can I ask my boss for feedback about how I’m doing?

A reader writes:

I am fairly new to the workforce. I’ve been at my current job for close to two years and I cannot shake the feeling that I’m bad at it. Rationally I think there are parts of it that I am indeed not-so-great at; rationally I think there are parts that I’m decent at. Rationally I know that I haven’t made any dramatically awful mistakes, and I’ve gotten some good work done.

But irrationally? I feel So. Bad. At. My. Job. Almost all the time. And I hate feeling that way. Some issues (ADHD, anxiety) make it hard to improve in particular areas of the work — I don’t think coordinating other people will ever be a strength for me — but I’d like to get an honest assessment of whether I’m actually good enough that it’s worth continuing in this position. I think probably I bring more pluses than minuses and it would be a serious inconvenience if I quit in a fit of anxious pique. Probably.

I guess I’m asking how to get that kind of assessment from my boss, without just seeming like I’m asking for a pat on the head. Are they happy with my work, are there some specific places I can improve, do they think I have any strengths. And here’s the other thing: if I ask, how do I set myself up to be ready for tough feedback? I care about the work enough to want to be good at it.

I hear how neurotic I sound just writing this. But I think it’s a reasonable question?

It’s absolutely a reasonable question! Even people who don’t struggle with anxiety can struggle with not having a solid sense of how well they are or aren’t doing in their jobs.

Managers should be making the people they manage know where they stand — where they excel, where they could (or must) improve, and how they’re doing overall. In reality, an awful lot of managers are bad at doing that. Some managers are generous with positive feedback but falter when it comes to talking about problems. Others almost never praise but are remarkably comfortable criticizing. Others don’t give you much in either direction at all.

Of course, there are also managers who do a good job of providing feedback — both on specific projects and “here’s how you’re doing overall” — and still have employees who could write a letter like yours, because sometimes our brains are jerks and make us question if we’re good enough, regardless of how much evidence we get that we are. And the reverse is also true — sometimes a manager is forthright and explicit that someone is not doing well enough, and that person somehow remains confident they’re doing great.

So my first question for you is: What, if any, feedback are you getting from your manager? Do you have formal performance assessments? If so, what do those say?

But it’s also completely fine to sit down with your manager and ask point-blank how you’re doing. You can do that with specific projects and tasks, and you can do it with the big picture too.

For getting feedback on specific projects and tasks:
* “Can I get your feedback on that report? I wasn’t sure if it was what you were looking for or not.”
* “How did you think that meeting went? I couldn’t tell if I presented the concept clearly enough for the client.”
* “Can we talk about how X went?”
* “I would love your feedback on X, especially about the Y element of it.”
* “I would love your thoughts on how I might be able to improve X/do X differently/approach X more effectively.”
* “I was pretty happy with how X turned out — do you agree, or is there anything you want me to do differently next time?”

For getting feedback about the big picture:
* “Could we talk about how things are going overall? I’ve realized I don’t have a good sense of how you think I’m doing, and if there are areas you’d like to see me work on improving in.”
* “How do you feel things are going overall? Is my work in line with what you’d expect to see from someone at my level of experience / is there anything I should focus on doing better?”
* “Would you have time in the next few weeks to do a mini performance review with me? It wouldn’t need to be anything formal, but a conversation to talk about how I’m doing would be so helpful to me.”

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. BB8*

    A great question OP! I’d encourage you, if you want bigger picture feedback, to let them know the request ahead of time and let them think on it a bit, if you want meaningful feedback. As a manager I try to be really good about giving feedback, but for bigger picture feedback I benefit from having some time to think about it and pull together my thoughts, and if you asked me just off the cuff my answer would probably not be super useful.

    1. SansaStark*

      I was thinking this, too. I have a newer employee who is due for their 90-day evaluation and it’s something that I really need to sit with for a bit. They’re doing great, but it’s going to take me some dedicated thought to come up with the things they’re doing well and where they need to spend a bit more time over the next few months. As a manager, I hate being put on the spot for this type of feedback because I want to give my thought-out response, not just what I was able to think of while standing in front of the employee.

  2. Blackbeard*

    You could ask your manager to schedule a monthly meeting with them, to discuss about your performance and projects. It would be very useful for both of you.

    1. twin?*

      As someone very similar to OP, this has worked very well for me! Just be sure to come into that meeting well-equipped to talk about the projects you are working on/have completed. Mention those things you think went successfully. Note *specific* things that you’re struggling with on projects and ask for guidance. Break down the general feeling like you’re bad at your job into smaller, actionable bits you can actually address.

