“I want to give you some feedback.”
If you are like most people, once you hear the above statement, your heart will start to beat a little faster, your palms might begin to sweat, and in certain situations, you might even begin to shake. Feedback can make anyone anxious and stressed – not because there is something inherently negative or bad about it, but because most people have never been trained in giving and receiving feedback. If you give and get feedback only once a quarter at work (even worse if it is once a year), and without any preparation, obviously it will be a strange conversation.
What I have learned over my career is that feedback can be an immensely valuable and insightful tool in our growth and progression, but only if we are ready and prepared to digest and use it for our benefit. Today I want to share via this article my thoughts on the value of feedback, what is the best way to receive it, and then what to do with it. I hope that after reading this article, instead of just waiting for feedback you actually start asking for it. If you are thinking why would anyone do that, let’s dive right in.
Why Do You Need Feedback?
Feedback is one of the easiest and most insightful tools to uncover your blind spots. A blind spot is anything that others know about you but you yourself don’t. For example – if you think you are confident but others find you arrogant and cocky, how the hell do you figure that out if nobody ever tells you that?
Feedback is like a beam of light which shows you how others perceive you. It can be the simplest way to uncover your strengths and weaknesses, but it is often not easy to digest and process it. Feedback lets you know how others perceive you and your talent, skills, behaviour, and performance. And knowing them is a good thing. When used correctly, feedback can be a very useful tool to move in the right direction, change course if necessary, and grow in your career (and in life).
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill
How Do You Ask For Feedback?
Just like hearing feedback can be stressful for you, providing feedback can also be a stressful experience for the person on the other side. But there are a few ways you can make the feedback conversation a pleasant experience:-
- The best way to make the process easier for both sides is to actively and explicitly ask for it. When you invite feedback regularly, it removes the formality surrounding the process and makes the conversation more “normal”.
- Explain that you see feedback as a tool to learn and grow and that you welcome any negative or uncomfortable feedback. You can also go one step ahead and assure the person that the feedback will not have any negative impact on the relationship. Knowing this always puts the other person at ease and allows the conversation to continue more maturely.
- Know what you are looking for in feedback. Feedback is not always critical. You should also ask for acknowledgment or appreciation for a task well done. Positive feedback will help you understand your strengths, and gives you the confidence and assurance required to look objectively at your weaknesses.
- Be specific and ask for examples. Don’t let anyone get away with vague feedback. Always dig deeper and ask for specific events and evidence in support of the feedback you receive. Here are a few questions you can ask:-
a) Can you explain what you mean?
b) Can you give an example to support your point?
c) Paraphrase the feedback and ask – Is that what you mean?
- Seek feedback from people all around you and not just your boss. Ask people above, below, and sideways in your organization. Multiple sources of feedback can eliminate any outliers and helps to surface any obvious blind spots immediately.
Whenever you are looking for some powerful and insightful answers, there are always corresponding powerful questions to go with them. Below are a few such questions you can ask to solicit deep and meaningful feedback about yourself:-
- If I were to wow you with my performance, what would that look like?
- What’s one thing I could improve?
- What would you have done differently had you been in my position?
- What’s your opinion about how I handled that conversation, presentation, task, etc?
- What specifically can I do to handle that task, conversation, project better?
- What is one thing you can always count on me for?
- What is one thing you will never count on me for?
What To Do After Receiving The Feedback
The worst thing that you can do with feedback is to do nothing with it. The feedback conversation is just the beginning on the road to learning and growth. So once you are done with the feedback, you can take the following steps to make the most of it.
- Thank the person for providing you feedback. Not only is feedback essential for your growth, it is also often a courageous step to provide it in the first place. Acknowledge the person for the conscious act of providing you feedback.
- Do not defend yourself during a feedback conversation. Do not get into a game of blame and justifications. Respond to the feedback, not react to it.
- If the feedback is critical, take responsibility (not blame) for what you hear. Let the other person know that you will evaluate the feedback and get back.
- Take time to introspect and evaluate the feedback. Does it resonate with feedback from others? Can you gather more data or feedback to validate it? If no, explain to others how you see it. If yes, let them know what you will change. Make certain promises and then do what you say.
- Take all the positive feedback and put it into a “complements” document. Often we tend to focus too much on the negatives and ignore what we are doing well. Visiting this document regularly will give you motivation and positive reinforcement. Sometimes reading one little positive feedback can make your day.
Following the above guidelines doesn’t mean that your feedback conversations will be painless, but they will certainly go more smoothly. Once you see feedback for the powerful tool it is in your learning and growth, you will fall in love with it. The more you seek and get feedback, the faster you can move to learn, adapt, and change course if necessary. To conclude I would like to leave you with the below quote by Ken Blanchard.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard