How to ask your boss for feedback

October 1

How to ask your boss for feedback (without asking for feedback)

Do you ever ask your boss for feedback to improve your performance?

Did it go to plan? And did it serve you in the way you wanted?

Asking for feedback from colleagues or your boss can be helpful, if not essential. It helps you grow, builds on strengths and discovers blind spots. 

Aside from improving your performance, curiosity and openness are desirable characteristics for demonstrating leadership potential. Research shows shown that managers look for curiosity and openness as signs of potential and growth. 

Language

A few subtle words can make the difference between getting what you want or getting no feedback whatsoever (and possibly leaving your boss frustrated).

Using the right language might not just get honest feedback to help you improve, but lead to increased trust and respect from your boss. 

So, asking your boss, “can I please have some feedback?” might seem a reasonable thing to ask but let us think about the implications.

Key point: From a basic psychological perspective, when you ask someone to do something, you are asking them to opt into something they did not choose themselves, putting them on the back foot. 

You are putting them into a position of having to answer something without them consenting. Think when you receive spam emails without asking to receive them. It could be seen as annoying. We want to make them feel like they are on the front foot. 

Human beings want to feel like they are in control. Putting them onto the back foot with questions creates uncertainty (even if it feels normal and harmless to you).

If someone in your team approached you and asked for some honest feedback saying: “I know you might not have the time right now, but could you please offer me some honest feedback about my performance?”, how would you feel?

You may get a sinking feeling of dread and it may feel like a chore. You may be initially thinking about how you can soften the blow, give them something they want to hear or avoid it all together.

When something feels like a chore, you take the path of least resistance. Just like giving feedback, the feedback you receive will be caveated, guarded and less impactful.

Asking for feedback invites them to become your critic.

Asking for advice invites them to become your advocate and supporter.

You can make it easier for your boss with a few mindset tips. Here’s how. 

In just a subtle change of language, you have completely altered the dynamic of the conversation and increased the likelihood of:

  1. Putting your boss or colleague at ease.
  2. Receiving honest feedback.

Instead of asking for feedback, you could say something like this.

Me to my manager: “Would it be unreasonable for me to ask you for your advice, please?“.

Manager: “No, of course not“.

Me: “Great, thank you, it means a lot. I am keen to grow within my role and if you do not mind, I would appreciate your advice on how I can improve on my performance.

What is powerful about this sentence? 

Can you spot the difference from ‘can I ask for some feedback, please?’. What psychological safety have you created with a subtle language change? 

Go and give it a try today and see how it goes!

In my next blog I break this down and explain how the subtle language change can alter everything. 


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