When you show someone a plan, product demo, or piece of writing and ask for feedback, you might ask, “How do you like it?” If you don’t ask this explicitly, it is often the implied question in a feedback session.
But whether the other person likes whatever it is you’re working on is frequently irrelevant. And, in fact, asking this question can distract both of you from the real goal: discovering practical steps to improvement.
When Reid and I were writing The Start-Up of You, we asked for feedback from several friends on drafts of the manuscript. During the first round of feedback, we were genuinely curious if others liked it because we weren’t sure how much work we had left to do. Folks came back and said they didn’t like several portions of it, and that was useful: we learned we had months of work left. During the second round of feedback, I did not ask people if they liked it, because I knew by then we still had work ahead of us. Instead, I asked, “What are three specific ways you think we could improve the manuscript?”
See, once we realized we had more work to do, hearing whether someone thought the current draft of the manuscript was great or not great was irrelevant. What was helpful was how you actually make the text better. Maybe that meant making a good manuscript great. Maybe that meant making a bad manuscript simply average. Either way, better is the right mantra in an environment of continual improvement.
What’s more, opening with the “like” question can actually be counterproductive. Ask somebody who was in the audience, “What’d you think of my speech?” and you will probably get some variant of “good,” especially if the person is of lower status. Any specific tips that follow will be under this potentially sugarcoated guise. Or, if they say they didn’t like it, you could get defensive or argumentative. Ask instead, “What is one thing I could have done better in the speech?” and you’ll jump right into something that’s potentially actionable–and avoid a potentially awkward like/dislike evaluation.
Bottom Line: If you know there’s still work to do — on your draft essay, on your public speaking skills, on your product – ask people for one or two specific ideas on how they’d improve it. Focus their mind exclusively on practical, specific changes that they think would lead to improvement.
I wrote a long essay titled “Behind the Book” summarizing other lessons learned from the process of publishing The Start-Up of You.