19 January 2017

The Art of Asking for Feedback - How to Avoid Feedback Failure Modes?

I was asking for feedback. It is a habit of mine. Maybe I am doing it too much. I learned much from feedback that I can not live without it! It was for a session I taught and facilitated. I asked for feedback in different ways.

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The outcome was very interesting. Some of the feedback I received was useful, some were not at all. What has happened there? What could I have done differently? Why did I receive productive feedback in one situation and not in the other one? I was open to receive feedback, I was asking for feedback and eager to hear. I have called this situation "Feedback Failure Modes". Let's together explore them.

Feedback Failure Modes

There are many failure modes when asking for feedback. I categorized them into five.

Figure 1 - Feedback Failure Modes


The Lazy Mode: Easier to Compare than Think or Say No

We, as human beings, naturally tend to default back to what we feel more comfortable for us. It is much easier to compare one thing with another thing. It is much harder to think, in situations that you don't have a point of reference to compare to. It will be much more valuable to think and get to the root cause, even if you have a point of reference, and to think about the rationale behind it.

The Newbie Mode: Not Enough Experience

A factor that might contribute is not being an expert in that domain from whom you are asking the feedback from. In that situation, the only option they had was to give you feedback based on the closest thing they know to the situation. They are giving you feedback based on what they think you are asking feedback on, not what you are actually asking. This mode will happen when you feeling obligated to provide a response but not courageous or knowledgeable enough to say No, I am not the right person to ask for a feedback.

The Chosen One Mode: Feeling the Peer Pressure

In this mode, people asked for a feedback are feeling the peer pressure. They have been chosen to provide a feedback, thus they might be thinking they have a knowledge that they don't realize. The fact that amongst all participants, they have been chosen speaks to something. Why no one else has been chosen to provide that feedback? They think to themselves they must have been a special one, let us fill the person asking for feedback with our wealth of knowledge.

The Vague Mode: There Are So Many, Can't Focus. 

People make a complex system, dealing with them are complex, running a session for them are complicated. Giving feedback on the system can be easy? It can't, and if you are asking feedback on the whole system, you are not making anyone a favor. However, if you are focusing on a specific situation/action, your chance of getting much better feedback are higher. Even though you want to hear all the feedback and improve everything, no one can give you that nor you can implement all.

How to Avoid Feedback Failure Modes?

Have you ever found yourself in those modes? If that's the case, you are not alone. What should you have done? That's a different question, which I don't intend to provide the answer for, as it is very contextual.

I want to point out the effectiveness of the feedback received. In this experience of mine, I would have rated myself not very great based on the conversations I had. However, if you look at the feedback on the wall, it tells a different story. The least point was 4 out of 5. Why is that?

Asking for feedback is a complex task. You want to eliminate all factors that might affect giving feedback, even the very small ones. It is an art asking for feedback. The followings will help you to master this art.

Figure 2 - How to Avoid Them?

Prepare the Right Environment

Ideally, you want to get feedback in a neutral environment. You, as a person asking for feedback, need to prepare that environment. You would want to receive feedback in a safe environment, again on your shoulders to make that happen.

Ask at the Right Time

When asking feedback, pay attention to all the details. You want to ask it at the right time, not just before a bio-break after a 4-hour session. You might even want to give the participants some time before asking for feedback. You want to ask for feedback from the right person.

Ask the Right Person

Who is(are) the one(s) that can provide you with valuable feedback? If none of the participants in your session, you might want to invite an external observer to your session just to give you feedback.

Be Specific

Be specific when asking for feedback. Try to ask your top three items you want to receive feedback on first. Otherwise, you won't be receiving valuable feedback.

Make Them Think

Finally, you want to ask the feedback in a way that makes them think, for them before giving you feedback.


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