6 ways to get feedback you can actually use

How many times have you received the same response when you have asked for feedback?

You ask someone whom you think will tell you the truth, “How did I do?” and you hear “Good,” “Nice Job” or “That was great!” These responses are not feedback. Instead, this person is telling you what they think you want to hear rather than the truth.

In some instances, this person may be lying to you because they lack the confidence to tell you that you take too long to get to the point or it is difficult to follow your message.

Avoid falling into the trap of fake feedback. This type of feedback is a waste of time and gets you nowhere. You might be walking through life thinking, “I’m good because everyone says I’m good.” But is it true?

Honest feedback is tough to come by for two reasons. First, the higher you are in an organization, the less likely people are to give you truthful feedback about any topic, let alone your communication skills and level of influence.

When you reach a certain point on the ladder, no one wants to tell the emperor he or she has no clothes on.  If you are a senior leader, who is going to tell you that you “uh” and “um” your way through a conversation? Who is willing to give you feedback that you fidget with your pen when you talk?

The second reason fake feedback is so pervasive is that giving and receiving authentic feedback can be uncomfortable for both parties. As challenging as it can be to hear constructive feedback, it can be equally difficult to give it.

In order to grow your influence, you need honest feedback, and that requires trust. Trust is a two-way street. You must trust that the person giving feedback genuinely has your best interests at heart. This allows you to be receptive to the information. The provider of feedback must also trust that it is safe to be completely open and honest with you.

To begin growing your influence today, apply these six steps to meaningful feedback:

1. Look for everyday opportunities

Feedback is easier to seek and apply in low-risk, daily interactions than in high-stakes situations.

Instead of waiting for the “big gig,” seek feedback on a regular basis. Soliciting feedback involves just a few minutes before and after a conversation, meeting, presentation or even an email.

2. Prepare for feedback

Prior to an interaction (such as a meeting, presentation, face-to-face, or virtual conversation), ask someone you trust to observe you and give you feedback. This may be a co-worker, mentor, friend, or family member.

Ask this person to watch for specific, ineffective verbal and nonverbal behaviors you would like to change. For example, “I’m trying to avoid beginning my sentences with the word ‘so.’ Please let me know what you hear.” Or, “I’m working on making my emails clear and concise. Please let me know if my writing is unclear or confusing.”

3. Make it simple

Focus on one behavior at a time.

4. Dig deeper

After the interaction, avoid asking the generic question, “How did I do?” Instead, ask the person to describe precisely what you said or did. For example, “What behavior did I display that conveyed confidence (or whichever area you are seeking feedback about)?”

If the person responds with generalities such as, “You did well,” ask follow-up questions: “What specifically did I do that was good?” “What specifically could I do to sound and look more confident?” “What could I have said to make you take immediate action on my email?”

5. Clarify

Summarize to ensure you correctly heard the feedback you received.

6. Assess the experience

After receiving feedback, consider: how did the feedback differ from your perception of how you communicated? What will you change as a result of the feedback? How did you feel receiving this feedback?

When the feedback you receive shifts from fake to meaningful, you will know that your efforts are starting to pay off. Comments such as “Nice job” or “You did well” will begin to fade. Instead, you will hear feedback that sounds like, “You have the ability to connect with and engage your listeners.”

When you receive positive feedback, celebrate that success. It is an indication that your influence is expanding.

Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. and the author of Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday and Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action.