Most feedback isn’t useful. Here’s the fix.

Most feedback we get from colleagues isn’t useful. Here are five easy ways to fix that. Because studies show that we can’t learn without it.

People share feedback around a table during a workshop
Studies show that we need feedback to learn. Photo: Paul Clarke

Everyone needs to learn. But we can’t do it alone. Studies show that we learn best when we get specific feedback about our work.[1] We need to know what’s working and what we can improve.

That’s fine, you might say. Ask your colleagues!

If only it was that simple. All too often, the feedback we get from colleagues isn’t helpful. Many people don’t know how to give useful feedback.

There’s a reason for this. It’s because people don’t know what you need to learn. You ask them for input and they have to decide what to say. Most of the time they offer their opinions, which isn’t what you need. Or they try to avoid hurting your feelings by saying something bland (which you can’t act on.)

Ask better questions

But there’s an easy fix. You can ask better questions! Questions that explain what you need to learn.

Here are the top five questions to ask when you want useful feedback.

  1. “What’s your main takeaway?” or “What’s the purpose of this [thing]?”
    This is about checking whether you’ve achieved your goal. If it’s a pitch, is the argument coming through? If it’s a design, does the main idea make sense?
  2. “What questions does this raise for you?”
    This is about understanding what you’ve missed out.
  3. “Does it meet these goals? Why?”
    Define the goals of the work and ask your colleague to assess whether it meets them.
  4. “Who do you think this [thing] is for? Why?”
    This is about checking your assumptions about the target audience. (Variation: “This [thing] is for [children under 5/gardeners/our boss]. Do you think it works for that audience? Why?”)
  5. “What did you notice when you [looked at/used] this [thing]?”
    Here you’re asking for observations instead of judgements. (They’re much more useful.)

Help people to help you

A final tip. Many people find giving feedback awkward. But they love to help.

Make it easier for them by taking responsibility for your learning. Write a message explaining why you need feedback:

“Here’s what I don’t know. Here’s what your feedback will help me to achieve. Can you help?”

Most people will jump at the chance.

Want to get better at giving feedback? Try our courses or one-to-one coaching.


1. Eg, see The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.