The quickest way to improve is to get feedback. But you can’t just say, “How’d I do?” because people want to be nice. As a Mom, I want my kids to feel good. So when my son asks, “Do you think I played well?” after his volleyball game, I respond, “Yeah, you played great!” I don’t think he’s really asking me for criticsm; I’m pretty sure he wants reassurance.
The same thing happens at work. After finishing a presentation or a project, you can ask, “How’d I do?” and people will be nice. They’ll say, “Great!” partly because they don’t think you want criticsm and partly because they’re conflict avoidant. But if you want to improve, you need honest feedback so you have to chase it.
Try asking very specific questions like: What would you have done differently? or Tell me one thing I could have done better. or What had the least impact? And then, if someone trusts you enough to give you some perspective, show appreciation. You have to accept their feedback even if you think it’s off the mark. Say, “Thanks, that gives me something to think about.” Try not to defend yourself. As soon as you add justification, the person trying to help thinks you didn’t want the feedback afterall.
Try to remember that feedback is information. It tells you what you look like to someone else. Whether you meant to look like that or not isn’t as important as understanding that you left an impression. Then you have to decide if the impression you left is ok or not. As people begin to trust that you truly want candid feedback, they will offer it more often. The more you appreciate the feedback someone gives you, the more likely they will be to give it to you again.
If you want to get better fast, learn the art of chasing feedback.