Feedback is the most terrifying, safe thing you can ask for. The process is often misunderstood as deeply personal, or threatens to bring back haunting memories of destructive criticism.
In reality, asking for feedback can help neutralize confusing situations, serve as a compass to navigate work and work relationships, or provide an opportunity for growth and increased confidence.
But for these great benefits to be true, it takes more than just asking for feedback – it’s called a feedback loop after all. Asking for feedback is an interactive process. Asking for feedback lets your colleague or employer know that you value their perspective, and that you want to include it in your work. It expresses that you are not only self-aware, but that you want to be in service of the team.
Feedback can empower you to become the best version of your professional self and to make your work-place more enjoyable, attentive, and efficient environment.
So, how do you make that happen?
- Learn your teammate’s preferences: You may prefer to receive feedback by text, by email, in-person, over a phone call, or from your HR representative. The person you have asked for feedback may prefer to give feedback in their office, outside of the office, in a neutral space, on a retreat, or through a third-party. It’s okay that everyone’s a little different, but before asking for feedback, prepare yourself for feedback! In my case, I prefer feedback in-person and very structured, with an example and a suggestion on where to go from there. So it surprised me to realize that the most constructive feedback I have received came in the form of a structured email. It turned out, that while I was ready to receive feedback, my colleague wasn’t ready to give it. With space and time to gather her thoughts, we were able to have an open conversation, and subsequent small compromises, that gave me access to a wealth of information I could easily integrate into my work. Talking about feedback changed the feedback itself. Coming out of that experience, I make sure to ask how the feedback-giver prefers to deliver feedback, and to open the door to that conversation. The question lets your interlocutor know that you have given thought to this process, that you are serious about your request, and that you are willing to communicate about it.
- Timing is everything: (Aka don’t ask your colleague for feedback as they rush towards their next meeting!) The timing of the process is important for individuals, and for the quality of the feedback itself. Project-specific feedback may require many iterative feedback channels. Ask your team what would be helpful to the team -this could mean a slack channel, a regular survey, or a specific time dedicated to feedback conversations. Other situations call for an end-of-project feedback-athon. I like to make sure that team members who were not able to ask for feedback during the project can, and other times I simply want to review the outcomes of the project in relation to my team’s perspectives. In either scenario, feedback at the end of the project helps me consolidate the learnings of the project, and increases efficiency for the next one.
- What can I do with it? If there’s one thing I’ve learned at Feedback Labs this spring, it’s the importance of “closing the loop.” The feedback process is most beneficial when you have the chance to act on it. If you seek project-specific feedback, asking for it long before the end date of the task gives you the flexibility of incorporating the feedback almost immediately. Using feedback iteratively is no easy task. I often find myself immersed in a project and forget that the person I am seeking feedback from may be in a completely different headspace or juggling different projects. I was not giving them enough context to understand my work or to navigate it effectively. I learned to ask for feedback on specific things, and to give my audience context. This can happen through specific questions (What do you think of the use of the term x in this text?) or through a brief history of your product (we started asking ourselves this question, and these were our next steps). The context varies on the audience! Past interlocutors have preferred a fact-sheet over an email, or an in-person short presentation versus frequent check-ins along the project. Asking them about it maximized the impact of the feedback. Actionability questions orient your feedback-giver towards the answers you want most, thus giving you the opportunity to act on that information.
I can carry my experiences of feedback into every professional opportunity that comes my way – in an interview, on a project, with a new team, feedback has a way of facilitating all of the challenges that come my way.
Feedback has become a secret weapon for boosting every aspect of my life, not just my career, and I hope you find it true for you too!
Alienor served as Feedback Labs’ Product Strategy Intern Spring 2019. A recent graduate from Wellesley College (Class of 2018), Aliénor moved to Washington DC to explore her interests in non-profit work and international development. Her experience in the hospitality industry showed her first hand just how powerful feedback can be in the hands of private companies. With this background, she observed how feedback was communicated, good and bad, and understood how important it was to create positive feedback cultures to harness its benefits. The transition to DC allowed her to bring these observations to Feedback Labs, where she could learn about the role of philanthropy in global politics. In her spare time, Aliénor enjoys gardening, video games and reading pre-19th century memoirs.