Last week we ran a workshop for a group of Sixth Formers with a focus on discovering the value of feedback.

As co-founder Alastair told the students, feedback is absolutely essential. We need to hear back from other people about how we’ve done and how we’re perceived in order to reduce the size of the ‘blind spot’ in our self-awareness: other people will have observed things about us that we’re not yet aware of. These things could be negative, like a nervous habit that people find distracting or that makes them doubt your competence (fiddling with hair and jewellery or pulling at your sleeves, for example), but equally could be very positive, such as talents you didn’t realise you had, or an effect on people you didn’t realise you produced.

Feedback is a gift. Although sometimes it can be uncomfortable to receive (both the good and the bad equally so, for some people), the increased self-understanding it affords us is essential to our growth, improvement and success. How can you be a good leader or team player if you have no idea what other people think of you?

Like many things in life, the key to getting really useful feedback at work is asking great questions. It depends on the situation as to whether these need to be specific (if, for example, the person you’re asking for feedback is very time-pressed) or open (if you don’t want to lead them in a particular direction), but in all cases it’s worth phrasing the question(s) carefully. You want to make your motives clear – that you’re seeking to learn about yourself in order to grow, you’re not just fishing for compliments – and request the favour in a way that will make people likely to give you good, constructive feedback.

Here are a few questions you might want to use:

  • Reflecting on my work and the impression I’ve made so far, have you noticed anything you think I could improve on? I’d really value some feedback. (Perhaps for a few weeks into a new job)
  • In which aspects [of a particular task or project] was I most successful, and are there any in which you think there’s room for improvement?
  • Can you give me an idea of how I come across initially – the first impression people get of me?
  • Do you think I’m on track, so far, to deliver a good performance/do a good job on this project? If not, what should I change or work on?
  • What would you have done differently if you were in my position?

Both positive and negative feedback are of equal importance, and it’s important to remember that someone being prepared to put time and thought into giving you feedback is a compliment in itself: they think you have potential and are worth investing in.

Worried you’ll get upsetting, negative feedback? Try to receive it calmly and acceptingly – if you get emotional or defensive it will put people off being honest with you in the future. See any less than glowing comments as a means to grow, and make these great words by Samuel Beckett your mantra:

‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’

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