How to Get More (and Better) Feedback at Work

Why can it be difficult to get feedback from our managers and peers? Today, Modern Mentor shares her favorite strategies for unlocking more feedback and receiving it with grace.

Rachel Cooke
4-minute read
Episode #685
As a collective workforce, we’re all wanting more feedback. Without it, we don’t know where we stand, how we rank, what we need to improve, or where we’re hitting it out of the park.
“Employees are hungry for feedback from their leaders, managers, and peers,” according to Gallup. “They want to gain insights that advance their abilities and future potential. And more than ever, feedback is pivotal for engaging employees. Gallup data show that when employees strongly agree they received ‘meaningful feedback’ in the past week, they are almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged.”
So why aren’t our managers and peers giving us maximum feedback? Well… it may be important, but it’s also awkward, time-consuming, and often not the thing that’s on fire.
So if you’re tired of sitting around waiting for feedback to find you, let’s talk about strategies you can use to open the spigot and let that feedback flow freely.

1. Ask better questions

Ever been around a dry-diapered, just-fed, tightly-swaddled baby who won’t stop crying? You know that baby needs something…you just don’t know what it is! Also, you want to pull your hair out.
Asking, generally, for more feedback may create a similar experience for the person you’re asking. They need more direction. And they want to rip their hair out.
So how can you be more specific in your ask? How can you lead your boss or peer toward offering a piece of feedback that’s meaningful to you in the moment?
Instead of “can I have more feedback please?” try asking questions like:
  • Do you have any feedback on that presentation I gave in today’s team meeting? I’m focused on enhancing my presentation skills this year.
  • Is there anything I can be doing to better support our clients?
  • Is my communication feeling clear and effective? Is there anything I can or should be doing differently?
These are the types of questions that provide the would-be giver of feedback with more direction. And they bump up the likelihood of your receiving more feedback without your having to ask for the dreaded F-word by name. 

2. Probe for meaning

When you do receive feedback (because it is, after all, a gift) make sure you extract maximum clarity from it.
If your boss suggests you strive for greater clarity in your communication, ask if they can provide an example of both (a) when and why it wasn’t clear, and (b) what a clearer message would sound like. 
Without specificity, feedback often isn’t actionable. And if you can’t action it, is it really a gift?

3. Reflect back what you heard

Your boss suggests to you that you’d benefit from being more collaborative with the Marketing team.
You ask her to describe an instance in which you weren’t collaborative and to suggest how you might have shown up differently.
She says “Yesterday you presented your fully fleshed-out strategy to Marketing and then asked if they had any questions. A more collaborative approach would have been to present a draft of your strategy a few weeks earlier, invite their input and suggestions (instead of just questions), and bake their insights into a final product, creating something more inclusive and holistic.”
That is both specific and actionable.
Now state back what you heard. You might say “OK, so next time, share earlier and capture insights so the outcome includes all of our ideas.”
By restating what you heard in your own words, you achieve two things. 
  1. You test your own understanding to ensure you captured the right message
  2. You validate for the feedback giver that you heard and processed their suggestion, making them more likely to give you more feedback in the future.

4. Make space for emotions

Let’s be real. Feedback may be a gift. But it’s not always easy to receive. Sometimes—even when it’s well-intended—it can hurt!
We can debate all day whether it’s OK to cry at work. I say it’s OK…but also that you probably want to have some boundaries around it. A boss is unlikely to continue to give future feedback to a team member who really struggled to hear and absorb it.
The solution is not not to cry. The better answer is to give yourself some processing space.
It is absolutely professional to say something like “Wow—that was a lot to hear. I want to give this feedback the reflection it deserves. Would it be OK if I sit with this for a bit and then we come back together in a few days and discuss next steps?”
This approach wins you the space in which you can feel free to ugly-cry, and also demonstrates to the giver that you’re taking their message seriously. This is a win-win.

5. Find the insight

Not all feedback is created equal. Sometimes it hits you square in the jaw—you recognize yourself in it instantly and commit to improving.
Other times you hear a message and think “That doesn’t sound like me at all!”
Even when a piece of feedback feels off-base, there’s usually a nugget of insight in there somewhere. And your job is to hunt it down.
In my first job out of college, my boss suggested one day that I focus on staying more organized. That hit me as way off-base. Organizing has always been my superpower!
But I sat with her feedback for a bit, and I asked myself what might be leading her to experience me as disorganized? I ultimately determined that her need to know was simply higher than my need to communicate. So, I started sending her daily updates and that did the trick. While her feedback didn’t quite hit the right note, it did land us in a better place. Which ultimately is its job.

6. Be a role model

You get what you give, right? So be a giver. In all directions.  Start role modeling the type, quality, and frequency of feedback you’re hoping to receive. Do it well, and others will experience an uplift in their performance. And then, in turn, they’ll be more likely and motivated to reciprocate.
Feeling inspired to get out there and get some feedback? I hope you've found a pearl of wisdom here to inform your path forward!

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.