Feedback is a tricky thing. If done correctly, it can help learners to ensure that they are on the right path and to help them make improvements. However, research suggests that 38% of feedback interventions actually do more harm than good.
This three-part series on feedback will look at the common mistakes people make when asking for feedback; it will offer tips on how to actually give feedback better and finally give some suggestions on how people can receive feedback better.
So, what common mistakes do people make when asking for feedback, and what can you do to ensure you don’t fall into this trap?
Only asking ‘is this ok?’ – It is good to seek out feedback. This openness to learning is a big part of developing a growth mindset. It shows initiative and a willingness to improve. The problem is that often, when seeking feedback, people only ask, ‘is this ok?’
This question is useful if it is being done to check that you are on the right track; however, it is often asked under the guise of feedback, but actually the aim is to gain praise. It is a question that is asked to seek validation. The problem with this is that the conversation goes something like this:
Person 1: ‘Is this ok?’
Person 2: ‘Yes, that’s ok.’
As such, the scope for learning is limited. There are better questions than ‘is this ok?’ One such question is, ‘how can I improve this?’ For this question, the conversation often goes like this:
Person 1: ‘How can I improve this?’
Person 2: ‘You can do X, Y, Z….’
This question can lead to concrete tangible steps that the second person can use to improve their work. It may give them less praise, but the quality of feedback it prompts will be higher.
Not being fully present – To help our athletes maintain their concentration, we use the great phrase, ‘be where your feet are’. In a world filled with potential distractions, maintaining concentration and focus on the task at hand can be difficult. It is not only external things that can distract; internal thoughts can too. Having regrets about the past or worries about the future can stop people being present in the moment.
Asking someone for feedback is essentially asking them for their time. By not fully focusing on the conversation, you imply that their time is less valuable than yours. As summed up by Jack Black in this clip from the movie Kung Fu Panda (albeit a little bit cheesily), it is good to be able to fully focus on the here and now.
Leaving it to the last minute – It sounds such common sense, but it is amazing how often people leave asking for feedback until the last minute. For people prone to procrastination, (which research suggests is about 75% of students, this may happen often.
Last minute feedback requests rely on the person you are asking to be available. It then needs them to have enough time to give you high quality feedback and then enough time for you to process and action it. It is far better to ask for feedback earlier, making the whole process easier, more efficient and more effective for everyone involved.
Asking “either/or” questions – These sorts of questions are asked when the person asking feedback wants a clear answer as to which of the two options before them is the best one. The problem with questions like these is that the narrative is set by the person asking for feedback, not the person giving it. Other options may be available. (The person who is giving the feedback, presumably because they have a larger knowledge base on the topic than the person asking for feedback, will know.)
Likewise, asking multiple questions at once can cloud the conversation. The whole point of feedback is to get some insight from someone else. When asking for feedback, the job of the person asking is to make this as easy as possible. One question at a time will help with this.
Using superlatives – A superlative is a word that implies an extreme. This includes words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, ‘best’ and ‘worst’. These words imply a black or white distinction. All in or nothing. Boom or bust. Life is often more nuanced then that. In order to get the highest quality of feedback from someone, it is important to acknowledge this.
If you are asking for feedback from a false premise, it is likely that the feedback that follows will not be as accurate or as helpful as it could be. Even if the person giving the feedback is adept enough to spot and correct your superlatives, this still takes away from the time they have available to give you.
The quality of the feedback you get is not the sole responsibility of the person giving it to you. It is up to the individual asking for it to ensure that they do everything they can to get the best feedback possible. Avoiding only asking ‘is this ok?’, being distracted, leaving it to the last minute, asking either/or questions or too many questions, and using superlatives will be a good starting point.
For even more info take a look at our page How to Develop a Growth Mindset, where you'll find links to blogs and research
The next blog in this series is on ‘how to give good feedback’ and the last will be on ‘how to receive feedback’. These should be out in the next few weeks, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.