How To Obtain Constructive Feedback Using Three Powerful Questions


Personal development requires honest critical feedback and the willingness to listen with an open mind. Then the courage to decide how best to act upon it. Unfortunately, it can be daunting to seek out constructive criticism. Fearing an adverse reaction, you can get locked into a loop of imagining the worst-case scenario. Often this is the reason why you might shy away from asking for feedback - especially if your prior experience has not been good.  

 It can also be hard if you are the one being asked to give feedback. Passing on positive feedback is a pleasure. But how do you deal with critical comments? The way that the feedback is delivered can either help the recipient to improve or leave them disheartened.Worries can include not wanting to upset or offend the recipient. This fear can lead to fudging the message, which is often unhelpful. 


How can the process of obtaining input from others be reframed so that it is a positive experience for all concerned?  It helps to remember that welcoming feedback encourages people to act in a way that supports your desire to learn and improve. Being open to other viewpoints and ideas means that these are more likely to be shared with you. If you are the person providing feedback, be a role model and ask for input in return. 

Whether a giver or receiver of feedback, an additional benefit is that you will foster a growth mindset towards constructive criticism. A growth mindset means taking a questioning approach to self-improvement while acting to develop your abilities through effort. It also inspires frank acknowledgement of difficulties and issues without playing the blame-game. 

Learning to practice self-compassion can also help you activate and pursue change with less fear and greater persistence. Self-compassion, as described by Dr Kristin Neff, is a practice of treating oneself with kindness as a wise and caring friend might. Neff is a professor in human development whose ten years' of research forms the basis of her book, 'Self Compassion'. Acting in a manner that is supportive of oneself means we are likely to feel better, gain resilience and be more able to progress our goals. 

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The practice of self-compassion also promotes a growth mindset as it allows us to try new things and handle life’s challenges without being judgmental about the result. Instead, it encourages effort and learning from failure or mistakes. It allows you to strive and eventually achieve while being freed from guilt and self-blame.In short, your attempts at self-improvement will be more productive if you treat yourself with kindness.

Being self-compassionate will help you recognise that defensiveness is a barrier to gathering input and suggestions. Then you can use this insight to remind you to stay receptive and accepting of other viewpoints. Here are six tips to help you achieve this:

·        Nobody is perfect: be open to the possibility that you have areas of development. 

·        Practice attentive listening so that you learn something. 

·        Be curious and interested in what people have to say. 

·        Take the opportunity to ask questions that help you gather specific insight. 

·        Ask for examples and thank them for their input. 

·        Take notes so that you can review later.

It is important to be clear about the difference between negative feedback and constructive feedback. Here are some definitions that might help you:

Negative feedback offers no help or support for improvement and merely sets out the problem as seen by the person giving criticism. Frequently it is expressed as a comment about the recipient, their skills or attributes and not their behaviour. You can think of it as tending to bring someone down whether this is deliberate or not.

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Constructive feedback identifies ways in which the recipient can make changes that improve matters. It builds up the other person and helps them to make positive modifications to their behaviour that will help them avoid future problems and make the most of opportunities.

One way to obtain constructive and supportive feedback is to use three powerful questions. Context is essential, and therefore, the three questions set out below are specific to a behaviour observed in a particular situation. This approach works because the questions provide a structure that allows feedback to be collaborative and beneficial. Focusing on just three questions also limits input to the critical issues, which is less likely to overwhelm the recipient. Here is a step-by-step approach to obtaining constructive feedback using three powerful questions: 

Step 1. Agree on the process in advance. Springing feedback on someone is rarely well-received unless it is outright praise. Agree in advance that you will use the three powerful questions to provide feedback after a specific event or completion of a particular task. 

Step 2. Share the framework with all those involved.Doing this will ensure people are thinking in advance about what is going well, any areas of improvement and what might be done differently in the future. Merely having these in mind will improve each person’s resourcefulness and also increase their powers of observation. 

Step 3. Ask three powerful feedback questions. Set time aside to conduct the feedback as soon as possible after the task completion/client meeting/or other situation. Remember that feedback by text or email is a blunt instrument, so be respectful. Give it privately and in person.  

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Here are the three powerful feedback questions: 

1.     What is one thing that I did that went well? 

2.     What is one thing that I did that could have gone better – and why?

3.     What is one thing I might consider doing differently for my benefit in the future?

Step 4. Collaborate to support each other. Putting the three powerful feedback questions into practice can be an energising experience. It works well in pairs as well as with teams. For example, using the format to exchange individual feedback and then for collective learning, e.g. ‘What is one thing that we did well etc.’. 

Step 5. Be future-focused and action-orientated. The process works well as it ends with providing an idea or suggestion for improvement. The person giving the feedback is encouraged to think deeply about what is helpful and useful rather than just commenting on what they are seeing. The key is to be non-judgmental, respectful and balanced.  Remember that the essence of providing useful feedback is that it imparts hope, and this creates the motivation to work at change.  

Written By: Beverly Landais 

About Beverly Landais
Beverly is a professional certified coach (PCC). Beverly comes to coaching from a senior business background, including board level. Her purpose is simple. She works with people to help them be at their resourceful best. She can help you do the things that promote wellbeing, bring personal as well as professional satisfaction and make you happy.

M: 07792 223756