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can I ask my boss for feedback about how I’m doing? — Ask a Manager

I AM FAIRLY NEW TO THE WORKFORCE. I’VE BEEN AT MY CURRENT JOB FOR CLOSE TO TWO YEARS AND I CANNOT SHAKE THE FEELING THAT I’M BAD AT IT. RATIONALLY I THINK THERE ARE PARTS OF IT THAT I AM INDEED NOT-SO-GREAT AT; RATIONALLY I THINK THERE ARE PARTS THAT I’M DECENT AT. RATIONALLY I KNOW THAT I HAVEN’T MADE ANY DRAMATICALLY AWFUL MISTAKES, AND I’VE GOTTEN SOME GOOD WORK DONE.

BUT IRRATIONALLY? I FEEL SO. BAD. AT. MY. JOB. ALMOST ALL THE TIME. AND I HATE FEELING THAT WAY. SOME ISSUES (ADHD, ANXIETY) MAKE IT HARD TO IMPROVE IN PARTICULAR AREAS OF THE WORK — I DON’T THINK COORDINATING OTHER PEOPLE WILL EVER BE A STRENGTH FOR ME — BUT I’D LIKE TO GET AN HONEST ASSESSMENT OF WHETHER I’M ACTUALLY GOOD ENOUGH THAT IT’S WORTH CONTINUING IN THIS POSITION. I THINK PROBABLY I BRING MORE PLUSES THAN MINUSES AND IT WOULD BE A SERIOUS INCONVENIENCE IF I QUIT IN A FIT OF ANXIOUS PIQUE. PROBABLY.

I GUESS I’M ASKING HOW TO GET THAT KIND OF ASSESSMENT FROM MY BOSS, WITHOUT JUST SEEMING LIKE I’M ASKING FOR A PAT ON THE HEAD. ARE THEY HAPPY WITH MY WORK, ARE THERE SOME SPECIFIC PLACES I CAN IMPROVE, DO THEY THINK I HAVE ANY STRENGTHS. AND HERE’S THE OTHER THING: IF I ASK, HOW DO I SET MYSELF UP TO BE READY FOR TOUGH FEEDBACK? I CARE ABOUT THE WORK ENOUGH TO WANT TO BE GOOD AT IT.

I HEAR HOW NEUROTIC I SOUND JUST WRITING THIS. BUT I THINK IT’S A REASONABLE QUESTION?

It’s absolutely a reasonable question! Even people who don’t struggle with anxiety can struggle with not having a solid sense of how well they are or aren’t doing in their jobs.

Managers should be making the people they manage know where they stand — where they excel, where they could (or must) improve, and how they’re doing overall. In reality, an awful lot of managers are bad at doing that. Some managers are generous with positive feedback but falter when it comes to talking about problems. Others almost never praise but are remarkably comfortable criticizing. Others don’t give you much in either direction at all.

Of course, there are also managers who do a good job of providing feedback — both on specific projects and “here’s how you’re doing overall” — and still have employees who could write a letter like yours, because sometimes our brains are jerks and make us question if we’re good enough, regardless of how much evidence we get that we are. And the reverse is also true — sometimes a manager is forthright and explicit that someone is not doing well enough, and that person somehow remains confident they’re doing great.

So my first question for you is: What, if any, feedback are you getting from your manager? Do you have formal performance assessments? If so, what do those say?

But it’s also completely fine to sit down with your manager and ask point-blank how you’re doing. You can do that with specific projects and tasks, and you can do it with the big picture too.

For getting feedback on specific projects and tasks:
* “Can I get your feedback on that report? I wasn’t sure if it was what you were looking for or not.”
* “How did you think that meeting went? I couldn’t tell if I presented the concept clearly enough for the client.”
* “Can we talk about how X went?”
* “I would love your feedback on X, especially about the Y element of it.”
* “I would love your thoughts on how I might be able to improve X/do X differently/approach X more effectively.”
* “I was pretty happy with how X turned out — do you agree, or is there anything you want me to do differently next time?”

For getting feedback about the big picture:
* “Could we talk about how things are going overall? I’ve realized I don’t have a good sense of how you think I’m doing, and if there are areas you’d like to see me work on improving in.”
* “How do you feel things are going overall? Is my work in line with what you’d expect to see from someone at my level of experience / is there anything I should focus on doing better?”
* “Would you have time in the next few weeks to do a mini performance review with me? It wouldn’t need to be anything formal, but a conversation to talk about how I’m doing would be so helpful to me.”

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