Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to use feedback

Feedback is good, right?  We're told frequently of the importance of consensus building, listening to other people's opinions and 'running it up the flag pole'.  The problem is that not all feedback-seeking is equal, either in purpose or quality.  That's fair, not every situation needs the same kinds of feedback.  A few common reasons to seek it out are:

  1. Improve an idea
  2. Check an idea or plan for errors
  3. Get other people committed to carrying out an idea
  4. To feel good about an idea you have done or are going to do
All of these are fair game and none really better than the others.  The only deciding factor is which will help you accomplish your goal.  Over on Fistful of Talent, Marissa Keegan points out that seeking feedback for number four the wrong way is bad, sometimes really bad.  Marissa does a great job of introducing the idea of why that's a problem.  Now I'd like to present some ideas of how to get what you're going for.
Seeking out encouragement for an idea is normal, and as long as it's not a requirement before taking any action it's fine.  Wanting encouragement isn't a problem when your cheerleaders know that's what they're supposed to do.  They're not going to get as committed to the cause you're bringing up, but that works out since you really don't want them fiddling with it anyway.

So how do you go to your team, subordinates or colleagues with a plea for affirmation without sounding pathetic?  It's actually quite simple, preface your question with a statement that tells your audience what you're looking for. Something like, "Hey, Bob, I've got this idea for our new account but I'd like to hear from someone else that I'm not totally off the mark.  Can I run this by you?"

If at that point Bob starts giving advice or telling you the idea is crazy, determine whether Bob is a know-it-all who's always got to meddle or whether your idea may be completely wrong.  Why?  Because at that point the only kind of feedback you've asked for is for someone to tell you you're not crazy.  If Bob goes beyond that either he has no social skills or you've got serious problems.

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