Become a pro at asking for feedback (and receiving it)

February 14, 2022 - 26 min read

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The benefits of asking for feedback

5 steps for asking for feedback

How to ask for feedback from colleagues

How to ask for feedback in an email

5 ways to prepare to receive feedback

6 steps to giving efficient feedback

To excel in our lives and careers, we need clarity. Clarity is not just about where we’re going but also who we are. We need to be able to see ourselves. 

We must become aware of what we do well, areas we can improve in, and how people perceive us. Feedback from others can be the gift of sight. Feedback is one of the fastest ways to focus our efforts, correct our course, and achieve our goals.

Receiving feedback and putting it into action is especially important in order to grow in our careers. None of us are perfect, and we all have blind spots. Maybe we haven’t all received a negative review from an unhappy customer on social media. But we’ve all been assessed negatively by someone we interacted with, whether we know about it or not. 

It can be tough to handle, especially if it’s detailed feedback from a loyal customer with whom you have a long working relationship. Our work can benefit from someone else’s input. That feedback can come from our boss, a customer, or even our coworkers.

Those who can gracefully receive feedback and put it into practice are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. The extra attention to their work can make the difference between good and great performance.

While the idea of feedback may seem simple, our emotions and ego can often get in the way, making it more complicated. Being deliberate in asking for feedback and being in the right headspace to receive it is key to the feedback process.

When you know how to receive feedback, it results in honest, thoughtful comments and follow-through. You can also take constructive criticism and turn it into an opportunity for professional development. Let’s take a look at how to ask for feedback, what makes it valuable, and how to give actionable feedback to others.

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The benefits of asking for feedback 

65% of employees say they want more feedback. But why? What do employees get out of asking for feedback? 

After all, feedback can be a scary word. But it doesn’t have to be. If you have the right perspective and mindset — along with understanding the bigger picture — feedback is valuable. Here are just a few benefits of regularly asking for feedback. 

  • It demonstrates maturity, ownership, and autonomy 
  • Asking for feedback increases confidence and productivity 
  • It creates a culture of feedback where feedback is embraced and welcomed 
  • It helps employees understand how their work contributes to larger goals 
  • It creates a healthy dialogue and discussion
  • It can lead to increased problem-solving and innovation 
  • It reduces white noise and allows employees to focus on the most important tasks at hand 
  • It can help your teams reach their goals faster and more efficiently 

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5 steps for asking for feedback

Feedback can be intimidating. Feedback is often understood as backward-looking. On the other hand, advice is often forward-looking.

Feedback and advice aren’t the same but can often go hand-in-hand. But when you ask for feedback from people, you are also choosing people based on their experience working with you. The feedback is baked into the ask. But with the right step-by-step process, you can feel better prepared to get the feedback you’d like to receive — and start growing.

1. Reflect on what you hope to gain 

Know your goal in asking for feedback.

Most of the time, your goal will be to gain an accurate picture of what you’re doing well and where you can improve. The goal is to walk away with actionable takeaways that you will implement.

You know feedback is valuable when you have a clear sense of something you will do differently. Or when you have insight into a destructive pattern that you had not been able to spot.

Productive feedback allows you to grow in your role. It also allows you to double down on your strengths, and create an easy-to-follow improvement plan.

If you realize that your goal in asking for feedback is validation or an ego-boost, reconsider and look for more productive ways to get what you need.

2. Identify the right people to ask for feedback

When deciding whom to turn to for advice, above all else, consider the source. Only ask for feedback from people whose intentions you trust and who will have a relevant perspective. Think of the colleagues with the most knowledge of your work.

Choose the people you interact with the most. Consider also whose work and opinions you respect, although it can be useful to hear from others as well.

To get a well-rounded perspective, consult colleagues, team members, clients, and managers with a variety of different management styles.

Getting feedback from those above you, below you, and at your level is referred to as 360 feedback.

