Getting feedback is a critical step in the process of improving anything.

A product, service and especially yourself or your work.

There is always room to improve, even when you feel you're doing well. The perception of you (or your work) by others might be different than what you think - more on that in a future post.

Being self-aware of one's strengths, weaknesses or quality of work is not easy. And, in any case, impossible to get completely right, as you assess yourself through your own lens. Other people will see you through theirs, thus invariably in a different light.

Ultimately, your career progression will be shaped a lot by what others think of you/your work.

So getting regular, proper feedback is something to hone in on.

How to get proper feedback

Simply asking for feedback, like you do perhaps already, will provide you someinputs - but not as good as if you push it further.

Saying "Be blunt".

Most people are wired to not offend others and be respectful. Especially in the workplace.

So when you ask someone for feedback, s/he most likely will water down what s/he says. Filtering out what s/he thinks might hurt you. Thus not providing an accurate representation of her perception, as it might come across as too strong - critical.

Giving the other authorisation to let down the filters, rather than be polite and default to compliment, is a key tactic for me.

It might be tough to hear - more on that below - but it will provide valuable insights about how you can get better.

So the key for me is to specifically say "Be blunt." in my feedback request. Or even “be harsh” - which takes it a step further.

Asking for "advice" rather than "feedback"

One small wording tweak can also help getting people to be more open.

Swapping out “feedback” for “advice.”

"Feedback" is about you - so running the risk of upsetting you, thus watering down the inputs provided.

"Advice" is about them - what they would do if they were you. Thus not risking any uncomfortable situation.

Being specific

Asking for generic feedback will get you what the person thinks top of her mind.

Which is a good starting point.

But if you have identified specific areas where you want to improve (see "#CareerPlaybook 001: Always Be Learning"), being specific with your demand for feedback is key.

This will push the person to actively think about this specific part of you/your work.

For example in my case, as I am starting this post series and learning to write better for public sharing, some of the questions included:

"What do you think about the tone?"

"Did you get some value out of reading this post?"

Asking up, down, left and right

There are four dimensions from which feedback can be asked for, covering all angles of your professional radiation radius.

Asking up: your management

This is usually done in companies via one-to-one reviews or quarterly/annually employee reviews.

The former is good.

The latter is usually mired in internal politics and filtered/watered down. Good to understand the "corporate view" of you, but usually too limited and high-level.

In any case, asking one's management for feedback should be done as regularly as possible in my opinion. Outside of the structure already in place.

It shows your management that you are consciously on a growth path, constantly learning to improve yourself. It builds up your image as a potential future leader - as most leaders are grown. not made in one day.

It's also a great way to organically build a mentor/mentee relationship.

Asking down: your team

I believe some (most?) leaders shy away from asking their own team for feedback about themselves, because they think it creates a perception of weakness, or uncertainty.

In my experience, asking one's own team for feedback about one's leadership and management, actually strengthens the bond with the team, making the team members feel like they are heard, their opinion matters.

It makes you an accessible leader, which also means that, with barriers down, the feedback loop on other, business-related topics, is strengthened.

It also obviously provides valuable insights into the team's perception of your leadership style, and exposes misalignments but also specific needs that person might have to be led in a better way.

I am not saying you cannot be a good leader without asking for feedback.

I am saying however good you are without asking for feedback, you will become even better by asking for some.

As with every feedback loop, it does not mean that every piece of feedback needs to be acted upon. You can take and leave what you see fit. But it provides you at least with the full picture. The data to make better decisions.

Everyone can become better with good feedback.

Asking left: your colleagues

Asking feedback internally, from colleagues or people at similar level than you is a great way to build relationships, especially across business units.

Asking right: external people and experts

Asking feedback externally, from people who barely know you and are unbiased (especially experts in their field), can shed a different light. Providing new insights and paths to your progression.

How do you get feedback from strangers? Linkedin has been one of my main ways so far. Connecting with relevant people, outlining that I am connecting with them as experts (this is key), and asking for feedback. A lot of people will share a few minutes of their time to provide it to you.

And if you are already mentoring yourself, it does not mean you don't need a mentor yourself. Asking feedback from others is valuable here too. On other topics. Related to your (more advanced) stage in life or business. I know I do.

Mentors need mentors too.

Recommended read: "The Trillion Dollar Coach - The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell", by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle

Feedback is a gift

Getting feedback is a good thing. Whatever it might be.

