Friday, May 20, 2011

10 Ways to Get More Candid Feedback (and 5 ways if you really can’t handle the truth)


Information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.

We all know how important feedback is, right? It’s the breakfast of champions and all that. However, it’s awful darn hard to get. People generally aren’t good at giving it. It’s hard to do; people often get defensive, and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

However – if you really want feedback, there are ways to get it. Just make sure you can handle the truth.

Looking beyond the obvious, here’s 10 ways to get more candid feedback:

1. Ask a recruiter. Good recruiters make their living sizing candidates up quickly. They can take a look at your resume and after a 15 minute phone screen, have a pretty good idea about your strengths and weaknesses. However, you have to ask them for a candid, constructive, brutally honest assessment. Then, just listen, keep your mouth shut, and say thank-you. In fact, that’s a good formula for how to receive any kind of feedback. There will be a test on this later.

2. Take a multi-rater assessment. These are basically a survey, often administered by a third party for a fee, that asks your boss, peers, and employees (if you have them) for ratings and comments regarding your behaviors and or skills. Although some reports are self-explanatory, it’s usually better to have a certified feedback giver help you sort through the results.

3. Try Feedforward. See Marshall Goldsmith’s explanation. It’s actually an alternative to feedback, but you get the same constructive information.

4. Try the 10/10 Technique. First, identify something you want to improve – say leading a meeting, delegating, listening, or conducting a one on one. Then, at the end of an interaction with someone, (it only takes about 10 minutes), ask the question: “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate my listening skills?” Usually the answer is not a perfect 10, because you already know it’s something you need to get better at. If it’s anything less than 10, ask the follow-up question: “What would I need to do for you to rate me a 10?”
It works well because it gives you very specific ideas for improvement, in terms of what’s important to the other person. It opens up dialog in a non-threatening way, builds trust, and creates a win-win developmental partnership.

5. Watch yourself on video. This used to be a terrifying way to learn about yourself, although in the age of YouTube, perhaps we’re getting used to seeing ourselves on camera. It’s even better if you have a coach or trainer watch with you to point things out and offer tips for improvement. Better yet, have a bunch of friends over and break out the popcorn and beer.

6. Have someone conduct a stakeholder assessment for you. You can read the full explanation, but it’s kind of like hiring an investigative reporter to interview people to find out what you’re like to work with.

7. Take a validated, reliable personality assessment. Try the Hogan, MBTI, DISC, or others and again, have someone help your interpret the results.

8. Interviews. Again, like with getting feedback from a recruiter, you really have to ask in a nice way, and make sure you do what? That’s right, listen, keep your mouth shut, and say thank-you. Even if you’re not looking for a job, it’s a good idea to go on a practice interview every so often.

9. Ask your boss this question: “Not that I’m going anywhere, but if you had to replace me, what would you look for in the ideal candidate?” It’s a little risky, because you don’t want to give your boss any ideas, but if you have a lot of confidence, you could pull it off. I did this once and was able to drag some very useful information out of my manager that helped me identify some areas I needed to shore up.

10. Ask your teenage kids. I saved this one for last, because it’s the most brutal kind of feedback of all! It’s only for the very brave-hearted and thick-skinned.

I once had a VP tell me "I hate feedback". I had to admire his honesty. Actually, a lot of us do, we just won't admit it. So, if you really don’t want to find out about your weaknesses, and would prefer to keep your head blissfully buried in the sand, then use any or all of these 5 methods:

1. Ask your co-workers, friends, or family members. They can always be counted on to tell you exactly what you want to hear. Thank God for that – after all, who wants to surround ourselves with people that do nothing but criticize us?

2. Performance appraisals. These are usually a candy-coated pack of lies. Yes, if you read between the lines you might be able to pull out a nugget, but managers have gotten really good at covering up what they really think with useless weasel words.

3. Take a strengths finder assessment. People love these things because they make them feel good about themselves. Better yet, take them as a team and you can all feel good about each other. Kumbaya.

4. Customer surveys and comment cards. You’ll rarely get useful information from these methods. In fact, a lot of companies actually incent and punish their service givers to try to avoid getting any constructive feedback at all costs.

5. Your own self-assessment. People are generally blind when it comes to how they come across to others.

What do you think? What are your best and worst ways to get feedback?


Susan said...

Great post, Dan. I especially like #9! Here's my take on it: (the best being ask specific questions and give them some time to think about it).

Stephanie said...

You offer some terrific suggestions here, Dan! I like 360 degree reviews because it allows for feedback from various perspectives/relationships (boss, peers, direct reports). Since these are administered online, feedback is anonymous and therefore typically more honest.

Thanks again. I look forward to passing these tips on to my clients.

Dan McCarthy said...

Susan -

Stephanie -
Great, glad you can use it.

Derek Irvine, Globoforce said...

Great post, Dan. I love your -ahem - assessment of performance appraisals. Couldn't agree more. I just wrote about how Zappos gets the performance review process right (well, mostly right) by tying the appraisal to company values. To be 100% correct, they'd allow all employees to "appraise" colleagues through recognition when they see someone demonstrating a value -- then roll all of that ongoing feedback up into a formal process.

Lisa said...

Loved that post, although I hate the thought of looking at video and analysing myself.

Challenge Of Leadership

Wally Bock said...

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Feedback is the way to turbocharge your growth and development, but you need good (which sometimes means hard-to-take) feedback. Thanks for showing us how to get that feedback.

That's why I included this post in my weekly selection of top leadership posts from the independent business blogs.

Ron Bland said...

Thanks for the post. I've shared this article with my friends. Feedback from my teenagers...thanks for saving that one for last!

Duncan Brodie said...

Excellent blog post as always.

I really believe that people's willingness to proactively seek feedback really sets them apart.

Duncan Brodie

white Eagle said...

It's really good and thanks for such a nice post. I like feedback when it is positive if not then then keep your advice with you....don't show me the mirror....Joke apart post is awesome...

Kelly Austin said...

5. Watch yourself on video - This is indeed very terrifying! I did this before and I didn't like what I saw. It was horrifying. I hated how I speak, my mannerisms and basically everything. However, it's not all that bad since it helped me improve my communication skills.

Peter said...

As Wally said, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions." If we only hear what we want to hear then we are not talking to anyone who cares about us. When shown constructively and objectively, and with caring, the mirror can be a wonderful device. It is the friend who holds it for us.

If you want to read more about the reality of professional and career development, go to

Dan McCarthy said...

Derek -
Thanks. The Zappos approach sounds innovative, like a lot of their HR practices.

Lisa -
Thanks, me too!I run from cameras.

Wally -
Thanks, I'm honored!

Ron -
Thanks for sharing it!

Duncan -
Thanks! I agree, it's a real differentiator for anyone, not just leaders.

White Eagle -

Kelly -
wow, was it that bad?! Next time,you might want to watch with a coach or friend so you have someone to point out the good parts, which I'm sure there are many.

Peter -
Thanks. I'll give you the free plug, because you actually took the time to read the post and make a relevant comment. (-:

Peter said...

You are most welcome. Glad to continue the discussion as people see the need.

Tamara Vann said...

Fantastic piece! Feedback, honest feedback, is critical for success. Just be ready to make logical changes when they're needed. As this video ( suggests, even a strong service culture can stand improvements once in a while.