    2. DameB*

      My company just… has those? As a matter of course. Weekly or biweekly sit downs where we just chat. It was a revelation when i moved to this company — all the others I’ve been at, my only interactions with my manager were very hostile. I spent the first year getting anxious whenever we had a check in, but now I really like them!

    3. Sedna*

      Yes, agreed! A lot of my fears about how I was doing got better once I started meeting regularly with my boss. We do short check-ins every 2 weeks where I tell her about what I’m working on; it’s a great chance to handle questions that come up and check in with her about work priorities and what I should focus on. Now that I’m a supervisor I meet weekly with my report too – we catch up, talk about her workload, and strategize for coming projects. I love it because if there’s a problem, we can normally catch it early (i.e. “hey, we haven’t had x report in 3 weeks, what’s happening?” vs “it’s 5 months later and we’re missing all this data we need for an audit, time to panic”).

  3. Peanut Hamper*

    I’m surprised that there isn’t some sort of formal review process in place, especially for new employees in their first 90 days. Most places I’ve worked I’ve at least gotten an annual review. This is kind of a red flag to me.

    On the other hand, the culture there may be very much “no news is good news!” and LW won’t know until they ask.

    But as someone who has managed a lot of people over the years, I’m always happy when someone asks for feedback, especially the kind of big picture feedback that LW is looking for.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Performance reviews are a hot topic right now, and a lot of places are doing away with them or restructuring them significantly. Not all places are doing that well.

      1. Smithy*

        I’d add onto this that performance reviews can very often be tied to raises, which inevitably make that feedback more charged, stressful, etc.

        I think for anyone trying to cultivate a personal practice around asking for feedback, doing it outside of the formal performance review process can really help normalize the practice and take stress out of it. I will also say that based on how this place of employment is structured, the OP’s boss may not like their required performance review structure nor like official performance reviews either. If it’s a workplace where all of them need to be done during a short calendar window, it can easily end up as one more frustrating management admin task.

        Not to say the formal process can’t be helpful or that all managers do it perfunctorily, but if the OP is finding this process produces anxiety – I think this is likely the worst pathway to actually get more accustomed to asking for feedback.

    2. oranges*

      This was my thought too. If LW’s company doesn’t have a solid performance evaluation schedule/process, it would be good for LW to do some research on their own to find a structure they can adopt.

      Ask family/friends if their company has any forms or processes they find particularly effective. And not that LW should bring in a packet of info with another company’s logo at the bottom, but some companies do a great job with this stuff. It would also give LW confidence that they’re asking reasonable questions, vetted by other professionals, and not just being neurotic.

    3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I worked in a job where we had annual performance reviews and I STILL didn’t feel like I got any meaningful feedback. I would hope that if there had been any really big constructive feedback, it would have come up in that venue, but that company structured reviews so that you got feedback from everyone EXCEPT your managers (???) and then sat in a meeting with two levels of bosses and talked about it. And while I got “this is really great positive feedback about you” and “we’re really looking for patterns in feedback, so I don’t think you need to be especially worried about [specific critique],” I’m not sure that my boss or his boss ever told me anything as clear as “I think you’re doing very well.” (It’s possible they did, it was a while ago. But I don’t remember it.)

      This job also didn’t have much/any formal training for managers. I wonder if that was related…

  4. Nicosloanica*

    Like many people, I secretly worry that I’m absolutely terrible at my job but nobody has the heart to tell me, and they like me as a person so they just keep me around because of that. Like it’d be too much trouble to get rid of me and train up someone else. The reason I ignore this feeling is because I’ve always felt that way in every job, to the point where I’ve come to accept that’s just the background whirring sound my brain makes. Hence I agree that it’s easier to seek out feedback on specific products or projects, rather than trying to get your boss to give you an overall assessment of your worthiness as a worker.

    1. Alan*

      Me too. The one thing I keep coming back to is promotions I’ve received. Whenever I think I’m a total waste I remember that my management has not seen me that way.

      1. Nicosloanica*

        Also, as I spend more time in the field I realize there’s a LOT of … really lousy people. I’ve worked with them! Most than anything, honestly, this helped me realize I’m at least fine.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This, plus if someone’s been on the Honors track for 4 or 8 years, that becomes their “normal” but Adulting World is calibrated for C students.

