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How To Know If You Should Ask For Feedback Or Trust Your Instincts

Sometimes it’s smart to ask for feedback, and sometimes it’s smarter to hold back.

How To Know If You Should Ask For Feedback Or Trust Your Instincts
[Photo: Flickr user mikael altemark]

Feedback is a good thing. Sometimes it’s even a gift–good or bad, it lays out a route to improvement, letting you identify strengths and weaknesses and measure your progress. Even so, few people actually seek out feedback–and that’s a mistake. Those who do are usually more engaged in their jobs and have stronger relationships with their managers. It’s important to be receptive to feedback, even if it hurts.

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But for those of us who are comfortable asking out feedback, there’s a different risk: asking too often, and sometimes for things we don’t really need feedback for. So when is the right time to ask for feedback, and when should we hold back and trust our own instincts?

When To Ask For Feedback

Doing good work doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. There are a few scenarios where it helps to climb out of the trenches and hear from those around you:

When you have a plan but suspect there’s a better one–which someone with the right expertise could easily point out to you. Let’s say you’re a digital marketer working on your first mobile campaign. You’ve done web before and have a plan for mobile. But your colleague has experience running lots of successful mobile campaigns. Should you do a gut check with your coworker and hear her advice? Yes! Sketch out your plan to her and ask for her input. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, but when you have an expert’s ears, she can quickly identify potential hiccups or opportunities. Just be sure to do a little quick research before bringing your work to an expert in person. Sometimes you can find the same advice from a reliable source online, and you want the plan you’re getting feedback on to be a strong one.

When you and your manager identify room for growth, and you’re working on it together. If during your last performance review your manager suggested improving your public speaking skills, it’s perfectly OK to ask for feedback on them. Have you been brushing up and want her to weigh in on your progress? Go ahead and ask. Those potential growth areas are 100% fair game for seeking feedback about. Just make sure you’ve been working on them long enough to ask for a fresh evaluation.

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When you’re not sure what to do next. Even the best of us get stuck sometimes. If the next step is unclear or you aren’t sure how to take it, solicit feedback on the approach you’re considering and outline why you’re having doubts. When you’re all out of ideas and stepping back from your work won’t do, it can be helpful to hear an outside perspective.

When To Trust Your Instincts

The key to not overdoing it in your requests for feedback is to hold back when it comes to areas you’re most confident in. Stick with your gut in situations like these:

When you know you’re prepared. On a day-to-day basis, you yourself are in the best position to know which course of action to take in your role. More often than not (and especially in larger companies), you’re more familiar with how your team works best than anyone else–sometimes even more so than your manager. You know who excels at what, and you understand all their colorful personalities. If you feel prepared for how you’ll run a meeting or collaborate with the team, there’s no need to ask for feedback to validate your plan. Share your plans and keep your manager in the loop, but don’t seek approval over the details. They’ll offer feedback if it’s necessary.

When you know what you have to do to improve. If you think a plan, project, or presentation could’ve been slightly better and know how to improve it, don’t ask for feedback. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring it up in your one-on-one conversations, if only to acknowledge to your manager that you’re aware of those missteps. But if you do, make sure you frame them as an area where you’d like to grow, and sketch out your plan to improve. The trick here is to tell, not ask. Again, if your manager has advice, she’ll offer it. But if you feel you’re already on the right track, you don’t need to ask for feedback.

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When you know you’ve done a good job. Naturally good planner? Crush it at presentations? Operate under the assumption that the areas of your job where you feel confident in are the ones you excel in–you probably don’t need feedback from your boss in these areas.

This may seem counterintuitive. What if you think you’re great at presenting but you’re actually not? How will you know if you don’t ask? Truthfully, these things tend to correct themselves. If you’re not the great orator you believe yourself to be, it won’t be long before your manager lets you know.

Sharing Wins And Trying To Improve Without Seeking Feedback

If you find yourself asking for feedback on areas you don’t need much help on, take a step back and think about why. Are you seeking direction, or just validation?

What if you don’t exactly need help but still want to discuss the things you’re good at? Instead of digging for compliments, reframe those successes and strong points as causes for modest celebration. Talk about the presentations you’re doing a great job delivering and the projects you feel good about–always with an eye toward how they advance your team’s goals. It’s perfectly OK to brag about your wins during one-on-one conversations with your manager. She might not always be privy to all the great work you do day in and day out, so help her see it and invite her to share in the celebration.

If you want to grow and improve but don’t have a clear sense of how or in what ways, asking for feedback may not be the most helpful approach. Instead, try putting that conversation into more succinct, direct terms. Be forthcoming and ask your manager to help you identify opportunities for improvement, rather than soliciting input on this or that project. This way you can focus your efforts on getting feedback that is actionable–as opposed to just validating. Once you’ve agreed on that growth area, you can work together to put a plan in place and track your progress.

Feedback is a gift, but it’s also finite. Use it wisely, and use it well.

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About the author

Ximena Vengoechea is a design researcher, writer, and illustrator whose work on personal and professional development has been published in Inc., Newsweek, and HuffPost. She currently manages a team of researchers at Pinterest, in addition to leading a company-wide mentorship program

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