking contacts can help you to discover your strengths and skills, identify opportunities and areas for growth and development, and to learn lessons for future application.

Let’s practice using your “asking for feedback” muscle.

Identify 3-5 people who you feel know you well. Only one of these people can be a friend or family member (these people are nice, but they generally only tell us what we want to hear, not the hard stuff). Tell them that you want to have a feedback conversation with them. You can (and should) send them these questions in advance, but it is important that the conversation take place in person or over the phone. Don’t let them just email you back their responses. This practice is as much about what you hear as it is about how you hear it.

The questions are simple:

  1. What are 2-3 things that you think that I do particularly well?
  2. What are 1-2 areas of growth and improvement for me?

Try your best, in these conversations, to focus more on listening than talking. Particularly when we’re told things that we could be doing better, it’s natural to want to get defensive. Try not to do that. You can ask questions for clarification, but mostly listen, take notes if you need to, and be sure to thank the person for their time and their insight.

Later, take some time to reflect on the following:

What did I hear that particularly resonated with me?

What did I hear that was surprising or challenging to me?

What will I do with this new knowledge in the future?

How did these conversations make me feel?

After you have done this reflective work, it may be helpful to discuss your answers to these questions with a mentor or trusted adviser as you consider how to improve your “asking for and receiving feedback” skill set.

To continue this practice of asking for feedback, identify 1-2 opportunities this upcoming week to solicit feedback from your manager, colleague, or a friend related to a specific project, meeting, or experience. Then, go back and reflect on what it was like to receive that feedback using the questions above. The more you practice, the more natural it will become to ask for and receive feedback regularly.

Additionally, knowing how to receive feedback well is a learned and practiced skill. Practice listening, and take some notes if needed. Ask questions for clarification. Express gratitude and a willingness to reflect on and learn from what you are hearing. And then do just that! Resist the temptation to get defensive or to argue. Take some time to sincerely think about what has been shared with you. That’s how you learn and grow!