    2. Sedna*

      Oof. DEFINITELY feel this, & it was made worse by a job where I got no feedback for 4 years and was then fired. Strong agree on seeking out specific skills and projects- that, plus regular check-ins, helped me feel more confident. (What really helped was finding a good therapist who gently said “you know most people don’t constantly feel crushingly inadequate all the time, right? and we can do work to help you with that?” but I recognize that’s not a universal solution.)

  5. Over It*

    Does your company not do performance reviews? Most places do them either annually or every six months. If you’ve been there for two years and haven’t had one, it’s reasonable to ask for one to get a sense of big picture how you’re doing in the role. If you’re interested in advancing within your company or think you have a reasonable case for a raise, a performance review is also really helpful for that.

    1. Over It*

      From everything you’ve described, it’s highly unlikely you are a terrible employee and they are on the verge of firing you. That is 100% your anxiety talking! While I’m sure you have areas you could improve on because you’re a human, they’ve kept you for two years. That said, is this general anxiety that exists for you in other areas of your life outside of the job, or do other things about your work aside of the lack of feedback trigger your anxiety? If it’s more the latter, maybe it’s time to look for a new job that’s a better environmental fit for you. Two years is a good chunk of time to spend at your first professional job, and you’re allowed to move on if it’s not working for your mental health.

  6. BellyButton*

    You can also think about this differently. Instead of thinking about what you are good and bad at. Think about what parts of the job do you really like and won’t parts don’t you like. This is the first step in thinking about what kind of work and what career path you want to go on.

    Often people think their boss should tell them where they should be going, but it shouldn’t work that way. When you know what areas you really enjoy you can speak to your boss about doing more of that, or growing in skills in those area, and asking her what kind of role would allow you do more of those things.

  7. LinesInTheSand*

    If your job revolves primarily around a single skill, like “software developer”, it’s good to ask your boss where s/he/they see you contributing beyond that. Part of the role of a boss is to spread their influence through the actions of their direct reports, and as a direct report it’s really hard to see that process. Your boss gets feedback that you don’t.

    Source: that time I was almost in tears because my boss was really happy with what I was doing even though I hadn’t written a line of code in months and I couldn’t understand what was going on or where my value was.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This is super interesting to me! Are you willing/able to say more about what you were doing that was high value, even though you weren’t writing code?

      1. vulturestalker*

        Yes, I’d be really interested in hearing more too! I do a lot of coding and have felt similarly at times.

      2. LinesInTheSand*

        At the time I was a team lead in a division with basically no product direction, which meant there was no one around to tell us what we should be building (which is a whole other mess). My team consisted of a college grad and a mid level employee with a lot of company and industry experience but not a lot of direct experience in the technologies we were using.

        So I was mentoring my teammates, teaching them software engineering while also doing industry research on what gaps we could fill and building relationships with all our internal customer teams in order to figure out what we could improve. Among other things.

        When my boss and I talked about it, he was well aware of the dysfunction of the org. Part of my value to him turned out to be surfacing it in a respectful and constructive but direct way. But leadership was the big one. I was charting a course for my team, and that was more important than actually writing code. When I’ve talked to other managers about this, they point out it’s a lot easier to find someone to code than it is to find someone to figure out _what_ to code.

        If you’ve ever seen the slide deck on glue work, I was doing a lot of that, and it made me visible across the org, and everyone knew we needed it.

        1. LinesInTheSand*

          I also think that in software specifically, the job has changed a lot in the last decade or so. It’s a lot more about wiring up existing libraries, which means a lot more research up front. Design docs are valuable, as are risk assessments, testing plans, etc. It takes a lot more work up front to direct effort than it used to, and that work is insanely valuable.

      3. Keyboard Cowboy*

        Hi there! I was recently promoted to staff software engineer at a FAANG. I love this topic, so I’m going to chime in.

        The more senior you become as a software engineer the less code you write, because your time is more valuable spent elsewhere. Like LinesInTheSand said, you end up much more focused on risk mitigation, wherever that risk lies. So that could be filling in for product if you don’t have a PM, doing “glue work” like logs analysis or bug investigation, and almost always strategizing/tacticking/collaborating with neighboring teams (e.g. my team develops llama grooming tools, we spend a TON of time working with the llama breeding team to make sure our tools are suitable for the coats they’re developing).

