How to ask for feedback that may be hard to hear

Recently I’ve been giving a talk on impostor syndrome. As part of that, I discuss strengths and shortcomings.

An approach to recognising shortcomings should be a good thing. Without recognising your shortcomings we will never truly recognise our strengths.

When we are able to see both, the resulting growth is incredible.

Failing to provide vital feedback

As humans, we find it hard to look introspectively. For many, self-awareness is a fluffy term that we shy away from.

Generally, the normal British way to provide feedback is to only provide the good bits. We fail to deliver vital pieces of information that might be hard for the other person to hear. We shy away to not hurt a person’s feelings.

By not being honest behaviours continue. These lead to a bad working environment, broken relationships or worse.

Giving permission

My belief is that we must reframe our thinking on giving and receiving feedback. We have to break the cycle which has continued for years in the workplace. We have to provide feedback that might be hard to hear.

We must give permission.

And it’s hard.

As much as it is hard to provide, it’s also hard to receive that type of feedback.

There’s an open-mindedness required.

Here’s the generalistic normal way a person may think about it…

What if they give me bad feedback and I have to let my manager know? I’ll get marked down or my performance will be stopped.

Here’s the re-framed version…

If I give them permission to provide me with feedback that I might have usually found hard to hear, can I use it as a strength? There may be things I can work with or on to make me a better person, a better colleague. I can use it to ask for help and support that I might not have recognised.

How to ask for the feedback

You can ask for this feedback at any time, you can do this with friends, family and colleagues. In work, mid-year or end of year reviews can be a good time to do a peer review.

As part of my teams mid-year reviews, I’ve nudged them all to ask for feedback that may be hard to hear. There’s a way to do it which also gives permission for the other person to feel comfortable about doing so. To help, I wrote out a message for the team to use as a baseline and you can use it too.

Hi X,
I have my mid-year review coming up and I’d like to get feedback from my peers. I’m really looking for honest feedback and need it to make sure I can continue to progress. I’m looking for all feedback, no matter what end of the scale it is, I give you my permission to send this directly to me and I won’t take it personally.

We then go through the feedback and I ask each member to give me their thoughts on the feedback they’ve received. It’s always interesting to see how they take the feedback and what they’re going to do with it.

This whole process is constructive. It will enable you to become better and you will see your personal and professional growth speed up.