Ask for “Feedback” or “Advice?”

An important ingredient to our success is to certainly know our strengths and ways to continually develop.  This requires a growth mindset in that we believe we get better at something by the dedication of time, effort, and energy to achieve what we want.

Asking for feedback is a good place to start in that it helps us understand what is working and what isn’t as we think about our past performance.  However, recent research from Harvard Business School (HBS) found that:

  • Asking for “feedback” solicited ambivalent, passive input that was not future-oriented  
  • Feedback seeking is only weakly related to performance, and employees often report that the feedback that they receive is unhelpful.  

Harvard Business School Research

Additionally, a recent Gallup report shows only 26% of employees strongly agreed that the feedback they receive helps them do their work better.

Gallup Research

Why is this?

Marcus Buckingham, an author, motivational speaker, and leadership expert, shares that our brains react with stress to feedback.  This is because, many times, feedback feels remedial and focuses on what needs to be fixed.  We move into a fight-or-flight response with feedback.  Instead, what employees want is attention focused on how to help get better.  

One of the many reasons for this is leaders are not comfortable giving feedback, particularly if it is “constructive” or “developmental” in nature.  Additionally, many times leaders focus on past performance without focusing on action steps that help move the feedback from the past to how to improve for the future.

We have amazing tools to help us deliver feedback and facilitate a better feedback culture, such as SBI (situation, behavior, feedback) from the Center for Creative Leadership.  SBI certainly helps leaders learn how important two-way dialogue is as well as being specific in the behavior they observed. It is my favorite tool for helping leaders deliver better quality feedback in the context of coaching.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)

However, the struggle is real for many leaders who want to give, and employees who want to receive, good quality, forwarding-thinking feedback.  This is not to say that managers should stop giving feedback altogether. There’s no doubt that reflecting on past performance and discussing how it went is important.  Feedback facilitates learning and is helpful when it’s immediate and constructive and is coupled with coaching.

However, as an employee, I would like you to consider the word ADVICE instead of feedback when asking for input. This simple word substitution makes all the difference in the quality input you receive.  As leaders, it helps move your mindset from the past to the future when employees want your input.

According to HBS, soliciting “advice” rather than “feedback” yields more:

  • Developmental, critical (meaning it highlights and emphasizes the areas in which the recipient can improve enabling recipients to effectively direct their efforts) 
  • Actionable (providing clear guidelines and specific strategies for recipients to improve including suggestions of what the recipient should or should not do in the future) 

Because most employees desire the above, “feedback” tends to thwart leaders from adopting the future-focused mindset that best enables them to generate constructive, actionable insights.  But if the employees asked for “advice” across four studies, including a field experiment, HBS found that input is more developmental (more critical and actionable) due to a greater future focus.

What Action Can you Take?

As a leader, when employees ask you for feedback, try to reframe the word to “advice” and see how it affects your response and if it helps you provide input focused on future actions (even if reflecting on past performance or behavior) because it creates a more future-oriented mindset. 

As an employee, next time you want “feedback” from your leader, instead ask for “advice” and see how the information you receive shifts its focus from one of the past to one of the future to help you best develop for the long-term.

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JM Consulting Group, LLC