As I said last week, getting serious, critical feedback is one of the most important things you can do to increase your influence and advance your career. After all, the only objection you can never answer is the one you never knew about!
It’s not enough to just ask “How am I doing?” and then sit back and listen. You have to ask probing questions and be really engaged in the conversation, and get their unvarnished perceptions. You need to ask more substantive questions that invite a deeper response, like “What’s one thing I could do better?”
Probe Further with Curiosity
Once you start getting some feedback, probe it further. Get really curious about what you are hearing. Don’t agree or disagree, or attempt to convince the other party why you are really better at “X” than they think. Nothing will stop the flow of honest feedback quicker than an attempt to defend yourself! (You can always schedule another time to show what you’ve done based on their feedback, or what you’ve realized they might not know, AFTER you’ve shown that you’ve really heard them and thought about it.)
What does it mean to get really curious?
Ask additional questions and dig deep into the feedback you’re receiving, like:
- How has that shown up in my work?
- What factors or events have led you to that conclusion?
- What specific examples can you give me?
- How else have you seen that affect my performance?
- What effect do you think that has had on others?
- Can you suggest another way I might approach that?
I’m not suggesting that you need to accept all of the criticisms you might hear carte blanche. After all, what you are hearing is one person’s opinion, or what they have seen from one vantage point.
Just be careful not to EVALUATE the input until you’ve listened very carefully and gotten all of the detail you can. You might then want to validate some of the criticisms you’ve heard with others in a position to know.
Suppose Jane told me that I can be abrasive when I’m under pressure, but I don’t really believe it. I’m going to thank Jane for her honest feedback, then I might seek out a conversation with Jim, who has often worked with me in tight deadline situations. I could ask:
“Jim, I’m looking for ways I can improve my performance. You’ve worked with me in a number of high pressure situations, and I’m wondering if I ever come across as abrasive in those cases?”
Now I need to listen carefully to what Jim says, and watch his body language. If I sense that he’s hesitant to be completely open about it, or that there’s something there he’s not saying, I may need to follow up with something like:
“Jim, I really respect your opinion, and I get the sense that there’s something you’re uncomfortable saying. Can I ask what that might be?”
Seeking this type of feedback can be particularly disarming with a boss, if done at the right time. The wrong time is during or soon before a performance appraisal. The right time is early to midway through the appraisal period, when there’s plenty of time left to change your behavior, and your boss’s perception of your performance.
Show Appreciation For Honest Feedback
And finally, be sure to thank people for their honest feedback. Sincerely. Even if you ultimately decided not to act on that feedback.
Remember that just as you are making yourself vulnerable by inviting criticism, they are putting themselves on the line by providing it. Once you’ve had time to think deeply about the input they’ve given you, get back to them to let them know what you are going to do differently. Let them see that you’ve really taken it to heart, and that it was worth the risk of telling you what they truly thought. Use that to create a feedback loop that can help you achieve continuous improvement.
My challenge for you is to go out and try this during the next week with someone you’ve worked with closely, or a friend who knows you well. Leave a comment on how it goes.