How to Ask For and Receive Feedback

The gap between how a leader THINKS they are perceived and the REALITY of how others see them can be big. This gap may be cause for concern, and may require some action on the leader`s part to change the less-than-positive perceptions of others. Alternatively, a leader may underestimate themselves, and getting good feedback is a way to develop self confidence that they are on the right track.

So how do you know if there is a gap, and how do you ask others to name it? Just ask. The best leaders aren`t afraid to do so. They know that asking for feedback indicates self confidence and is not a sign of weakness. They model their own personal and professional development in this way.

How to ask to get feedback you can use

Who will you ask? Ask trusted people around you who observe you in action. These may be employees, customers, peers, or your manager. Ask people you know who will give honest feedback. If you`re serious about this, you won`t ask those who will tell you what they think you want to hear.

When will you ask? If specific feedback around a specific event or behavior is needed, ask as close to the occurrence as possible. For instance, if you want feedback on how you lead a meeting, ask immediately following if possible.

What will you ask? Ask targeted questions about the specific behaviors that you want feedback on. Asking, “How did I do in that meeting?” generally isn`t enough to elicit good, actionable feedback (besides, this is question that can be answered with one word, like “good”). A “general” question will often get “general” answers.

How will you ask? Open ended questions with some specificity work well. “What did you observe about the clarity of my ideas on our organizational objectives in that strategic planning meeting?” or, “What could I have done differently in explaining our stance on XXX?” are great questions that should elicit specific feedback. If not, keep asking questions so that you understand what the specific behaviors that you can actually change.

Be grateful for the gift you`ve been given

Listen thoroughly to the feedback. Really listen, even if it`s hard (and receiving honest feedback can be hard sometimes).No making excuses for your behavior or blaming someone else or circumstances beyond your control (that would be VERY rude, since you asked for the feedback).

Once you get a complete response from the individual providing the feedback, thank them. That`s it. The person who provided you with the feedback just gave you a gift, and we always say thank you when someone gives us something valuable.

So now that you have the feedback, what do you do with it? Stay tuned for more.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

13 comments on “How to Ask For and Receive Feedback

  1. Great entry Mary Jo. I am a firm believer that a leaders growth comes from self awareness and knowing one’s “blind spots” and “sharp edges” is one of the first steps in the process. Though I agree that leaders should be proactive in seeking feedback, I often urge their “bosses” not to shy away from giving it. I do so myself, as a leadership consultant and I can’t tell you how many times my clients had wished they had seen themselves, as others do.

  2. Great little reminder that some of the greatest things can come from just asking. Like you said if you want good and honest feedback you need to ask for it and ask the proper people. I like the point that you made about asking people that won’t just tell you what you want to hear. We sometimes get stuck in a circle of people that always have the same ideas and beliefs as our own and this leads to “Yes people”. A great leader surrounds themselves with people that will challenge the norm and will tell us how it is.
    Thanks for the reminder to always be an active asker and more importantly an active listener.

  3. One of the students in a leadership course that I taught did a 360 feedback session at work around the same time as the course. When he got the results he was angry because “they were all wrong.” During the course I had the students do 12 different self reflective exercises to better understand who the were as individuals and leaders. Based on the results of the self-assessments the student came to realize that his 360 feedback was spot on.

    I give him great credit because he took the opportunity to go back and start a dialog with those that provided the feedback, working through the process very much like you describe. It did wonders for him and those around him.

  4. Ah, Mary Jo, you’ve tackled one of my favorite subjects since my company is the publisher of a 360 feedback tool, 20/20 Insight. It’s powerful when leaders follow your process because nothing can replace face-to-face contact with the people they’re getting feedback from. But in my experience, few will ask because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear.

    I wrote a blog post recently, “Feedback: A Gift Many People Reject,” that dovetails nicely with the points in your last paragraph:

    I’m with you that feedback truly is a gift, but it’s hard to see it that way when a person is on the receiving end of criticism. (Many people don’t know how to GIVE feedback without accusing or blaming, but that’s another topic…) It takes strong character and self-esteem to respond in a way that affirms the feedback giver. Our natural reaction is to justify, defend, or explain our behavior because we don’t want to have to face our weaknesses or change.

    The potential for dialogue is a powerful outcome for either in-person or 360 feedback, and it can result in real miracles. I’ve seen it many times.

    Thank you for this insightful post.

  5. Sara, it is more often than not that leaders shy away from giving feedback that will help their employees, and make the leader shine! So sad.

    Nick, you’ve described “CEO Disease” well. One of the problems with asking for feedback is the issue of whether the feedback is honest. I would like to assume that a leader has pretty good relationships with the people they are asking.

