A Guide to Receiving Feedback Part I: Ask for It

Asking For FeedbackI’m writing this guide to answer a question a trusted colleague asked me the other day. I think there are plenty of resources for how to give effective feedback (I’ve written a few myself) yet I can’t find as many about the other end, or how to go about receiving feedback. I’m planning on writing a series of these posts, so my first tip in this series is: Ask For Feedback.

I’m amazed at how many people go through life without asking for feedback. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t do so. Perhaps it’s because people are ineffective at giving feedback, perhaps people are fearful of the consequences it may have on their status, on their career, or their current position. Many organisations, teams and processes don’t really create a safe environment for people to receive effective feedback, only serving to fuel the cycle of not wanting to provide effective feedback. Poor HR processes tie performance evaluations to annual reviews that only occur once a year, adding to the vicious cycle of providing poor quality feedback.

Remember that effective feedback should be about Strengthening Confidence and Improving Effectiveness for the person receiving it. Anything else is ineffective.

The first step that you, as the person benefiting from the feedback, should do to break the cycle is simple; ask for it. Asking for feedback (particularly detached from performance evaluation cycles) starts to create a safe environment for the person giving feedback. It gives the donor permission to help you understand what things to continue doing (or do more of) and places where you might improve. You could start the conversation off like this:

“I value your opinions and I’d be interested in getting your feedback about how you think things are going. It would be helpful for me to understand specific examples focusing on behaviour where you can help me strengthen my confidence and improve my effectiveness.”

Make sure you give the person the opportunity to think about it:

“I’d like to get that feedback soon and would like to give you some time to think about it. Can we organise a time later in the week to cover this?”

Establish a time that works for the both of you – enough to let the donor collect their thoughts balanced against enough time for it to be relevant for the recipient. More importantly, ask for feedback frequently. Don’t wait until the end of a team, the end of a project or a whole year. You want feedback to be relevant and specific because relating feedback to recent events gives you the opportunity to apply it.

Photo above taken from GreyBlueSkies flickr stream under the Creative Commons licence

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