How to Get Feedback That's Actually Helpful

November 11, 2019 The Washington Center

How to Get Feedback That's Actually Helpful

It’s the thing that scares all of us — feedback.

Maybe it’s because a lot of us associate it with the Hollywood archetype of a Gordon Ramsey-type yelling at you about undercooked chicken. But, the truth is, feedback is an essential component of self-improvement and in today’s job market, seeking it out at work is non-negotiable. 

Lots of people think they don’t like getting feedback, but maybe that’s because they just haven’t gotten anything helpful yet. The best kind of feedback helps motivate you to form clear action items for what needs improving and how to improve it. But, how do you make sure you get good feedback? 

Bad Feedback:

“I didn’t like your performance on this project. Your emails were confusing.”

Good Feedback:

“Your email updates were a little long-winded, which made it difficult to understand what you were asking for. Maybe try using bullet points to keep your emails organized.”

Here are four things you can start doing right now to help you get better feedback every single time.

1. Be Strategic About Who You Ask

It’s tempting to go straight to someone who you’re comfortable with, like a family member or a friend, because they’re probably not going to give you any bad news. However, when it comes to our performance in the workplace, we need some honest insight into what we need to work on. 

The best feedback is specific without being nitpicky — so, it’s important to approach someone you trust and who understands the work that you do. Asking someone you trust will help ease the nerves if you’re not used to getting serious feedback on your work. And the better they know the kind of work you do, the more specifics they can give you about what needs improvement. It also means you won’t have to waste any time explaining what you’re working on and can get straight to the good stuff. 

A good place to start is your supervisor or a co-worker who has been at the organization longer than you or who you’re working closely with on a project.

2. Have a Plan

Chances are this reliable, trustworthy person you want feedback from has a busy schedule. The worst offense you can commit when asking for feedback is to be vague. Just reaching out and going “Hey, got any feedback for me? :)” isn’t going to yield much.

Feedback is at its strongest when it’s immediate, so know exactly what you need feedback on and have a plan for how you’d like them to give it to you. The more specific you can get, the better. 

For example, if you feel like your writing isn’t concise enough — give someone a recent piece of writing to look at and ask them to mark all the sentences they think could be cut or shortened. If you think you talk too fast during presentations, ask someone to watch your next presentation and take notes on all the times they had trouble understanding you.

Giving them actionable steps will keep both of you accountable and will ensure you get the highest quality feedback.

3. Follow Through

So, you got some feedback — that’s it, right? Not quite. Set aside some time to debrief your feedback with the person who gave it to you. This lets you hear from it them first hand in the form of a dialogue rather than an intimidating wall of text. 

It’s also a great opportunity to start brainstorming some actionable steps for how to incorporate this feedback. Don’t just settle for the feedback itself, take the time to work on what you’re going to do next. 

4. Get Feedback On the Things You (Think) You Do Well

We don’t have a sixth sense to know what our blind spots are. While it can be tough to ask for, sometimes the best feedback is the feedback you get on the thing you think you’re strongest in. 

Doing this will also keep you honest and help you avoid complacency in your work. It’s easy to get into a rut when you get good at something, this will help keep your work fresh. 

It’s also helpful to know not only what you’re doing well, but how you’re doing it so well. It’s hard to tell where our talents come from, but once they’re identified they can be applied to the things you’re struggling with.

When it comes to advancing your career, there’s no better skill than self-awareness. But, you can’t know yourself all by yourself. Feedback helps give you a 360 understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and can be instrumental in helping you succeed. 

Feedback is something that often feels like it’s out of our control, but it’s not! By following these simple steps, you can take back feedback and make it a useful tool that works for you. 

About the Author

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 individuals from across the U.S. and around the globe expand their academic pursuits into rewarding jobs and careers. We use our scale and expertise to deliver solutions that open career pathways for learners, solve recruitment challenges for employers, while helping create greater access, equity, advancement and representation.

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