To improve your career seek mentors, managers and colleagues who will tell you quickly, honestly and unemotionally when you’ve screwed up. This is the advice I recently heard from the hiring manager at a company in Thinkful’s Employer Network:
“I’m still in the early part of my career. I want to be told what I’ve done wrong immediately when I’ve done it. Don’t hold back. Later, when I’m managing a team or have more responsibilities the stakes and expectations will be higher. This feels like a freer period and I want to make the most of it.”
Her strategy reminded me of Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund:
While most others seem to believe that finding out about one’s weaknesses is a bad thing, I believe that it is a good thing because it is the first step toward finding out what to do about them and not letting them stand in your way.
While most others seem to believe that pain is bad, I believe that pain is required to become stronger.
It’s not easy to solicit high-quality feedback, but doing so is well worth the investment. Some companies place red dots on the personnel files of employees they believe can’t improve and thus shouldn’t be considered for promotion. These are the people who don’t listen to feedback.
In school we automatically receive feedback in the form of grades, tests and teacher reviews. But like so many things in your professional life, improvement comes to those who seek it out. Knowing how to maximize feedback is one of the best ways to improve yourself and your career. Here’s how to do it:
- Learn to listen. Dan, my co-founder, among his other talents, is an incredible listener. He doesn’t worry if his questions will sound stupid. As Dan listens you can see him looking for the precise behavior changes that will help him improve. He then actively tries out this new behavior as soon as possible. Listening to feedback is about trying on the recommended behavior to see if it fits you
- Create the environment you want. Even if you’re new at the company, or more junior than everyone else, you still have a large impact on the culture around you. Show admiration, be open about how you feel you’re doing, and give feedback to your colleagues. Your behavior will encourage others to respond in kind.
- Solicit feedback without asking. If someone sees that what they’ve told you has proven influential they’ll think it was worth the investment and will do it again. No amount of explicit asking can match the impact of simply embodying the message. Bonus: Letting feedback improve you shows off your potential, and makes it clear you’re ready for more responsibility.
- It’s just words. I often find that people providing excellent feedback often contextualize it poorly because in that moment they’re emotional or fully-focused on articulating what they’re thinking. Empathy with the person providing feedback is critical. Just because you’re getting yelled at doesn’t mean you’re the cause.
My former boss once told me she used to go home crying about once a week after her then boss told her how poorly she was doing at work. I was stunned – my boss, then and now, is strong, intuitive and intensely disciplined. “It only stopped,” she told me, “when I realized my boss was helping me improve. The day he stopped pushing me to improve was the day he had given up.”