“Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”
How do you respond when someone asks you that question? If you’re like most of us, you steel yourself for the negative assessment that is surely coming. I mean, if the person were going to give you positive feedback, they wouldn’t have to ask your permission, now would they?
Unfortunately, in most workplaces today, the word feedback is synonymous with criticism. People don’t enjoy giving it, and we like hearing it even less. It’s a shame, too, because one of the best ways to learn is from others who have greater knowledge and experience.
The good news is that you can take the reins and reap the benefits of person-to-person feedback.
Choose what you want to do well
Let’s face it, it’s nice to get sincere praise. It’s fun to go into work and receive acknowledgement for a job well done.
But many of us take a shotgun approach, trying various tactics to figure out which actions win us approval. “Maybe if I speak up in meetings, my manager will notice,” we think. “Or maybe I talk too much in meetings. I wonder if she would like it better if I listened more.” Even if we win the coveted positive feedback, it can feel unrewarding.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. The first step is to decide what you want to do well. In what ways do you want to excel?
This can be an interesting exploration. Talk to a mentor to get advice. Ask your manager what she would like to see more of, or read through your recent performance reviews. Observe your peers who are succeeding in ways that you admire, and notice what exactly they are doing more or less of.
Make it easy for others to give you feedback
Now that you know what you want to do especially well, it’s time to create a feedback request. Sure, you could fall back on the standard, “Hey, could you give me some feedback?” question. Chances are that with that generic a query, the feedback you receive will be vague and overly positive. Your feedback-giver will be loathe to hurt your feelings.
There are some strategies you can use to elicit truly helpful feedback. First, ask a better question. Let your evaluator know what you’re working on.
Craft Your Ask
When requesting feedback from someone, you will find that the better your question, the more quality the feedback you receive. Write up a feedback request with these parts:
- The task on which you would like to request feedback.
- The specific improvements you’re seeking.
- An opening for other feedback they may care to share.
For example, “I would like to get your feedback on the ABC presentation I did yesterday. I’ve been working on my presentation skills. Specifically, I’m trying to write better speeches and to engage with the audience. I would like your feedback on how well I met those objectives.
I would certainly appreciate any other feedback you have to give me as well. Are there other presentation skills you might recommend I focus on?”
Even better, let your feedback-giver know before you perform your task that afterwards you are going to make a feedback request. You might say, “I’ve been trying to exhibit a leadership presence in meetings. Would you mind observing me in our meeting this afternoon and then giving me some feedback afterwards on how I did?”
Finally, you will help your feedback-giver by giving them your own assessment of your performance. When they see that you are serious about getting better, they are more likely to give you specific and actionable insights.
Request feedback often, and ask a lot of people
One of the reasons that negative feedback sticks with us so long is that we don’t elicit a lot of it. We take one negative comment and obsess on it. That’s okay, it’s human behavior to have a negativity bias. But you can overcome it.
One way to gain clarity is to request feedback often. Don’t limit yourself to only one feedback-giver. Seek out people you respect, people who see you in action. I don’t mean that you should send all of your feedback requests to your mom, your best friend, and your partner. But do expand your circle of feedback-givers in order to collect different perspectives.
Also, seek out feedback every time you test out your skills. Are you trying to get better at writing work reports? Request feedback each time you produce one. Don’t save them up till the end of the year and then ask for advice. Make your feedback requests each time you produce a report. That way, you will be improving incrementally over time.
Follow up on feedback requests
The people who are invested in our success try to help us, they really do. But so often the advice they give us is fuzzy. “You need to work on your executive presence.” What does that even mean?
If you receive unclear guidance about something you believe is worthwhile, do try to act on it. Take a shot. After you do, go back to your feedback-giver to let them know how you tried to operationalize their advice, and ask if what you did was what they meant for you to do. Most of the time, people are able to drill down to greater specificity at that point.
Finally, do thank anyone who takes the time and energy to give you their guidance.
Additional feedback-seeking resources
If you would like to improve your feedback-seeking skills, I highly recommend these books:
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
- Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
About the Author
The information contained within this article is provided for informational purposes only and is current as of the date published. Online readers are advised not to act upon this information without seeking the service of a professional accountant, as this article is not a substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional accountant.