How to ask for feedback

What I've learned over my career on how to ask for feedback.


How to ask for feedback
What I've learned over my career on how to ask for feedback.

When I left a previous job, I asked to have a meeting with one of the leaders of our engineering organization. In the years I worked there, I had been over looked several times for a position and now that I was leaving I thought this would be an opportunity to ask what I could have done differently to have been selected for the position. At the end of the conversation I asked, "Do you have any other feedback for me?"

Early in my career, I asked this question a lot. I was young and eager to improve. I wanted someone to tell me where my blind spots were, what I may have been doing poorly or incorrectly, or where I could improve. The response was often the same, and it would frustrate me.

Not that I can think of. Just keep doing what you are doing.

But this time wasn't like that. I got great feedback. But it wasn't what I was expecting. His feedback was on how to ask for feedback. I've built on those ideas over the years and have compiled the following helpers to requesting feedback.

Come Prepared

Your request for feedback should be tied to something specific. Prior to asking for feedback consider what questions you might ask to receive specific answers.

Perhaps you just finished giving a presentation and you aren't sure if you were able to get your point across. You could ask, "I was trying to express X, how well do you think I presented that? Were there any places where my argument was weak?"

Or perhaps you get a lot of change requests on your pull requests and you would like to improve that. Consider asking, "I've noticed that I get a lot of feedback on my pull requests, are there any steps I could take prior to submitting my PR that might help me catch some of these things beforehand?"

If you want targeted, specific feedback, you need to ask targeted and specific questions. Asking broad questions will get broad answers.

Request and Expect Honesty

You want honest feedback. If it's not honest, it won't be helpful. The honesty of the feedback is going to depend heavily on how much the person trusts you. This person needs to know the feedback they provide will be accepted without judgement and will be appreciated.

When someone is providing feedback to you, try not to become defensive. This can be especially hard if the feedback seems negative. Avoid interuppting and hear the person out. Perhaps there is some information you are not aware of, or vice versa, that is leading to the feedback. After they have finished, ask follow up questions. Try to understand their point of view, and if you feel it necessary to help provide additional context to this individual, share your perspectives.

Show Genuine Interest

Being proactive in seeking out feedback should be a fairly good indicator to someone that you are interested in what they have to say. But you can take it further by taking notes on what is being said.

One word of caution here. You do not want to appear distracted. In virtual meetings, it is especially easy to become distracted by other things happening on the screen. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly easier to know when someone is distracted. In your effort to take notes, you do not want the other person to think you are distracted. It's best to communicate to the individual that you are going to be taking notes and that if you appear distracted, it is just you writing things down.

Show Appreciation

Always express your appreciation. Even if you receive feedback, and choose not to follow it, express your gratitude to the individual for sharing their thoughts with you. If they can feel your appreciation, it will help to build trust and encourage them to share feedback with you in the future.

Follow Up

After receiving feedback, and taking notes, hopefully you are able to make adjustments and see improvement. It can be helpful to then follow up with the individual to express both gratitude and to share progress with them. They will be excited to hear about your successes as well as knowing they played a role in that success and it will help to build more trust.