Why Feedback is Essential to Career Growth
We’re snowed under with requests for feedback all the time. Whether it’s an online order, the supermarket shop or a visit to the dentist—you can hardly breathe these days without being asked for feedback on the experience. If you can grade it from 1–10, then even better!
And yet, when it comes to feedback on our performance at work, it’s easy to be defensive. We’re all guilty of only hearing the ‘bad’ stuff and rushing to explain ourselves without listening to what the person giving the feedback is trying to tell us.
But feedback isn’t a dirty word
Not getting feedback is far worse. It means your boss lacks the time, or interest, in your career development—or that the organisation doesn’t prioritise feedback.
That’s bad on both counts. Giving and receiving feedback is how organisations learn about themselves, how they improve and how they get early warning of potential issues among staff, like bullying.
So, value feedback at work. It’s a sign of a healthy, transparent organisation that takes you seriously. And proactively seek out constructive feedback for your own career development.
It’s not just for special occasions
We tend to think of feedback as an annual, or possibly twice-a-year thing; something we steel ourselves for as appraisal time comes around.
The problem with that is that it can then be a tick-box exercise for the appraisal form instead of the constructive help we all need. If you only get feedback once a year like this, then you’re naturally going to be defensive since it’s linked to a formal performance review.
So, ask for more frequent catch-ups—say every three months—and ask for feedback after key projects have delivered.
Ideally, feedback should be timely, constructive and regular.
What is constructive feedback?
It’s not a licence to criticise. Instead, it should be a thoughtful assessment of your performance that refers to examples and highlights achievements, as well as areas that need more work.
It should clarify expectations and allow you—and the person providing the feedback—to agree on the steps that can help you do your job better.
How to receive constructive feedback
If possible, take time to prepare. You want to listen and be open to suggestions, but equally, you want to have a view on what’s gone well, what could have gone better and the circumstances surrounding these things.
Do you think you’d benefit from specific training? Could you do with advice on how to handle a team issue? Think about these things first. It’s not about preparing your defence—it’s about using feedback as an opportunity to get the support you need to do your job well.
Next time you’re getting feedback from your manager, consider these five top tips:
- Be an active listener. Listen rather than just hear. Encourage the person to talk and don’t leap to respond too quickly.
- Be respectful. Little things make all the difference. Think about your body language (folded arms!), make eye contact. Show that you’re attentive and receptive. If you look hostile, you’ll get less out of this. The person giving feedback will either express themselves less well or come over as more aggressive than they’d intended.
- Ask questions. Clarify doubts by asking questions and asking for examples.
- Show appreciation. Agree or disagree, you want to be polite and thank them if it’s clear they’ve spent time trying to provide helpful feedback.
- Make a decision. Reflect on the feedback and decide what you want to do about it. Think about what’s best for you and your career rather than proving any small points
- And finally, be prepared to be surprised. You may learn things about yourself that could shape your career in ways you’d never have expected.
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We all tend to think we’re the best judge of ourselves at work. We’re inclined to focus our attention on the key skills required for the role we’re in and measure our performance against them. So, if you’re in Marketing or PR, you may spend a lot of time worrying about your presentation skills—wishing you had the confidence of others in your team.
However, a good manager may see skills or talents you weren’t even aware you had, or that you take for granted. Things like being empathetic, being great at diffusing areas of potential conflict—or being quick to see creative opportunities.
In this way getting feedback from someone with insight and experience can be a privilege. It’s a chance to have the focus on you and to get new ideas on how to piece together a career that makes the most of your strengths and interests.