Recently I was talking with a couple of young alums about their first year out of college, and I asked them what they had learned about themselves so far in their first professional roles. Both said, almost without hesitation, that they had learned that they value regular, meaningful feedback. “I’m fine with being told that I do things well,” one said, "but that’s not really very helpful. I want to know how I can improve and get better. I wish I had had more of that this year.”
This is a common refrain from young adults. Help me get better. Show me how I can improve in my skills and abilities. Unfortunately, this often sounds to us older adults like whining and an unwillingness to pay one’s dues. The bad news for you Gen Yers is that you suffer from a collective, overgeneralized reputation. Boomers and Gen Xers lament the fact that you are the “trophy generation,” but they don’t recognize that they were the ones who were handing out those trophies and making sure that everyone felt equally gifted and successful. Well, as you now know, not everyone is equally gifted and successful, and there are no trophies given out for showing up in work and life.
Not only do each of us have certain talents and strengths, we all have to work on ourselves to get better. For any new college graduate, professional skills are not going to be an immediate area of strength because you have not had to use those skills before in a consistent, intentional way. Why should you know how to interact with other adults in an office setting and how to complete professional work projects in an efficient manner? But just because these are new areas for you, it doesn’t let you off the hook. These are skills that you should work on, and that you should practice, and these are areas where you should seek out feedback from your supervisor and mentors. Life, unfortunately, does not operate on a semester-by-semester syllabus, with clearly outlined expectations and rubrics for feedback. Sometimes you have to ask for what you need.
So what can you as a young professional do to get meaningful feedback on your work, feedback that actually will help you grow and get better? Check out these tips, below.
Help people give you constructive feedback. Your colleagues and supervisor aren’t keeping feedback from you as some form of punishment. The reality is, most of us just don’t know how to provide good, constructive feedback. We aren’t trained to do it, and as a result it can feel like a personal attack instead of constructive feedback. Asking, “How can I do better?” can be a daunting question for many folks to answer. Instead, at the end of every project, ask those who worked with you two simple questions:
- What are 2-3 things you felt that I did particularly well on this specific project?
- If we were to do it again, what are 1-2 things that I could do differently or better?
Practice responding to feedback. Whether you ask for it or not, make it an intentional practice to listen, say thank you, ask questions for clarification if needed, and avoid getting defensive. If the feedback feels like a personal attack, say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I would like to take some time to reflect on it, and then possibly return to this conversation if we could.” Then step away and give some thought to the actual intent behind the words. Was it an intentional personal attack, or was it just poorly delivered feedback? Is defending yourself worth the impact on that relationship?
Ask your supervisor for regular check-ins. Make it known that you would like regular and on-going feedback on your progress, and offer to schedule those meetings once a quarter. Come to those meetings prepared to share your own assessment of your progress towards your goals. Turn it into a coaching conversation and ask for guidance on challenges and professional skill development. By taking ownership for your own career growth, you demonstrate to others that they too should invest their time in developing you.
Do the work. Before you ask anyone else to spend their time and energy to help you to get better, you have to do the work to get better yourself. Set quarterly goals for personal and professional development. Regularly reflect on your own progress towards those goals. Seek out mentors who can provide guidance and accountability. Always remember: no one is ever going to care as much about your growth and development as you are. So before you ask someone else to invest in you, you have to do the work.
Finally, if you’re not getting the feedback that you need at work, seek out mentors outside of your organization. No longer are our career paths limited by the walls of our current office. Build your mentoring network with a diverse set of individuals who will tell you the truth, push you towards opportunities, and support you on your path.
For more information on asking for and responding to feedback in the workplace, check out this video.