Getting feedback seems like it should be easy--you just ask someone what they think of you or your product and they'll tell you--but according to a host of experts, actually getting people to provide useful criticism is actually fiendishly difficult.
Since childhood it's been drilled into us to be nice, and most people don't enjoy hurting or offending others, so we will generally go to great lengths to avoid criticizing people to their faces. But that's just what you want someone to do when you ask for feedback. How do you get over this intrinsic difficulty when you really need others' input to grow?
I've come across a lot of useful advice on the subject over the years, but the simplest and easiest may be a tip I just stumbled on from Forge editor Michelle Woo. It amounts to changing just one single word in your questions.
'One' vs. 'any'
When we want someone's feedback we often use "any" questions like "Do you have any feedback for me?" or "Is there anything you think I could do better?" to get it. That's a mistake, according to Woo. "'Any' is too big, too vague, too passive," she insists. So what should you do instead? Try "one."
"What's one thing I could do better?" beats "Is there anything I could do better?" any day. And "Everyone share one idea" is far more likely to yield useful suggestions than "Does anyone have any ideas?"
Why? Just look at this article. If you're reading this far it's probably because you were intrigued by the promise of "Just 1 Word" in the headline. That sounds useful, but also totally manageable. Everyone has time and brain space for just one quick thing. Similarly, when you ask for "one" idea or piece of advice, you make your ask less intimidating for your listener. And by making your request so concrete you also signal that you're serious--you're not just asking out of rote performance or politeness. You really, actually want ideas to improve.
Or as Woo succinctly puts it, "When people hear that number, their minds instantly become more focused. Hmm, one thing, they think. Sure, I can do that."