Jaewon Yoon, Hayley Blunden, Ariella Kristal and A.V. Whillans published a Harvard Business School working paper recently on the topic of seeking (and providing) constructive feedback. They argue that we should request advice from colleagues and leaders, rather than asking for feedback. Yoon and colleagues demonstrate through a series of experiments that, "People offer more critical and actionable input when they are asked to provide advice (versus feedback)—even when they are asked to provide comments on identical output."
What's wrong with asking for feedback? The scholars argue that feedback often is associated with evaluation in the workplace. In other words, we almost always shift into evaluative mode, rather than developmental mode, when asked to provide feedback to someone else. They point to past research showing that being in an "evaluative" mode tends to reduce the constructiveness of feedback. When we are in evaluative mode, we tend to look backward, rather than focusing on suggestions for how to improve performance moving forward. The scholars state that, "When focusing on an evaluation of past performance, input givers are less likely to consider how the recipient could perform better in the future."
Yoon and her colleagues summarize the findings from the experiments they conducted:
Findings from four experiments suggest that asking for feedback may inadvertently prevent givers from delivering useful input. When asked to provide feedback across a variety of work-related tasks—whether they were asked to evaluate a stranger’s cover letter (Study 1A), a colleague’s work performance (Study 1B), or an instructor’s teaching (Study 2) — people provided less critical or actionable input than when they were asked to provide advice. Asking for feedback focused the givers’ attention on evaluation, which hindered constructive feedback delivery. In contrast, advice givers persisted in providing more constructive input even when they were prompted to focus on evaluating the recipient (Study 3). These results suggest that asking for advice could be a powerful way to solicit constructive comments, even in cases where evaluation must accompany input, such as during annual reviews that require performance-based ratings.