How Women in Business Can Get the Feedback They Need

As a guest on Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work podcast, Ella Bell Smith, professor of business administration, discusses how women can draw out actionable, useful feedback from their managers.

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Ella Bell Smith
“Remember that feedback is a developmental process, number one, and it’s also an interactive process,” Smith reminds us.

Research shows that, though women tend to receive more positive feedback than men, it is often vague and isn’t tied to specific business outcomes.

“You do have to educate your managers, because research shows that managers are not good at giving feedback, period,” Professor of Business Administration Ella Bell Smith told listeners during an interview on HBR’s Women at Work. “But the reality of it is that you need to be prepared, and you need to realize that this is a chance for growth. This is a chance for learning.”

Smith goes on to offer a few ways women can prepare so they receive the best feedback: 1. Consider an appropriate time to approach a manager, after a major project, for example. 2. Walk into your annual performance review with clear goals and outcomes. 3. Listen, take notes, and ask specific questions about the feedback—whether positive or negative—you receive. Ask for examples. 4. Seek multiple sources for your feedback. 5. Reflect and come up with three ways to respond to the feedback you’ve received.

How could I have done that better? If you were in that situation, how might you have handled it?

“I think feedback is a gift,” says Smith. “Anytime I’ve gotten feedback, particularly hard feedback, if I can apply it, and I usually try, it’s made me better. It’s made my performance better. It’s made my attitude better. It’s made me more effective at what I do.” 

Listen to the episode.