Seeking Feedback

Seeking out feedback is something that we do quite often, but usually in informal settings such as at dinner parties asking how the dessert we made tasted, or inquiring how we look in a new outfit. Usually, the responses to these questions don’t have a heavy impact on us, even when less-than-glowing responses are shared. However, we tend to be more reluctant to seek out feedback in more formal environments such as the workplace, usually because we fear we may not like the answers we hear. Seeking feedback involves courage – not just in asking, but in really listening to what others have to say.

Why bother?

Asking for feedback is one of those life hacks that can help us get where we’re going a little faster, while wasting less time and effort on mistakes or guesswork; it’s something we can, and should do more often. Simply put, there are things we can always improve upon in our lives, whether for personal or career goals, and when we seek out feedback on our performance, we can save a lot of headaches. Asking for feedback also helps us take more control of what we’re doing; we can focus on the big-ticket items instead of flailing around in the minutiae.

Successfully seeking feedback

In most workplaces, we get feedback from management, co-workers, and/or clients, often without ever asking for it. Employers need to give feedback to staff to improve business practices, but it’s also good for staff to regularly ask for feedback. Not only does it show our commitment to the job and organization, it demonstrates just how keen we are to learn, grow and succeed. In other areas of our lives too, such as our personal goals, hobbies, or other pursuits, it’s always advisable to seek feedback along the way. We’re not asking for simple encouragement or a pat on the back; we need direct answers to specific questions in order to get the job done right.

Helpful tips:

When seeking out feedback, there are a few key points to consider if we truly want to get the most out of it. Let’s face it, we can all feel a little fragile from time to time when we hear negative comments about something we have worked hard for, or invested a lot of time and energy into. If we’re going to ask for feedback, here’s the best way to go about it:

  • Tell the other person in advance that you’d like feedback, so they can take a bit of time to give it some thought. Hastily-given feedback is never ideal.
  • Ask people who have some knowledge of the topic, and who will be unbiased. A competitive co-worker or stressed-out boss for example would be the wrong people to ask.
  • Be clear about what you would like feedback on – instead of “How am I doing?”, you can ask “What are your thoughts on the new reporting system I’ve been using?”
  • Use open-ended questions – avoid one-word answers such as yes/no/good/fine. Those of us with kids know not to ask “How was school today” for that exact reason! Ask instead questions like, “What would you recommend to enhance how I’ve described the skills on my resume?”. You’ll get more quality responses.
  • Promote dialogue without aggression or defence mechanisms to clarify the feedback. If prone to taking a defensive stance, give yourself some time to think about the feedback before responding.
  • Pay attention to other people’s body language and non-verbal cues. This will help determine not only their comfort level, but also their interest and commitment. If they seem eager and helpful for example, then that’s a very good indicator that they are happy to take the time to give us thoughtful feedback.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we won’t like what we hear, and frankly, it can really sting. We may be inclined to over-analyze it, disregard it altogether, or blame the person who gave us the feedback. Attacking those that give us feedback however may cut us off from valuable sources of information that can help us improve. We’re more resilient than we think – and in order to grow, learn and improve at whatever it is we are doing, seeking feedback is a positive, brave step in the right direction.

“Know, or listen to those who do.”  – Baltasar Gracian