Ban "feedback" from your vocabulary


"I just have one thought. I wonder what would happen if you make a longer pause after each sentence."


Maria eagerly tried again, beaming at the result. She was now ready for the big presentation the following day.


What happened was: her manager gave her feedback. That feedback was critical to the effectiveness of her presentation: the tempo was too fast and she was at a risk of losing the audience. But it did not come across as a criticism or declaration of what was wrong. It came across as curiosity about what was possible.


Often people shudder at the phrase "Can I give you some feedback?". For different reasons. One of them is that feedback is given infrequently. So, when someone does muster the courage to give it, the train is already flying off the rails. So, we are conditioned to treat feedback as the last remedial resort.


It can't be further away from the truth. Feedback is the breathing air for greater performance, development, and career growth.

But it has a marketing problem. Luckily, it can be solved . In its essence, feedback is information. Information about how you can be more effective. Positive feedback is encouragement to continue doing what you are doing. Negative feedback is an expectation of change: "What you are doing right now is not most effective, why don't you try a different approach?" When you reframe feedback as information, it's no longer scary. We love information.


There are many marketing tricks that you can use. Consider these three:

  1. create the need. Best marketeers don't sell: they create a deep need for their products. As humans, we have a craving for clarity and meaning. So, make others come to you for feedback by saying something, like "I don't have time right now, but why don't we meet tomorrow? I have a few ideas on how this could be done differently". Now you've generated curiosity without creating anxiety. And curiosity is a powerful force for good.

  2. change the packaging. There are over 170,000 words in the English language: pick something else when you want to say "feedback". For instance, use a question like in the opening vignette. Ask, "Why don't you try...?" Or say that you would like to share your observations, impressions, thoughts... Invite to "noodle on something". To pass on stakeholder feedback, frame it as aligned views of others. Just don't say the word "feedback"!

  3. select the right words. Joy van Skiver, an executive coach, teaches powerful formulas and word combinations to improve performance ("I Can't Find the Words"). For example, phrases like "I noticed..." or "Next time, ..." open up doors to a great feedback conversation - without calling it that way!

The same goes for asking for feedback. When we say "Can you give me some feedback?", the chances of getting something really useful are slim. Instead try "How can I do it better?" or "What's the one thing that will help my development?". Check out this podcast episode for more ways of asking for feedback you need.


To finish off, I can't help sharing this LinkedIn post from Adam Grant. As always, the simplicity of his approach is brilliant.



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