Use this 7-point checklist when seeking feedback.
Our cohort of fellowship students at Toronto’s School for Social Entrepreneurs recently had the opportunity to do our second round of Dragons’ Den-type pitches to teams of business leaders assembled by the school. I’m just reading the feedback now. This got me thinking about feedback in general. More specifically, it got me thinking about how to optimize the experience of seeking feedback as a new social entrepreneur.
If you’ve ever watched the TV show Dragons’ Den, you’ve seen feedback in its most blunt form. When the Dragons like a pitch, there’s a lot of chest thumping and competition ensues among them to make the best investment offer. On the other hand, when they take a pass, their feedback to unsuccessful contestants can be brutal. Granted, this is TV and when the feedback gets really nasty, it’s often just for ratings. And most of us social entrepreneurs won’t be on the TV version of Dragons’ Den anytime soon. Nevertheless, watching the show and spending the last few months pitching my own business ideas has made me realize that there is a bit of an art to seeking feedback.
So for this blog post I gave myself the assignment of coming up with a short “feedback seeking” checklist. What follows draws from both my personal experience over the past year or so, and from advice on how to give feedback from Donald T Tosti, PhD. Tosti has written extensively on the process of giving feedback during his more than 30-year career in training and management consulting. He is also the former president of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).
Understanding the different types of feedback
Tosti breaks all feedback down into two categories: encouragement, which is motivational; and advice, which is generally meant to be corrective. When you find yourself in the role of feedback giver, Tosti recommends that you decide which one is more appropriate – the motivation or the advice. But always separate the two, or you risk confusing the feedback recipient. The reason being that encouragement is often ignored when overshadowed by tough advice. For example, “Your suit is beautiful, but you need to lose 20 pounds.” Vice versa, advice is often ignored because encouragement is nicer to hear. For example, “Wow, you really are a great swimmer, but you might want to go a little faster with that great white shark following you.”
You can find Tosti’s 10-point tip sheet for feedback givers on the ISPI website. I’ve drawn from this list, combined it with my own experience and come up with a 7-point checklist for when you’re seeking feedback. Here goes:
1. First, to get good (and here I mean helpful) feedback, you need to be proactive in asking for it. So invest the time to prepare for feedback meetings.
2. Ask for feedback in small doses. Make sure that the amount of feedback you’re asking for is manageable for the advice giver to provide and for you to take action on. You can always come back for more.
3. Help the feedback giver tailor his/her advice to your level of skill/knowledge. Nobody will resent you for asking them to avoid technical jargon and speak in plain English.
4. If you want specifics, ask for specifics. Advice givers want to ensure they’re being helpful, so make it easy for them.
5. Never argue with the advice giver. If the advice isn’t helpful, politely thank the giver and move on.
6. Take time to separate out the encouragement and advice.
7. Avoid feedback overload. When you’ve got what you need, process the feedback and take action on what you’ve heard.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. But the next time I have a pitch opportunity or just a networking meeting to talk about my social enterprise, I’m going to keep it handy. I hope it will be helpful to others as well.
Tosti’s work shows that there is an art form to giving feedback. My personal experience shows that we can learn from his research and apply his practical advice when seeking feedback. When we do, the process gets better for the feedback seeker and ultimately we can make better business decisions about our social ventures.
Verity Dimock is currently working with Robert Patterson (www.earthbox.mx) on the launch of a Canadian social enterprise focused on local, sustainable food. Before shifting her career focus to social enterprise, Verity was the executive director of Smart Serve Ontario. She holds a Master’s degree from Boise State University (Instructional and Performance Technology) and a Bachelor’s degree from Trent University (Politics and Economics).
In addition to her social enterprise work, Verity teaches career development workshops and is an employment coach for students in the HVAC and Sustainable Energy Programs at Humber College. She tweets about her experience as a new social entrepreneur @SocentGirl.