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How to Ask for Honest Feedback Without Feeling Hurt

How to Ask for Honest Feedback Without Feeling Hurt

Ever since childhood, our parents and school teachers were constantly correcting and directing us by teaching the difference between right and wrong, and how to behave appropriately. We have been shaped by feedback, as we were always submerged in a “feedback pool.”

Somehow we have tricked ourselves into believing that no news usually implies good news. “If I don’t receive any feedback, then that must mean that I’m doing a great job and nothing needs to be improved. Right?” Unfortunately, not always. Many people are reluctant to give feedback because they feel that they may come across as bossy, or start a conflict.

We never learned how to actively consult for feedback, so we are typically very passive when it comes to receiving it.

This is because we receive less feedback as we age. Our parents and teachers start to back off a bit. This could be because they become more conscious on the impression that they leave on us, or they believe that it’s time we shape ourselves as people. True as that may be, many people don’t have the ability to fully self-reflect and find what needs improvement. We need some sort of guidance from an outside perspective to point out the variables that we can’t notice ourselves.

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People are reluctant to give feedback, and even more reluctant to receive it.

Not receiving feedback from others does not always mean that we are doing a good job. In fact, it can cause a rift in our performance because we have no direction in terms of the progress we have already made, and how to approach oncoming tasks.

The absence of feedback creates a bias

Self-reflection is a vital practice for improvement, but if you think you can quickly improve by relying solely on your own self-review, you are sorely mistaken.  We develop a certain perspective when we perform, and we follow the path and practices that we think will bring us the most success.

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If we only look at things from our own perspective, then all of our decisions are influenced by bias because we only consider one side of the coin. This practice of only accepting information that supports your perspective is called confirmation bias. The lack of feedback feeds into the idea that your way is the right way, because no one has ever challenged you or suggested any sort of improvement.  That’s why relying only on self-reflection is not impossible, but takes a lot more effort and time.

So it’s very important to get feedback from an outsider perspective. You will be forced to consider variables that had never occurred to you, and in the end improve your performance.

Asking for feedback can be very intimidating. You’re essentially asking people to tell you what you’ve been doing wrong and point out your flaws. There are techniques to safely ask for feedback and appropriately digest the information, equipping you to use to it your advantage.

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The way that you approach for feedback will influence the way that you receive it

Feedback will only be helpful if you choose to accept it positively, and use it as momentum to improve.  Resist the natural reaction to take things personally, because this information is a chance to grow and learn. If you allow yourself to be offended, you will never accept the information on a factual level. In other words, buck up and take it.

It’s okay to feel bad because it’s not easy to hear that you’re anything less than perfect. Especially when it feels like an attack on your livelihood. But you can’t doubt yourself because of this, or try to explain away the criticism.  Just assume that whoever is giving you this feedback wants to see you improve.  And once you know what needs to change, all you need to do is get out there and do it.

The key is to pick the RIGHT person and frame your question accordingly

You want to choose someone that you trust and respect, and who really has a firm grasp on the topic at hand.  They should have experience facing the obstacles that are coming your way, and will provide you with honest feedback and advice on how to overcome them.

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How you approach receiving feedback is crucial as well. It is not enough to ask someone that you admire. They may not be properly trained on how to give feedback appropriately as teachers are. So you need to be prepared with questions to ask them so that you receive answers within your scope of expectation.

For example: If you want to improve your speech presentation, you need to ask questions directly related to that. Instead of asking what they think about a certain aspect as a whole, ask what specifically could be improved. The broad question of, “what do you think of my ____?” leaves room for personal judgment, and even more room to get offended. By carefully asking questions, you will be directing their focus towards a solution.

Create a positive Feedback Loop

Taking in feedback is never easy if you only see it as criticism instead of a chance to improve.  Thinking of it as a fast track to achieve what you want will make you feel less offended and motivates you to ask for more feedback.  Last of all, you must act on the feedback given and apply it!  At Lifehack, we encourage everyone to get feedback fast, and get it early during the learning process.  Like running up a staircase, each time you receive and apply feedback you’re creating a feedback loop that helps you make upward progress.  Going up stairs step by step is much easier than having to suddenly climb up a wall.  So have confidence and be proactive.  With this perspective, you’ll find that getting the right feedback is like gold – it can save you hours of wasted effort and accelerate your progress by leaps and bounds.

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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