“What do you think?”
Have you ever asked that question? Did you get the answer you were hoping to hear?
Here are a few scenarios:
- You just served a meal that you spent a week researching and 4 hours preparing.
- You finally opened up to a friend about a new direction for your life that you have been nervous to share with anyone.
- You shared a new logo for your company that is fresh from the graphic designer.
- After weeks of preparing in private, you delivered a final test run of your presentation to a friend or trusted colleague 2 days before the big event at which you are to deliver it.
When you ask that question, what are you really seeking? Most of us, when we ask that question, are seeking affirmation. We want to hear, “That was great!” Or, “I loved it!”
Sometimes we are looking for feedback on a specific aspect. Was there too much salt? Do you like this color in the logo? That photo on slide 23, was it too much?
What we often get is something we didn’t expect. Our friends and family, in an effort to be helpful, often take this opportunity to offer feedback on some aspect of what you shared that is outside of what we needed to hear at that moment. Or, they express something in general terms, where what we needed to hear were the specifics of what made them think that.
The result is that we feel crushed. Deflated. Hurt. Maybe even angry.
We think: How could they be so insensitive? Why do they always go for the jugular? See, this is why I don’t ask for feedback. All I get is negativity.
Soliciting and receiving feedback is a skill. It takes practice to develop. You might even call it an art.
If you are not getting the feedback you are looking for, it might not be the thing that you are soliciting feedback about that is the problem. It might simply be that you are asking for it in the wrong way.
Of course, sometimes what we just shared really did suck. But, I’m not talking about those times. I’m not too concerned about those instances because I trust that each of us, inside, knows when that is the case.
We’re all familiar with the dreaded question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” We can laugh about it, but that’s actually a great question. It is specific as to the feedback being sought. It is not a general question, such as, “What do you think of my outfit?” It is specific about one article: the pants. And it is not generic in the request, such as, “Do you like these pants?” No. It is clear that the one thing the person asking is concerned about is whether those pants, specifically, make them look fat.
My advice when soliciting feedback is to be specific in what you ask. Be clear to the person about what would be most helpful to you.
Instead of, “What do you think?”, ask something specific. Here are a few examples:
- For that meal: How was the spice level? Too hot? Not hot enough?
- For that new direction in your life: Knowing me as you do, what is the biggest aspect of this that surprises you?
- The new logo: Does this make you want to know more, or run away?
- The presentation: Did the images help you connect with what I was saying? Which ones worked best? Which ones did not?
If we do find ourselves asking the question, “What do you think?”, probe deeper into the response. If the answer is, “I hated it.”, ask, “Why?” Go for the specifics. You might have served a meal that contained a lot of cooked carrots. I can’t stand cooked carrots. Everything else about it was great. But, that one detail set me off. My response to the question of, “Did you like it?” would have likely been a simple, “No.” Don’t be offended. Dig deeper. Find out why.
The same goes if the response is, “I loved it!” Why? What about it, specifically, did you most enjoy?
Then, with that information in hand, you can decide what, if anything, you are going to do with it. Maybe you love cooked carrots and the group of people you are planning to serve that same meal to next week also love cooked carrots. Go with it. Just don’t invite me.
A key component of soliciting feedback is to remember that each person’s opinion is simply one data point. That one person might not even be a good representative of the intended audience for whatever it is we have solicited the feedback.
Ultimately, we need to trust our gut.
What do you think?