Feedback is for Narcissists

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women having a conversation

You’re finishing up a presentation and you feel like you could have done better. Sure, things went pretty well. You didn’t pass out or throw up at the front of the room, but you know it wasn’t your best work.

So afterwards, you ask a couple of colleagues for some feedback. Of course, they regale you with praise and congratulations on what a great job you did.

Not exactly what you were looking for, so you ask again. “Come on guys, give me some feedback on what I could have done better.”

Now they may say things like “No, really you did great!” or “I think everyone really enjoyed your presentation.”

<Sigh> Why is it so hard to get good feedback?

Well, let’s be honest. Being asked for feedback kind of sounds like a trap, right?

I mean, if we are peers and you ask me for some feedback, I don’t want to sound rude, so I’ll offer some praise and encouragement.

And if I am junior to you and you ask for feedback, I don’t want to find myself in the doghouse, so I’m going to lavish even more praise and recognition.

Ugh. What a waste of time.

But you really want feedback. How do you get good constructive feedback?

Here’s the secret. Stop asking for feedback. Start asking for advice!

You see, when you ask for advice a lot of things change in people’s minds.

First, asking for advice does not allow for praise. It requires critical thought. At the very least it forces the other person to tell you what to do more of and that in itself can be helpful.

Second, asking for advice promotes a feeling of importance in the other person. People love giving advice because that makes them seem smarter. And being asked for advice creates a greater feeling of esteem and power.

So you see, when you ask someone for their advice, you’re empowering them to feel more competent and confident.  Win-win!

Whereas when you ask them for feedback, they may feel coerced into flattery or being set up for a trap. Neither is helpful for either party. Lose-lose.

Now, here is the critical part of receiving advice or feedback.

When someone does provide points to improve behavior or presentation, whether solicited or not, always always always respond with a grateful smile and genuine “thank you.”

It’s that simple. Don’t try to argue the point or make excuses. Don’t even start with “Well, I had intended to…” or “I was thinking the same thing.” Just smile and say thank you. Don’t diminish their advice by coming back with your own thoughts.

Why? Because you have just received a gift. In fact, you’ve just asked for that gift when you asked for advice.

You can’t ask for a gift and then say, “Yeah, thanks, but it’s not really the gift I was hoping for.” That would be rude. And good luck getting any gifts (or in this case, advice) anytime in the near or distant future.

When we ask for gifts, we accept them graciously. Do the same with feedback and advice.

So how will you ask your peers for constructive, actionable feedback when you want to improve your presentation skills or any other professional skill? How will you ask direct reports for ways to increase communication or teambuilding practices? And how will you respond when you get advice that doesn’t necessarily jibe with your own perspective?

It won’t be easy to implement this new practice at first, but it will go a long way to improving your relationships and improving your outputs and outcomes.

Look, if all you want is a pat on the back to feed your ego, go ahead, ask for feedback.

If, on the other hand, you want real, practical, constructive points to improve, ask for advice.

You’ll get what you really want more quickly without the awkward back and forth of having to ask a second time.

And, maybe more importantly, you’ll be empowering others to feel more important and valued as trusted advisors in your work relationships.

And no matter what the resulting advice is, always respond with a grateful smile and a heartfelt “Thank you.”

Your Mindful Moment:

Feedback is for Narcissists. Advice is for the rest of us (Leaders)!

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