The act of asking for candid feedback is often one of the scariest things we do as professionals, but it does not have to be this way. The feedback we receive from colleagues and clients can help us adjust our approach, fix major issues before they get out of control or stay the course. Feedback can and should be considered a gift, not something to avoid.
Here are Seven Best Practices for gathering this critical feedback:
- Make it Timely. Ask for private feedback in a time frame soon after the event/issue/conversation occurred. Don’t wait too long!
- Gather the Feedback in Person. Ask for feedback in person, or via a call if necessary. Do not ask via email or a survey.
- Be Serious. Don’t say as you walk out the door, “Wasn’t that a great meeting?” and consider that asking for feedback. Instead, ask constructive questions like, “I am trying to improve my presentations and could use your help. Do you have any pointers for me?”
- Be a Continuous Learner. Remember to approach your overall role as one of a continuous learner. This attitude will set you up to welcome the feedback process with open arms. We all have skills, behaviors or technical expertise that we can improve.
- Avoid Defensiveness. Listen to the feedback and consider the possible truth in what you are hearing. Avoid appearing defensive at all costs.
- Clarify. Clarify what you’re hearing. If you’re not sure, ask for specific examples or clarification that will help you understand the feedback you’re receiving.
- Thank the Giver. We know it often takes courage to speak candidly about difficult topics. Remember, without feedback, we operate in a vacuum and restrict our own growth and development.
There is perhaps an eighth best practice we should consider: giving permission to be candid. I occasionally observe that asking someone for feedback is met with blank stares or surface accolades from the other person that are obviously not helpful. Perhaps we should simply give key stakeholders in our work (and personal) circles permission to speak openly and candidly if they have something to say. Repeatedly giving this permission to be candid may eventually unlock useful feedback we can use and help the giver overcome the potential intimidation/discomfort they may be experiencing.
Another aspect of seeking feedback is accurately identifying our audience. We often gravitate to friends and colleagues we like, who rarely say anything critical. To truly benefit from a candid feedback conversation, seek out people directly affected by our work who are not close to us or who have a reputation for being direct. The goal of seeking feedback should never be accolades and validation, but genuine opportunities for learning and growth.
We all likely wish to grow and get better at our chosen profession. The helpful and candid feedback I have received over the years has been sometimes painful to hear, but ultimately transformative in my professional and personal development. I encourage you to put these best practices to work and reflect throughout the year on the impact of these feedback discussions on how you approach every aspect of your work and life.
Randy Hain is the president of Serviam Partners, the award-winning author of seven books, an executive coach, leadership consultant and thought leader on business relationships. All of his books are available on Amazon.com