While your customer may not know you the way your manager does, you’ll benefit from seeing yourself from more than one angle.

Client feedback can often be a great way to understand how you can help both unhappy customers and potential customers.

how-to-give-feedback-two-coworkers-at-breakfast

A great way to get meaningful feedback from a happy customer (or otherwise) is to send out a regular feedback survey.

Also, consider whether the person initiating the feedback conversation is the right person to give you feedback.

For example, a hiring manager might be able to give you relevant interview feedback or discuss your candidate experience. However, they probably won’t be able to give you valuable insight into your customer service skills.

3. Prepare the right questions

To get the right advice and feedback, you need the right questions. 

Spend some time reflecting on whether there are areas where you often struggle or where you sense there might be a disconnect. There are a few different types of questions that you can explore. 

  • 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. You can ask questions that help you better understand the context of the person’s feedback and the impact your behavior is having.

    What are specific ways I can better support our team’s mission?

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

    Who should I be working with more closely on the team and across the company?

    Which parts of my working and communication style concern you the most?

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

    Open-ended questions are great for seeking coaching advice, you can ask them of anyone in the organization who you aspire to be like or learn from. 
  • Yes / No or rating-based questions. This allows people to quickly give you a straightforward answer. You can use this type of question to quickly confirm an idea or validate a hunch.

    For example: “Have I shown improvements in X?” or “Do you think I/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 only if you are looking for quick input.
  • Follow-up questions. No matter what, be prepared to ask follow-up questions. Oftentimes, this is an opportunity to ask more specific questions catered to a situation or task. Don’t waste the opportunity to gain insight by hurrying past answers you don’t understand.

    Asking for a specific example, or saying “Can you tell me more about that?” Let the person giving feedback know that you really want to understand their perspective.

4. Take notes on your feedback

Feedback is a gift. Just as important as seeking feedback is hearing advice with an open mind and a desire to implement it. Remember that feedback is an opportunity to understand how others perceive you and your work.

You don’t have to agree with it, but knowing others’ perspectives is more useful than not knowing. Put yourself in the other persons’ shoes and keep in mind that it can be just as hard to be the person giving the feedback.

Try to put your ego aside and accept advice with a positive attitude.

5. Graciously reflect and review

Think about what you’ll do with the feedback after you’ve received it.

Organize the feedback so that you can refer back to it. Make a step-by-step plan that outlines how you’ll implement the feedback in tangible ways. Consider sharing that plan back with at least some of the people who gave it.

For example, your boss may have suggested work-life balance as a priority. An action item would be to turn off and put away your laptop every day by 6 p.m.

The advice was to find balance; the action was to implement a cutoff time for work devices.

These tips can help you follow through on feedback:

  • Review everything from your discussion and highlight the changes you can implement immediately.
  • Think about the changes that may require more time and break it down into a step-by-step strategy to put them into action.
  • Request time for another video call or a one-on-one meeting in the coming weeks or months to assess your progress. The appointment will keep you accountable for applying those changes to your work.
  • How to get in the right mindset for receiving feedback
  • Receiving feedback doesn’t mean just listening to advice. Almost as important as asking for feedback is the state of mind you’re in when receiving it.

Receiving input isn’t always easy, especially if you don’t like or agree with it. Your mindset is everything when it comes to receiving advice.

How to ask for feedback from colleagues

Colleagues are the people you’ll most likely be asking for feedback from.

Feedback from managers and other leaders is valuable, but don’t discount colleagues on the same level. They can usually offer straightforward advice without fear of repercussions.

Also, their advice can be easier to tolerate because you’re more comfortable with them.

As mentioned above, it’s always best to prepare questions ahead of time. Pre-planning not only keeps you aligned with your goal, but it makes your colleague’s job easier by giving them direction and focus.

Research has shown that people are better at giving feedback when you ask them for something specific. If your goal is general, you can try a variation of this popular three-question approach:

  • What one thing from this project should I do more of?
  • What one thing from this project should I do less of?
  • What one thing could have made it even better?