        It’s also about being a “force multiplier”. That can sometimes mean connecting together people who should know each other, but most often means growing those around you – via advice or direct mentoring, or by delegating appropriately-leveled tasks to them. If it were just me, I would identify the problem, write the design, implement the design, and ship the result; if I want to grow my junior engineer, I’ll pass it to him at the “implement the design” stage, but if I want to grow my senior engineer, I’ll pass it off to her much earlier, maybe even identifying the problem myself but asking her leading questions until she identifies it for herself as well. Since writing code is “the easy part” here, it means that in practice I….basically never write code. Ah well.

  8. Keyboard Cowboy*

    In my experience, the key to getting actionable feedback is to be as specific as possible when asking for it. I love Alison’s suggestion “I would love your feedback on X, especially about the Y element of it.”. I’d modify “Can I get your feedback on that report? I wasn’t sure if it was what you were looking for or not.” into “Can I get your feedback on that report? I wasn’t sure if it was what you were looking for or not, and I was especially uncertain about whether I could have presented the Llama Shear Decision Guide better especially for purchasers who are buying llama shears for the first time.” Pointing someone towards giving the precise kind of feedback you’re most interested in saves everyone time – it’s easier for the feeder-backer than “tell me how I’m doing with *gestures broadly*” and it’s faster for you because you don’t have to write back again and again saying “well, but that doesn’t really tell me about how I’m doing with Llama Fleece Processing… specifically the washing section… specifically which kind of detergent I suggested we use…”.

  9. Snow Globe*

    One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned is performance goals. Do you have a written document that lists your annual goals? If not, maybe write down what you *think* your goals should be and ask your manager if that looks right to them. Or, if your goals are kind of vague, maybe ask your manager to help you get something more concrete. With measurable goals, you will have a yardstick to help you see how well you are doing throughout the year.

    1. Trawna*

      ….are you my firm’s HR AI bot?!

      Performance goals and the yardsticks and checkins that accompany them so very much do not provide the anxiety fix and information that the LW is looking for. Quite the opposite.

      1. Allonge*

        Huh? Performance goals, for all that they can be tricky in a million jobs, are very much a thing and can provide some guidance on what counts as ok performance. If they don’t do it for you at all, the goals are likely not well set.

        They are not a cure for anxiety, that is for sure, but then they are not meant to be.

    2. OP*

      You know what, that’s a very good point, thank you! Because my boss does give positive feedback but I don’t always feel secure in it –I think I do also really need to develop a more concrete, more specific sense of what my boss and I see as successful work. I do need that yardstick to look at.


  10. Llama Llama*

    I have regular conversations with my boss and she mostly gives me positive feedback and then some to dos.

    Knowing this, I was still stressed a little that I was going to be given a negative performance review. She scheduled a call about the outcome and I was worried she scheduled it because she had to put me in the low category. Alas that was not the case and it was high one.

  11. Beth*

    It’s always legit to ask your manager for feedback when you’re confused about where you stand or how you’re doing. But is that actually the issue you’re dealing with? You’ve clearly spent a lot of time logically analyzing your performance, and it sounds like you know you’re a decent performer (some strengths, some weaknesses) who brings solid value to your team. The real problem is that knowing that isn’t changing your feeling that you’re failing at work. And talking to your manager won’t fix that. It’ll just give another “Rationally I know…” data point.

    It’s still absolutely legit to ask your manager for feedback on your overall performance. But my advice would be to do it with an eye towards building your career going forwards, not towards convincing yourself that you’re not failing. Maybe ask something like “As I’m gaining experience, I’m thinking about how I want to build my career in this field. Since you know my work so well, I’d really appreciate your advice–would you be willing to share some feedback on my performance so far, especially any thoughts you might have about my strengths and weaknesses?” A good manager won’t tell you where you should take your career next, but they will take your request seriously and give useful, forward-looking feedback.

  12. Tio*

    One thing I would like to mention – if your boss was so unhappy with your performance that they wouldn’t want you in that position, you’d probably have received some negative feedback about it 9not certainly, but still!) This part of the letter stands out:
    I’d like to get an honest assessment of whether I’m actually good enough that it’s worth continuing in this position. I think probably I bring more pluses than minuses and it would be a serious inconvenience if I quit in a fit of anxious pique.
    If you’re not getting any specific feedback that’s leading you to this conclusion – and it sounds like you aren’t – you’re probably doing fine and your brain is being a jerk. Which I have extensive experience both with myself and with reports I’ve managed over the years. I think you’re probably doing way better than you’re assuming you are!

