Imagine you’re about to deliver a presentation. You’re nervous, and uncomfortable talking in front of groups. But you prepare as best you can, muster up your courage, and deliver the talk.
Afterwards, you breathe a sigh of relief and ask someone the worst possible question you could ask:
“How did it go?”
At Zukunft Personal in Köln, September 2018
Just because everyone does it doesn’t make it good
The other person knows your anxious, and she wants to be supportive and encouraging. So she responds, “It went well!”
And in that moment, you missed a chance to get constructive feedback and learn, and the other person is robbed of the chance to help someone.
I realize this exchange is so common that it may seem strange to deviate from it. But ten years ago, I learned a better way from Keith Ferrazzi.
From criticism to contribution
It was 2008, and I was sitting in the Relationship Master’s Academy, a 30-person course from the bestselling author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back. It was that course that made me think differently about how to ask for feedback (and about relationships in general). Keith Ferrazzi taught me how to turn a potentially uncomfortable conversation into one that can benefit both individuals and even deepen the relationship.
The problem, Keith pointed out, is the way we frame the question. “How did it go?” ( or“How did I do?”) puts the other person on the spot, uncertain of what they should say and worried about offending you. The only safe thing for them is to give you a generic, positive response.
Instead, Keith suggested, you should explain that you’re trying to improve, and then ask, “What’s one thing I could do better?” That turns an imposition into an invitation. Now you’ve given them explicit permission to give you specific critical feedback. It’s no longer personal but about the learning, and they get to feel that they’re being genuinely helpful.
The cumulative power of “one thing”
I’ve been asking Keith’s question ever since, and it’s led to many interesting conversations. People seem grateful to be asked their opinion in this way, and they almost always come up with something I can do better.
“You should move side to side a bit less”
“That slide was hard to read”
“You should use some different examples”
“You talked really fast”
“You should hold the microphone closer to your mouth”
I listen intently to each bit of feedback. Sometimes I don’t agree or may get conflicting opinions. But I almost always learn about new ways I can improve and about things I need to keep working on. Each exchange is also a chance to practice, both offering vulnerability and receiving constructive criticism.
Try it for yourself. Asking “What’s one thing I could do better?” can help you with any skill you’re trying to develop or improve.