How to ask for—and receive—feedback

by Ramin Assemi

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One of the best ways to improve yourself in sales—or really any area of your life—is to ask for feedback. Like Hiten Shah said in a recent episode of The Startup Chat podcast, “You don’t get better at anything unless you get feedback.” Feedback helps you to become more self-aware, to understand how others see you, to look beyond your own biases.

Yet, we never truly learn about feedback. Let’s remedy that and gain some insights into the art of asking for and receiving feedback. Before you keep reading, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you ask for feedback effectively?
  • How do you distinguish between useful and useless feedback?
  • How do you deal with conflicting feedback?
  • What the most valuable kind of feedback you can receive?
  • What do you do when you get feedback you don’t like?

You’ll get a lot more out of this post (and listening to our podcast episode on Feedback) if you think about these questions first.

How to elicit feedback from others

If you want feedback, you need to ask for it. Almost aggressively. Ask for it often. Ask for it repeatedly. Ask many people. Even when you ask for it, many people won’t really share thoughtful feedback with you, but overall, the amount and quality of feedback you get will be a lot higher than if you don’t ask for it.

Explicitly state that you want honest feedback

If you find that people struggle with giving you straightforward feedback, ask them, “What could I do better in the future?” When you move the focus from what you did wrong in the past to what you can do better in the future, it makes it easier for them to be open with you.

Give more to get more

If you want to get more feedback from others, start giving more feedback to them. When you share valuable feedback with others, they’re much more likely to reciprocate.

Say thanks

Whenever someone shares feedback with you, no matter how it made you feel or how good or bad you think it is, express gratitude. It’ll show them that you value their opinion, and sow the seeds for future feedback.

We’ll get into specific questions you can ask to draw out feedback further down.

What’s the best kind of feedback you can get?

The easy answer is: constructive feedback! But what does that really mean? What you want is surprising feedback. Feedback that makes you think about things in a way you haven’t thought about them before.

We asked Early Access listeners of our podcast what they thought the most valuable feedback is, and this is what they told us, in the form of a wordcloud:

most_useful_feedback-1

Great feedback is also specific (otherwise it still leaves you guessing what specifically you can change to improve).

It’s honest, which requires that the other person take the risk of offending you.

Useless vs. useful feedback

Let’s look at an example of useful vs. useless feedback. Imagine you’ve painted a picture, and asked someone for feedback.

Low-quality feedback: “This looks great, I really like what you did there!”

High-quality feedback: “I really like how you chose those bright colors, and then broke it up with this really strong dark black. I think the area where you could improve the most is if you paid more attention to the way the lines flow. Right now, there’s some disharmony in this, and it doesn’t look like you intended that, but that’s just a result of a lack of attention to detail.”

The second feedback isn't really more knowledgeable—it’s still just a subjective opinion, but in much more detail. You can decide to change the way you draw next time based on this feedback or not, but it’s much easier to translate this on to the behavioral level than the first feedback.

How to help others give you better feedback

Many times people who are willing to give you feedback might need some prompting from your side to really share honest feedback. Most people are too polite to be frank, or they’re afraid it’ll negatively affect their relationship with you.

Ask for pros and cons

Ask them about what they like and dislike, what they think is positive and what they think is negative.

  • What do you like most about this? What do you dislike most about this?
  • What’s good and what’s bad about this?
  • Where do you think is the most room for improvement?
  • What about it do you love? What about it do you hate?
  • What makes you want this? What kills your interest?
  • What did I get wrong? What did I get right?

Ask open-ended questions

A simple way to better feedback is to keep asking open-ended questions. This encourages the other person to become more specific and think even deeper about what they want to convey to you.

  • What do you mean exactly?
  • I want to understand this better. Please elaborate.
  • What would you do differently?
  • Can you go into more detail?
  • Can you give me some specific examples? Please help me understand this better.
  • What’s the most important thing I should focus on improving?
  • Why?

How to make sense of conflicting feedback

Let’s say you ask different people for feedback on the same topic—for example, a product you’re building. You might get completely opposing feedback from different people. How do you make sense of that?

How do you decide which feedback to listen to and which feedback to disregard? This is an especially difficult situation if all of the people who have given you feedback are intelligent and eloquent and make a good point.

The simplest strategy is to just get feedback from more different people.

"Quantity is the hack." - Hiten Shah

When you get feedback from 5 people, and there are differering opinions, it can be hard to make sense of it. Get feedback from 30 people, and you'll begin to more clearly see a large consensus. The more people you get feedback from, the more clarity there will be for you, the better you'll be able to put different opinions in context and see a pattern.

Let your guard down

Don’t be defensive if you get negative feedback. You asked for it. This might sound obvious, but it’s important that you put yourself in a receptive state when you ask for feedback. Too many times, people ask for feedback just to hear what they want to hear.

 

A photo posted by Close.io (@close.io) on

When they get told something they don’t want to hear, they start to explain all the reasons why they did it the way they did it. They give excuses. They debate, justify and rationalize their actions. They reject the feedback, rather than exploring how it can help them improve.

Don’t listen just to respond. Listen to understand. It’s not about being right, it’s about learning.

“Pushing back means you already think you know. Asking questions means you want to know. Ask more questions.”—Jason Fried, Give it five minutes

How to respond to negative or hurtful feedback

If we’d all be evolved human beings, we’d deal with hurtful feedback in a much more mature way. But the reality is that we’ve got egos, we crave approval, we want to avoid being rejected. Emotions can trip us up. Sometimes we feel hurt, sometimes we feel angry.

You just need to work your way through it until you can look at it in a detached way, until you don’t take it personally anymore.

Here’s a simple strategy to deal with hurtful feedback:

  1. Be aware of your own state. Do you feel hurt, angry, disappointed, upset? Acknowledge this to yourself: “I’m upset now.”
  2. Take a deep breath. Don’t try to fight your feelings, but embrace them.
  3. Then acknowledge it to the other person. Say this: “Hm, I didn’t think of that. Honestly, that kind of hurt, but I want to know more. Tell me more.”
This is practicing emotional alchemy; rather than trying to suppress and control your feelings, you embrace them. Tap into that energy and channel it in a different direction, instead of trying to stop it.

How are you going to get feedback today?

If you’ve read all this way through the post, it’s time to take action. What will you do today to get valuable feedback from someone else? A customer, a prospect, a colleague, your boss, your employee, your cousin - whoever!

Tweet us @closeio or write a comment below!

Recommended resources:

The Startup Chat episode 9: Feedback on feedback
If you want to learn more about the art of giving feedback, set aside 22 minutes to listen to this episode of The Startup Chat.

How to deal with conflicting advice from investors
Helpful guidelines on what to do when you get contradictory advice from different people

3 reasons why B2B startups should charge their users money early
If you're selling SaaS software, you should pay the most attention to feedback you get from people who are actually paying for your product.