  13. nonny mouse*

    Hi OP! I work at a job where my manager basically gives me feedback of “I think you’re doing great!” and doesn’t elaborate when I try to elicit anything additional. What I’ve taken to doing, is having informal conversations with my peers who I work closely with on projects. Frequently, a lot of people don’t like giving feedback that could be perceived as negative, so I try to ask for feedback in a few different ways like “Is there anything my predecessor did that worked really well? Should I start doing that?” or “Is there anything I could change that would make working with me better?”. You can also self-assess a bit by looking specifically at your projects/work and differences in the ones that went well vs the ones that didn’t.

    Good luck and don’t be too hard on yourself – we’re all always learning :)

    1. LizzyBennet*

      Came here to say this–my supervisor does the same! While it’s good for the ego to hear “you’re doing great,” it’s not so good to help you really assess how you are doing. Here are three questions I have learned to ask: what should I continue doing? what do I need to stop doing? what should I do differently? Ask for specific behaviors and skills, and ask anyone and everyone. These questions can be adapted for both the big picture and specific projects.

  14. Smithy*

    If you know that you have anxiety, then I think the best way to get in the practice of asking for feedback is doing it about smaller tasks or discrete activities. Essentially, something you do regularly and have a lot of chances to actually work on improving/bringing to the next level – or a scope of work with a specific end date.

    The worst parts for me with anxiety and work feedback is that spiral of desperately wanting to fix “mistakes” or “bad things” immediately. And it’s obviously a process to tell my jerk brain that there are certain tasks or parts of jobs where that simply isn’t how anything works. But to make feedback less scary, I need feedback to be something I’m less scared of. So personally, doing it more frequently about lower stakes or frequent activities served to both demystify it as well as eventually make it helpful.

    In my line of work, debriefing meetings are not uncommon after certain external or important meetings – but how often and when isn’t a given. Proactively asking for them when my boss joined and including a question or two about how she felt about my performance, a certain question I asked, etc. was a way to include that more regular feedback loop into my regular practice. These were also around tasks where there might also be a chance for quickly remedying a weakness in the meeting with a follow-up email. So not only did it give me a chance to practice asking questions about my own performance directly, but having instant opportunities to fix issues and seeing the benefit of making that ask right away.

  15. Olive*

    I think one of the things that makes this harder is when you look around and see people who are not doing a great job but aren’t in danger of being fired! This is bad, in the sense that you might not be told if you’re not great, but good enough in the short term in the sense that you are unlikely to be fired.

    Something I wish I’d done in the past was pay more attention to what factors got other people promoted. This can tell you what you could be doing better or what you should be focusing on. It can also reveal problems in your company that your boss might not tell you about (for example, if the biggest factor in getting promoted is being a white man who’s buddy buddy with upper management).

  16. higheredadmin*

    OP, I’m going to pass along some very wise advice that I received at the start of my career. I was in an environment where I was expected to advocate for myself in order to receive a raise/bonus, but instead I went into my review sure I was a screw up and rating myself very low. My manager at the time said to me: “In my experience, the individuals who are self-reflective and are able to identify where they have made mistakes are the high performers overall because they will be able to improve. The people who come into their review sure that they have done everything well are often the worst performers, because they cannot see their own errors or analyze their own work.” I have found this to be true in my own career and in managing others. (I would also say, as has been noted already, that general anxiety/imposter syndrome is a real thing and there is some work to do to pinpoint the cause of your anxiety around work.) You should aim use your natural self-reflection as the helpful tool it can be, and ask specific questions based on what you note as you move through work. (Also – you are right that there are some areas of work that people will just struggle with their whole working lives. I have a development point from that same first appraisal I still struggle with, and it is decades later. I’m better but not all the way.)

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes. When I’m coaching new-to-the-workforce employees on self evaluations I usually tell them that everyone is going to have things to work on, at all levels. We’re always learning. What we’re looking at here is if what you think you have to work on matches what management thinks you have to work on. If there’s a gap, we should talk about that and get aligned. If everyone agrees, that’s a sign that we’ve all done our jobs and communicated well along the way, and we can discuss how we can help you meet your goals.

