Coaching Leadership


Feedback can be invaluable for improving your performance, calibrating your efforts, and identifying opportunities for improvement.

Good feedback is tough to get:

Asking for feedback is a risky business. You never know what you are going to get. And it is usually difficult to get anything at all.

When you ask people point-blank for feedback, or challenge how they rated you on an assessment, it puts people on the spot, and people generally:

  • Prefer to avoid confrontation
  • Don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings
  • Don’t want to tell others what to do (especially in this kind of situation)

All of these emotions spark a defensive reaction, and you won’t get any good feedback if you put someone on the defensive.

So how do you get really good feedback? How do you get people to share their ideas freely?

Here is a great little technique. It is a variation of the pre-selling idea I shared in a recent blog (pre-selling your ideas).

Feedback 1

The technique:

Instead of asking for feedback directly—in a way that puts someone on the spot—pose your question in the hypothetical. E.g., this is how you might ask your boss for feedback:

“I am working on my development goals, and considering improving in this area [describe area]. What do you think; is that a priority for you; what would you like to see?”

After discussing the idea in general, you might also ask:

“What do you think it would take to make this kind of change; to really nail it?”

As they share their ideas, do not get defensive, and do not challenge them. This is not a debate. Your only task is to pose questions of clarification, ask for examples, takes notes, and be grateful for their time. Holding a space of gratitude for this gift—whether you agree or disagree with what they are saying, or the style or tone in which they are saying it—is what makes it possible for people to share and collaborate versus debate, claim turf, establish dominance, protect their egos, and so on.

Why this works:

This approach takes most of the stress out of giving and receiving feedback. It enables free-flow brainstorming, and puts people in a creative and collaborative space.

Recent research has shown that “most performance-related feedback from other people, even when well intentioned, diminishes employees’ ability to learn” (source here). It is more likely to create defensiveness and fight, flight, and freeze behavior than curiosity, reflection, and learning. Most feedback, they found, is demoralizing.

Shifting the conversation from criticism of past mistakes to an exploration of future possibilities stimulates “brain activity associated with long-term learning,” and contributes to building a “growth mind-set” (ibid.).

See my blog “Getting Defensive is Never a Good Defense” for some ideas on receiving feedback with grace and curiosity.

Feedback 2

Strategic planning analogy: 

Consider strategic planning. Do planning sessions focus on the mistakes the CEO made in the previous year? No. They focus on how much is possible (the reality that can be created) given the resources that you have and can be made available.

Performance planning with individuals is no different. Focus on the reality you want to create.


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Joel Shapiro

Advanture Consulting
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