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  • Common Mistakes When Asking For Feedback

    [08.27.19]
    - Iuliana Urechi

  • 5. Not knowing your audience

    People are complex and hard to figure out. Not only do you have to double-check yourself, you also have to try to figure out the people around you. You might rely on your superior to give you feedback and guide you in all manner of things. You may not even realize that his incompetence is driving your productivity down and your career astray. Stuck between the people who praise you and the superiors who criticize, you have to wonder whom should you listen to.

    Instead of allowing your feelings to guide your judgment, sit down and list the strong points of every person. Is your boss not an expert on your craft? He must be an expert in something else. Management, self-promotion, public speaking. Remember, keep your feelings out of it! Vitriol and sarcasm are like sugar - pleasurable in the present, detrimental in future. Leave them out of it. You might be surprised to learn that you've been asking the wrong people about the wrong things. Make sure you are clear on what each person can contribute to your goal.

    6. Asking loaded questions

    The human mind is so averse to effort and preoccupied with itself, that it substitutes hard questions for easier ones all the time. You go in to a performance review with your superior. You ask, "What can I be doing better?" You get a few suggestions and both of you feel like something has been accomplished, even though nothing of value has been exchanged. You wanted to know how to lower your chance of being fired. Your superior listed things that every employee could improve at, without considering your circumstances, current skill level, company goals or average worker performance. All because for your superior, answering "Nothing. You're already doing a great job." felt wrong and you wanted a concrete answer to a broad question.

    Questions, just like sentences, can be positively or negatively charged. You want yours to be as neutral as possible. Avoid Yes/No questions whenever you can - they limit the scope too much. Avoid questions that are too broad, like "How am I doing?", "How can I improve". Write down your questions in advance and try to give mock answers to them, to see if you're limiting feedback and skewing results towards the positive or negative side.

    7. Not being specific enough

    Another killer of helpful feedback is the broad question. It can be interpreted in any way, based on the current weather, what someone ate for breakfast or what movie is playing in the theaters this week. When you ask someone "Do I look good in this dress?", "Am I being too harsh?" or "How can I improve?", you're asking for trouble. If you then take the answer to heart and act on it without thinking it through, disappointment and confusion is sure to follow.

    Useless information taken as fact is your enemy. The more vague your question the more random the feedback you get. If you can't come up with a detailed question, if it can have a large area of answers, break it up and specify. Take the time and effort to think your goal and steps through, then ask questions based on that. No one but you can answer the question of "What can I do better?", but people around you can point you in the right direction. Ask "What do you think helped you be successful?", "What is the most important trait you workers must possess?", "Can you recommend a good book on this subject?". Be specific and honest in asking for feedback you actually want to receive.

    8. Not verifying the answer

    Now you're ready. You're prepared. Your goals are clear, your questions ready. You ask the right people. You even write down the answers you get. You act with confidence and execute on the feedback. However, something goes wrong or you have to get clarification. You come back and do a recap, only to hear the dreaded "That's not what I meant." You lose trust, time, you're frustrated and have to start over. A situation we all keep finding ourselves in over and over again.

    Clarification seems unnecessary and awkward in the moment. It's like slamming the breaks just when you gained good speed. So when you feel this, know that you're probably moving too fast and you're making mistakes. Slow down the pace and make sure to read back what feedback you got. Say to the person " So you mean to say...?", "Are you telling me to...?" Take time to think through what people are telling you. Discuss this with them in the moment. Not everyone is great at expressing his or her thoughts and feeling. Help them and yourself to get to the point. Verify your feedback.

    What's your most common and despised pitfall? Mine is "Being shy". I often want to please people so much that I rush and skip the verification step. I later have to scramble and interpret the feedback I got. Or scrap the work I've done, because I was not thorough enough with my questions.

    Share in the comments your feedback habits and give any useful tips you have for getting better feedback.

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