Encouraging Honest Feedback

I received a couple of really thoughtful questions around giving and receiving honest feedback from a member of AIGA DC’s Shine Mentorship Initiative. I’m sharing my initial responses with hopes they help others. This is the first post on this subject, diving into the first question.

How do you encourage others to give you honest feedback?

This is a great question I wish more people asked! I’m going to put more thought into this, but I’ve noted a few practices that have been helpful in my personal and professional experiences so far.

  1. Use language that clarifies the type of feedback being sought. This is helpful in the instances where I’m soliciting feedback. In these cases, if I’m not specific, people aren't always responsive or completely honest because they don't know what would be helpful, what specifically they’re being asked about, and/or are concerned about backlash for sharing honestly or too much. Being specific and direct when requesting feedback has made it easier by making clear the type of feedback I welcome, indicating how deep they should go with it, and by providing more certainty that the feedback shared will be in line with my expectations and therefore well received.

  2. Listen to and thank giver. Listening and remaining non-defensive, even when I don’t fully or immediately agree, is key to building strong relationships. It can be hard. It takes me (continually) a lot of practice and self-correction to make and keep this my default reaction to criticism. When I get feedback and this is working as it should, I'll ask questions if I have them, will thank the individual, and will try to end the conversation there to start. This gives me time and space to process constructive feedback before communicating a deeper or longer follow up. This practice forces me to reflect and listen more than I speak and, when I achieve this, the act of taking in feedback helps demonstrate that I value the input and — I like to think — encourages continued, honest engagement.

  3. Give thoughtful, honest feedback to others. Generally, I try to exhibit the behavior that I hope others will practice with me. I find it unfair to ask others to do what I won't do myself. This means that I provide honest feedback to others on areas I have reasonable professional or social responsibility to do so.  If people aren't asking for my feedback, I try to focus my initial efforts at building a relationship of feedback on positive reinforcement to start until, perhaps, they start requesting more from me. However, even if its uncomfortable, if something is wrong and I notice it, I’ll provide that feedback in as much of a timely and respectful manner as I can.

Chime in if there’s something you’ve tried that you’d add to the responses above or if there’s a “gotcha” in the above recommendations that you’d point out.

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A follow-up post is coming.