Feedback conversations are some of the most stressful social situations in our lives. Great feedback is not easy to give or get and it certainly does not happen by accident. While feedback has a potential to build trust and respect, many people have had bad experiences with feedback (being on either side of the table). Our natural instincts may therefore suggest we avoid a threatening feedback situation.
The accumulation of these experiences make it challenging to create a great feedback culture. However, there is a cure – and it’s a rather simple one.
It has been suggested by experts that the best way to create an active and healthy feedback culture is to encourage asking for feedback, rather than encourage giving feedback.
In this blog post, we will share 6 concrete tips and examples for asking for feedback. They work in both written and spoken format. These will help you create space for great feedback discussions with peers, managers and others, leading to learning, growth, trust and respect. Positive feedback experiences encourage people to ask for and share feedback again, contributing to the creation of a great feedback culture.
While the gesture of asking for feedback is already important and valuable, there are three things to keep in mind when doing so.
- First, ask for feedback broadly
- Second, ask for feedback explicitly
- Third, do it often
Let’s dig deeper into how a great feedback request looks.
You should be the one starting converstations about you, not the feedback provider or your line manager.
Don't let your manager or anyone else be a bottleneck for your growth – take ownership of your feedback and ask for it yourself. There’s no relevant added value in someone else collecting feedback for you, compared to you collecting it yourself. If the feedback process is weird, heavy and constrained by managers, it’s not going to help you create a culture of feedback. Successful, direct and constructive conversations build trust and psychological safety, lowering the threshold to do it again.
If your team still practices manager-gathered-and-filtered feedback, you can set the example by being the first to try a more self-directed way.
Each individual has limited information and bias about you and your work. To get a broader perspective and to see through personal biases, ask feedback from multiple people: your colleagues, team leadership, other managers, customers, consultants, partners, friends, and significant others, even the in-laws if you dare. Everyone has something unique to add and interesting data can be found in surprising places.
If you’re feeling too uncomfortable or just starting to develop your feedback skills (which is totally ok!), ask someone you really trust. You’ve got to start somewhere!
If it’s not yet a regular habit, your feedback request may come to someone as a surprise. That’s why it’s good to tell why you’re asking them for feedback. Referring to any shared work or experiences with the person will help them narrow down their focus.
Try for instance, ‘We’ve worked together on the ACME implementation project’ or ‘You have checked the spelling of my blog writings’ or ‘You saw my presentation to X last week’.
It’s much more likely to get thoughtful and accurate feedback when you communicate clearly the intention for requesting feedback. Narrowing down the focus from everything to something makes it easier to be explicit and helpful with feedback.
A generic request for feedback (e.g. “Do you have feedback for me?”) often gets a well-meaning but useless generic response (e.g. “I think you’re doing well”). Another common risk when not being explicit is to get irrelevant feedback (e.g. “Yesterday you left your coffee mug in the meeting room”), which leaves you wondering if that’s supposed to help you improve. You need to ask better!
You have your own feedback needs, so communicate them. Here is some inspiration:
- I want to improve in doing SEO
- I want to become a master of online presentations
- I want to become a better listener
- I want to get clarity on how I’m fitting in my role in the team
At Teamspective, we have selected 7 common topics that cover almost all aspects of personal feedback. Feel free to use them on your own or try our app! (tip: it’s free).
The ready-made topics in Teamspective are:
- Problem solving and personal work
- Communication (written, verbal, non-verbal)
- Initiative and decision making
- Collaboration and organizing work
- Leadership (of a project or a team)
- Open feedback
In our app, there is further topic-specific guidance for the person writing feedback, which allows even more detailed feedback to be given. And, of course, our users can add their own topics on top of the ready-made.
There are 3 types of feedback: reinforcement, redirection and evaluation. We need reinforcing feedback to know that our actions and effort are noticed and appreciated. We need redirecting feedback to nudge ourselves towards improvement and to stimulate a growth mindset. And we need evaluation to know if we’re meeting certain criteria.
If you ask for feedback without specifying which kind, you might get dissatisfying replies. For example, when you ask a colleague generically to check out your new presentation and receive an 18-item list of improvement suggestions, you most likely feel slightly discouraged – this is because what you thought you asked for was a boost of reinforcement and you got redirection. If you had asked “how would you improve this presentation”, you’d feel thankful for the same list. This is the importance of a feedback request – it prepares you both for the feedback.
So how can you ask for both reinforcing and redirecting feedback? Try this: “What am I doing that works well for you, and what could I work on more to get even better?”. What’s good about this question is that it shows humility and allows for various observations to be communicated, while also guiding the feedback provider to consider actions, not persona. This kind of feedback is actionable and a whole lot easier to receive.
If you want an evaluation, try this: “My goal is to be promoted in the next 6 months. Can you please tell me if I’m on that track and what I could do to improve?”. Evaluations can be quite confrontational, so be certain that’s what you want!
Sheila Heen, author of ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ (a fantastic book about receiving feedback), suggests that her best way to get redirecting feedback is to ask: “What’s one thing you see me doing - or failing to do - where I’m getting in my own way?”. Check her TEDx talk for more inspiration.
Giving feedback is challenging – it requires time and attention. It is one thing to craft a feedback request that is easy to respond to, but it is just as important to show appreciation for the feedback provider for their effort.
Say thank you and that you value the feedback already before receiving it. Ask if your feedback request could have been clearer or better. Finally, offer them an opportunity to ask you for feedback.
At the end of the day, it’s a feedback request, not a feedback demand. They have a right to say no to your feedback request. In some cases this could mean there is a fear of feedback. If so, reading this might be helpful: Strategies for creating psychological safety.
If you’re human and have a hard time remembering what was written here, give Teamspective a try. We have incorporated these tips in our feedback tool, and they’re available in the free version. Sign up for free at https://app.teamspective.com/register
Asking for feedback is a natural first step towards creating a healthy, active feedback culture in your team and organization. A culture of feedback is only created when feedback is actively sought out. So make it a habit in your team to ask for feedback often. Depending on your preferences, it can be anything between a bi-weekly or a quarterly process. Yearly is simply too scarce to be helpful – you can do better.
Here’s an example of a feedback request where these principles have been applied. Erika, a visual designer, asks Mia, a sales manager, to provide her feedback. (You don’t need to make it this long, so feel free to leave out whatever doesn’t fit your needs.)
We worked together on the customer implementation this month, and I’d like to hear some feedback from you. (ask yourself; why it’s them)
I want to improve in communicating my design choices, so please, let me know what worked well in the project, and what I could do differently to be more helpful to you, customers and others. (narrow down the focus; reinforcement and redirection)
Let me know if you’d like to go over the feedback in person. Otherwise, just drop me an email once you’re ready. Thanks, I really appreciate your help! (say thank you)