How To Ask For Feedback That Actually Helps You Get Better

How you ask makes all the difference.

Credits Jungwoo Hong

Feedback is a vital step in every learning journey. Whether you are picking up a new skill or want to improve an existing one, you need information to gauge your progress and course-correct.

Unfortunately, not all feedback is created equal. People often give feedback that is focused on the past and sugarcoated.

In Hidden Potential, organizational psychologist Adam Grant explains how to extract actionable feedback from people.

Instead of seeking feedback, you’re better off asking for advice. Feedback tends to focus on how well you did last time. Advice shifts attention to how you can do better next time.

To nudge people to share future-looking, improvement-focus input, don’t ask, “How did it go?” or, “What did you think of it?” but:

What’s one thing I can do better next time?

Explicitly asking for one thing to improve counteracts people’s need to make you happy, and they’ll be less likely to sugarcoat their reply.

By putting the spotlight on what could be better next time, you will elicit what executive coach Marshall Goldsmith calls feedforward. You’ll frame the conversation to be about the future, not past performance.

I haven’t tested it, but my feeling is that asking for “one thing” makes the task of sharing advice more approachable. “Can you give me some feedback?” is generic and open-ended. When asked on the spot, one might be tempted to default to platitudes to avoid the mental effort. By asking for just one thing to improve, you make it easier for someone to think of something useful and honest.

As the late Andres Ericsson showed through his research on deliberate practice, quality feedback is a crucial component of any system for learning and growing. To accelerate your growth, improve your feedback—and act upon it.

In the spirit of asking for actionable advice to improve, let me ask you: What is one thing I can do better next time?

Leave a comment below, get in touch on LinkedIn, or if you read this as an email, just hit reply. Thank you for your feedback advice!