Use the following questions as inspiration for asking colleagues for feedback:

  • What are my strengths? How can I perform better in these areas?
  • How do you feel about our level of interaction? Do you prefer more or less interaction? How would you like to see it change?
  • In the past three to six months, how have I shown that I care about our team’s well-being?
  • What actions or efforts would you like to see from me in the next six months?
  • Do you feel valued as a team member? How could I improve showing appreciation to you and the team?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how effective do you find me as a communicator? Why?
  • In what ways can I change or improve my communication with you and the team?
  • What suggestions do you have to assist me in being the best (job title) I can be?
  • What are ways I can make your job easier?

how-to-ask-for-feedback-two-colleagues-at-coffee

How to ask for feedback in an email

Many of us are now working remotely, which can make seeking effective feedback more difficult. For one, we may not be able to walk over to our colleague’s desk to request their time.

Second, with a lack of in-person time, we must now request meetings via email and receive feedback by video conference. It can feel more formal and more daunting.

Although emailing has its downsides, requesting feedback in an email allows you to outline the purpose and objectives. Clarify that it doesn’t need to be a long or formal meeting, but a conversation to help you assess your performance and improve your work moving forward.

Keep the limitations of remote meetings in mind. Communication hallmarks like eye contact and body language can get lost in video calls. Direct eye contact isn’t possible, and hand gestures and posture don’t always come through the screen.

Despite good camera and microphone quality, video conferencing only gives us a “flat” impression relative to face-to-face communication. Lack of face-to-face presence when discussing sensitive topics can leave room for misunderstandings.

Before the feedback session, prepare by consciously committing to:

  • Assuming good intentions
  • Not reacting too quickly
  • Asking clarifying questions
  • Also, remember that you may not receive the same amount of feedback if your team is away from an office environment for the first time. Many companies are still adjusting to the dispersed team and new work environment.

When asking for feedback virtually, many of the same rules apply as if you were asking in person, but pay special attention to the following tips.

Here’s how to ask for 360 feedback in an email:

  1. Keep your request brief.
  2. Regardless of the type of feedback, you’re looking for (constructive or positive feedback), keep your email brief and to the point.
  3. Lead with your feedback request.
  4. Follow with details about the specific areas or types of feedback you seek. Keep text to a minimum and keep your email scannable.
  5. Be clear and specific.
  6. Busy colleagues won’t read long sentences. They often don’t read questions properly either. Format your questions for clarity by making them big and bold. Be specific about how you’d like to receive feedback and when.
  7. Prioritize an area of focus.
  8. Choose a specific event, person, product, or service in which you want the feedback.
  9. If you have a product name, ticket ID, reference, or event image that will help your colleague remember, use it! Include a brief summary of your role on the project or attach the piece of work to make it easy for the person to remember.

5 ways to prepare to receive feedback

Therapists agree that counseling sessions aren’t enough for a person to make changes. Their clients need to be ready to:

The same can be said for anyone receiving feedback. Without that readiness, feedback is wasted. The following five tips can help you prepare.

The final three come from tenets of the well-known communication theory, Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and help create an environment that allows for constructive, efficient communication. 

1. Be willing to accept information with a positive, open mind

Feedback is about someone else’s perception — in this case, perception is reality.

Your default may be denial or defensiveness to someone else’s views. You should try to understand the situation from the perspective of the feedback provider. Understand that they are most likely giving that feedback with positive intent.

That is, they believe that they are giving helpful feedback that will result in a positive change to your behavior.

Keep in mind that becoming defensive when a professional gives you advice will not work in your favor. You’ll be far less likely to receive honest responses in the future.

Remind yourself that feedback on performance isn’t personal. Receive the comments pragmatically instead of emotionally.

2. Adopt a growth mindset

Although difficult, feedback is a positive asset that will help you improve and achieve your goals. The opposite of a growth mindset is one that’s fixed. A fixed mindset views feedback as an attack on self-worth.

