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

Do you find asking for feedback uncomfortable? While it may cause you some anxiety in the beginning, it’s an essential part of professional development. When you actively ask for feedback, you learn more and faster. With some preparation, 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 conversations.

Prepare the right questions

There are two types of question you can ask in order to receive feedback:

Yes / no questions

This allows people to give you a straightforward answer. You can use this type of question to quickly confirm an idea, and obtain straight-to-the-point information.

For example: “Do you think it is a good idea?” or “Do you think we should take this course of action?”

You can use this to evaluate ideas or options, and can also try weighting the answers. For example if 9 out of 10 say yes, the idea is probably worth pursuing. However bear in mind these are closed questions that do not allow much room for interpretation or discussion. It’s probably best to use them if you are looking for quick input.

Open-ended questions

This type of question requires more detailed answers, which you can use when you want to gather additional information, or have a larger discussion around a certain topic.

Imagine your manager says you could improve your time management. In order to get more context, you might ask questions such as:

  • What do you think is currently not working with my time management?

  • What do you think may have impacted my time management skills?

  • What could I do to improve?

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

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

You may also want to ask questions that help you better understand the context of the person’s feedback and the impact your behaviour is having.

Identify the right feedback givers

Now you’ve determined what sort of questions to ask, you need to find who to ask. The best place to start is your closest circle, namely your team, your manager, and possibly even friends and family. Anyone who has worked closely with you will be able to give you insight into your strengths and things you could do better.

Once you’ve identified the person you want to start with, give them a call or drop them an email to give them a heads up. For example via email: “Could we please meet in the next couple of days? I’d like to ask for your feedback on my new project. When would be a good time for you?”

Once you’ve asked one or several people in your close circle, widen your search. For example people you worked with on a specific one off project, or people from other companies or offices you’ve worked with. Don’t forget that peer feedback is also important - so be sure to ask your colleagues and not just your manager or people senior to you.

Feedback from different sources gives you more perspective and helps you form a more holistic view (like in 360 degree feedback). For example, you may want to use a platform like Impraise to ask for feedback from several people at once without too much hassle.

Productive feedback conversations

You want feedback conversations to flow naturally and comfortably. That is the best way to gain the information you need and maintain a good relationship with the people giving it. Use the following steps in order to have productive feedback sessions:

  • Thank people for their time

Show your appreciation when others spend time giving you their opinion and advice. This also encourages people to give you more feedback in the future.

  • Make your first question specific

It is helpful to include a context for someone to refer to. When you want feedback on a certain skill, be as specific as possible.

  • Listen attentively

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

  • Ask clarifying questions

They are a great tool to confirm your understanding and widen the search for more coaching advice.

  • Take notes

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.

  • Commit and follow up

Let people know you value their time and effort. Make a commitment to get back to them when you feel you have successfully implemented some changes using their feedback.

For example you might want to send a message like this:

“Thank you for the advice. I changed my approach using some of your recommendations and the results have been very promising.”

In brief

Asking for feedback is a great way to help you grow professionally and personally. Pro-actively asking for it will help you learn faster. Ask yourself which areas or skills you want to develop, so you can prepare the right questions and approach the right people. By pro-actively asking for feedback, you may also become an example for others on your team, and help to develop a culture of feedback within your organization.

Want to go more in depth on the topic? Download our E-Book “From zero to 360 feedback”.