When children proudly show a drawing to their parents, the universal reaction is one of praise and adoration. Parents don’t typically provide critical feedback like “That doesn’t look like me” or “Trees are supposed to be green.” The primary goal is to show love and encouragement and avoid hurt feelings, rather than develop a world-class artist.
The Importance of Constructive Feedback
Adult employees asking for feedback from colleagues and superiors is a much different situation than a child with a new drawing, but the response is often shockingly similar. Even adults often find it difficult to get genuine feedback because many of the people they seek that feedback from hold back for fear of offending. This is often purely subconscious, but the effect is the same.
This overly polite response can be avoided by simply asking for feedback a little differently. In an article for Forge, Jane Park suggests asking for help as opposed to evaluation. “This can be hard,” she says. “Simply showing people your work is much easier, and receiving their blind validation can make your human heart feel lovely. But ultimately, you’ll gain much more by showing people your work and asking specific questions about it: ‘What are the strongest parts?’ ‘What didn’t work for you?’ ‘How would you improve it?’” By asking these types of questions, Park says, one can elicit more genuine and constructive feedback.
Why You Should Seek Help Rather Than Feedback
Asking for help instead of evaluation or feedback may elicit a more useful response simply because those being asked often feel socially bound to respond generically and positively when asked for feedback. “This is what they want to hear,” they might think to themselves. In order to break this deeply ingrained dynamic of the general, positive response like “looks great!” it can help to simply ask the question differently.
Honest and practical feedback is essential in any team. Nobody is perfect, and feedback is a necessary tool for identifying and addressing the flaws that naturally exist in someone’s work. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to elicit such feedback, so something as simple as tweaking the way you ask your question could yield more insightful and useful feedback.