One day at my last job, for no apparent reason, my boss blurted out, “You’re unapproachable.” Uh, so awkward. I went straight to Gchat to vent and got a chorus of “WTF” and “So sexist!” from my friends, which was only mildly reassuring. Why would he say that? I didn’t get it. It was the first time I’d ever heard him comment on what I was like at work, and it’s been the same with my other bosses. My situation’s not uncommon.
If you’re a corporate type, you probably get what’s known as a 360, which involves getting formal, detailed feedback from people who rank above, below, and at your level. But a 360—or any degree of feedback—isn’t something most of us get. Only 37 percent of workers said they’d been given useful feedback in the past six months, according to a 2012 Harris survey. And among those who did have a performance review, more than half said it wasn’t a fair and accurate look at their work. That’s a shame. You can’t get better if you don’t know how you’re doing. So I went radical: I gave myself a 360. I e-mailed peers, supervisors, and subordinates and asked them for their feedback, both positive and negative. Sounds fun, right? Nope, it was excruciating. Comments that didn’t feel great at all: I assumed people are as thick-skinned as I am (they aren’t). Comments that helped my confidence: I am one of the best editors some of my subordinates had ever had. I learned a lot, not only about my reputation but also about getting (and giving) constructive feedback. You could follow my lead or do something less intense, like asking your manager to coffee. Go armed with these tips.
Try Not To Ask Vague Questions
You’ll get vague answers and platitudes that “Can just be personal instead of professional,” says Lucia Gilbert, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Santa Clara University. Asking for feedback without specifics is like staring at a waiter until he reads your mind. “People give generalised feedback, and yet they expect people’s behaviours to change,” says communication and leadership coach Peggy Klaus. Have people weigh in on defined areas. When my initial e-mails elicited a flood of random comments, I asked what I do as an editor that’s helpful and also how I could improve as a writer.
It's Okay To Fish For Compliments
When you solicit feedback, prepare to be criticised more than praised. That’s just how people roll. But ask your reviewers what you’re doing well—it’ll help. I prepped so hard for bashing, I was shocked to get compliments. Being told I was a great editor made me want to be an even better one.
Don't Run From The Tough Stuff
Research shows that women are more likely to take criticism personally than men do. Take a comment like ‘you’re not a team player’ or even ‘you’re unapproachable’. The instinct is to avoid getting into it, as I did. To better serve yourself, suggests Klaus, “Ask, ‘what is a team player in your mind?’ or ‘what am I not doing to be a team player, and how can I change it?’”
Helpful Feedback Doesn't Always Come From Above
Someone who used to report to me told me that pitching ideas to me was scary because I could be dismissive. I took her comments to heart. Now I let co-workers know up front that if I seem brusque, it’s not because I’m angry, it’s just because I don’t sugar-coat.
Ask How It's Going As Often As You Can
My experience taught me that there’s no need to wait for a formal review. Check in throughout the year, especially after completing milestones. Taking the initiative shows you’re determined to improve and can lead to valuable interactions with higher-ups. Among those I reached out to for my DIY 360 was the supervisor who had called me unapproachable. He suggested I could spend more time checking in with people who report to me. And then he asked me in return how he was doing as a boss. I told him it would be helpful if I could get a little more feedback once in a while.