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A common gripe about bosses is that they give little to no feedback, leaving employees wondering how they’re performing or worried that something might be wrong. But not receiving feedback often means only that: You’re not getting feedback. In many cases, the reason has to do with the manager’s skill set, not yours—people are put into management positions all the time without proper training. Giving feedback is a skill, and many managers just haven’t developed it adequately.
Those most bothered by this are the employees who want feedback. These are the people who care about what their boss thinks of their performance. They take pride in their work, want to make an impact, and have a desire to advance their skills. If something is amiss, they want to know. This gap in communication with their supervisor is unsatisfying, and for some, unsettling.
If you are in this situation, the first step is to confirm you need feedback. You may not. Many high performers struggle to accept that they are indeed performing well—there may be nothing to correct or improve upon. Instead, ask your boss for advice on what new skills you can develop. Ask them what they did or what they wished they’d done to develop themselves earlier in their career. Seek to expand your skill set with something new versus improving upon your current work.
However, if you do believe you can improve upon your current work and you are still not getting valuable information, here’s what to do next.
Ask your boss for feedback on something specific
The best way to get quality feedback from your manager is to be specific about what you are trying to improve upon. Give your boss guidance on what to look for and what your intentions are by working on a particular skill.
For example, maybe you want to understand the impact that filler words (ah, um, like, you know, right, etc.) are having on your communication, specifically in meetings. You want your communication to be clear, and ensure you convey competence in your subject matter. Ask your boss for feedback on whether your use of filler words is distracting to the message you are trying to send and if so, which ones are coming through the loudest. Request they observe you in several meetings over the course of a couple of months. Then, ready yourself for the feedback. You might learn you’re saying “Right?” at the end of every other sentence. This is great information to have.
This approach makes giving feedback to you much easier for your boss because it directs their attention. Not to mention, you asked for it. The fact that you are expecting the feedback should also make it easier for them to provide and for you to accept. Sometimes bosses don’t give feedback because they’re worried about the reaction they’ll receive.
Other specific feedback examples may include asking questions in meetings. Are you being curious before contributing your own opinions? Or maybe you’d like feedback on your ability to explore other perspectives. Do you demonstrate seeing other sides of a story before forming a judgment?
Being specific is the best way to get quality feedback from your boss. Be prepared, though, for receiving feedback you don’t expect. Your boss may take this opportunity to share their thoughts on something unrelated to what you requested. The information they share might even feel unfair or wrong so be prepared to respond in those situations.
Having open lines of communication with your boss is valuable and even freeing. Just don’t leave it all up to your boss to determine. If your boss says you’re doing fine, accept that and keep it up—but if you desire more, ask for specifics.