Photo by John Snape on Flickr

We all have a boss, whether he or she is a traditional boss relationship or your client or board member. The point in this post is that there are people who matter to our success from whom we solicit very sketchy feedback. Oh, we might receive an assessment or two, now and then. We might even receive a full performance review. But, do we ask for the “real” feedback (a.k.a. useful information)?

I think it’s rare. Rather, I think we do one of two things:

  1. Wait for feedback (no news is good news).
  2. Respond to feedback given, attempting to show our boss “it’s not so.”

Of course there are those of us that listen, ask a few questions and then beat ourselves up for awhile (which is painful and not very useful either).

Why do we avoid feedback from the person who has the most power over our current and future success? Simply put, because our boss/client has the most power over our current and future success. And, we are conditioned to resist any negative feedback—so we don’t ask or probe when we get some.

If you are not soliciting the real feedback over time, then YOU are a partner in any surprise feedback at your mid- or annual-performance review. Or, if you are client focused, YOU are a partner in any lagging, un-renewed, or failed assignment.

Soliciting Feedback Is Always Easier

The first key to receiving value from the feedback is to ASK FOR IT before given. Few to no one will give you feedback in between problems. Here are three keys to asking for feedback:

  • Ask when you can most benefit—before your next opportunity to fall-into-the-same-pit.
  • Target a specific aspect to your performance—don’t ask “how am I doing?” It’s too vague and you’ll likely get some lukewarm, warm, or hot comment (hot if your boss has been holding in something s/he’s angry about).
  • Be serious about getting the information. You will need to peel-the-onion to understand exactly what your boss sees, hears, etc. that you could do more of or do differently. You have to probe until you get facts and observations or you won’t be able to construct a path forward.

Making Sure You Get The Real Skinny

As much as we might be reticent to receive negative feedback, humans are even more reticent to give it. So, you are the person who gains the most and, therefore, must ask for the “real” information. Here’s are a few phrases I sometimes use:

  • “What would you tell your spouse over dinner, what would you say—good or bad?”
  • “What’s the one thing that I might not see that you see—that could hold me back?”
  • “What do you hear from others that might be important—even if you don’t see it yourself?

But, my boss is a jerk! But, my boss is too nice! But, my boss doesn’t even know how I’m doing! But, my client isn’t really one person! But, my company/organization…! I say SO WHAT to all of those or any other excuses. If your boss/client is already thinking something and you don’t know what it is, how is that an advantage? If you ask genuinely and find out what he sees, hears,etc. you might even change his view by the end of the discussion.  How? Because you likely have other information that would modify their view.

Use Your Courage and Commitment to Conquer the Flinch

OK, I know you can do this because you have confidence in who you are. But, even when we want the feedback, most most of us will shy away. We flinch before we even ask. I’m reading a very short, very good book called Flinch by Julien Smith. His concept of taking initiative and getting more of what you want applies to all we do, recognizing and anticipating the “flinch.”

Go forward with courage and commitment to your own success. Do that with as much information as you can get from the most important people. This week, target one request for feedback from an important person (maybe even your boss) and ASK for their information.

P.S. Sometimes when you ask, you receive praise you wouldn’t have otherwise known. More on that in my next post!