No one is perfect. Even the best employees have areas where developing or growing skills could benefit their careers. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be hard for us to identify our own shortcomings or areas for greatest improvement.
That’s why learning to ask for honest professional feedback is an essential skill for employees at every stage of their careers – and why learning to give great feedback is one of the best ways to support those in our professional networks.
Whether you’re talking to a coworker, a supervisor, or someone else in your professional network, here are a few things to keep in mind when asking for or giving feedback in the workplace:
When you’re asking for feedback...
- Make sure you choose the right person. This should be someone whose opinion you value, and someone you can trust to be honest with you. If you choose someone you know will sing your praises, you’re less likely to get actionable, helpful feedback that can foster professional growth.
- Make an appointment. Conversations about performance can be sensitive and challenging, so an appointment can make sure you have the appropriate time and level of privacy to have a good, focused conversation.
- Explain why you chose them. Make sure that the person is aware of what you’re looking for in the conversation. Emphasize that you asked to speak to them specifically because you trust and value their opinion, and that you genuinely want them to be honest with you, even with feedback they worry you might not want to hear. Asking “How can I bring more value to this organization?” is a good starting point, because it acknowledges that you have room for improvement and you want to maximize your potential.
- Listen attentively to their feedback and do not take offense. Remember that you sought this conversation for a reason – you want to grow and improve, and that it’s a good thing to learn about areas where you have the opportunity to do so. Don’t take negative comments personally, and give yourself time to sit with feedback, process it, and decide how to apply it to your career.
- Thank them for their time and support. Even though receiving feedback can be challenging, giving feedback is often just as difficult. The person you choose is showing that they are interested in your career development and that they want to support you, so make sure to express gratitude for their participation in the conversation.
When you’re giving feedback...
- Take the responsibility seriously. If someone is asking for your honest opinion on their career development potential, it’s a sign of deep trust and respect. Don’t approach the conversation casually. Give it serious thought, and choose your words wisely.
- Focus on them. The feedback you offer should focus on this person’s strengths and potential areas for growth. Avoid comparing them to other people, even if you feel the comparison is positive. Bringing other employees into the conversation can shift the tone from supportive to competitive, and each person’s career path is unique in many ways, so comparisons are rarely helpful.
- Be positive and specific. Being honest about someone’s career potential doesn’t mean you have to be negative. Be sure to include positive feedback in your conversation, but don’t overstate things or be too general. Telling someone, “You’re the greatest!” isn’t helping them grow. Identify specific areas of strength, such as organizational skills, technical savvy, or problem-solving skills.
- Give constructive criticism. Make sure your less positive feedback can be supportive and useful to them. “You’re terrible with customers” isn’t helpful feedback, but “Customer service isn’t your strongest area, and I think working on developing those skills would be a great way to grow in your career” is. Try to frame this type of feedback as an opportunity, not a shortcoming or a failure.
- Thank them for their trust. Asking for feedback isn’t easy, and it’s a privilege to be trusted with this type of conversation. Consider whether you can offer continuous support, by directing them to training resources or having follow-up conversations about specific topics you addressed. You might also think about whether you want to reciprocate, and ask for their feedback on your professional development as well.
The most important thing to remember when giving and receiving honest feedback is to treat the conversation as a positive experience. Each person should be respectful and honest, while seeking opportunities to learn and grow in their careers.