So, you want more feedback from the people you work with.
It’s critical to know what things you should be working on and how you’re progressing toward those goals. Our high-level goals are often well defined: write the login functionality for an app, sell 5 new contracts this month, etc. But how we do these things depends on the people around us and how well we work with them. If you’re part of a team, you need to know what they want from you to do your work best together.
The first challenge, of course, is getting any feedback at all. People are busy and have a hard time scavenging a few minutes to think about that sort of thing, much less figuring out good ways to communicate it.
The second challenge is getting honest feedback. Many of us want to be “nice” and to avoid saying things that are uncomfortable whenever we can. (If I’m honest, for me that usually has as much to do with cowardice and conflict-avoidance than with kindness.) So it’s important to think about how to make the process both as easy as possible and as safe and comfortable as it can be.
Here are a few approaches I’ve found that work well:
- Ask a specific question out loud: “Hey, I want to be doing great work here. How do you feel I’m doing, and what’s one thing I could improve?” By asking verbally, we keep it quick; answering only requires a minute or two of someone’s time. By asking for a single thing to improve, we can also remove much of the concern that our colleagues have about coming across as mean or critical. When we ask for something specific, we allow others to offer an improvement as a favor rather than a criticism. Doing this verbally means that there’s no written record of what they say, which helps ease the pressure as well.
- Ask the same questions in Email, Slack, or another written format: This takes longer, both for you and for the people from whom you’re asking for input. Colleagues will be less candid, as they might have concerns that their comments are “on the record,” and you’ll get fewer responses. On the upside, you will get more thoughtful feedback as your respondents take more time to reflect on their answers. You will also have a record to which you can refer as you’re working to figure out how to improve your work.
- Use an anonymous feedback tool: There are several that help you gather feedback while assuring your respondents that you won’t know from whom it originates. (I’ve used http://www.get3sixty.com/ and like it pretty well.) Anonymity helps your colleagues express themselves freely without putting a strain on your relationship. This results in more candid feedback. Include more questions if you want a richer picture of others’ perceptions of you and your work. If you keep the questions consistent over time, you can use the answers to track your own progress. But remember, the more information you ask for, the fewer people will likely respond. Keep the time needed to respond under a minute to get the most results.
- Ask your manager: Why do I list this last? Because of the telephone game. You’ve played it as a kid. A line of people passes a message, whispering it from one to another. By the time it gets to the end, what emerges often has hilariously little to do with the original meaning. Likewise, the fewer people between the source of feedback and its recipient, the clearer the message you receive will be. Having your manager gather feedback for you is useful for performance appraisals, other situations where you need an official record, or when you’re having a tough time getting candid feedback on your own. But the closer you can get to the source, the better the feedback you will receive will be.
If you’d like more guidance and feedback from your team, give one of these approaches a try and see how it works. Try soliciting feedback from your teammates every two months or so, though your individual cadence may vary depending on your situation. If there’s a specific area you’re trying to improve, you might check in more often to see how you’re progressing. With a well-established team, you may need less frequent feedback . But if you want to improve, getting regular feedback and coaching from the people closest to you is one of the best ways to do it.