7 Steps to better feedback
Updated: May 23
With mid-year job evaluations around the corner, and the additional pressure to ask for and process feedback, I thought I would put together a guide (& free template) of the best advice, to help get the most out of the process. When feedback is done right it can kick start a life long love of self-reflection and improvement.
My own career has now stacked up over 18 years of feedback and I can tell you, there are highs and lows in there resembling a rollercoaster. Any seasoned professional will have stories where they were blindsided by a personal evaluation. Resulting in asking themselves (and their boss) what they need to do to fix it. I want, here and now, to save you from some of that pain. Let me help guide you through a better feedback process where you own the outcome.
Hopefully you won’t be surprised to hear that a constructive feedback process starts and ends with you.
1. Ask the right questions
To get the most out of your feedback its import to ask the right questions. Asking someone to give you feedback and then leaving that feedback open, is hard for both of you. The giver doesn’t know where to start and you don’t know where this will ultimately go. So never ask for feedback without direction. There are 3 types of questions you want to ask depending on what you want to know.
The specific question
Eg. What would you say are my strengths/weaknesses?
This question directs the giver into an area of yourself you want to know more about. It can be used to great effect if you feel you have a particular blindspot and want to hear how you are doing in that area.
The generic question
Eg. How am I doing overall?
Now, the first thing I will say with this kind of question is never ask this on its own, always combine it with a specific question to ground the givers thoughts first before you ask this. Second this question type is magical, because its open, you will get a wide variety of answers. Feedback can vary from how you behave in meetings to how your sense of humour is appreciated at Friday drinks. I will touch on dissecting this kind of feedback in the ‘Evaluate your feedback’ section.
The ‘its about you’ question
Eg What can I do differently that would make your job easier?
The beauty of this question type is that its not just feedback, its a guide on whats important to the giver, and a roadmap on what to do to get there. However, don’t ask this question if you have no intention of making their life easier, as it can set up the wrong expectation, but if you want to genuinly know from your boss what he/she thinks you ‘should’ be doing this is the question type for you.
Now you understand what you want to know about yourself its time to decide who to ask.
2. Decide who to get feedback from
The temptation is to ask those who will ‘sing your praises’ for feedback at this time of year. However, you want to pick people who will be able to answer the questions you wrote for yourself and you want them to be different types of people. It’s hard and ego-shattering to hear perceptions of ourselves which don’t fit with our own self-image but please trust me, to get the most from our feedback there are 3 types of people you need to ask and it will be uncomfortable.
Always formally ask your boss for feedback about yourself. They can make career effecting decisions. He/she will have their own opinion about you and its best put that down on paper and not leave it hanging in the air like a bad smell. On paper you can deal with it. On paper you have control. On paper you can ask clarifying questions, and you can see what they think. Facing their reality of you tells you something about both of you.
This should be a person you trust to tell you the truth and someone you get on with. You will get a positively slanted view of yourself from this type of person but it is important to see how really great you can be, and what positives you can bring to the table.
This might some crazy to some, but asking your biggest critic for feedback lets you see your fringe edges of how you can be perceived. In my experience your biggest critic often also has something positive to say, and can even be flattered to be asked to provide feedback. This is the feedback which will expose some of your blindspots, things you say or actions you do which can be perceived negatively. Knowledge is power and knowing this about yourself means you can face it, and own it.
No-one comfortable ever grew – growth is discomfort. Tweet
3. Ask consistently
You will want to ideally ask the same questions to the same people. What you are looking for is correlation of feedback. If you hear the same thing twice good or bad – you need to take it seriously. This is why the same questions are important, you are creating your own benchmark.
4. Prepare your boss
Asking people who wouldn’t necessarily give you positive feedback can potentially create backlash, if the steps above are not followed. To avoid this you want to let your boss know about your new approach to feedback, and that you want to go through the evaluation results together. Because this approach to feedback has the potential to be wildly different to your peers. As such, your Boss, needs to know this in advance so he/she can factor that in to your mid-year evaluation. Trust me he/she will be impressed about your commitment to growth. Your boss being impressed is secondary, of course, to just learning the most important things about yourself.
