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Know Thyself

Here's an easy way to get constructive feedback that may save your job in these tough times.

For years, I've been pushing my clients to get a 360-degree evaluation -- that is, asking their boss, co-workers and supervisees for anonymous feedback on their work.

I've also suggested using a 360-degree evaluation as a fast track to personal growth, getting feedback from friends, relatives and romantic partner(s).

But to be candid, few of my clients have responded to my exhortations and -- hypocrisy alert -- neither had I.

An easy evaluation

Because I want to practice what I preach and because -- especially as I get older -- I want to do everything I can to avoid becoming stagnant, I decided to get a 360-degree evaluation.

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A new Web site, Checkster.com, makes it easy to get anonymous, work-related feedback. I did a five-minute self-evaluation at the site and then entered the e-mail addresses of eight people from whom I wanted feedback (you can choose from three to eight). They included my six most recent career-coaching clients, plus my editors at Kiplinger.com and U.S. News & World Report.

Checkster.com sent each person an e-mail inviting him or her to give me feedback anonymously, using the five-minute questionnaire. They were given a week to reply.

Five of my six clients responded; neither of my bosses did. Hmmph. (Once three or more people responded, I was notified of who did and didn't respond but was not told which questionnaire corresponded to which person.)

What I learned

My evaluations confirmed a number of positive aspects about me, which I'll refrain from recounting to prevent suspicious readers from thinking that I devised this column as an opportunity to toot my own horn. On the negative side, I got a few useful nuggets:

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  • Two of my clients said they wished I were more available between sessions. Now that they mention it, I'm guessing that some of my other clients feel that way, too. So from now on, I will more regularly invite my clients to send me e-mail about their progress and any stumbling blocks. I'll invite my needier clients to e-mail me every day with a rating of their progress

    .

  • One of my clients wrote, "Because of his enthusiasm/energy, at times I felt that Marty was not fully in tune with someone who may just work more slowly, calmly." Although feedback from a single source should be taken with a grain of salt, that comment rings true. So I will redouble my efforts to modulate my energy level to accommodate my clients' natural style.

  • Another client wrote, "Marty cannot solve all clients' problems, even if they are career-related: Therapy and career counseling are different."

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I'm not sure I'll act much on the last one. I know that I can't solve all my clients' psychological problems, and perhaps I should consider referring a few more to therapy. But too often I've seen therapy actually make clients worse. Yes, therapy patients may gain insight into the causes of their problems, but their life is often no better for it.

Yet frequently, in just a few minutes, I'm able to help a client identify irrational beliefs and even the childhood roots of those beliefs that have kept the client stuck. Clients are then able to move forward and implement their action plan.

How to react

The way I responded to the last client's feedback illustrates an important principle. Some people feel the need to act on all feedback, while others reflexively reject all criticism. The sweet spot is to consider feedback and then accept or reject it on its merits.

I understand that you may still be reluctant to do a 360-degree evaluation. You could get bad news or criticism in a tough-to-improve-on area -- for example, being told you're "too intense" or you often "don't get it."

But it's worth the risk. A 360-degree evaluation is arguably the most potent way to become a better professional and usually a better person. And, especially in this lousy economy, it could even save your job. (See A Career Survival Kit for more tips.)

Still unwilling? Here's a second-best solution: Do a self-SWOT. Write down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Now what, if anything, do you want to do differently? More of? Less of?

Marty Nemko (bio) is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies.

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