ASK for Feedback

Not my place #

Until this year I’d never been great with feedback. Even the slightest negative association with something I was associated with would strike a nerve. It was as though everything I created, contributed to, or basically looked at was tightly coupled to me and my worth. If someone then attacked these peripherals I took it as a direct hit. And don’t get me started on compliments.

For obvious reasons this is highly irrational, but I’m fairly confident that there are a lot of others out there for whom this will resonate. Because at the crux of it humans are highly irrational creatures. Speaking from personal experience, from a fairly young age we are muted from giving and therefore receiving any kind of valuable feedback. When I was five or six, I’m sure I would have been happy to speak my uncensored mind to unsuspecting adults, but would have quickly been reigned in by my parents. Sure, telling a family friend that his receding hairline looked funny isn’t the most productive feedback one could receive, but the constant censorship eventually seeped through to the constructive stuff. The stuff that when I was in high school, could have helped peers become better public speakers, or made for more enjoyable maths classes. By then however I’d all but succumbed to the “not my place” syndrome that many of us grapple with.

“Oh I should say something, but it’s really not my place…”

Sound familiar? But the thing is, it is your place. You are allowed to offer feedback to anyone. This is how we get better as individuals. This is how we improve as a society, and this is also how we open up communication and strengthen relationships.

There are however some rules to the game:

1. ASK #

Although I’ve already stated it is your place, there are certain levels of consideration that need to be adhered to before the exchange can take place. If you’ve spotted an opportunity to offer someone some feedback the polite thing to do is first ask if they are in the right space to receive it. Chances are that if you’ve just gone through something that was really draining together, they won’t have the mental capacity to take in on right now. And that’s fine. Don’t give it to them then, but also offer the opportunity to reschedule it. If you were compelled to give it to them in the first place, it must be worth sharing so don’t let it fall through the cracks.

Just as you should ask someone if they want to receive feedback, give someone plenty of warning if you’re seeking feedback. I go as far to disclose the kinds of things I currently wanting feedback on. If you’re aware of an area you’re not the strongest in (maybe you are too dominant in meetings, or perhaps the opposite), let people know you are actively looking to work on this and let them keep you accountable. Although I’m always trying to be aware of helping people self-improve, sometimes I’ll just be attuned to me, so need a reminder.

2. Actionable #

Now we’re diving right into the stuff that is right that constitutes what is good feedback. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the shit sandwich before; compliment, insult, compliment. I somewhat recall being taught this in primary school and probably offered up my fair share of “I like you Pokemon card collection, you sometimes yell too loud, but you’re a pretty fast runner which is cool” and alike that day.

So what’s wrong with this approach? Where do I start… firstly, the bread is off putting. Sure, I may genuinely admire your ability to catch ‘em all, and appreciate your speed standing amongst our class, but is that really all that relevant right now? Do those factors contribute to the fact that I think you’re too dominant in social situations? I’m gonna say no.

The the filling also has it’s flaws. Just stating something you don’t like isn’t that useful to anyone. What can the receiver do with it expect wallow in self pity and loathing? Not too much right.

The ASK approach focuses on making all feedback able to be acted upon; actionable. It needs to be something that I can actually change, or at least manipulate behaviour to result in a better outcome for all. My filling at least has the potential to become actionable, which is a good start. At it’s core my feedback lies around someone being to dominant in social/learning situations. If your feedback isn’t actionable please, just don’t bother. It breaks my heart that people seem to think blatant personal criticism can constitute feedback. If the receiver can’t actually change the subject of what is being fed-back, you’re not doing your job as the giver.

2. Specific #

We like to think that we can do everything, but spreading ourselves uber thin isn’t the most efficient way to go about things. So when giving feedback, hone in on something really specific. If they are dominant in social situations, don’t just say that, give the instance and the resulting outcome:

“I found that when we were at that party last night I struggled to get a word in and I believe it was because you were overpowering me most of the time”

This is nice and specific. There is a level up from this, but I wouldn’t recommend it, it comes across as pretty creepy:

“I found that when we were at that party last night at 15 Walter Street, it was approximately 9.57pm I struggled to get a word in when we were speaking with Mats and I believe it was because you were overpowering me most of the time”

See what I mean? Specific enough to hone in on, not specific enough to get a restraining order. Respect the balance.

I feel like we’re really getting somewhere now. We’ve got specific feedback that is able to be acted upon. If we stopped now we’d be OK, but there’s one last ingredient to the ASK burger…

3. Kind #

This should be a general life rule, but I want to be explicit here. Be kind. Be kind both in your words, your delivery and also your intent. Make sure that you’re giving feedback with the sincere belief that what you are about to say will make that person a better version of themselves. I’d also warn you not not let kindness get in the way of content (this ain’t no shit sandwich), but if you keep your intentions kind then thats a really good place to start.

So pulling everything we’ve learnt together we could expect to see something like this:

Me: Hey insert friends name here, are you feeling up for a little feedback?

Friend: Yeah sure, what’s up.

Me: Cool, so the party we were at least night, I was really struggling to make conversation when it was me you and Mats all standing around. I’ve had a think about it and I struggled to chip in because you were overpowering me most of the time. You’re a much more enthusiastic person than I am, and at times that doesn’t blend the best for us.

And the friend works on it and even offers me feedback on how to be more enthusiastic and we all live happily ever after…

Closing Thoughts #

Giving feedback needs to happen way more in our everyday lives. I love it, but just can’t get enough, even when I preempt it by letting people know I’m looking for it. So when I do get it, I’m sure to thank people for wanting to help me improve.

I also am aware that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” I do have a feedback filter and just because I receive feedback that is ASK, I don’t always act upon it. If I start hearing reoccurring themes on something I had dismissed then that’s another story.

So please, feel free to provide feedback on this, or if you know me IRL, on anything really and hopefully I can do the same for you.

This is based on my experiences at Enspiral Dev Academy, and these are also the teachings they adhere to, although I have slightly adapted them based on personal experience.


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