Advice. Guidance. Mentoring. We all need feedback.
But we don't get enough of it. And, when we think that feedback will be negative, we don't necessarily want to hear it, much less seek it out.
And therein lies the rub: We all need more feedback, but we don't always want to ask. And when we do ask, research shows when feedback is requested -- rather than volunteered -- it tends to be too vague, too fluffy, too "I don't want to hurt your feelings so I'll just be nice" to be of any value.
So instead of asking for feedback, what should you do?
Ask for advice.
Harvard Business School researchers found that asking for advice resulted in respondents providing 34 percent more areas of improvement and 56 percent more ways to improve compared to those who were asked for feedback.
According to the researchers:
Why is asking for advice more effective than asking for feedback? As it turns out, feedback is often associated with evaluation. At school, we receive feedback with letter grades. When we enter the workforce, we receive feedback with our performance evaluations. Because of this link between feedback and evaluation, when people are asked to provide feedback, they often focus on judging others' performance; they think more about how others performed in the past.
This makes it harder to imagine someone's future and possibly better performance. As a result, feedback givers end up providing less critical and actionable input.
In contrast, when asked to provide advice, people focus less on evaluation and more on possible future actions. Whereas the past is unchangeable, the future is full of possibilities. So, if you ask someone for advice, they will be more likely to think forward to future opportunities to improve rather than backwards to the things you have done, which you can no longer change.
In non-researcher-speak: asking for feedback is asking, "How did I do?"; asking for advice is asking, "What can I do?" Advice is teaching, coaching, and mentoring; feedback is more like a grade.
It's hard to tell someone how well they just did, especially if they did relatively poorly. It's easy to tell someone what they could try next time.
Think about the last time someone asked you for feedback, especially if it wasn't your job to provide that person with feedback. I'll bet you instantly felt uncomfortable. I'll bet that inside, you cringed. The last thing you wanted to do was hurt that person's feelings.
Then think about the last time someone asked you for advice. Surely you felt flattered: The person asking clearly believed you had experience, talent, knowledge, etc. they didn't have.
In short: Being asked for feedback almost always feels uncomfortable. Being asked for advice almost always feels good.
Which means the asked is much more likely to hear what they need to hear -- not what the other person thinks they want to hear.
As the researchers write:
Despite its prevalence, asking for feedback is often an ineffective strategy for promoting growth and learning... because when givers focus too much on evaluating past actions, they fail to provide tangible recommendations for future ones.
How can we overcome this barrier? By asking our peers, clients, colleagues, and bosses for advice instead.
Try it. Start asking for advice. You're much more likely to get the input you really need.
And the person you ask for help also gets something valuable: They feel respected. They feel trusted. They get to offer the kind of guidance they know will really help you.
Which means you both win.