Flip the feedback

To get better at giving feedback, start by getting better at asking for feedback.

5 min read



Susan Fowler

Getting pure feedback on your performance is essential to your development and ultimate success at anything you do in life. But you face a big problem when it comes to feedback.

Recent studies reveal that in the workplace, most managers don’t like giving feedback, especially when it’s critical or reinforcing direction already given. Worse, when managers do give you feedback, they aren’t good at it despite the money, time and effort that’s gone into training them to deliver effective feedback.

In fact, feedback can often do more harm than good! If this is true at work, imagine how challenging it is to get effective feedback from spouses and partners, friends, parents or coaches.

Why continue to depend on others to give you the feedback you need to develop and grow? Maybe it’s time you flipped the feedback. Don’t wait for it; ask for it. Neuroscience provides additional evidence for flipping the feedback paradigm. Asking for feedback sets up a more responsive brain condition. Requesting feedback delivers the information you need when you need it, but also results in less defensiveness — meaning you are more likely to hear what you need to hear and act on it.

Years ago, I called a a group of subject-matter experts together to discuss a project I was developing. I was so excited to gain insight from their combined experience and knowledge, especially because learning is one of my top values. I described the project, my hopes and dreams, and my opinions on several provocative ideas.

To my dismay, I got no response. Nothing! People just sat there staring at me blankly. I called a break, but not before making some inane comment like, “Who were you before you died?”

During the break, Kathy, one of the participants pulled me aside and whispered, “Susan, I think you called us here for a dialogue and you seem disappointed that people aren’t speaking up. If that’s true, would you be open to some feedback that might be helpful?”

I shook my head yes, eager to hear what she had to say. Without hesitation Kathy explained, “Your style is so exuberant and direct that I think people figure you already have all the answers. I think you shut them down. That’s how I feel — you brought us here to listen, but not participate.”

I was stunned. I told Kathy that shutting her down was the opposite of my intention! I was open-minded and hungry for collaboration. “Then,” she said compassionately, “you might want to adjust your style.”

I not only adjusted my style in the meeting, but I also began observing myself, working to improve my approach to leading meetings and teams. To this day, I am grateful for the courage it took Kathy to provide me that crucial feedback. I also realize that many people — even people who love me and managers who depend on my performance — don’t have the courage, inclination or skill to deliver that kind of feedback. That’s why I honed the skill of flipping the feedback.

Tomorrow morning, try a bold start to your day. Flip the feedback and ask your manager, coworkers, or staff members: “What feedback can you give me that you think could help me do [fill in the blank] better?”

Perhaps you will find, as I did, that flipping the feedback is a powerful skill for creating the choice, connection and competence required for generating optimal motivation.

When you recognize the difference between what you did and what you could do (or still need to do), you can choose what steps to take next, creating choice. When you give your manager or others an opening to share their observations, insights and ideas to help you develop, you demonstrate that you care about what they think and provide them the chance to express that they care about you, too, creating connection. When you receive information that is relevant and timely, you learn from their feedback, creating competence.

Want to take flipping the feedback to the next level? When you learn something of value from the feedback you receive, act on it! Put what you’ve learned to use. Asking for feedback, and then acting on it, demonstrates you have the willingness to learn and the courage to face the truth.


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and six books, including the best-selling “Self Leadership” and “The One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com

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