Women can sometimes miss out on development opportunities because they are less likely to be offered feedback due to an assumption or fear that women will get emotional or upset about constructive feedback or criticism. (Tips on how best to give feedback, an important skill to develop, is a different blog post!)
This means that you may need to be proactive about seeking feedback from your boss, seniors and peers.
I was preparing this week for a regular meeting with my manager and decided to take the opportunity to ask for, in addition to discussing projects, progress, and troubleshooting, some feedback after my first six months in post. I want to know what I need to start doing that I’m not doing already, what I need to stop doing, and what is working that I need to keep doing. So seeking feedback has been on my mind.
Now not all feedback is worthwhile, valid or legitimate. It could be dripping with the givers own unconscious gender stereotypes – about how as a woman you “ought to” be behaving. Think carefully and critically about both the content and the context. The following tips need to be taken with this in mind but it is still worthwhile seeking feedback for your own growth at work.
Ask for it
Rather than passively waiting for feedback asking for it signals that you are open to it. “It would be great if you could give me suggestions on how I can be more effective at…..”
Select wisely who you ask for feedback from. Your manager may not be the best person. You also need to be discerning about qualities such as trust, a genuine interest in your development, or an ability to dialogue with the person.
Feedback can be painful too so save it for the things that matter.
Ask for specifics
If you want feedback on something in particular such as a written piece of work or a presentation or pitch then set it up beforehand so the person can attend to the specific developmental edge you want feedback on while seeing it.
If you get general feedback – “That was good”- you can chase it with a question like “What in particular was it that worked?” or “Can you tell me more about how and when I do that?”.
Ask regularly as I have done and plan again to do… what can you start doing, stop doing and keep doing?
Take care not to ask for feedback too regularly however. You need to balance wanting to appear keen to learn, develop, and stretch, but not as lacking in confidence or always seeking approval.
Create a feedback culture
You may be able to create a culture of giving feedback in your team or a smaller professional or peer group. You can consciously and actively build trust and permission to give each other feedback in the belief that people have the potential for great things and could use the information in that pursuit. I have a small peer group of three and we have each other’s permission to challenge and give feedback. It is valued as one way of supporting each other’s career development.
Respond in a non-defensive way
Do your best not to perpetuate the stereotype that women are sensitive and emotional and can’t handle feedback. Try to be non-defensive and open to hearing what people have to say.
If feeling confused or overwhelmed it’s OK to ask for time to think about what they have said. You can also come back for clarification if you need it. In fact take care to not make assumptions about intention and meaning, and seek clarification, particularly if there are cultural or gender differences between parties. Assume the best of intentions and engage in dialogue. Try not to ruminate or let negative comments completely overshadow positive ones.
Consider feedback, even if confronting, as a gift. The other person has taken time to attend to you and your development needs and taken the time to communicate that to you. “Thank you”.
Make sure you get back to the person somehow about what you did (if anything) and the outcome. Let people know what you are doing to address your development areas. It calls attention to changes you are making and closes the loop. If feedback drops into an abyss you are less likely to get the same effort the next time.
Collect positive feedback
Ask for specifics when given positive feedback as well. And keep a record where possible of testimonials or comments from others about your work. They are a great way of sharing successes without “blowing your own horn”. If a woman directly takes credit or mentions a previous success it can come at a cost. One way to navigate around this is by sharing what others have said about your achievements or skills.
And on a hard day you can read them for yourself!
I’d love to hear stories of what works for you?