What, MY fault?!?
“Where I work, people don’t give good feedback.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this complaint from people who feel frustrated about their professional growth. The person complaining often talks about how no one in their company gives feedback. Or if they do give it, it’s generic, or it’s part of a rote annual review process. Whatever the case, they’re not getting the feedback that they want and would find useful. And while I might empathize with those folks, as a coach my mind immediately goes to this question:
OK, but what could YOU be doing to get the feedback you want?
I’d like to discuss 3 mistakes you might be making in trying to get meaningful feedback and what you can do to get better results.
Mistake #1: You’re asking the wrong people
Giving good feedback represents an act of generosity and skill. And, let’s face it: you can’t realistically expect everyone to be up to the task. Maybe the people you’re hoping to get feedback from don’t want to invest time to think about what would help you develop. Or maybe they’re perfectly willing, but they just don’t have the communication tools or the powers of observation that help in providing meaningful feedback. Hey, just because you want something from someone doesn’t mean they’re the ones to give it to you.
SOLUTION: Find feedback allies. If the people you’d like feedback from aren’t coming through, look around for other people who might. Who else knows you? Who else likes you? Who else could be in a position to observe you in action and then be willing to generously provide you with valuable feedback. Maybe it’s someone on a different team or in a different company that you do business with. Maybe you can spot someone whose professional development path you admire; they probably benefited from good feedback somewhere along the way and might be willing to pay it forward.
Mistake #2: You’re asking questions that are too general
“Hi, how ya doin’? I wanted to see if you had any feedback for me.” The answer to this question is almost always something like: “Nope, I think you’re doing fine.” Why? Because the scope of the question is too broad and demands that the person answering it work too hard to provide a meaningful answer.
SOLUTION: Tee up a question about something specific? When it comes to feedback, start with a small, focused ask. For example, don’t ask, “Hey, what did you think of my presentation?” Ask instead, “I felt that the middle section of my presentation didn’t flow as well as the other parts. I was wondering if you also noticed that and what you think I could do to make it flow better?” The person you ask will much more likely take the opportunity to provide you with their observations and feedback because you’re limiting the scope of the question and because you’ve given your request some thought.
Mistake #3: You’re giving off the vibe that it’s not safe to give you feedback
This mistake often applies to people in positions of relative power. Maybe it’s a manager who just got his 360-feedback report and tells his staff at a weekly meeting: “OK, I got the report with your responses, and I have some questions. It says here that I should be more open. Would someone tell me what that means?”
In that scenario, the direct reports who could potentially give this manager valuable feedback will likely forego the opportunity because they’ll be suspicious about where the manager is coming from. Is he trying to identify the individual who left specific feedback in order to retaliate? Is he angry about the feedback? Does he even want feedback, or is he just looking for an opportunity to defend himself against the ‘accusations’ in the report?
SOLUTION: Ask humbly and without pressure. I believe that people like to help other people. They don’t always enjoy the work it can take, and they certainly don’t like feeling pain or anxiety in the process of helping. But if, when you ask for help, you set up the request as something that will help very much and will tax the other person very little, most people will usually jump at the chance to help. When you ask for feedback, you should (on some level) throw yourself at the mercy of the feedback giver. Make clear that it would be very helpful to receive the feedback, that you appreciate their feedback no matter what it is, and that you will ONLY use the feedback to grow and improve.
Still having trouble getting feedback? Try not making it about you
If you’re still having trouble getting feedback after asking humbly, you might try asking for de-personalized opinions rather than direct feedback. Sometimes people may feel apprehensive about commenting on your behavior, no matter how nicely you ask and how artfully you frame it. Maybe they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or they don’t like being critical. If that’s the case, invite them to share their perspective generally rather than as it applies to you.
For example, don’t ask “How could I be more concise?” Instead, ask “What are the things that you think of when you think of someone who’s concise? What do they do? How do they make you feel?” It might feel to you like you’re asking the same thing, but just that subtle shift of language could free up the person providing the feedback to talk hypothetically about what they think works well. Then you could take that information back to your desk and figure out on your own how to apply it.
We all need feedback to grow and improve. And if feedback isn’t coming your way organically, or if it’s not as frequent or as helpful as you’d like it to be, you might need to go ask for it. When you do, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by asking for feedback from the right people and in the right way.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.