8 Steps to Getting Feedback

Forget everything you know about agile, about any methods, about any kind of tool you’ve mastered. If there’s only one thing you should do, it has to be this: ask for feedback.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it. If you don’t stop and ask the people you work with for feedback, you’ll never know exactly how bad you did until its too late.

It’s not complicated to get feedback, but it can be hard on you. Here is one way to do it.

First of all, you find a person who can provide you with some feedback. It helps if this is a person you trust. To this person, you present your desire for learning about how you’re doing, and ask if that person is willing to give you some feedback. If the answer is yes, you make sure you sit down in a comfortable environment where you both feel safe and relaxed. Then you ask for feedback on how you’re doing with something.

You could word it like this: “How do you think I’m doing when it comes to the TPS reports?” Then you sit silent and wait. And wait. You will always get feedback, even if the person you’re asking says nothing at all.

When you get the feedback, you might be tempted to think that you’re both done. You’re not. You might be tempted to blurt out a defense, because what you’ve just been told seems so offensive. Don’t. Instead, when you’ve heard what the other person thinks, stay silent. Think. Think about what that feedback might mean. Quietly formulate your interpretation of what that feedback really means, then tell it to the other person and ask if your interpretation is correct. Then go quiet again.

Either the person will say that your interpretation is correct, in which case you can say you’ve received the feedback. Or the other person will correct your interpretation. If this happens, you listen and think some more. Then you present your interpretation of the feedback again, this time incorporating the corrections you just received. Then you listen again, and repeat the process until your feedback giver tells you that you’ve understood things correctly.

Note that even complete silence can be treated this way. Silence as a response to a direct question is a kind of feedback, which you can try to interpret. If you do, it becomes doubly important to check your interpretation with the other person, because it now comes solely from within your own head.

If this procedure seems cumbersome, that’s only because it is. It’s not as slow as it seems when its broken down like this, however. Communicating clearly is hard work. We almost always go wrong in some way when we try to communicate with someone else, and it’s often due to the fact that we think we’ve understood the other person, when in reality we haven’t.

Do I always do it like this? No, and neither will you. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll do like this far too seldom. Sometimes, we simply lack the energy to go through all the work that’s needed to communicate well. For me, that means I’m least likely to get good feedback when I most need it. It’s at times like those that I get into trouble, and that’s why I have to keep reminding myself that feedback can be scary, but that’s just because I don’t ask for it often enough.

To summarize:

  1. Find a potential feedback giver
  2. Ask for help
  3. Find a suitable environment
  4. Ask: How am I doing [with regard to something specific]?
  5. Listen.
  6. Think.
  7. Present your interpretation of the feedback.
  8. Repeat 5-7 until you get to hear you’ve understood correctly.
Will you give me some feedback? Was this post helpful to you?

Author: Tobias Fors

I'm a software management consultant. I help other people succeed with software development. In my work, I help teams and organizations be more effective and ship software.

12 thoughts on “8 Steps to Getting Feedback”

  1. Good advice. I totally agree that it’s important to get feedback. I would also like to point out how important it is to build environments that encourages feedback. Environments where people don’t seek for the blame. Environments where feedback is immediate, spontaneous, honest and in the interest of the whole team. It always starts with yourself. Be generous with your feedback. Be fast in giving it. Build trust in that feedback from you is honest. People will start to follow your lead. First towards you, but I’d say that it won’t stop there.

  2. Indeed. That’s what I mean. Of course it helps explicitly highlighting that you think this giving and taking of rapid feedback is important for the common success. But to my experience we tend to copy manners from people in our environment who we see as successful. And if you can build mutual trust with others that will help in making you radiate success.

    In this all your advice in the article can be applied. When given feedback you should be clear that you listen to it and that you try to understand it correctly.

  3. I think the most difficult part is to initiate the feedback process, and to get in the habit of getting feedback on a regularly.

    I like the article and also like that you have taken your own advice with the comments so far!

  4. Hi CrypticSwarm! What is that you find hardest about initiating the feedback process? For me, its often about building up the courage to go and ask for feedback.

  5. Hi Ola! Thanks for commenting. Obviously, I’ve already read your excellent post on feedback, since I follow your blog! Maybe that’s what subconsciously inspired me to write this post? By the way, have you read Jerry Weinberg’s book on feedback? I haven’t, yet.

    Jerry: if you read this, can I buy a signed copy from you when I come to AYE in November? My Jerry-shelf at home is not quite full yet.

    http://www.geraldmweinberg.com/Site/What_Did_You_Say.html

  6. Tobias, I agree asking for feedback is a big step. Also I think helping the the person you want feedback from have take the leap to give it can be difficult. I find that sometimes people have a conception that feedback is either ignored, or is a spark for confrontation.

    The spark for confrontation I think can be stemmed from the person receiving feedback to often times become defensive. I think that your suggestion of holding back your initial response to ponder the feedback would mitigate this conception in the future.

    A common way to get feedback on the web, and other place is to use surveys. From my experiences I have often heard people ask things like ‘I wonder if they even look at these’. At which point they completely skip out on giving any feedback.

    Both of these points I think tie closely into @PEZ statement ‘I would also like to point out how important it is to build environments that encourages feedback.’

  7. CrypticSurvey: your comment makes me remember a horror story about how surveys can be abused.

    A colleague participated in a large project, which didn’t really work that well. At one point, management decided to hand out a survey, gathering opinions about the project from its participants.

    My colleague saw his chance to express some concerns and present a few ideas, and happily submitted his survey answers.

    After a number of weeks, there still was no word from management about the results of the survey. My colleague asked a manager if any actions would be taken as a result of the survey. The response: – “No, that survey was mostly so that you guys could ‘write off some steam'”.

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