    Tom, this is a great story. That person you described found the courage to ask, and seems to have received good results. Thanks for sharing it.

    Meredith, I am certified to use a 360 instrument, and use it with all of my clients who haven’t had one in the relatively recent past. Other clients are in organizations that already have a 360 they use, but in any case, the 360 feedback and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are the “kickoff” to the vast majority of my coaching client engagements. I supplement that feedback throughout the course of our work together with interviews and ask the client to get feedback in the manner described here, too. I recognize that “anonymous” feedback is likely to be the most honest and powerful. With a good coach guiding them, many will share their 360 results and most will step into asking for feedback.

    I comletely agree that it is hard to be on the receiving end. I’ve been there, and recently. I found myself justifying and explaining (not out loud). I stopped and began to engage with the person providing the feedback. Once I could turn off the defense, I found the information I was being given most useful.

    Thank you for taking the time to add your insight!

  6. This is such a great reminder to actively ask for feedback and then listen to the feedback as constructive criticism, not as personal attacks. Leaders are so used to giving the feedback that they generally find it difficult to accept feedback from others. Although it is sometimes hard to listen to feedback it is so important because it is one of the easiest ways to improve since those around us see our behavior more realistically than we see it ourselves.

  7. Great post, Mary Jo. Feedbacks are a great way to find what or where things need to be improved. Personally, I prefer more negative feedback than positive (though those are definitely always nice to hear). However, negative feedbacks help me see my weakness(es). By knowing my weaknesses, I get to have a very narrowed down, targeted area to work on so that I will hopefully not repeat the same mistake again in the future. I do believe that leaders should be open to all types of feedbacks (but even moreso to the not-so-pleasant ones).

  8. Can you imagine a person buckling up for a long awaited trip? Heading out to a new destination they enter the address [goal] into their GPS; the journey begins.

    At “that” intersection the lovely GPS Lady gently suggests, “We just missed our turn, we’ll need to recalibrate to reach our destination.”

    What would you think of the driver who not only thinks but says outloud, “I don’t care what you say, I’m not changing direction.”

    Once I begin to think of “feedback” as support given so I will reach my destiny or destination I cannot get enough.

    “Gratitude for the gift” is then a natural response.

    Thanks for your blog!

    For an interesting story on feedback you might enjoy my recent blog “How Stuff Happens Right Under Your Feet”.

  9. Excellent post Mary Jo. I think that, as leaders, while a lot of us want feedback. we usually don’t think to ask for it, which results in us not getting the feedback that we want and need. I think that it really is important to actively seek out feedback, because otherwise you probably won’t get much, if any. If you think about it, it can be uncomfortable to get feedback, but it can be even more difficult to be the person giving it, and, as a result, most folks will keep their feelings to themselves unless asked (and even then you may have to coax it out of them). Asking for feedback opens the lines of communications and, at least to some degree, sends the message that the other person should feel free to speak frankly without fear of reprisal.

  10. Brittany- I never thought that leaders may not have considered asking for feedback because they are so used to giving it. I guess that might be true in many cases. Thanks!

    Cirel – I am also a fan of “critical” feedback for myself. Perhaps because people are less reluctant to provide “positive” feedback. This can cause a deficit for us in terms of real, actionable feedback that we can use!

    Steve – your story was really captivating, and most appropriate. Thanks for that and the link to your post.

    Patrick – what a great addition to the conversation. To think that asking for feedback can open lines of communication is wonderful. It also shows some humility and vulnerability on the part of the leader.

  11. Mary Jo,
    Thank you for the post. With all that I have been learning about the power of feedback, I have tried to implement formal policies that require my own managers and co-workers to give each other feedback on overall performance and projects on a regular basis. I really feel that creating an environment where co-workers are comfortable giving each other negative or positive feedback promotes double loop learning. It seems that without feedback individuals don’t really have any way to improve their behaviors or procedures and there is really no way to advance as an organization as a whole. I also realize that I am very lucky to realize the positive powers of feedback (learning) as I am beginning to notice many others do not view the experience in the same light.

    p.s. I am a student in Dr. Simmons class and was disappointed that we were not able to video conference during our last class session as planned!

  12. Kristin, it sure sounds like you are on the right track! Congratulations, and I’d love to hear how your feedback “project” is going. You might consider including some coaching skills training for you and your managers to help to keep “feedback” on a positive note. I am rewriting an older post on “feedback” vs. “coaching” to be published soon – you’ll see the differences there. Those who don’t appreciate feedback often love coaching.

    I’m sorry I missed you and the rest of the class. I was looking forward to it, too.

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