Day 19: How to Ask for Feedback and Get the Most Out of It

In my executive coaching work with corporate leaders as well as with business owners and entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed that women appear to have less confidence in their ability to deliver results than men do. Women seem to have set the bar higher for themselves than men do for many of their activities.

On top of that, women don’t seem to ask for feedback as much as men, either. As a result, they are not exposed to as much constructive feedback and can’t grow from it. Men seem to be constantly asking, “How am I doing? What can I do better tomorrow?” I see men taking chances doing things they don’t know how to do in order to get ahead and learn new skill sets. This is a strategy that creates mobility and growth, so it’s important to be able to ask for useful feedback and deal with it well.

Good Feedback Opens Growth and Opportunities

When women were interviewed in a recent study about what they feel limits them in applying for a new job position, their answer was that they couldn’t check off every single requirement box listed on the job description. Women tend to want to have 100% of those skills before they apply.

Men, on the other hand, will apply for a new job when they only have about 60% of the boxes checked. For those required skills beyond the 60%, they simply assume they can learn them or that they’ll figure out how to make it work. Men will also investigate a new job more or talk to their buddies or peers to find out how the job works and whether they could fit into or accomplish that role.

I don’t see women doing that as much. They seem to be shyer about explaining or “bragging” about what they know or what they do really well. Men have no complexes about sharing what they know or even sharing what they don’t know yet are willing to learn.

From my experience, I believe one source of this difference in approaches comes from the fact that females don’t receive feedback as much. Nor do women solicit feedback as much as men.

This study I read also reported that the feedback women tended to receive was vague or unhelpful. Most of the time, the feedback women got was given about their character, rather than their performance! That non-performance focus alone creates impediments to growth. Character in ingrained, but performance can be improved. Feedback should always focus on performance and things you can change.

The Challenge: How Do You Ask for Feedback?

I would like to challenge you, whether you are a man or a woman, to consider how you are asking for feedback. Consider how you want to ask for feedback and what type of feedback you want to receive. I’d like to encourage women to ask for feedback specific to their performance, and to pay attention (and ask again) if you receive comments on your character or emotional state.

For all of us, constructive feedback can advance our career and help us grow as a person. When asking for feedback, ask exactly for the feedback you want, so you won’t get unhelpful comments. Ask, “How was my performance at the symposium?” Or, “How did I do on that project?” instead of the vague “please give me feedback.” If you are looking at a new job, you can ask, “How do you think I would perform in this position, based on this part of the job description?” WIth specific questions, you can get specific feedback that is helpful for your evolution.

Finally, pay attention to the positive feedback. Sometimes people share more feedback than you need, or they focus on the one thing that was negative when everything else was good. This is simply how human beings work. We make a mountain or monster out of that one wrong thing, and we forget about all the other good things that people have said about us: that we’re effective, that we’re supportive, that we’re empowering. Pay attention to the positive feedback too. It’s important to know what makes you good at what you do.

Frustrating Feedback? Emotions Can Be Managed

The next challenge is to work on your ability to receive feedback constructively. Women, if you do receive feedback stating that you were too emotional, you don’t have to take it as a bad thing. Consider what kind of emotion made people uncomfortable and try to challenge this.

A few years ago, one of my clients was seriously impaired by experiencing emotions at work. Each time she wanted to make a point in meetings, she felt like she was about to cry. As a result, she never provided critiques or requested feedback because she was afraid of bursting into tears. Working with a professional coach helped her iron this out.

We evaluated the meaning of being emotional. We talked about how her boss and her male peers were using their emotions, too, sometimes by raising their voices or hitting the table or desk. When she realized that her tears were actually expressing frustration, and were not an innate weakness, and when she saw that men were also expressing frustration (though not through tears), she gained a new perspective.

What she saw was that emotions simply trigger or cause an action: crying for her, hitting the table for a colleague. And with coaching, she came to know that emotions can be managed, and that she had the power to choose her response. And she did. After that, she had the best “difficult” conversation she had ever had at work, without crying.

Emotions Indicate Something Deeper

Success comes when you can own the emotions you are feeling and then choose how to respond to them. It empowers you. In this way, your emotional reaction becomes a flag you can use to notice that something is going on with either your values or within yourself. It might be that you don’t want to respond right now. Or you might be reacting based on past experiences.

Try that concept out: consider emotions as a trigger or a flag for something else, something deeper, rather than a weakness. When you can own your emotions and manage your reaction to them, you can move forward in your career and your life.

We all have emotions. When a man is hitting the table or raising his voice, he is having an emotion and expressing it. Crying is just another type of reaction to an emotion that might be frustration, anger, guilt, or something equally as valid as the emotion that inspired the pounding.

Men and women may simply express and react to emotions differently. That’s the key to understanding emotions at work.

Even at home, when you receive emotional feedback from your kids or spouse, don’t take it personally. Instead, try to assess: what is the trigger underlying the emotions being expressed? Then you can respond in a way that will empower both of you rather than limit you.


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