Updated: Aug 1, 2021
#TLDR: Clarity, Honesty and Active Listening can greatly improve the quality of feedback
Clear, unambiguous, honest and relevant feedback has several benefits. It tells you how to direct your efforts to help improve your performance. Researchers have found that employees who receive frequent feedback do better at their jobs (Gong, Wang, Hueng, Cheung, 2017; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0149206314551797) and are more creative (de Stobbeleir, Ashford, & Buyens, 2011; https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMJ.2011.64870144).
But it is not easy to get others to provide good feedback, as doing so needs courage, attention and a level of trust and goodwill. So how can you get the constructive feedback that will help you boost your effectiveness?
Here are some tips:
1. Build good relationships before asking for feedback: People find it difficult to give accurate feedback early in a relationship. So make sure that the individuals you'd like feedback from know enough to say something valuable. They are also likely to open up when they know you are a good listener, so begin to practice active listening skills (https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/?sh=5f406e793891) now!
2. Broaden your idea of feedback-givers: Many of us are used to receiving feedback from our boss while discussing our annual evaluation. But useful feedback can come from many sources - your peers, your counterparts in other departments, clients, as well as your juniors and direct reports.
3. Be clear about your purpose for feedback: Why do you want feedback? Perhaps you're new in a role and need to know that you've been doing the right thing. Or you have a sense that you can be better at a particular activity, and would like specific tips about it. Possibly you'd like to grow to be a candidate for a new role or opportunity and need mentoring or coaching. Being clear about the purpose will tell you whether you need praise / validation, skill development, or mentoring, and also who you should approach to seek feedback.
4.Ask often for honest feedback and listen carefully: People may err on the side of politeness the first few times you request feedback. Consider asking them to be helpful rather than nice. When they offer feedback, listen attentively - you could even consider jotting down their feedback. This not only gives you a useful record of the feedback that you can return to, it also shows the feedback provider that you are taking their thoughts seriously.
5. Ask probing questions but don't argue back: Another way of getting more helpful feedback while showing that you value it, is to ask specific questions (e.g. Can you explain what you mean? Can you give me an example of how I could have handled conflict better in the last meeting?). Do remember not to be defensive (e.g. You don't understand! This is why I acted the way I did...). Generally people will stop and withdraw in the face of a defensive argument.
6. Ask for feedback in the moment: Your feedback providers' memories are sharpest in the short term. So ask for feedback informally and often in real time, and about specific situations.
7. Ask for future-oriented feedback: Rather than asking your feedback providers to evaluate your past performance, ask them how you can be more effective in the future. Doing so should elicit more honest feedback.
8. Thank and update your feedback providers: Offering constructive feedback takes trust, cognitive effort, and time. Those who offer you feedback will become a little more invested in your performance. So be sure to thank them, and update them on your progress, particularly in the area related to their feedback. You may not find all feedback useful, but acknowledging and updating feedback providers will show them that you've considered their comments seriously and taken their advice to heart.
9. Return the favor: Start with offering positive feedback, and if you think it will be received, give constructive feedback when appropriate. Do be sure to space it out (nobody likes to be overloaded with feedback!) and be sensitive to signals that indicate whether your colleagues seem to find it helpful.