2018 is the Year of Lifelong Learning – a celebration of the power of people continuing to learn throughout their lives. It is said that lifelong learners never think of themselves as the ultimate expert in anything. They continue to learn and bring a great deal to their organisation and the groups they belong to.

A quick search across the web helped me understand that lifelong learners are:

  • Knowledge seekers – always looking for new learning experiences or opportunities to improve knowledge and skills
  • Social learners – they learn from and with others

Lifelong learners also:

  • Do more than just absorb or memorise – they undertake analysis and application of what they are learning
  • Act as teachers themselves – they openly share what they know because they understand that having open networks actually gives them access to more information from others

Brian Tracy said “Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.”

How might this translate to the workplace?

Make it a daily habit. There are small moments that occur every day when it’s appropriate to ask for feedback, or when your manager will openly give feedback. This is ongoing feedback and the more often this happens, the more opportunities you have to grow in your career. It’s also an indication of a healthy working environment.

Instead of asking for their opinion, ask for their advice.

That tip comes from Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and the author of the book Pre-suasion. Cialdini says “When you ask for someone’s opinion, here’s what that person does: Psychologically they take a half step back from you. They separate and they go into themselves to find an answer. Whereas, asking for advice causes them to take a half step towards you psychologically, to put themselves in a partnership, collaborative, cooperative state of mind. And the research shows they then become more supportive of your plan or idea before they experience it.”

These insights fit nicely with other research suggesting that when you ask someone for their advice, they think you’re more competent than when you don’t seek their advice. That’s possibly because you make them feel smart and knowledgeable, so they feel good about you in turn.

Managers enjoy giving balanced feedback, so give them the opportunity to do so. Karin Hurt, the author of Overcoming An Imperfect Boss and a former Fortune 15 executive at Verizon Wireless, recommends asking these questions.

  1. What specifically can I do to better support our team’s mission?
  2. If your manager were to give me one piece of advice, what would that be?
  3. Who should I be working with more closely?
  4. Which parts of my style concern you the most?
  5. Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for (insert the job or assignment you’re most interested in here)?

Hurt also advises going in with an open mind and accepting feedback graciously. “Whatever you do, say thank you, and don’t get defensive,” she says. “You don’t have to agree with them, or necessarily follow their advice. But asking for feedback and then reacting poorly will do more harm than good.”

Start today

You don’t just work with your manager, so it’s important to make sure the feedback you are seeking out is well rounded. Approach all sorts of people. Speak to your manager, reach out to co-workers, engage with clients, and even try communicating with competitors. If you have contacts in competing companies, casually ask them, what did you think of this strategy? Or what do you think of this product we just launched? They may tell you when you’re onto something worthwhile, or something they envy about your company or projects.

You don’t have to agree with them, or necessarily follow their advice.

And when you get all this feedback? Write it down. Anytime you receive positive feedback, note it in your favourite app. This list will keep you motivated at work. Noting the positive feedback you receive will be useful when you’re interviewing for new projects or positions, when you request a promotion, or when you rightfully ask for recognition.