How to ask for Feedback

By Indradhanush Gupta Comment

Getting feedback is important, they say. But no one ever tells you how to do it effectively. Wherever I go, I make it a point to ask for feedback. Sometimes I have been able to get great constructive feedback, while I’ve failed on other occasions. While it has largely been a hit and miss, I have a collected some thoughts on what makes a hit vs. what makes a miss.

So instead of asking a generic question of the form “do you have any feedback for me”, try the following next time:

1. Ask well scoped questions

Think of that project you worked on, or that feature you helped implement. Ask if there was anything your manager or teammates thought that could have been done differently. Ask if there was anything in that project that they thought you did really well. You should try to pin down a topic of discussion that lets them focus on one and one thing only. Finding good or bad points from a single topic is easier.

2. Ask open ended but well directed questions

Okay, this is in slight contrast to 1 above. Ask questions like “Is there anything that you would like me to do more of?” or “Is there anything that you think I should stop doing?”. The idea behind these questions is that you do not want the other party to have to think hard when asking for feedback. Everyone is as busy as they can be, and asking for more out of their busy schedule makes it unlikely that you would get any constructive feedback. Asking questions that are limited in scope makes it easier to come up with an answer.

Questions like “do you have anything to add?” put the burden of thinking on others. Your goal should be to remove any mental overhead from others.

3. Don’t ask for anonymous feedback

More often than not, anonymous feedback lacks context. Maybe someone didn’t like a joke you cracked over a team lunch and an anonymous person mentioning that in feedback means you do not know who is the offended person. Maybe everyone had a good laugh about it. But you failed to notice the one who didn’t. Knowing exactly who helps to make the feedback more contextual. A feedback is only as good as in the context it is provided.

4. Don’t ask people to rate you on specific qualities

When you ask how much would someone rate you on say, effective communication on a scale of 1 to 10, and they rate you an 8. You may have expected a 10 since you feel you communicate well, but the other person might feel that 8 means pretty good. Scales vary from one person to another.

If you must ask people to rate you, also ask them the reason for deducting points. If they deducted two points off your rating, ask them to mention the reasoning behind that. Ideally, they should have two bad experiences if they deducted two points.

And prefer a scale of 1 to 5 instead of 1 to 10. Limited options means less things to worry about. It makes it easy to put a number when on a smaller scale. How would you feel if someone asked you to rate their communication skills on a scale of 1 to 100? Would you rate them an 86 or an 87? And what is the difference between 86 and 87 anyway?

5. Be proactive in asking for feedback

Remember that this is feedback about you. As a result it becomes solely your responsibility to ask for it. Most people would be happy to give feedback when asked, but feel shy to give it out without being asked for it, for the risk of offending you.

As a result, set yourself a reminder to ask for feedback.

The last two points are more about what to do when you get feedback.

6. Take notes

Write it down. Revisit it in a few weeks and see if you feel like you’ve acted upon it. Rinse. Repeat.

7. All feedback is just feedback

The Oxford dictionary defines the word feedback as:

Noun

Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Feedback is largely what someone else felt about you. At the end of the day you know yourself the best. Use the feedback along with your own judgement to improve upon yourself. If you are not thoroughly convinced by someone’s feedback, talk to someone who knows you well and discuss it with them. What do they feel about it? Do they think the feedback is appropriate or misguided? Talk to multiple people if you must.

And finally I’d like to end this post with the following quote from the movie, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time:

A true King considers the advice of counsel but always listens to his heart.

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