5. Never cold call
Please, never cold call for feedback. This should just be a rule you follow from now until retirement with your colleagues. Always, ALWAYS ask if they wouldn’t mind giving you feedback BEFORE you ask/email your questions. Sometimes people don’t have time, and sometimes they are too much in their own head, after all, believe it or not, its not always about you. Your own personal style of asking (email/phone/whataspp) is unimportant, its just important you ask.
6. Practice Patience
Once your questions are sent, wait for their feedback, and only send 1 reminder (after 1-2 weeks) if your giver has agreed to give you feedback. Don’t chase too hard, it can effect what is ultimately said/written. It is better to choose another person if you have not heard back after 1 patient reminder.
7. Evaluate your feedback
This is the best part. This is where it all comes together, lets go over the highlights of ‘the feedback dissection’.
Not all feedback is created equal, and your sources can be unreliable. There are many types of unreliability but 2 common examples are:
The ingrained perception
This is the kind of issue thats heard to break though, however it is good to recognise it. This type of person will not change their view of you no matter how many years and good/bad deeds pass. Their view point is set and thats how it will be. This can be a trait of both “the critic” and “the cheerleader”.
The upward feedback fear
This issue is more straightforward. If you have asked your subordinates exclusively for feedback there can be a fear that a negative review of you will result in a poor job evaluation in them. In this case it can be helpful to ask them to directly feedback to your boss instead of you, or alternatively, learn from it, and ask your peers instead. However, there can be a lot gained if you have team members willing to give you upward feedback.
Download this file or make a grid of your own liking like this:
When going through your feedback the important thing is to first accept everything that is there, good and bad. Acceptance is key. Note the difference between acceptance and agreement. Importantly you must accept that these words are someones truth and it’s their perception of you. Leave aside the temptation to agree or not for now.
Next group your feedback into themes. Create as many themes as you need. You need 2 people to say something similar for it to be a theme. Copy it down and try to find an appropriate label for it. Use the example above to help you.
As you can hopefully see from the example each trait you have can manifest itself in both positive and negative ways. You can miss deadlines because you value quality over a timeframe (Both missing deadlines and valuing quality can be part of the ‘time management’ theme). You can care deeply about your work which can lead to intense disagreements with colleagues (Both caring deeply and disagreeing intensely are part of the ‘passion’ theme). This kind of evaluation is needed if you want to know where your blindspots are. No-one who was passionate ever had a smooth ride with their peers.
An additional bonus activity you can do here is to try and group these into strengths and challenges. I’ve included a slide for that too.
What else feedback tells you
What most people don’t realise is that feedback doesn’t just tell you about you. Its tells you about the giver. It can tell you:
Whats important to them (Important enough to mention)
What their core values are
How they see themselves (Projection)
When i told you earlier thats its not all about you, I meant it. Your feedback can sometimes say more about the giver as people often project themselves when evaluating others. Especially when giving positive feedback we mention traits in others we see in ourselves. This can be a useful advanced technique if you want to know what an important decision maker in your office values and thinks of him/herself.
To agree or not to agree
Now that your feedback is collected and processed, its time to reflect on it. This is a personal moment, you want to think about:
The actions which brought this feedback about,
What actions you want to change going forward.
At some points in your career you will get feedback so wildly different from anything else you have ever received before. In cases like this you shouldn’t accept it. Feedback in this category says more about the state of the giver that you. However, as a general rule, you should 90% of the time accept the feedback at face value.
This is the moment it all comes together. This is how you are going to use that feedback to your benefit and make transparent your plan. Additionally, you make yourself accountable to your progress. Change isn’t easy but taking action 1 step at a time can make all the difference.
The Start Stop Continue Technique
Here is where we are going to address each theme with an action. After processing your thoughts on the feedback you are going to assign yourself actions to start doing, behaviours/actions to stop doing, and the positive parts you will continue doing.
We are judged by our actions and words and here is where we truly address the perceptions held about us.
Templates are downloadable here:
Templates are free to use, I hope this feedback guide was useful.
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