How can I get more useful feedback?

Regular feedback helps you gain direction, perspective and even confidence.

When was the last time you explicitly asked for feedback? When was the last time you actually felt like that feedback was helpful?

Get in the habit of regularly asking for thoughtful feedback. By doing so, you will (1) demonstrate a desire to grow and increase your impact, and (2) gain a better understanding of how your efforts and actions are being perceived by your manager, peers, and others in your organization.

Get into the habit of asking for and receiving regular, actionable feedback by:

  • Being proactive: Go out and ask for feedback from your manager, peers and/or stakeholders. Put time on the calendar to receive the feedback.

  • Being specific: Make it easier to get feedback by asking specific questions that warrant a specific answer. For example, "How could I have improved XYZ" or "What is one thing I did well during my sales demo? Where could I have improved?"

Follow the steps below to proactively solicit specific feedback on something you are working on.

Step 1: Identify a recent project or task. It can be something you are currently working on, or on something recent like a presentation, a sales demo or work you handed in.

Step 2: Ask for time with the right person. Who do you want to receive feedback from? Feedback doesn't always have to come from your manager, sometimes it can also be beneficial to solicit feedback from other stakeholders or peers. Approach the person who can give you feedback and ask if you can schedule time. This could be as little as 10 minutes or as much as an hour to walk through an entire project. 

Step 3: Prepare in advance by listing specific questions. By listing specific questions you will increase the chances of getting the feedback you need to make progress. It also empowers the other person to give much more productive feedback. In a lot of ways, you're giving them permission to be critical with you. For example, if you want feedback on your speaking skills during a recent sales demo, ask for thoughts on specific things like your pace, your tone, or your wording. You can even ask how they would have done it differently. 

Step 4: Manage your emotions, keep your cool and build trust. Giving and getting feedback requires a great deal of trust! The first time you ask someone for feedback, you're likely to get some amount of information from them.

How you respond to this information will inform their decision to give you feedback in the future. Imagine you ask someone for feedback on your presentation and then they share with you a few observations that are hard to hear. Imagine how vulnerable they must feel in that moment.

If you respond by saying, "Interesting. Can you tell me more about that? I want to get on the same page, but I'm not sure I agree. Can you walk me through your thoughts here?" you are likely to get more feedback in the future. 

If, however, you respond by saying, "What do you know? You've never even given a sales demo before. It was really hard and I completely disagree with you."

Step 5: Ask questions. Just as it is important to keep your cool, it is also important to ask questions. It's not helpful to just say, "Thank you." This will likely make the other person feel like you didn't listen, but it also won't serve you well.

Communication is a tricky thing! It's always worth asking a few clarifying questions or repeating back what the person said before moving on. Most often, we didn't quite understand the nuances in the other person's feedback. Keep digging until you understand their feedback and recommendation. 

Pro Tip: When receiving feedback, listen and ask follow-up questions to clarify anything you find unclear or confusing by paraphrasing or repeating back and by asking clarifying questions.

When receiving compliments and positive feedback, dig a little deeper and ask how you could improve your strengths even more.