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When I first became a manager, I felt anxious about speaking to my team members about issues they needed to work on. Like many, I was afraid of confrontation and worried that the people I managed wouldn’t like me. So I’d avoid giving much-needed constructive criticism and instead let problems fester for months. But this not only made my job harder, it also deprived my staff of key learning opportunities.

Good, constructive feedback can mean the difference between an average career and an exceptional onel. After all, if you don’t know what you need to improve, how can you grow professionally?

Why you should ask your supervisor for meaningful feedback

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by not speaking up. Once I began to truly understand that people who want to advance their careers actually crave honest feedback from their managers, I started to give it.

For most people though, getting consistent, quality comments on their work that are focused on what they can do to improve doesn’t go without saying. In a 2020 Gallup poll, only 28% of workers strongly agreed that they’d received meaningful feedback from their manager in the past week.

But even though I discovered the importance of open communication on my own, it doesn’t mean your boss will. So what should you do if you’re part of the majority that hasn’t gotten helpful feedback lately? You’ve got to ask for it.

How to ask your boss for feedback

The key thing to remember is that you want to gain meaningful insight that’ll help you take action. And you need to know how to ask to maximize these benefits for yourself. So think non-confrontational, balanced, and specific in a way that doesn’t make your boss feel awkward and on the spot.

I recommend starting the conversation with a simple email that does four things:

  1. Opens in a way that is direct and sets the tone for what the rest of the email will be about.
  2. Shows you’re open to balanced feedback. Be clear to your boss that you’re not only thinking about what you’re doing well, but you’re also considering what you could be doing better.
  3. Spells out exactly what kind of information you’re seeking, and reinforces that you’re open to receiving it, which will take some of the pressure off your boss and make it easier for them to respond.
  4. Suggests a format or forum for them to deliver their feedback.

Email template to ask your boss for feedback

To make it even easier for you, here’s a template you can use to get the conversation with your supervisor started.

Subject: Your feedback on [specific item you want feedback on]

Hi [Boss’ Name],

I wanted to [ask for your feedback on/set aside some time for us to discuss] what you thought about [the task, deliverable, skill, or performance you want feedback on].

As I reflect on what went well and what could be improved, I’d love to get your input.

Specifically, I’d like your thoughts on one to three things that I’m doing well and one to three things that could improve on in the future. Any guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

I’d be interested in [setting up a meeting to chat about this/discussing this over email/getting your comments on the project]. I’ll [action you’ll take to facilitate the feedback discussion], but I wanted to give you the heads up first. Looking forward to your insights.

Thanks,

[Your Name]

Example emails to ask your boss for feedback

Here’s what an email using this template might look like:

Subject: Your feedback on my presentation this morning

Hi Oscar,

I wanted to schedule time for us to discuss what you thought about my budget proposal presentation to the product team earlier.

As I reflect on what went well and what could be improved, I’d love to get your input.

Specifically, I’d like your thoughts on one to three things that worked well and one to three things that I could improve on in the future. Any guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

I’d be interested in setting up a meeting to chat about this. I’ll send you a calendar invite shortly, but I wanted to give you the heads up first. Looking forward to your insights.

Thanks,
Alia

You can also play with the template a bit to suit your relationship with your manager and the situation.

For example:

Subject: Last week’s social campaign launch—any thoughts?

Hi Denise,

Hope you had a great weekend! I wanted to set aside some space for us to discuss what you thought about last week’s campaign launch across Twitter and Instagram and how I prepared for and executed it.

Since this was my first time taking the reins and coordinating a cross-functional effort to put together a timeline and oversee a launch, I’d love to get your input on how it went and how you feel about the final packaging and initial results. I’d be particularly interested in one to three things that I could improve on in the future. (Specifically, if you have any pointers on how to best make sure people in other departments are on track with their pieces of the campaign without being overbearing, I’d love to discuss!) And any other guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

I’ll send you a deck with all the final posts and a report with the engagement we’ve seen so far shortly, but I wanted to give you the heads up first. Feel free to make comments directly on the docs or let me know if you prefer to discuss live—I’m happy to put some time on the calendar any day this week!

Thanks,
Imani

When it comes to good feedback, it doesn’t matter who starts the conversation. What matters is that the lines of communication are open between you and your manager so that you can receive the input you need to continue to grow in your career.

Oh, and if you hear something surprising or even unpleasant (a potential consequence of seeking counsel), do your best to remain calm in the moment. If you’re worried that’ll be an issue, here’s some advice on taking constructive criticism like a champ.

Just know that good, bad, or in between, it’s best to listen, take time to process, and then respond in a professional and thoughtful manner.

Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.

Updated 5/31/2022