When we work with clients on their own custom professional development survey, they often ask for our advice on survey items. In seeking our input, the easiest point for us to address is about potential open-ended questions. In most cases, an excellent choice is to ask something like, “What is your best advice for me to succeed in my role?”
The Value of Asking for “Advice”
What we have found from using the word “advice” rather than something more like “What would help me succeed in my role?” is that it is easier for the person to respond honestly. After all, they are only offering advice instead of dictating what they think you must do. As an added bonus, we have also seen that this question elicits more feedback.
When you are in a live face-to-face setting, you can take advantage of that fact by adding more context and specificity to the question. This can help the other person focus their feedback for you.
A Non-professional Example
I volunteer with our county’s search and rescue team and am relatively new on the team. Last year, as we were hiking down a mountain trail after finding a couple guys lost in the late-spring snow, I asked a question of a fellow teammate who has been on the team about 4 years longer than me. I asked something along these lines, “I practice my technical skills, and while I don’t necessarily expect to be a team lead, what advice do you have for me that would help me be identified as someone who could be a team lead?”
While his response was complimentary, which was helpful to me as his junior on the team, he also gave me some great advice, including making an effort to get to know the senior members better. Not only that, but my question triggered some ideas in his mind for an improved skills benchmarking system. We both benefitted from the discussion.
Notice the elements in this example question.
- I asked for advice.
- I gave some context regarding my own perspective and understanding, which showed I didn’t think I was better than everybody else.
- I provided a specific target or point to aim for, not just, “How can I be better?” but “What would help me be identified as someone who could be a team lead?”
- I didn’t say that I needed to be team lead. I just wanted to know what skills I lacked to be considered for team lead.
This question was a fairly natural question for me to ask, because I work at a company that focuses on feedback and its value. My only real concern was having the right opportunity with the right person on the team. By the right person, I mean somebody who was senior enough to me, who had seen me perform, and who would be willing to give me straight feedback.
Why Seek Straight Feedback
I make this point about straight feedback because I had previously asked another senior teammate a similar question. However, that time the question was more like, “What can I do to be better?” That question lacks specificity regarding the target, and I think this person took it as me feeling insecure rather than simply wanting direction on how to improve. I got that impression because he mainly reassured me that I was doing fine, not to worry, and to just keep it up.
Allowing Them to Focus on the Role, Not You
Part of the value of asking about your ability to be “considered for” rather than “chosen for” a specific role or goal is that the phrasing makes it easier for the respondent to address the role, rather than your deficiencies directly. Most people don’t want to hurt your feelings. This phrasing doesn’t force them to point out your inadequacies directly. As they discuss what skills and ability are necessary for the role, they will lean towards the ones you aren’t yet displaying adequately. The skills and abilities they share are going to be the ones they see you needing to improve on to get there.
Professional Setting Example
In a professional setting, let’s say you were a manager and wanted to be a director someday. In that case you could ask, “I recognize that I’m not at director-level ability yet, but what advice would you give me that would help me get to the point where I could be considered for that type of position?”
Like the previous example, this one acknowledges your current limitations. It also has great specificity and provides the person the ability to talk about the role, not necessarily you. This will help them feel comfortable talking about the areas that are opportunities for growth.
The next time you want to get feedback, if you want a greater amount of feedback, ask for their best advice for you. It’s not as scary for the respondent to offer advice. If you have a specific role, goal, or target in mind, include that. This helps narrow the respondent’s focus, allowing them to be more specific in their response. Asking for advice is a great way to get the information you need to move forward.