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Don’t ask for employee feedback — invite it.

How to get employee feedback in the workplace all starts with how you ask for it.

When someone invites you to an event or a party, you typically don’t automatically decide to go. You probably weigh a couple factors.

Was it the host who invited you, or a friend of a friend? Did they put a lot of thought into inviting you, or was it this kinda last minute thing?

In other words, do they really care if you show up or not?

When you ask for feedback from an employee, it’s the same thing — it’s an invitation. You’re inviting people to “show up.” To spend their time with you, share their perspective, and be honest with you. So unless you put some thought into how you invite people for feedback, you’re probably not going to get a good turnout.

Given this, there are a few things I always keep in mind when I want to invite someone to give me candid feedback…

(1) Go first.

If I go into a conversation expecting the other person to be vulnerable and give their honest opinion, I better be willing to do it myself first. So I always try to make sure I admit something myself.

For example, I might say to someone, “How do you think our last project went? I feel like I personally didn’t do the best job at X. I’d really benefit from your honest perspective on how things could’ve been better.” This helps put the other person at ease, and establishes a common ground for going forward.

(2) Ask “what” instead of “any.”

About four years ago, the wonderful Tracy Thirion, CEO of Bamboo Worldwide, shared this insight with me: When you ask “what” instead of “any”, you invite a greater response to a question.

For example, when you ask, “Do you have any frustrations?” it’s very easy for the person to default and say “no.” But when you ask, “What could be better in the company?” that question assumes that there are things that could be better. It opens the opportunity for someone to provide a more honest answer.

(3) Be specific.

Seems obvious that specific questions invite specific feedback, right? But it’s easy to forget in practice. So I always try to give people a specific timeframe to contextualize their feedback.

For example, instead of asking, “What could we do better?”, which usually leads to generic, vague responses, I’ll ask, “What’s something in the past 2 weeks that we could’ve done better? ” When you narrow that frame of reference to “the past two weeks”, it’s much easier for the other person to respond.

These small tips have been helpful to me every time I ask for feedback. It’s more than just asking someone for honest feedback.

You’re inviting them.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.