employee and boss meeting
Tempura/Getty Images

Good feedback can mean the difference between an average career and one that’s exceptional.

And even though I’ve always known this, I remember feeling anxious about speaking to members of my team about issues they needed to work on when I was a first-time manager.

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, which often resulted in making my job harder and depriving my staff of key learning opportunities.

It didn’t take long for me to realize 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 isn’t as easy as you’d think. In a recent Gallup study, as part of its 2017 State of the American Workplace report, it turns out only 23% of people receive meaningful commentary from their manager.

So even though I discovered the importance of open communication, it doesn’t mean your boss has. What that means for you is this: You’ve got to ask for it. And you need to know how to ask to maximize the outcome. 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 over email. Here’s a template you can use to get the conversation started.

The Email Template How to Ask Your Boss for Feedback

Subject: Your Feedback on [Specific Item You Want Feedback on]

Hi [Boss’ Name],

I wanted to schedule time for us to discuss what you thought about [the item(s) you want feedback on].

As I reflect on what went well and what could be improved, I thought it would be a good idea to get your input.

Specifically, I’d like your thoughts on one to three things that went well and one to three things that could have gone better. Any guidance you can provide is greatly appreciated.

I’ll send a meeting invite shortly to block off time for us to chat, but I wanted to give you the heads up on what the meeting would be about first. Looking forward to speaking with you.

[Your Name]

This email does three things:

  1. The first paragraph is direct and sets the tone of what the rest of the email will be about.
  2. The second paragraph shows you’re open to balanced feedback since you’re not only thinking about what went well, but you’re also considering the constructive parts of your performance.
  3. The third paragraph spells out exactly what kind of information you’re seeking, and it reinforces that you’re open to receiving it, which takes some of the pressure off your boss and makes it easier for them to comply.

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, Muse writer Nicole Lindsay wrote an entire article 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.