Fresh year, fresh start. Whether you're a goals person, resolution person, or none-of-the-above person, the start of a new year is an opportunity to step up your game at work.

You want to get better at your job and become golden in the eyes of your boss. (So you can get that raise.)

You want to deliver better work for your clients. (So you can make land even more clients.)

Perhaps you want to be a better boss or manager. (So you can motivate your team to do their best work.)

A solid first step to achieving all of the above? Asking your boss, clients, or direct reports for their honest feedback.

Easier said than done. Here's how to actually do it, starting with a simple, to-the-point question.

Asking for feedback is awkward, vague, and invites criticism.  

"Do you have any feedback for me?" is not the most elegant of questions.

There are three glaring problems with asking for feedback point-blank. First, it's just awkward. It sounds like a customer service chat bot asking to review your experience.

Second, it's a little too open ended. While open ended questions are generally good (especially in interview settings), if you cast the net too wide, it can be difficult for the person on the other end respond constructively. What exactly are you asking for feedback on?

Lastly, you also want said feedback to be actionable. Ideally you'll want to encourage the person you're asking to give you advice on how to improve -- not just point out all the things you're doing wrong. Criticism isn't helpful, and can make you feel defensive. But criticism is exactly what you might get back if you simply ask for generic feedback.

Ask this emotionally intelligent question instead.

To gather feedback you can actually work with, Whitson Gordon, a freelance tech writer for New York Times suggests a more effective question: "What can I do to make it easier to work with me?"

You're still asking for feedback. But now, you've framed it in a more specific way that can actually be useful. And it's an emotionally intelligent question, too. This acknowledges the empathy required to succeed in any job.

There are two parties in every work relationship. The boss and the direct report. The client and the buyer. Better relationships built on trust make for better work environments. Period. When you ask what you can do to be easier to work with, one colleague may respond in a completely different way than another. It's all based on your relationship with each.

Gordon also gives a few pointers on what to do after you've posed the question. Embrace the awkward silence. Don't get defensive. Actually listen to what the person says.

You might not like what you hear. That's OK. Thank the person for their feedback and take some time to process it. Once you have a cooler head, revisit what you heard. Is there any truth to what they said?

Remember, fresh year, fresh start. To make 2019 your best year yet at work, you have to accept there's always room for improvement. ​

Published on: Jan 7, 2019