Why You Need to Stop Asking for “Feedback” (And Start Asking for This Instead)

It may be time to eliminate the word “feedback” from your workplace vocabulary.

An ongoing study by researchers at Harvard Business School argues that asking for feedback may not be the best way to solicit others’ opinions on your work.

That’s because, when we ask for feedback, we usually end up with a loose collection of vague observations rather than any concrete, actionable suggestions for improvement. 

Getting feedback can sometimes feel like you’ve been handed a stack of data with no idea how to read it. What do these numbers mean? How am I supposed to create positive change from this random collection of outputs?

While it may seem like a trivial thing to switch out the word “feedback” for “advice,” the subtle differences in the words’ connotative meanings result in a drastically different outcome. #MichaelsWilder #work Click To Tweet

The short answer is: You don’t.

The study suggested that the feedback recipients will often be reluctant to act on any of the so-called constructive criticism they receive.

Just think about the last time you asked for feedback on a project. Did you get anything usable? Did you have a clear idea of where to go from there in order to improve? What did you do as a result of receiving feedback?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s usually dependent on who you ask. However, there may be a better way to get real, actionable advice that you can actually use to improve your work.

So, instead of asking for feedback, what should we be asking for?

The study’s authors suggest an easy alternative to asking, “Hey, can I get your feedback on this?”—just replace the word “feedback” with “advice.”

The study found that “people offer more critical and actionable input when they are asked to provide advice (versus feedback)—even when they are asked to provide comments on identical output.”

Advice is seen as an ongoing dialogue between the two parties, while feedback is more one-sided. Asking for “advice” forces the advice-giver to focus not only on fixing the product but also on delivering that critique in a constructive way that leads to a better result.

“When you want people to highlight what you can improve on and how to improve it,” co-author Yoon writes, “‘advice’ nudges them to put themselves in your shoes.” Feedback sessions can often turn sour as the (probably well-meaning) feedback-giver tends to fixate on perceived flaws. In our culture of performance reviews and constant evaluations, “feedback” often sounds like a dirty word. When you ask for feedback, you may feel yourself bracing for an inevitable wave of negative criticism. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When both parties reframe the conversation as an advice-giving session, it encourages them to ask questions, figure out what the challenges are, and find the best way to address them. For the advice-seeker, it’s no longer about pointing out everything they did wrong, but rather, it’s a chance to open a dialogue and focus on the process of improvement.

Is there still a place for feedback?

Not every project warrants an in-depth advice-giving meeting. Sometimes, you’re just looking for a short and sweet gut-check on what you’re working on, in which case, it’s probably fine to just ask for “feedback.”

It’s all about recognizing what you need from your coworkers or your manager and asking for it.

If anything, this is a great lesson in self-awareness and being purposeful in the way you express yourself to get what you need. Language—the way we express our thoughts—matters, and connotation is important. While it may seem like a trivial thing to switch out the word “feedback” for “advice,” the subtle differences in the words’ connotative meanings result in a drastically different outcome.

Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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Mike Speer Administrator
Chief Marketing Officer Michaels WIlder

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.

Chief Marketing Officer at Michaels Wilder and an entrepreneur since before the average person knew what that even meant, Mike has helped countless businesses build effective sales and marketing strategies. His philosophy is, “If you’re not thinking 10 years ahead, you’re already behind.” Mike’s content has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Inc. and Apple News. He has also been featured numerous times as a “Top 10 Writer” worldwide on the Q&A content site, Quora.

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