Want feedback? Here's how to ask for it.

You find asking for feedback uncomfortable? Yes, it often comes with anxiety but it is an essential part of personal development. When you actively ask for feedback, you learn more and faster. With some preparations, you can really gain useful information for your growth.

Asking for feedback effectively is a skill that you can learn. It involves preparing the right questions, identifying the right feedback givers, and productive feedback conversations.

PREPARE THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

There are two types of question:

Yes / No questions

With this type of question, one can give a simple yes or no answer. You can use this type of question to quickly confirm an idea, and obtain straight-to-the-point information.

Here is an example: “Do you think it is a good idea?”

You can use this question to evaluate your new idea (e.g. for a product feature). If 10 people say yes and 1 person says no, then the idea is probably worth pursuing.

Open-ended questions

This second type of question requires answers that are more more explanatory. You can use it when you need to gather additional information.

Presuming your manager says that your time management skill could be improved. To understand more, you can raise some questions like the following:

  • What exactly do you think was off with my time management skill?

  • Why do you think I failed to meet certain deadlines in the last few months?

  • What do you suggest me doing to improve?

  • What are the steps I can take to prepare for the next project?

A take-away tip: Open-ended questions are great for seeking coaching advice.

IDENTIFY THE RIGHT FEEDBACK GIVERS

The best place to start looking for the right people to ask for feedback is your closest circle, namely your team, your direct managers, friends and family. Find out who has the knowledge and expertise in the area that you are interested in.

When you find the one, come to see her in person, give her a call or drop her an email. Here is an example for a quick email: “Could we please have a chat in the next couple of days because I want your feedback on my new project. When can be a good time for you?”

If you can not find anyone within the first circle, widen your search to your second degree connections. Ask your workmates and friends if they can introduce you to more experienced colleagues. After the introduction, you can approach them to ask for feedback. Give them plenty of time and notice so they can prepare.

Depending on what you want to ask, you can ask for feedback from more than one person. Feedback from different sources gives you more perspectives and helps you form a more rounded view (like in 360 degree feedback). You can use Impraise to ask for feedback from many people at once without a hassle.

PRODUCTIVE FEEDBACK CONVERSATIONS

You want feedback conversations flow naturally and comfortably. That is the best way to gain the information you need and maintain a good relationship with the givers. Here are some steps you can follow in order to have productive feedback sessions.

Thank givers for their time

Show your appreciation when others spend time on giving you their opinion and advice. Your gratitude would also encourage people to give you more feedback in the future.

Ask your first question specifically

Be as specific as possible in your first question. It is helpful to include n actual context for a giver to refer to, like last month's project. When you want feedback on a certain skill, be as specific as possible. Asking for feedback about how you tell stories is more specific than doing so with your general communication skills, for example.

This is a specific first question: “How did I improve in telling stories in the last two months?"

Listen attentively

You are listening to a perspective, which might be different to yours. Make sure you listen carefully so you understand what is actually said, not just what resonates with your own perceptions.

Ask clarifying and collaborating questions

Use the questions that ask for more details or background information. They are a great tool to confirm your understanding and widen the search for more coaching advice.

Take notes

It is a good practice to keep notes of the feedback you received so you can come back to it in the future. Treat the notes like a commitment with yourself to change and improve.

Thank for their opinions

Whether you agree or disagree with the feedback givers’ opinion, thank them for sharing their insight with you.

Commit and follow up

You want the givers to know that you do not take their time and effort lightly. Make a commitment to get back to them later regarding the matter. When you have created some changes using their feedback, let them know.

For example, a week or a month later, you notice improvements, you can send them a message like this one:

“Thank you for the advice. I changed my approach like you recommended and the results have been very promising. Cheers for the help.”

While asking for feedback, you will notice that not all steps are needed in a single session. However, you should make sure that there are three elements of gratitude, clarification and commitment in receiving other people’s feedback.

In brief

Asking for feedback is beneficial to your personal development. Actively reaching out for advice, you learn faster and smarter. Ask yourself what you want that feedback can help you with, so you can prepare the specific questions that lead to such information. Then you need to seek out the people who might have knowledge, within your circle of connections. Finally, conduct productive feedback conversations with gratitude, clarification and commitment.