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Feedback 103 – Asking for and Receiving Feedback

| June 30, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Two weeks ago I began a series of Tuesday Readings focusing on feedback.  In the first reading, I suggested that feedback was the sharing of information between co-workers about the impact of their behavior on the team’s results, its processes, and/or its relationships.  This past week I focused on giving feedback and suggested six simple, one-word questions –

1  What?               What was the behavior that you observed?

2  Who?                Who was involved?

3  Where?             Where will you have your feedback conversation? (A private location for corrective feedback.)

4  Impact?            What will be the likely impact of the observed behavior?

5  Actions?            What actions will you suggest the feedback recipient take?

6  Understood?     Does the recipient understand the issues?

– as a way of remembering the process.

Getting honest feedback is crucial for your growth and development as a leader.  So, if you’re not getting what you need, you have to step up and ask.  Now, how do you go about doing that?  First you need to think about who you might ask – your manager for one, peers, clients, anyone else who is familiar with your work.  And, then you need to begin to ask.  You may find it helpful to either connect your request to something that just happened or to provide some other context.  For example, if you are asking for feedback following a meeting you led, you might ask for feedback on how you led the meeting, or what you could have done differently to obtain a better result.  And, if it’s after a project you led has concluded, you might ask the project sponsor to give you feedback on how you led the project, etc.

Peter Bergman [2] suggests a five-step process to enable you to get at the honest feedback you want:

Make it clear that you want honest feedback.  Explain that you want to maximize what you get from the conversation and that this cannot happen if your feedback-giver holds back.  You want them to be helpful rather than nice and politically correct.  And, specifically you want to hear about things that you do “well-enough” now to continue in the future, as well as those things where you need to step up your game.

Focus on the future.  Focus on what you can do better going forward, rather than what you’ve done wrong in the past.  This approach provides for an easier, and just as helpful, conversation.

Don’t ask for feedback just once.  Provide people who give you feedback multiple opportunities, over time, to provide feedback.  They will become more comfortable when speaking frankly with you, and as a result will provide better feedback.

Listen without judgment.  In the course of receiving feedback, you will likely hear both positive and corrective comments.  Work hard not to become reactive or judgmental.  Always thank the person for the feedback, let them know that you appreciate their honest observations and opinions, and that you find them helpful.  If you receive their comments positively, the individual giving you the feedback will be more willing to be completely honest.

Write down what is said.  Summarize, orally, what you’ve heard to confirm your understanding of the feedback-giver’s main points.  Bergman also suggests that you take notes.  He sees two benefits from writing down what’s said, in addition to the obvious one of creating a record.  First, it creates some silence, which communicates that you are taking the feedback seriously and, second, it provides time for the speaker to reflect and perhaps add to what has already been said.

Clearly, asking for feedback will result in your receiving feedback.  In discussing asking for feedback, I’ve already provided the fundamentals for receiving feedback.  In addition to what’s been said earlier, there are three additional points I want to make:

1  If you don’t understand, ask questions.  Don’t miss the opportunity to seek clarification or to explore how you might take your existing skills to the next level. 

2  And, you also need to respond to any unsolicited feedback.  This could be a simple “Thank you for your feedback.”  Or, if it’s your manager, or another feedback-giver, asking (or suggesting) that you make some change in your work, you may need time to think about how to proceed.   If this is the case, set a time to talk again.  For example, you might say:  “I really appreciate what you’ve told me and need to take some additional time to process the information and come up with a plan.  Would you have time for us to talk _____?”  The important point is for you to understand the request, give it careful consideration, and continue the conversation.

3  Research has shown that “If you receive feedback and don’t change for the better, you will be perceived more negatively than if you had not received the feedback.” (Joseph Folkman, Making Feedback Work, August 1998.)  So, when you do receive feedback, it’s very important for you to take action.

Becoming comfortable asking for and receiving feedback, and then taking action, is an extremely important set of practices to have and ones to practice regularly.

Make it something that you do more of this week.  Plan for it just like you plan for other tasks on your calendar. 

Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim



1  Interaction Associates, Workplace Feedback.  
2  Peter Bergman, How to Ask for Feedback That Will Actually Help You, Harvard Business Review.