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In His Own Words How to solicit helpful feedback from your boss

  • Published Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Your boss gives you a project. You put your heart and soul into it, and deliver what you think is a great finished product. Barely stopping long enough to look at the first paragraph, your boss says, “That’s not quite what I wanted. Make this change and that change, and bring it back to me.”

Are you kidding? Why didn’t he tell you that up front? It would have saved you a ton of work.

Are you tired of trying to meet your boss’s unrealistic, unclear performance expectations?

The solution may be as simple as asking for his input earlier and more often.

“And invite even more criticism?” you ask. “Do you think I’m a glutton for punishment?”

Absolutely not.

Beneath the surface, most bosses who are impossible to satisfy unconsciously wish their perspective would be solicited more often. Your boss might be just as worn out as you are from sharing unsolicited opinions. They don’t like being a buzzkill. Your boss’s criticism probably stems from a desire to achieve high quality. How she goes about it isn’t helping, though – so often unsolicited feedback is negative.

Here are a few strategies for soliciting helpful feedback from your boss – feedback that can guide you in doing your best work instead of being frustrated.

Be proactive

Actively solicit your boss’s opinions from the beginning of the assignment. Ask questions like:

• “What do you believe are the most important aspects of this project?”

• “Based on your experience, what are the things you want me to focus on?”

• “What will you be looking for in the finished product?”

Commit random solicitation

Solicit your boss’s input on other things, just because. Drop in or catch him in passing, and ask something like the following:

• “I was working on the Johnson file and wanted to ask you, what’s your opinion on whether it’s best to be firm, or give them some slack?”

• “Would you be willing to share your candid perspective on this brochure I am working on?”

• “What do you believe the Royals should do about their manager?”

Validate positive intentions

Bosses want pats on the back too. Worry less about stroking your boss’s ego, and instead validate what could be his noble intentions with statements such as:

• “I appreciate your commitment to quality.”

• “Thanks for your dedication to helping me do great work.”

• “I know you’re keeping your eye on the big picture.”

By being proactive, soliciting random feedback and validating positive intentions, you can help your boss be a better leader and make your life less stressful.

Nate Regier, Ph.D., is a founding owner of Next Element Consulting in Newton. He is co-author of “Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires.” E-mail him at nate@next-element.com. Find more information at www.next-element.com.

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