  17. Alan*

    This reminds me of my first self-assessment during the annual review cycle. One of the questions was “What have you excelled at?” and I said “Nothing”. I was being honest. I knew that I was a new employee and had a lot to learn and wasn’t about to claim that I had done anything special. And boy did my supervisor let me know that I had indeed excelled and I needed to write that down :-). For many years afterward I maintained a work diary where I wrote down everything I had accomplished, so I could look back on it come review time. So LW, you’re likely doing better than you think, but now that I’m a leader, I make a point to tell people that they’re doing great because I don’t think anyone gets tired of hearing that, and your boss should be doing that too.

  18. MigraineMonth*

    Specific to preparing to hear critical feedback, the advice I’ve heard is to be curious. Wanting to learn more and understand someone else’s perspective is one of the best ways to overcome a defensive reaction. So if someone gives you feedback:
    1) Thank them. Even if you think it’s off-base or are in your feelings.
    2) If you can’t put aside an emotional reaction, ask if you can follow up with them later.
    3) Ask questions. “When you say [criticism], do you mean [interpretation]?” “Can you think of an example?” “What should I have done instead?” “Is there a coworker who does it well that I could emulate?”
    4) Decide if the feedback is valid/actionable. People have biases and picadilloes, and not everything can be fixed. This step may involve checking in with others familiar with your work or your manager.
    5) If it is actionable, come up with an action plan, and share it with the person who gave you the feedback. “I’ve been thinking about [criticism], and I’m going to try [action step].”
    6) Follow up later. You don’t really know if you’ve fixed the problem until you’ve heard that it’s fixed/improved.

    I recommend the book “Thank You for the Feedback” if you’re looking for more tips!

  19. AnotherSarah*

    I think it’s helpful to remember that you can be anxious/have anxiety, but not approach this question with your boss from a place of anxiety. When I’m working with people I manage, Alison’s scripts are great, and they project confidence! Whereas a person will seem anxious if they ask “was that okay”/”are you sure”/etc. after every little thing (see the letter from earlier this week about the person who needed a lot of hand-holding). It doesn’t sound like you are the latter person, OP; I just wanted to interject to say (and I need to be told this, too!) that how you feel and what you project can be different. Though you may be thinking “omg I wonder if I’m doing horribly and I’ll be fired and I need reassurance,” you can project “I’m pretty confident but would like to know how I can improve my work.”

  20. Andrea*

    I have similar anxieties about my job performance, and I’m a mid-career professional. One thing I have to fight against is believing my boss when she gives me positive feedback. The constructive criticism and the mistakes hit far harder, and it makes me brush off her encouragement as just trying to make me feel good. If you feel like this after chatting with your boss, definitely consider therapy. It’s helped me a lot, and you wouldn’t be alone.

  21. Johannes Bols*

    Viz. asking your mgr. for feedback. My suggestion would be to email them and tell them you’d like to meet with them and discuss feedback about your overall job performance (I find it odd in the extreme that you’ve not had a regular evalution or ‘review’ as it’s so blithely called). This is where you’ll discover what kind of mgr. they are.
    I would imagine a good mgr. would reply with a date and time, schedule and hour long meeting, and ask you if that would do?
    I may be wrong, but any other answer, prevaricating, or replying about anything else, indicates you’re working for someone who will never do you any favours.
    And I have mentioned this point before on this (delightful!), site, but Corporate America (or Corporate anywhere) is set up to draw your happiness, peace of mind, resistance to negative thinking & contentment out of you until you are a shivering, shaking, stuttering shell of who you once were. Only to be told you ought to be grateful because the company matches your 401K contribution at 1%.

  22. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    OP, I was you four years ago, when I entered the workforce for the first time! I worked for a small company where my boss was also an individual contributor AND managed everyone else at the company (and was way more used to managing later-career folks) and did not review anything I did, short of asking if it worked. We also met once a year for a very high-level conversation about my performance. I had to learn how to ask for feedback and did my best to give the best quality of the stuff I was making, but I learned pretty quickly he had lower expectations of me than I had of myself, and didn’t have time for weekly or monthly check-ins.

    I’ve moved companies since, and at my current company we have quarterly goals, weekly or monthly check-in meetings, and yearly written performance reviews, and being able to track my work and progress over time has been really helpful – I don’t know if I’m “good” at my job, but I do meet my goals and my boss says I’m doing a good job. That unfortunately doesn’t help you, since it seems like you work for a place more similar to my last company, but there’s still probably room to use Alison’s scripts for more day-to-day feedback. I wish I had them when I was at my last job!

