Asking for feedback has become an integral part of our lives, especially within the workplace. Conventionally, this is how we have been taught to learn and improve – as Maya Angelou said “when you know better, you do better”.  

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘Why women need to ask for better feedback, more often’, women are 20% less likely than men to receive actionable feedback that can contribute to their performance and growth at work. In order for women to learn how to leverage their strengths and skills, it is imperative that those they seek advice from, do so in a positive, consistent, and reinforcing way.  

Without clear guidance from managers, women often have to work harder to understand, meet, and exceed the expectations of their given role within the workplace.  

Instead of asking for feedback, women should be asking for advice.  

Feedback is defined as ‘information about reactions, a person’s performance etc., used for a basis of improvement’; it implies evaluation, and gives the impression that what is being presented, is a look back on what has been done/said. Asking for feedback can create a critic as feedback is often seen as criticism, focusing on what you did wrong and how you should perform going forward does not instil a sense of confidence, but more a sense of defeat.  

Advice, on the other hand, is defined as ‘guidance or recommendations often regarding future action’. It leads you to think ahead and understand what actions need to be taken to improve. Asking for advice lends itself more to creating a partner; someone who is willing to guide you. The key point here is effective, constructive, and efficient communication.  

Just by analysing these definitions, there is a clear difference. The word ‘improvement’ suggests fault, while ‘guidance’ suggests direction. 

Tips on how to get the best advice possible: 

  1. Be specific about the type of advice you are seeking. Specify the areas you feel you need advice on. Ask yourself, what is really going to assist you in improving. Instead of asking, ‘What do you think of my performance?’, ask how they would have performed the given task to reach the set goal.  
  2. Show them the way. Take control and ask specific questions that will provide you with insight into and a better understanding of the areas you wish to improve. Ask questions like, ‘What could I do better next time?’, or ‘What do you suggest I implement to reach the desired goal?’. This will provide a more solid direction. 
  3. Ask about the positive. It is important that along with areas that need focus for positive improvement, you also know where your strengths and successes lie. If you are being too critical of yourself, you will doubt everything that you do, and question your abilities, and in turn, stunting your personal growth, thus creating a vicious circle of self-doubt. 
  4. Ask the right person. Instead of asking multiple people for their views, focus on asking the right person. Ask yourself which person is going to give the advice needed, given the situation? Asking too many opinions can cloud the advice, and possibly cause confusion when it comes to implementation, and trying to gauge how credible the advice. Figure out the problem you are trying to solve and, depending on the topic or context, find the right advice-giver for the job. 

Approaching a colleague with a positive mindset and a willingness to learn shows initiative of wanting to better yourself and your future actions. The spaces in which you work provide an abundance of knowledge, with everyone having their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning from others is one of the best ways to improve your skills and is a key aspect when it comes to personal growth.  

Although we are used to the term ‘feedback’, changing the narrative to asking for advice can create a more comfortable environment, opens the door to a two-way conversation and can lead to a far more positive outcome. 

Leave the critics in the past and create more positive partners for the future.