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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Um, This Is the Wrong Way to Ask for Feedback at Work

Your co-worker asks if you’d be willing to look over his latest presentation, and you’re more than happy to. Only, when you get the email from him, it says, “Good to go, right?” which makes you feel like he doesn’t really want your honest feedback.

A rubber stamp question can actually make you feel worse than if you hadn’t been asked in the first place. You might feel like you’re wasting your time, because your colleague’s just asking for form’s sake. Or, you can feel a bit uncomfortable when he later presents his work to your boss as including the whole team’s thoughts—but it was clear he wasn’t actually open to your opinion.

Like so many tricky communication issues in the office, this one’s much easier to understand when you’re on the receiving end. In other words, it’s possible your colleague was trying to include you, but because he was rushed, or felt like he’d done a good job already, he phrased his question in a leading way. However, you can see that his communication style (inadvertently or not) makes him come off like he's being manipulative.

You’ve probably been there, too. Have you ever framed an idea for your team by saying “Can’t we all agree that…?” This type of phrasing means that any response other than “yes” puts the other person in the position of having to immediately disagree with you.

On the other hand, if you said a simple “What do you think?” Or better yet, a “How could we improve on this?” you’re asking for active engagement—for criticism, for feedback, for innovation—in a way that shows it’d be viewed as constructive, not adversarial.

Of course, it may be that you already had made up your mind, and your goal is to get everyone on the same page. You intentionally don’t want to ask a question that solicits a dialogue because you don’t have the time or budget or wherewithal to alter your strategy—but you still want people to buy-in.

That’s fine too, but if that’s the case, why not skip the leading question altogether? Instead, ask for what you need. It sounds like this, “While we don’t have the budget for any major changes, I’d like to know anything jumps out—for better or worse—so we know where to focus our remaining efforts.”

Or, in the case of that colleague who sent you that presentation, he could’ve said: “I’m due to share this later today, but I’ve read it so many times I don’t even know what I’m looking at. Would you mind doing a quick run through for anything I could’ve missed?” That way, he’s being honest about the fact that he’s not open to strategic suggestions, but you know your time’s still valuable.

Just like you know better than to ask someone a question only to ignore her answer, avoid asking something that boxes others into saying exactly what you want to hear. Ask a genuine question—or share where you are in your process. Either way, being straightforward will make a better impression.

Photo of co-workers courtesy of Hoxton/Tom Merton/Getty Images.