Question: I’m having a hard time getting “real talk” feedback from my manager, who I think is worried about hurting my feelings. How can I steer the conversation in a way that will result in honest feedback about where I can improve?
Answer: Annual reviews aren’t the only time to get insight on your performance, and since it sounds like your boss may be hesitant to share constructive feedback, you have an opportunity to lead the conversation.
Think about what kind of feedback you’d like to receive, and use that to guide your approach with your supervisor. Do you want her to highlight your strengths and help you to find more opportunities to utilize them, to grow your skill set, or to start pursuing ways to move up the ladder on your team? Getting clear on your goals and sharing them with your supervisor will provide the context she needs to give you constructive advice.
Once you’ve determined what you need, start building the feedback loop into your regular one-one-one meetings. Ask specific questions about your performance rather than open-ended ones, like What was most successful about my presentation to the frontline fundraising team? or What’s one thing could I have done differently? For a different approach, I close every one-on-one with my supervisor with a key question: What else do you need from me? This opens the door not only for constructive feedback, but for reinforcement on priority projects or other tasks I can take on.
If you don’t have frequent one-on-ones, I don’t recommend asking for feedback when you bump into your boss in the kitchen or otherwise catch him off guard. Request 15 or 30 minutes of time explaining that you’d like feedback on a recent project or task you’ve completed and provide an agenda. This will set clear expectations and give your manager time to prepare his thoughts.
You also don’t need to depend solely on your manager for feedback on your performance. Reach out to team members and client teams who you work with on a regular basis for feedback, too. People on the receiving end of your work are uniquely qualified to offer observations and may provide you with valuable perspective.