February 8, 2021

Asking for Advice Instead of Feedback

Asking for feedback has become second-nature in the business world. We ask customers for feedback on their latest purchase. We ask our coworkers for feedback on plans laid out in a meeting. We ask for client feedback on the progress of ongoing projects. What used to be a formal way to ask for information has become so casual that, as professionals, we find ourselves casually asking for feedback from family members on recently sent gifts or feedback from friends on future plans to meet.

What We Mean When We Ask for “Feedback”

But what are we really asking when we ask for feedback? The entire idea of “feedback” has become a catch-all response, or rather, a request for any response. Asking for feedback is an easy way to avoid defining the true interaction you’re hoping to start.  The more personal your request for ‘feedback’ is, the more you likely mean something far more specific. When you ask for feedback from coworkers, you may actually be inviting them to brainstorm with you. When you ask for feedback from friends and family, you are likely trying to start a conversation including their true non-sugar-coated feelings on the topic at hand. And when you ask for feedback from your professional network, what you’re really asking for is usually advice.

So let’s remove the impersonality from this business communication trend. Just because feedback has become the catch-all word for starting an honest conversation doesn’t mean you are limited to this impersonal way of speaking – especially to those you truly want a genuine response from. Instead of asking for feedback, let’s start asking for advice.

Asking for Advice Instead of Feedback

Feedback has come to mean an unvarnished opinion. When we say the word ‘feedback’ we usually want someone to share their thoughts on the topic at hand – the more technical and less emotional, the better. Asking for feedback often constitutes asking to be answered as if you were a robo-call or chatbot. However, this also leads to terse, undetailed answers. This might be useful for customer surveys, but not for how we interact with our private relationships or our professional network. Asking for feedback rarely starts the conversation you were hoping for. So instead, ask for advice.

When someone gives feedback, they rattle a few points off without much thought. When someone gives advice, they really consider who you are, what your relationship is, and the best possible words to say that will help you with the task at hand. A person giving advice is more likely to be considerate, genuine, and prepared to start a conversation with you about your situation and the suggestions they make.

When we ask for advice, we trigger a more personal relationship and invite the other person to engage more deeply in the answers they give.

Who Should You Ask for Advice?

So when should you ask for feedback, and who should you ask for advice when the time comes? It’s true that we should be more careful who we ask for advice – and whose advice we take – compared to the general use of ‘feedback’ as a request for information. When making this transition, choose who you ask for advice based on your existing relationship and the value of the advice they have to offer. Those who have more work experience in your field, for example, are great sources of advice on how to continue down your own career path. Those who have a skill you admire can offer you valuable advice on how to build that skill for yourself.

How to Change Your Mannerisms to Ask for Advice

Finally, you’ll need to watch out for your old familiar way of communicating. This is particularly true in emails and messages. Try to red-flag any time you use the word ‘feedback’ or similar convenient business terms in more personal writing. If you’re not communicating or dealing with a technical problem, feedback might not actually be the word you want.

Instead, try to replace the term ‘feedback’ with more accurate words for the interaction you hope to start. You might ask your coworkers to brainstorm with you on project ideas instead of asking for feedback on your ideas alone. You might ask your supervisor for advice on how to move ahead instead of just feedback on your performance to-date.

Let’s put ‘feedback’ back into the realm of terse business-like communication.

n and customer service message-forms where it belongs. When you’re looking for real insights from a person you know and trust, ask for advice instead. They will feel flattered that you consider their experiences and thoughts valuable and you will gain the benefit of those insights just by starting the conversation with the right word.

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