How to Get the Feedback You Need
When I first offered feedback workshops, I thought the sessions would be filled with supervisors seeking ways to give impactful assessments. Actually, a larger percentage of people were interested in how to get feedback. These participants already recognized that feedback is required to improve their performance, could provide insight on how to get to the next level in their careers, and could improve their relationships. After all, if my manager is a sought-after trainer, and my goal is to be one, then wouldn’t it be foolish not to try to access that treasure trove of information? If you are wondering how to get the feedback that you need, here are a few tips:
1. Make It Safe
First, identify the person who has the information or experience that would be beneficial to you, such as a supervisor, partner, co-worker, or someone with a career you admire. It may seem easy enough to ask for critiques, but many people do not like giving feedback. They often are concerned about hurting someone’s feelings, risking relationships, receiving retaliation, or a whole host of other fears. As the requestor of the feedback, you can make it safe to give their opinion.
First, explain why you are seeking their assessment. What is it about that person’s abilities or skillset? What are you hoping to do with the information? For instance, you may approach a co-worker and request their opinion on a curriculum that you have created, because they have written several well-received curricula. This information will help the person understand why you have asked for their input and perhaps put them at ease. Everyone likes to feel helpful and valued.
2. Schedule a time
We want what we want when we want it, but you can’t do this with feedback. Fight the urge to interrupt the person you wish to get feedback from with a “do you have a minute?” request. If it is valuable input you want, then it will take more than a minute. Also, it can make the person feel put on the spot, if not annoyed. So after you have requested the feedback, ask to schedule a brief meeting (as little as 10 minutes) to hear their input. While some people readily have information to share, there are many more who would like to gather their thoughts before issuing feedback. Also, you will get more valuable information from someone who took the time to think it through versus first thoughts.
3. Narrow the Field
“What were your thoughts about my performance?” This is a wide-open question. When seeking feedback, it is more effective to narrow the field. Instead, ask about a particular aspect of your performance, such as, “How was my group management in the training? Do you have any suggestions about how I handled resistance from participants?” In narrowing the field, you ensure you get the input you think is most beneficial, and the giver does not have to stress about what you may need.
The person you want information from may still be a little hesitant or maybe even unskilled at thinking through feedback. In that case, you can provide a little guidance by having them think through SKS (Start, Keep, Stop). In other words, “What do you recommend that I start, keep, or stop?” For instance, “Regarding my presentations, what do you suggest that I start, keep, stop?” Using SKS can assist the feedback giver with a framework to think through the evaluation.
In putting it all together, it could look as simple as, “When you get a chance, I’d like to schedule a brief meeting with you to get your feedback on my workshop. In particular, I would like to know what you recommend that I start, keep, or stop in how I respond to groups. I’m only asking because you manage your trainings so well and I’d like to improve my scoring on evaluations.”
4. Only Listen
The day has arrived, and you are about to get some information that may improve your life. So listen to understand. You may even want to write notes. If so, then capture both the positive and the things to improve. Feedback can be hard to hear and our natural tendency is to explain or defend, but our role is only to listen. We should only ask for clarification, such “Tell me a little more about that,” or “Help me understand where that is coming from.” We should not try to sway them to our side nor try to put up a defensive argument. Later, when you feel less pressured to defend, you can evaluate the usefulness of the information. The act of listening will make the feedback giver more comfortable and likely to offer feedback again.
5. Evaluate and Use
Once you have received feedback, spend time reflecting on the information. If you question the validity of the feedback, make sure you are not discounting it because you do not agree or feel defensive. You may find it helpful to ask a trusted co-worker or friend if they agree with the assessment.
If you realize you are not sure about something the giver said, then reconnect with them for clarification. Even if you do not agree with the feedback, consider if there is any part of the assessment you can act on to improve your performance. In the event that you make any changes or improvements, it is essential to share it with the giver. There is nothing like knowing you have been helpful. It will further the likelihood that they will give and perhaps even seek feedback again.
Feedback is a tool that can be used to get you to your next career level and improve your skills and relationships. If we can get past the idea of hurt feelings and wounded pride, then we can make use of information that can prove to be truly transformative.
Nichole Gause is a Learning and Development consultant in North Carolina. Her specialty is communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills.