Want to get better feedback? Ask a better question. Here’s how.

Charlotte Rocker
Jan 18 · 3 min read

Our Feedback Skills workshop at LifeLabs Learning is our most popular offering; I’ve taught it to over 650 managers, executives, and individual contributors in the last year alone. Across all of those sessions, there’s one question I get more than any other…

How do I get people to give me better feedback?

When people ask this question, I think they expect a complex answer. But the promise of LifeLabs is to simplify complexity: to give people small changes they can immediately implement to see a big impact.

What’s the simplest way to get better feedback? Ask a better question.

I’m going to give you a template for my favorite way to ask for feedback. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a better understanding of why this template works, and you’ll be able to adapt it for your own situation.

So, without further ado, here’s our master template:

“To help me keep improving, I’d love to get your feedback on my facilitation of our last retro. What was one thing you liked? What was one thing I could have done 10% better?”

This approach may seem simple, but it’s not simplistic. There is research and intention behind each component. So let’s think like a scientist about it, breaking it down to understand its magic.

To help me keep improving…

  • This phrasing is what’s known as an intention statement. By telling someone your goal in asking for feedback, it reduces their anxiety in giving it to you, especially if they’ll be giving you critical feedback.
  • Intention statements are especially useful in situations that might be intimidating for the feedback giver, such as a direct report being asked to give feedback to a manager. At so many of my clients, I’ve seen people not give feedback because they’re worried about retaliation. Your intention statement helps to allay that fear.

…I’d love to get your feedback on my facilitation of our last retro.

  • By asking about something specific, you increase the chances that you’ll get useful feedback in an area that’s meaningful for you. Furthermore, you reduce cognitive load for the feedback giver by naming a focus area.
  • Depending on your identity, you might also mitigate some of the unconscious biases that are associated with feedback. We know from research that people of non-male gender identities are more likely to receive vague, non-specific feedback, while men receive more feedback that’s directly tied to business objectives.

What was one thing you liked?

  • Pulling positive feedback to yourself helps to counteract the brain’s negativity bias, which is our tendency to focus on improvement areas without acknowledging people’s strengths. Celebrating the positive has a meaningful business consequence, especially for high performers; Gallup found that employees who didn’t feel recognized were three times more likely to say they’d quit their jobs in the next year.

What was one thing I could have done 10% better?

  • By asking for constructive feedback, you create psychological safety for your feedback giver to talk about an improvement area.
  • The “10%” phrasing is deliberate, because it scales the feedback to be more specific and actionable. I can’t do much if you tell me my facilitation stunk, but I can work on moving around the room more to make people at the back feel more included.
  • Lastly, research shows that people who pull negative feedback to themselves are more likely to be perceived as leaders. Win!

I invite you to use this structure to ask someone for feedback in the next week. Let me know how it goes!

LifeLabs Learning

Top research-based writings on life’s most useful skills: awareness, communication, people-reading, influence, mentorship, and leadership.

Charlotte Rocker

Written by

MBA. Strategy consultant. Project manager. Now working as a leadership trainer to help people learn from my mistakes (and occasional successes).

LifeLabs Learning

Top research-based writings on life’s most useful skills: awareness, communication, people-reading, influence, mentorship, and leadership.

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