  23. Michelle Smith*

    One thing I haven’t really seen mentioned that could be useful to you if you are struggling with things like ADHD and anxiety is to talk to a therapist or other counselor (if you aren’t already) about managing those conditions with respect to your work, not just your personal life. Having a third party who you can share your deepest insecurities with can be really helpful, because you don’t have that added worry of them leaking out to the person who manages your performance reviews, projects, raises, promotions, etc. They can also help you strategize and even role play the conversation so that you’re prepared to approach the conversation the way you want to – from a position of confidence and genuine desire to improve, rather than anxiety. Another thing I found can help, as a person with those same issues as you, is career coaching. If there are things you struggle with, that’s normal. I think everyone has those things. But a coach can help you talk through those things and work on improving those skills, coming up with strategies to mitigate “weaknesses,” and helping you build your confidence as you grow.

  24. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    While I agree with all the folks pointing out how useful it is to request feedback on specific things, IMO it’s also valuable to ask for holistic feedback. It might never have occurred to your manager to ask “Did [employee] do a bad/good/great/outstanding job overall?”, and zooming out and looking at the big picture may could help her see clearly what your strengths are and what areas for improvement are most useful for you to focus on.

    Along a similar vein, while I agree with everyone saying that it’s really important to learn self-assessment skills, self-assessment is always limited to one person’s perspective (and nobody can be objective about their own work). Even high-level experts are wise to solicit feedback from colleagues, and when you’re relatively new to the workforce, good-quality feedback can help you learn much, much faster. One helpful technique I’ve learned from more senior folks at my current job is to let the person receiving feedback do a self-assessment first, and then the other person says what they agree/disagree with about that and what they’d add to it.

    OP: I also have ADHD that came in a BOGO deal with anxiety. It can be really tough sometimes. Try your best to be kind to yourself (and that goes for all the rest of you, too!)

  25. Lynn*

    One thing I shared with someone else early on in their career that made a big difference to them — you don’t have to respond to negative feedback in the moment. You can ask for time to process or think about it further. You do have to actively listen, and eventually you do have to circle back, and you can’t be defensive, but you don’t have to respond immediately. You can say something like “I appreciate you sharing this feedback. I think I need a minute to really process this. Can I think about what you’ve said and circle back with you at X date?”

  26. OP*

    Thank you Alison and thank you commentators for your generous answers! I was (obviously) feeling particularly adrift when I wrote in but it’s helpful to hear other people hit these spells too.

    I’ll be looking all these over and letting them sink in. There are a lot of useful thoughts here.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Boy, does this one ever hit home for me! The first job I got after grad (library) school was as children’s librarian in a very small public library. I was there for 2 years without ever receiving one. single. solitary. scrap of feedback from my boss (the library director). There was no formal performance evaluation process either, so I really mean it when I say I got ZERO feedback.

      In addition, I was suffering from undiagnosed anxiety and ADHD, along with a whopping case of imposter syndrome that I didn’t recognize for what it was. (I’m not sure I even knew what imposter syndrome was back then.)

      I was afraid to ask my boss for feedback, because I was terrified that it would be negative. I think I unconsciously assumed that if she thought I didn’t suck, she’d surely say so, and therefore she must think I sucked!

      I worked incredibly hard at that job, trying to do the best job I was capable of. I thought I was pretty good at some aspects of it, while finding other aspects more difficult, but I got no acknowledgement of any of that and no recognition of any of my accomplishments. As time went on, my stress level got worse and worse, until I ended up making a couple of errors that were impossible for even someone as uncommunicative as that boss to miss. Instead of sitting me down and talking through things with me, she told me to come to the next library board meeting as the board wanted to talk to me.

      With my stress level already at an unbearable level, I basically very quietly freaked the fuck out. By the day before the board meeting, I was in such an utter state of panic that I wound up typing up my letter of resignation, effective immediately, and left it on the library director’s desk on my way out. I never went back, and I never heard from the library director again either.

      Believe me, I know how crazy that was, but I was honestly beyond being capable of responding rationally after 2 years of knocking myself out and never knowing whether I was viewed as anything other than a complete fuck up, I was utterly burned out, and leaving actually felt like a huge weight being lifted.

      There were definitely some bright spots in those two years, but my overall memory of that time is pretty dark. I don’t know if I’ve managed to make clear why never knowing if my boss thought I was doing anything right or not affected me the way it did or if I sound like an overreacting drama llama. I know someone with more self-confidence would probably have reacted differently, but I wasn’t that person, and I didn’t have anyone in my life who could give me the kind of advice I needed.

