Since he was born almost three years ago, our son has looked to faces for cues. Almost instantaneously, inside his little, blonde head he looked up at us and wondered: Is this safe or unsafe? How should I interpret this situation? How am I doing? As parents, there is a subtle balance between giving too much feedback that can overwhelm and control, and too little feedback, which can contribute to uncertainty and doubt.
In organizations, we ask for feedback from our customers after they purchase a product, from our learners after they complete training, and from our employees after they interact with leaders, but we rarely solicit feedback about our own performance. The feedback-seeking behavior found in children declines as we establish our self-concept, as we recognize that feedback can be potentially dangerous to our identities.
When is the last time you asked for information from others about your performance?
I admit that I am afraid to hear what others’ think of me (i.e., the feedback protection motive). I don’t want information that runs counter to what I believe about myself (i.e., self-verification theory). I only want to hear things that make me feel good about myself (i.e., ego protection motive). But after researching feedback for HCI’s latest study and reflecting on this topic, I no longer want to be anxious about feedback. I will confront my fear by actively seeking it out.
How do you ask for feedback?
Feedback is information about our efforts toward a goal. Yes, it is personal, but ultimately it is also data that you can use. The key to seeking and accepting feedback is two-fold: 1) get more of it, and 2) treat it like a data point. Collecting more data from a variety of sources – that is, getting feedback from multiple people - is better so you aren’t swayed – or worried – by outliers.
When you seek feedback, focus on asking people who know you and can observe your work. Be specific about the goal you want information on. Leave it open-ended. For example:
“Hey, colleague who I work with every day. I am evaluating my efforts toward producing higher-quality report drafts within five days. What did you notice about my work this time around?”
Sometimes leading questions may help get the conversation started. For example:
“Dear loving husband, I have noticed I am short with you when I get home from work. I want to be kinder with my loved ones at home. Do you observe this behavior, too?”
When do you ask for feedback?
If your only source of feedback comes to you via an annual performance review, solve that challenge first. It is a bad practice and HCI has produced reports on alternatives.
When I returned to work after giving birth to our son, my self-confidence was at its lowest point. I was unsure of my abilities as a mother and clueless as to how I would successfully meet expectations at home at and at work. I felt that I was performing poorly at work. When I reached performance review time, the feedback I received was counter to my own negative reflection. I had spent my time brooding with doubt and uncertainty instead of simply asking for feedback (and help).
As you are working toward a goal and assessing your performance, asking for feedback from others will remove self-doubt. It’s easy to become your own worst enemy – fight that instinct. Don’t spend months as I did worrying about a problem that might not even exist.
What should you do with feedback?
Remember that this is not a one-time event. Listen, reflect, and incorporate feedback into your goals and plans and try again. When evaluating feedback that is shared with you, consider the trustworthiness, credibility, timing, and viewpoint of your source. Feedback should be delivered as objective facts, not personal interpretations or evaluations.
In HCI’s latest study, we've been researching the effectiveness of different organizational feedback systems. If you are an HR or talent management professional, we want to hear from you. You can take the survey and register for the webcast during which we will release the findings.
Let’s face our fears and do this together. I encourage you to ask three people who are familiar with your goals and can observe your performance the question: “How am I doing?” Review the data. Then ask again.
What did you learn?
What worked well in your approach?
How will you use the feedback to help you meet your goals?
What’s a next step?
I challenge you to seek feedback from others about your performance. If you’re feeling bold, ask and share with your network or trusted friends. Use the hashtag #IWantToKnow. Like my son, you were born for it.