Why you’d better ask for feedback

In my block I have described a framework for a systematic feedback process (linked here or for more information please enter feedback in the search box) that promotes productive and motivating feedback and thus encourages continuous development. At the heart of this process is a new approach: feedback should not be given but requested. Why this is so, I would like to explain in this post.

Traditional feedback is associated with anxiety

Neuroscientific results confirm that traditional feedback giving triggers particular stress and sometimes even anxiety. The fears or anxieties associated with feedback result from the subconscious assessments of the extent to which feedback[1] can pose a threat to one’s own status, security, or autonomy. If this is the case, the brain reacts with a “defence or escape impulse”, which we activate subconsciously. You try to avoid feedback, go into a defensive stance/argumentation, or consider it incorrect. The feedback provider is reluctant to address topics as well because you do not want to trigger the described reactions. Neuroscientific studies therefore show a high level of stress for both participants. I guess you know the points when you go into a feedback conversation.

Advantages of the reverse feedback process

The way out of the topic of stress/anxiety is that you reverse the feedback process and ask for feedback instead. With this change, you have the advantage that the feedback recipient controls the process and then knows in advance which topics are involved. By directing the process, you can bring in the issues that are important to you and only take you out of your own zone as far as you think is justifiable. An American study has found that in this format, the heartbeat is reduced by 50 percent compared to the traditional feedback process.[2]

By the way, studies show that the executives who ask for feedback are particularly[3]successful. Especially the development of executives is a success factor for the transformation of companies.

Support through a change of perspective

In addition, it is supportive if the topics to be discussed in the planned feedback discussion are exchanged in advance. This enables both to prepare and a phase of change of perspective, in which both can ask themselves, how might my counterpart react to this? Together with the control over the feedback discussion, the systematic change of perspective leads to the discussions becoming more reflective, concentrating on important topics and triggering significantly less stress.  

Parallels to coaching

The control of one’s own development by the coachee is the basis of good coaching. The coachee (here the analogy to the feedback taker) knows best where development is needed and where you want to develop. Would you rather work on your own strengths or, if necessary, also go into the fields of development; this is, for good reason, the sole decision of the coachee.

In the approach of the feedback request, the feedback recipient comes into the active role, controls his own development process, and takes responsibility for it. The own development is then not experienced as imposed, but actively strived for and thus also sustainable. As in coaching, the feedback process should therefore control one’s own development by the feedback recipient.

Getting out of your comfort zone with the new format

In this format, you avoid that the feedback provider addresses “old” topics that are already known or tries to drum these topics into the feedback receiver. As a result, you address topics where the willingness to change is little or not at all there. If you think that this format is too “cosy”: Practice shows that in the new format the willingness to talk about your own improvement spots is surprisingly high and thus to venture out of the comfort zone – because you can control the process. This is exactly what is omitted in the traditional concept. And therefore, a recommendation at the end, if you want to spontaneously give someone a well-intentioned advice: Please ask for an opinion beforehand.


[1] https://www.strategy-business.com/article/Using-Neuroscience-to-Make-Feedback-Work-and-Feel-Better

[2] https://theworkingreport.com/neuroscience-and-leadership/ 

[3] See point 15 https://www.cognology.com.au/the-psychology-behind-better-workplace-feedback-15-surprising-facts/

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