The ideal time to seek feedback from your boss

When you prioritise learning and improvement over seeking affirmation, you become more resilient

While it may be tempting to wait until competition to present your project to your boss, doing so often limits the potential for growth and improvement says Dr Amantha Imber  

Picture this… 
You have just finished working on an important presentation that you have to deliver in two days’ time to your team. You’ve spent hours writing and polishing it. And finally, you’re feeling like it’s in a really good state.  

You send the presentation to your boss to look over. You casually ask them to give any feedback they have you. Unexpectedly, they send you a shopping list’s worth of criticism (they also clearly failed to read between the lines and realise that you were really just looking for compliments). In an instant, you go from feeling confident and proud of your work to feeling miserable. Ouch. 

What those feelings mean
Feedback received at the wrong time can be extremely demotivating. Dan Heath, the bestselling author of books including Made to Stick, The Power of Moments and Switch, has experienced how demoralising ill-timed feedback can be.  

“I think a lot of writers make the mistake of getting 90% of the way there and then they start asking for feedback,” says Heath. “And at that point, if you get negative feedback, you can’t afford to take it on. Your instinct is going to be to push back and think, ‘Oh, well that’s just nit-picking’ or ‘I can’t afford to revisit that.’”  

So, when do I ask for feedback then?
Heath says the sweet spot for asking for feedback is roughly at the halfway or 60% mark: “Asking for feedback earlier in the process allows you the mental space to really rethink things if necessary,” he explains. 

Scientists have investigated why this might be the case. They found that when people sought feedback on a speech or draft once it was complete, their primary motivation for the input was to seek affirmation – after all, they’re only human.  

In contrast, when people asked for feedback well before they had finished a project, their main motivation was to improve their work. So, when we can adopt the mindset of striving to improve (as opposed to just wanting to demonstrate how great we are), research suggests we are more open to criticism and are thus more likely to embrace the feedback.  

The next steps…
Instead of waiting until the last minute, make it a habit to seek feedback at earlier stages in your projects. While it may be tempting to wait until you are near completion to present it to your boss or colleagues, doing so often limits the potential for growth and improvement.  

Aiming to share your work when it’s around 50% to 60% complete will demonstrate your willingness to learn and adapt – and it will provide you with the opportunity to genuinely consider and implement suggestions that can elevate your work, instead of leaving you feeling defeated or defensive. 

Being open to feedback (especially early in your career) sets the stage for continued development and professional growth. This openness to critique and constructive criticism not only leads to improved work but also helps in fostering a growth mindset, which is essential for personal and professional development.  

When you prioritise learning and improvement over seeking affirmation, you become more resilient in the face of setbacks and better equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that arise throughout your career. So, embrace feedback, ask for it early and use it as a tool to refine your skills and become the best version of yourself. 

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