Getting unfiltered feedback is a gift. And ought to be seen as a gift, no matter what the gift looks like.

You might not like what's in the box, but it's a gift anyway.

Unlike with a real gift, you have to ask for it though, rather than wait for it.

Even if all positive, push for more.

"What can I improve?"

"What should I stop doing?"

"What are you doing that works for you, that I am not doing?"

Establishing a feedback loop

Part of the Lean Startup approach to building a new product or service, is to systemise a feedback loop, helping to test hypothesis.

Just like with building a (lean) startup, establishing an ongoing, systemic feedback loop for your own good will ensure you stay on course on your improvement path.

And especially in a changing world, where people and circumstances change rarely stay the same.

What you are doing might have worked in the past, but might not be the best you can be today.

How to handle feedback

Now for the most challenging part - how to handle feedback, especially when it's not what you expected.

It might hurt. It might sting.

It might trigger strong emotions, feelings of being aggressed, that could lead to knee-jerk reactions, emanating from an ingrained human need to defend oneself. Even if it's not spoken. Your body language and face expression speak for you.

I know it happened to me in the past.

It is counter-productive though to fall victim to them.

It creates tension. A feel of unease for the other person.

That person will not give you the gift of feedback in the future.

And will water down their feedback following your reaction.

So controlling one's emotions is key to ensure the feedback loop does not get broken.

The focus has to remain on avoiding being defensive - though providing more context, in a calm way, can be helpful to clarify what your intent was.

Understanding that it is their opinion, which you might not agree with, but they are entitled to (everyone has their own opinion).

The gift given to you there, is an understanding of the picture they have in their mind about you. And you can either decide to dismiss it - but knowing know how you are perceived - or take corrective measures, improving yourself, or your work.

So the steps I aim to go through myself in those cases are:

  1. If face-to-face, controlling my body language and face expression. If on the phone, controlling my tone of voice.
  2. Starting by thanking the other for the valuable inputs. This encourages the person to keep being open and transparent.
  3. Rephrasing back to confirm understanding and clarifying any point as needed.
  4. Asking for advice as to how they would do it in your stead.

All the time keeping in mind that blunt feedback is a gift given to me. Even if it hurts initially.

One last tip: if it is within your style and personality, and you feel comfortable with it, using humour is a great tool to defuse potential tension, and make the exchange more natural and human.

Even a bad joke goes a long way. I have a long history of bombing with bad jokes 😅.

Applying this above is key for example if your "Jerry Maguire play" did not work out as intended (see #CareerPlaybook 004: The Jerry Maguire play (and how to make it work for you).

Writing the feedback down

There is a lot to say about the benefits of writing things down generally speaking – I’ll publish a post soon about that topic.

In regard to feedback, it is particularly important – and something I am guilty of not doing consistently enough.

See, writing things down helps for the knowledge (inputs) to sink in, to be memorised, and also to clarify one’s mind.

But most importantly, when getting feedback from more experienced people, some of it might not make sense immediately. Or be dismissed as anecdotal. It is sometimes only later – with time or a particular trigger event – that the feedback will make sense. That it will “click”, and provide the full force of its helping function.

Writing also helps to see patterns in the feedback provided, so focus points for one’s improvement become clearer.

Let's Recap

  1. feedback is a gift to you, but unlike a real-life gift, you have to ask for it. And push to get more.
  2. including "Be blunt." or "Be harsh." in your request gives the other authorisation to be open and transparent, leading to better feedback.
  3. not hesitating to ask for feedback right (colleagues), left (external experts and mentors), up (your manager/leadership) and down (your team).
  4. making it a continuous feedback loop by asking for feedback regularly, every step of your journey.
  5. managing one's emotions when the feedback is not good is hard. Avoiding knee-jerk, defensive reactions will ensure unfiltered feedback will keep coming (remember, it's a gift given to you). Controlling oneself, thanking the other, rephrasing and clarifying, asking for advice, and using humour if you feel comfortable with it can all be helpful.

Beyond the workplace, asking for feedback in one's relationship can also do wonders. Took me a long time and lots of pain to learn that.😅

What's your advice for me on my writing? Be blunt.😁

Updated 29/01/2020 with the “Writing the feedback down” paragraph, thanks to Benjamin Dellal’s input.