Feedback vs. Failure in 5 steps

The summer comes, you have an internship… or a research project… or a job.  An experience you hope will extend your learning and expand your skillset.  But do you know how it’s going?  Are you receiving regular input on your work?  How does your team or supervisor view your interaction – is it positive?

Feedback is crucial to learning and development, which is an important outcome of your experience.  If you don’t have answers to these questions, there are ways to ensure that you leave the summer with an understanding of your performance and an opportunity to share your thoughts on the experience.  Below are five recommendations to help you.

Establish credibility: Settling into an early relationship with your colleagues rests on maximizing your credibility as a contributing member to the organization. Basic work etiquette goes a long way–being on time and ready to work, following appropriate social media and phone etiquette in the workplace and using active listening and eye contact.

Early in my career, a supervisor shared some sage advice that I’ve continued to use and pass on to students: “NEVER show up to a work meeting or conversation without something to write on and something to write with.”  There is no clearer way to communicate your lack of professionalism or interest in the discussion than by not showing up prepared to take notes. (using your phone to take notes is great as long as you make your intentions clear at the onset)

Develop an authentic connection: Before a supervisor or colleague will give you any honest feedback, they have to feel that you’re invested.  Ask them to coffee and open a conversation about the goals of the organization, group or your specific project – and be sincerely curious about their opinions. How do their answers impact what you think about the work ahead of you?

Don’t dive in to the request for input too quickly.  It takes time for someone to feel comfortable offering critique.  Unless you have a regularly scheduled evaluation process, spend the first few weeks developing trust and rapport before soliciting feedback.  If you’re winding down your summer experience, you’ve likely already done this and can move on to request & prepare.    Before sending out a request for feedback, ensure that you’re ready to hear both positive and negative input on your work.

Formality isn’t necessary: Some of the most effective feedback you’ll receive isn’t structured or scheduled.  While that type of input can be useful, often the feedback that is delivered immediately and informally provides the best learning.  Liken it to striking while the iron is hot, this type of feedback typically happens in a more focused, lower-stakes context.

My former colleague and dear friend called it “Fast Feedback.” We’d walk out of a meeting or a presentation and she’d say, “Fast Feedback?  You really rocked that description of the process we’re using – great detail.”  Or, “Fast Feedback?  That request might have gone better if you were more direct with the design team so they know exactly where you’re coming from.”  It was relevant, low-stress and made me feel that she really had my back as a teammate.

Proper preparation: Do you have feedback to share with a supervisor or coworker?  A crucial component to success in delivering feedback – positive or negative – is to spend time preparing the discussion.  A few things to consider, include:

What are the goals for your feedback?  Are you pointing out some possible improvements for their program, or sharing your joy with this summer’s experience?

What is the person’s communication style and how can you package the feedback accordingly? When in doubt, it’s best to simply state “I have some feedback for you, how would you like to receive it?”

What is the best mode for your feedback?  If it’s a quick shoutout, then an e-mail note to the whole team is great, but if it’s something more sensitive and thoughtful, a one-on-one discussion may be best.  

Consideration and response: Feedback is only as valuable as the improvement it reaps.  Feedback doesn’t mean failure, but is rather an opportunity for perspective.  When you’re receiving feedback, see it for what it is – the willingness of your colleague or supervisor to invest in you by sharing their expertise or point of view – whether the feedback is celebratory or constructive critique. The best response is to listen thoughtfully to their input, consider the context of the situation and deliberate on how it can foster meaningful growth for you.  And of course, thank them for sharing their feedback with you.

As your internship, research experience or summer job nears its end, ask yourself, “Have I received the feedback I need to understand my strengths, development, opportunities to improve and contribution to this experience?”  If not, now is the time to seek it out.

For more about the psychology of feedback, read this.

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