How to ask for feedback well: 5 top tips

In a recent survey by employee engagement firm, Office Vibe, a significant 65% (that’s two-thirds) of employees said that they wanted more feedback at work. We can deduce from that stat that the feedback they’re looking for isn’t forthcoming without someone doing something differently. So how about if you want more feedback, you ask for it?  As we’ll explore in today’s episode, that’s more challenging than it sounds for a variety of reasons.  Today, I want to give you some tips on asking for feedback well.

I love the idea of asking for feedback by the way, it’s a way of taking more control, both of your own learning and development and also of conversations you might otherwise be having at the end of an appraisal period or through some form of assessment at work. Asking puts you in the driving seat, so you’re in a much stronger position, and for that reason alone, it’s worth considering doing it more of the time.

What are the other benefits of asking for feedback?

  1. It shows others that you are willing and open to learn and improve, which is great in terms of you being in others’ thoughts for new roles or stretch projects
  2. It can increase your visibility with more senior people, if that’s who you’re asking for feedback from, and that can also be great for reputation and career management
  3. Getting people more invested personally in your development in this way also builds a stronger relationship with them. If I’m asked to give feedback to someone on anything, then the message I’m getting is that my view is valued and that the person is willing to be open and vulnerable enough with me to acknowledge that they want to improve at something. I’m going to be drawn to that level of humility, how could I not be? Plus, people generally love to be asked for their help and their opinion. So asking for feedback has the potential to deepen and strengthen your relationships.

So what are my top tips on asking for feedback well?

  1. Be clear on why you’re asking for feedback and what you’re asking for

A vague request, or a loaded one, when it comes to feedback, isn’t necessarily going to get you what you need or want.  If you know that you’re looking for feedback in a specific area, like for example how you can make a more valuable contribution in meetings, or how you can make your presentations more engaging, then that’s what to ask for.

I mean you can ask for feedback, off the cuff, after a meeting and just approach someone whose opinion you value and trust, to give you some honest feedback on where they saw you at your strongest and in which areas you might be able to improve. But if that person isn’t expecting the question, or they haven’t had time to consider their response, or they’re not sure why you’re asking because you haven’t given them your reason or context, likely what you’ll end up with is a less valuable brain dump of their initial (probably sanitised) thoughts.  Which brings me to Tip 2:

  1. Be clear on who you’re asking for feedback from, and why

Really, feedback is most valuable from people whose opinions you respect, who have a relevant view of you and, as per Tip 1, who you’ve also spent some time onboarding as a feedback provider, so that they can be on the lookout for examples of what’s going well and what could be strengthened in the areas where you’re interested in improving.

So, could be your boss, a colleague from your team, or someone else, but make sure you pick well. Some people aren’t great at giving feedback, others won’t necessarily have the most useful view of you, do your best to get people involved who will tick those boxes and who will really be on board with what you’re asking for.

  1. Good question asking

In the case of feedback requests, it’s as much about knowing what kind of questions you’re asking and what kind of answers you’ll likely get from those types of question as it is finding the perfect questions to ask.

My advice is to be precise in what you’re asking. Vague questions will get vague answers. Closed questions – for example, ‘do you I think I did well in there?’ or ‘have you seen improvements in my presentation skills?’ – will most often get short answers because they lead to yes/no responses. Open questions – for example ‘where do you see my greatest strength areas?’, ‘Where do you see me at my best and most energised?’ – will give you richer, more detailed, more thoughtful feedback because there’s no yes-no or quick response option available.

Also, you’ll often find when asking for feedback that people pull punches, they water down what they really want to say for fear of offence. So don’t be afraid to ask for more detail or clarification. ‘Oh, that’s really interesting, tell me more about what you mean’, for example.  And this brings me on to…

  1. Practice good listening and emotional management

It’s really hard to manage your emotions when listening to feedback. We are wired to the negative, to spot risks, danger and threat from half a mile away, so don’t be surprised when you find your hackles, blood pressure, heart rate and sweat response all rising as you’re ‘awaiting judgement’ from someone you’ve asked for feedback from. Even though you’re in the power position in theory, because you asked for it, at some point you’ll be in a ‘no man’s land’ of uncertainty and that is an uncomfortable place.

My advice? Listen to what’s being said to you in as non-judgemental and non-defensive a way as you can, take notes if you need, because when you’re through the initial emotional response, it’ll be helpful to read back what was actually said rather than what you heard at the time. Try and be a ‘witness’ to the conversation you’re having, rather than fully invested in it emotionally. It’s almost like you’re asking for feedback on a third party. That will help. We’re all a project after all, and that’s why you asked for feedback in the first place. Just know that emotions can get in the way of hearing the good stuff, at least temporarily.

Finally, always thank the feedback giver for their time and their input. Feedback is a gift, not a git, in the end.

  1. Consider carefully what you’re going to do and let people know

Once you’ve given yourself enough time and space to consider what changes, if any, you’re going to make as a result of what you’ve heard, it’s a good idea to let the person or people who’ve given you feedback know your plan. That way, they will feel that their feedback was valuable to you and they’ll be more likely to spend time giving you feedback again in the future if you ask for it.

But don’t go crazy with your list of actions. Be realistic in what you can achieve and by when and take it a step at a time. Asking for feedback is a big step in itself and it’s significant that you’ve decided to take that risk of becoming more enlightened about how others see you. Sometimes, just the extra awareness that you gain from that can be enough for now. Other times, you will want to take action. Just be realistic in whatever goals you set yourself.

  1. A word on line manager feedback

So your line manager holds quite a few of the cards that contribute to your experience of work. They’re likely going to be the people who have greatest visibility and investment in your success and in any next career move you might want to make. It’s important to be on the front foot with your line manager, asking them where they feel you could improve and in areas they see as your greatest strengths.

This type of regular conversation should also provide content for your appraisal or at least set the tone for any performance management conversation you’re due to have, as you’ll have already covered some of the territory, so there will be fewer surprises on either side and hopefully less of the emotional tension that appraisals and performance management reviews are famed for.

In conclusion – receiving and giving feedback well take practice

You’ll have noticed I haven’t said anything in this episode on how to give feedback well. I have two models for that – BID and BIRD – which work super well but they need their own airtime, so if you’re interested to find out more about those, check out my podcast or blog at Season 1, episode 4…great feedback in 3 steps.

Giving, and receiving feedback well, take practice and they do involve taking a risk, being prepared to be vulnerable and adopt a learning mindset, a growth mindset, to get the best results. But that said, it is definitely worth it, if you’re serious about your own development, and there are a heap of side benefits too.  So whenever you’re ready to take the feedback asking plunge, I wish you the very best, you have chosen a courageous path. Till next time, stay strong.