Remember that any negative feedback about your performance is all part of the process. Be thankful that the feedback reveals potential blind spots that could prevent you from reaching your full potential.

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(Image Source)

3. Be nonjudgemental

Release any judgments or preconceived notions of the person giving you feedback. Assume that the advice-giver has good intentions.

Assuming the best creates a neutral environment for a peaceful and productive exchange to take place.

4. Be vulnerable

You may learn something new during feedback — that’s why you’ve asked for it. But don’t be afraid to express your feelings. The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to ask clarifying questions.

When in doubt, simply respond, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” You’re allowed to have your authentic reactions. But keeping them professional and appropriate will ensure that you continue to get useful feedback in the future.

No one wants to take the effort and risk of providing honest feedback if the receiver is defensive, dismissive, argumentative, or overly emotional.

5. Separate your performance from your identity

It bears repeating that teammate or customer feedback is about your work performance, not about you as a person.

It can be hard at first, but reminding yourself of this helps you not to take criticism personally.

If, at any point during the conversation, you feel belittled or humiliated, give yourself a moment to distance yourself and take control of your emotions. If necessary, be honest and say, “I’m going to need some more time to process that one. Let’s move on for now.”

You can follow up later via email or another conversation if you feel the difficult feedback warrants more exploration.

6 steps to giving effective feedback

It’s just as important to treat feedback with care if you’re giving effective feedback. 

1. Ask for honesty

Encourage the people you ask for feedback to be helpful over nice. Let them know you are looking to get the most out of their time and their honesty is valued and appreciated.

2. Be specific and timely

It is helpful to ask for feedback in context and in a timely manner, it can make it easier for the person you've asked for feedback to recall specific behaviors and examples that can facilitate your learning.

For example, if you want feedback on how you are developing on a certain skill it can be helpful to ask after a project or moment where you specifically used this skill.

3. Listen to learn

You are listening to a perspective that might be different from yours. Make sure you listen carefully so you understand what is being said, not just what resonates with your own perceptions. It's natural to only hear what you want to but remain open to what is being shared.

4. Ask clarifying questions

Clarifying questions are a great way to confirm you understand and widen the search for more coaching advice. In many cases, simply asking questions like "Why is this important? or " How might I approach this differently?" is a great place to start.

5. Take notes

Keep notes of the feedback you received so you can reference them as you need. Treat the notes like a commitment with yourself to change and improve.

6. Commit and follow up

Show your appreciation when others spend time sharing their perspective and providing constructive insights. This also encourages people to give you more feedback in the future. Make sure to follow up with your plan and progress, it's nice for people to see how their feedback has impacted you.

Learning how to receive feedback is a journey

Whether you call it feedback, advice, or criticism, receiving constructive feedback helps us move forward in our careers and lives.

Valuable feedback contains principles like specificity, empathy, and forward-moving statements. To receive the best feedback, be prepared with your task. Identify what you hope to get out of the feedback and who’s qualified to give you feedback in the first place.

While most people want to know how to ask for feedback, they rarely think about getting into the right mindset to receive.

To properly receive feedback:

  • Keep your defenses down
  • Do not take any perceived criticism personally
  • Adopt a growth mindset that allows you to prosper from the advice instead of rejecting it  
  • During remote work, we won’t always have the ability to ask for feedback face-to-face. Prepare ahead of time by keeping requests for email feedback succinct. Also, prepare to receive advice that lacks social cues to prevent misunderstandings.

When it comes time to give feedback, put yourself in the shoes of the person asking for the feedback. Deliver it systematically, with all of these goals and principles in mind.

Our intentions and how we say things are often more important than what we say. Focus on being authentic, trying to help, and striving for growth.

Learn how BetterUp can help you drive growth and transformation in your company today.

See how BetterUp works - Watch Demo

Published February 14, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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