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Fix How You Ask For Feedback

Want to improve your product, speech, or website? Stop asking people whether they like it.
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You've worked long and hard on a product, presentation, report, or website, and you have the start of something you think has merit. You know your work is still far from perfect though, so you round up a few trusted friends and colleagues to ask for their feedback.

What exactly do you ask them?

Requesting feedback may not sound like the most complicated skill you need to master as an entrepreneur, but as author and founder Ben Casnocha explains on his blog recently, it's something that plenty of folks mess up nonetheless. What do they do wrong?

They do the natural thing and ask: "Do you like it?"

What's the problem with this straightforward question? Casnocha explains:

Opening with the "like" question can actually be counterproductive. Ask somebody who was in the audience, "What'd you think of my speech?" and you will probably get some variant of "good," especially if the person is of lower status. Any specific tips that follow will be under this potentially sugarcoated guise. Or, if they say they didn’t like it, you could get defensive or argumentative. Ask instead, "What is one thing I could have done better in the speech?" and you'll jump right into something that’s potentially actionable--and avoid a potentially awkward like/dislike evaluation.

Giving feedback, especially negative feedback, is difficult. Most people like to be nice. Most people like to make other people happy, so asking someone if they like your work just reinforces the awkwardness of being negative. To avoid this problem, Casnocha suggests a simple alternative formulation for those seeking quality feedback:

Bottom Line: If you know there’s still work to do--on your draft essay, on your public speaking skills, on your product--ask people for one or two specific ideas on how they’d improve it. Focus their mind exclusively on practical, specific changes that they think would lead to improvement.

Asking for specific suggestions removes the stress of saying something negative from those whose opinions you're seeking. Instead it creates a social obligation for them to say something constructive--you're asking for possible improvements after all, so the majority of folks out there will be keen to give them to you.

Interested in more tips and suggestions from Casnocha? He has written plenty more about what he learned from co-authoring the book The Start-Up of You.

Do you have any tricks for getting better quality feedback?

 

Last updated: Nov 7, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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