      All of this happened many years ago, when I was young and inexperienced. I am NOT looking for advice; at this point in time, I know exactly what I should have done (asked for some damned feedback!), but I just wasn’t able to do that at the time.

      In closing, I just want to say that if you manage or supervise anyone, please make sure they know exactly what your expectations are and whether they’re meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet them, on an ongoing basis. Especially if they’re a brand new employee, in a role that’s new to them, at the beginning of their career. I can’t emphasize enough just how important that is.

  27. Little Pig*

    I’d add: When your boss does give you feedback, believe what they tell you! Unless you have an especially useless manager, if you ask, “How did that meeting go?” and three times in a row the answer is, “Overall it went really well,” then you probably don’t have a problem running meetings. If your boss tells you they’re happy with your contributions and your progress, don’t assume you just need to dig deeper to figure out what you’re doing wrong. What if they mean it? What if you’re just good at your job?

    Obviously we all have room to grow, but big-picture, don’t assume that only negative feedback is real

  28. Dona Florinda*

    I have some leftover anxiety due to a previous job that fired me without warning — after six months of ‘you’re doing fine’, my boss told me I was being terminated ’cause my work was subpar.
    So now I specifically ask my bosses to please let me know if there’s something I should be doing different, that I prefer honesty and being given the opportunity to fix my mistakes rather than finding out when is too late, and so on.
    Alison’s scripts are great, but also pay attention to your boss and team actions: are you being given high-profile projects to work on? Or are you working on the easy parts of your job while everyone else carries the brunt of it?

  29. Varthema*

    All I came here to say is that (especially when compared to school), some things at work take YEARS AND YEARS to get good at. Coordinating people is definitely one of them. I think when we’re younger we expect to get the hang of all things within months, because that’s how life has been up until that point. you may still surprise yourself!

  30. Bantam*

    #1 — something like this happened with my husband’s office. The owners of his company were buddies with the landlord (surprise) and the landlord was giving a “discount” to the company. Their idea was that they were hoping for urban renewal/gentrification and that having a few “respectable” tenants would attract other tenants and other development. For reference, the other tenant in the building was a drug addiction clinic and seriously unwell people would try to break into my husband’s office day and night, sleep in the lobby, and leave biohazards lying around. His company was an advertising firm so in theory they cared a lot about public imagine (!!!).

    I mention this because the “discount” meant that they were not paying “full price” and so a cost angle wouldn’t work. You’d need to approach from the many other angles like health and safety and appearance to customers.

  31. Citadel*

    To add to Alison’s excellent advice, I’d also suggest OP give some thought to the parts of their job they do feel in control of. Why are these aspects relative strengths for OP and does OP enjoy doing them? Is it possible for roles to be restructured to better align to OP’s (and other colleagues’) strengths?

  32. badger*

    LW3 – if you’re using outlook, it has a function where you can ‘flag’ emails, including giving it a due date that will give you a notification on that date (including emails you’ve sent). I use this on exactly these kind of emails! The flag/to do function is super useful

  33. Somewhere in Texas*

    I wonder if structure would be helpful in asking for feedback on your performance. List out your regular tasks and walk through them line by line. If they say you are doing “good,” find out what great looks like.

  34. Stove Top Burner 01*

    My dysfunctional department has an apathetic director and supervisor who are catatonic about praise, direction and management. In the past, I used to speak to them, ask them about any concerns regarding my performance and always received kudos because I have strong work ethic and decades of experience.

    Invariably, they would neglect to make mention of any of my improvements,
    or kudos, and would mention negative aspects of my personality, as in my difficulties with stress management about my heavy workload. They once mentioned something that pertained to my FMLA.

    OP, I’m just venting. I would suggest you pick one or two occasions a year to ask about your performance; you may not want to allow your need for affirmation be a burden on the higher-ups or they may start to question your abilities to self-direct.

  35. Jillthereader*

    OP, I have been at my job for seven years, and I still feel the same way sometimes. My boss is generous with compliments, tells me how much she appreciates me, and brings up issues before they get out of hand. We have annual performance reviews too. But I still like to ask for feedback often because I am so tough on myself, and find it hard to believe I am actually a good employee. By all means, schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your job performance. Good luck! You sound like a very conscientious employee.

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