The Power of Asking for Feedback

Unrelated: I got more takoyaki the other day!

Unrelated: I got more takoyaki the other day!

A few days ago I listened to a talk about asking for feedback. While I’ve been a big fan of the power of asking for feedback for a long time now (as a manager at my previous job, to my Kickstarter backers at my current job, and in general), the talk really opened me to a few key elements that I thought were worth delving into here.

The first element is the importance of actually being open to hearing honest feedback, especially for things that we’re insecure about. The talk discusses the idea that people often tell us what they think we want to hear not because they want to, but rather because they’ve seen the way we respond to the truth in the past. I think this is especially true in relationships.

The second element is the importance of askingI think sometimes we assume that by surrounding ourselves with people we trust, they’ll dispense feedback when needed, like an open-door policy at work. But the door really only opens when we ask for feedback. That’s the real invitation.

The third element is specificity. The way we ask for feedback matters. You can’t just sit down with your girlfriend and say, “Tell me how I can be a better man.” That’s not a terrible start, but you might be better off asking, “What’s one thing I do that really annoys you?”

My favorite two examples in the talk were as follows:

  1. Kissing: If you’re in a relationship–no longer how long you’ve been in it–ask your partner how you can be a better kisser. Ask what they like the most about your kissing and what they like the least. Kissing is such an intimate act, and yet–at least in my experience–it’s pretty rare to have an open and honest discussion about how to be a better (or more compatible) kisser. You can figure out 90% of it by paying attention to the other person, but I love the idea of opening up that door. It’s a vulnerable thing to do, and it says a lot about how you value that person and the relationship simply by asking.
  2. Correcting bad habits. The speaker–who works with college kids–said that he hears all the time that after a break up, the person who was broken up wonders, “What did I do wrong?” Maybe they even ask the other person the same thing. The speaker is bewildered by this–why not ask that kind of question during the relationship, not after? 9 times out of 10 it might not make a difference on the relationship itself. But maybe by having a conversation about what you’re doing wrong during the relationship can bring to light some of the things you do wrong in all relationships, and you can correct them for the next person. If no one ever tells you those things (because you never asked), you never have a chance to correct them and be a better boyfriend/girlfriend.

Now, I’ll say this: I’ve been thinking about this talk a lot. I’m not in a relationship right now, so the relationship-y aspect of the talk doesn’t really apply to me right now. But I want to apply what I heard somehow. Where do you start, though? With family? With friends? How do you ask for feedback in such a way that the other person doesn’t assume you’re actually just trying to get them to ask the same question?

If you listen to the talk, I’d love to hear what you think.