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Getting Useful Feedback

A recent client brought up a concern that his naturally agreeable and collaborative approach may be a ‘red flag’ for promotion in his organization which has a lot of sharp elbowed leaders. He reported consistently getting positive feedback when he asked superiors “How am I doing?” but he observed the differences in style frequently leaving him worried that perhaps he didn’t fit the mold despite the feedback.

Receiving vague or unclear feedback can be confusing and frustrating for employees. You tend to get better feedback, however, when you ask better questions and create better processes for feedback. Here are some things that I have seen help to improve the usefulness of feedback:

1. Get specific – The more your questions target a specific behavior or objective, the more targeted and useful your feedback will become.

2. Plan Ahead – ask someone ahead of time to observe and watch for something specific you want feedback on. Before a stage presentation you might say “I’m working on connecting better with my audience through eye contact, can you please watch for how well I do this and let me know if you see other ways I can improve my stage presence?”

3. Systematize – if appropriate, asking multiple people the same questions over time in a systematic way can identify if a behavior is improving over time even if specifics are hard to get any other way.

4. Keep asking – getting quality feedback has a lot to do with trust. Sometimes it takes time and repeated positive encounters to build the trust that will open the door to more candid feedback. One you have this kind of relationship – hang on to it!

How hard are you working to get useful and actionable feedback? When you are asked for feedback, how much are you digging in to see what is being sought and how you can help? What do you think happened when this client started asking better questions?

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