A focus of this blog is to help you have better conversations. Enhancing dialogue makes our communities more engaged, diverse and healthier. Accepting and offering feedback are essential elements of great conversations. Giving and receiving praise or criticism isn’t easy, but human beings crave it because knowing where we stand with our boss or our friends makes relationships stronger. Here is how to ask for feedback so that you can enhance your personal and professional potential.

Be open

Feedback is a gift. But we need to accept it with an open mind and heart. Before you ask for input from your boss about your performance or your friend about your home renovations be sure that you are ready to hear what they have to say. Peter Bergman argues that actively seeking feedback is a personal and professional game-changer: “Being good at receiving feedback is especially important at work, because your colleagues are less likely to push past your defensiveness and more willing to write you off if they have a hard time working with you.” Remember, if people aren’t able to share their thoughts about you then you’ll never learn why you aren’t getting promoted.

Ask for it

Year-end reviews and one-on-one meetings should focus on feedback. Even though giving feedback is what managers have signed up for, all too often bosses don’t offer it because they haven’t thought enough about what to say or shrink from sharing difficult information. You won’t learn about how you’re kicking ass or where you can improve unless you ask for your boss, colleagues or spouse to set aside time to share their thoughts. According to Fast Company’s Jessica Mattern, simply asking “how am I doing?” won’t get you very far. Here are some specific questions from Karin Hurt, author and former executive at Verizon Wireless, that will make the feedback experience easier for everyone:

  • What specifically can I do to better support our team’s mission?
  • If your boss were to give me one piece of advice, what would that be?
  • Who should I be working with more closely?
  • Which parts of my style concern you the most?
  • Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for (insert the job or assignment you’re most interested in here)?

Listen deeply

Collecting feedback is about more than ticking a box on your performance plan or placating your direct reports so that they feel like you’re the cool manager. Whether you’re receiving praise or criticism, listening to feedback isn’t easy – thinking about compliments and “next-times” might even be making you squirm right now! When you consistently and authentically listen to folks, getting feedback gets easier because the process is natural and comfortable. For me, listening to feedback is hard because I love talking, debating and find myself wanting to respond immediately to what’s being said. Last year I actively listened and let go of winning the argument while a team member offered criticism about how I could’ve led better. Though it was hard to hear (and in front of several people), it was an exhausting and profound accomplishment. Taking notes also enhances your listening because it focuses your attention and creates a record of how you are seen by others, which you can use later.

Listen some more

According to presencing guru, Otto Scharmer, there are four levels of listening. So, really, really focus on what you’re hearing and try to empathize with the person sharing the conversation or, better yet, focus so friggin’ hard that you actually generate ideas with them just by listening.

I embrace feedback with respect, authenticity and speed. A result is that colleagues and friends offer it naturally and in the moment. This makes life way more interesting and comfortable because I rarely have to second-guess myself and it doesn’t sting as much when I hear reasons for why I failed at something.

Clarify what you heard

Speaking of failure, I recently got some feedback about a failed application for a really cool professional experience. In order to accurately clarify what’s being said you have to let go of some things and hold on to others. Let go of anger. Let go of awkwardness. Suspend judgment. Hold on to praise even if it makes you uncomfortable. Take note of compliments because they will serve you well later. Most importantly, re-tell the story of the feedback from your perspective so that your boss, spouse or neighbor can confirm that what they said landed as they intended.

Define the way forward

If you do everything that’s listed above really well and then fail to act on what you hear then my feedback for you is that you just wasted everyone’s time. In collaboration with feedback-providers, co-create the steps that you will take to deepen your understanding of what you’ve heard and how you will address it. Leaning into praise and compliments will help you build on natural talents. Embracing criticism will help you understand blind spots and how to mitigate the risks resulting from your weaknesses. Finally, remember to be confident in yourself so that you can recognize feedback that just doesn’t make sense – just because everybody is able to provide feedback doesn’t mean that it’s good or accurate.

And that’s why next week’s article will focus on how to give awesome feedback!

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