The Mentee Minute–Getting Specific Feedback

Recently, we talked about why it is important for mentors and supervisors to give specific feedback and ways to do that through the SBI model. SBI stands for Situation-Behavior-Impact and is a three-step model to give feedback that helps the mentee understand not only what they did (right or wrong), but also reinforces why it is important to learn from the experience and the impact of the behavior.

But what if you are on the other side of the desk–the mentee seeking feedback? Can you use this model in reverse to guide your mentor through understanding your needs? Are there other ways of asking for specific feedback? Yes!

Consider a situation where you are on the job hunt and are hitting some roadblocks during the interview phase. You schedule time with your mentor to talk about your challenges and ask for feedback. You mentor says something to the effect of, “You’re doing great! You just need to sell yourself better.” The conversation ends there.

Is there anything wrong with this scenario? Not necessarily. That’s common advice all postdocs get when they are on the job market. But what do you do with this information? Is there anything you can act on? Have any behaviors been identified that would be good “selling points”? Have you discussed any situations where you’ve demonstrated these selling points? Do you know how to articulate the impact, which leads to understanding your value?

Try asking for more. You could respond, “I know! I hear that a lot. Can we talk for a few moments about how I can do that more effectively? What do you consider to be my strengths? If you were me, what specific attributes would you point out if you were trying to sell yourself?”

If you ask an nebulous question (e.g. do you have any feedback for me?), you will likely get a nebulous answer. Be specific. Mentors cannot know what you need if you don’t ask.

Nebulous Specific
Do you have any feedback on my presentation today? I’ve been working to improve describing the impact of my results in my presentations, rather than just showing the data. Can we talk about how that went today and what I can do to improve?
How are my collaboration skills? I appreciate being given the latitude to lead interactions with other groups and I think it is important to learn how to collaborate effectively. Let’s talk about how I’m managing communication with  our collaborators and identify what is working and what I could do better.
How would you rate my time management? With multiple projects, it is important for me to manage my time effectively. I’d like your opinion on my current ability to manage my time and ideas for improvement. What methods have worked for you while managing multiple projects throughout your career?

Want more tips on getting specific feedback? Check out articles from the following sites to start.

The Ladders–How to ask for feedback that actually makes a difference

Harvard Business Review–How to Get the Feedback you Need

Forbes–Turn the Tables and Ask for Feedback

Forbes–40 Questions to Ask a Mentor


About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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