Asking For Feedback – How To Get The Information You Really Need

A faster horse – Henry Ford’s Model A. (istockphoto.com © Keely Deuschle)

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”

— Henry Ford

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

— Steve Jobs

Imagine the owner of a Very Small Business — we’ll call her Faith — who is making plans to take her business in a slightly new direction. She’s creating a new program, and she’s proud of what she’s done so far. She has an opportunity to review it with her networking or mastermind group. She begins by sharing the webpage copy she has written to publicize the program.

And her presentation is met with comments like these:

  • You’re giving away much too much – you have to charge for that!
  • No one will ever pay for that – everyone’s used to getting so much for free.
  • I would never attend this – weekends are a bad time for me.
  • The best research says that you have to use THESE colors to get people to act.
  • My business coach says….

Is this useful feedback? Maybe. If Faith is unsure how much to give away, hearing that her program is valuable may give her courage to charge more and sooner in the client relationship. If the commenter is in fact part of Faith’s group of ideal clients, then whether or not weekends work for her is useful information.

Too often, though, Faith has asked or the commenters have responded without understanding what Faith is trying to accomplish in the first place. What Faith gets then is a lot of conflicting advice — price higher! price lower! — advice that is worth just about what she paid for it.

Begin by providing enough background information. Identify your ideal client, why you have chosen the strategy you propose, and how it fits into the rest of your business. This improves your chances of getting the most helpful feedback.

Don’t request feedback by asking, please give me your feedback. Go for specific questions, such as:

  • If this were going to fail, what do you see as the most likely reasons for failure?
  • How could I publicize this to my ideal clients, who are X?
  • If my purpose in beginning this project is to achieve Y, what could I add that would achieve even more Y?
  • To whom do you think this would appeal?

Be careful, too, about taking in feedback wholesale.  Keep appropriate filters in place. When you’re doing something bold and new, there will be people who feel threatened (often unconsciously). Some will fail to comprehend what you’re trying to do, often because you’re doing something daring and slightly ahead of the pack. Some will give feedback based solely on whether what you propose would be appealing to them. And some imagine that there is out there one “right” way to do things, one authority that has the answers to which you must conform.

Test your feedback, and don’t be afraid to forge ahead despite negative comments. Innovators always have.

Many of the smart women business owners I work with are in the habit of asking for guidance and feedback. They are open to learning from mentors, peers, clients, and people they’ve only just met — from anyone, really. Just make sure that you solicit feedback that is most likely to be useful by asking meaty questions, and test it to make sure that it’s on target.

2 Responses to Asking For Feedback – How To Get The Information You Really Need

  1. Excellent post, Margaret. You hit all the essential points. Asking for professional feedback requires as much finesse as everything else one does professionally. After all, if you ask, “does this make my butt look big” to someone whose ringtone is “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” you are not necessarily going to get useful information.

    I love that you identify the importance of specificity in asking questions, and recognizing the hidden agendas people may have (hidden even from themselves). People often project their own fears, envy and other emotions (as you noted) when giving counsel, and balancing respect for the feedback-givers with heaping tablespoons of those grains of salt is really essential. Thanks for reminding all of us of this.

    • Julie, I love your example of asking the wrong person about the fit of your jeans – so memorable! You are such a wit!

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