Asking For It: How Seeking Feedback Builds Positivity

We recently were invited to facilitate a workshop at Habif, Arogetti and Wynne, LLP, the largest Georgia-headquartered public accounting firm and a U.S. top 50 firm.

The focus of the workshop during their annual Student Leadership Conference for prospective interns was to help the students embrace the practice of seeking and receiving feedback. The thought being, these students will soon be out of school and could benefit from understanding feedback and exploring why being proactive (seeking) and being open minded (receiving) would strengthen their performance. This is but one example of how the company is clearly dedicated to talent development and creating a best place to work.

Here’s what so impressed us about this bright, articulate, engaged group of accounting students, drawn from schools all over the southeast by HA&W Recruiting Director, Nancy Geery.  When asked to define feedback, they shared the following:

  • it’s motivating
  • it’s a reflection of what you are good at and what you can work on
  • feedback helps me grow as a person
  • it can point me in the right direction
  • it establishes standards of performance, what’s expected

How positive! This is so unusual – my colleague, Laura Stanley, and I were impressed.  In most other settings in which we are facilitating a conversation around feedback with people who have been in the workforce for awhile, the first definition shared by an audience describes feedback as criticism, what’s wrong, what’s negative, how you messed up.

Is it that these interns have yet to be exposed to workplace norms that establish feedback as a negative? Consider someone walking up to you and asking, “Hey, can I give you some feedback?”  Don’t you automatically recoil in a defensive posture and wait for the blow? Sure you do. We’ve all trained ourselves to expect to hear what’s wrong and to give it back. In fact, according to neuroscience literature, we’re actually wired to look for and expect the negative. No wonder we are averse to seeking feedback!

So, here’s an opportunity for the next generation to teach us a thing or two about how to talk about what’s possible. 

Try this for just one day – approach the act of seeking feedback positively

1. Go first! Seek feedback from your peers:  “Hey, share with me your opinion about what I did really well at yesterday’s meeting and what you think I could improve on.”  You’re not only being proactive (which most of us are not) in seeking input, but you are framing it as a positive and an opportunity for development.

2. Frame it as “feedforward”: this is the concept of looking ahead at the next action or opportunity to improve – what you could do next time that would strengthen the experience. Looking ahead is a natural setting for being more positive because it is about what’s possible.

3. Listen to their comments and then paraphrase so they know you heard them: “So, what I hear you say is I handled the Q&A really well, but next time I might reduce the number of powerpoint slides.”


5. Tell them what you’ll do to build on their input

6. Then, go do it – you can start the shift on your team from presuming feedback is always about what’s wrong to expanding the scope to include envisioning what is possible for next time

Leading the Way to Possibility

The added benefit of this process is that not only are you better equipped for your future meeting/presentation/interaction or whatever, enhancing your skills and leadership, but you are building a fundamental state of trust with your colleagues. And positioning yourself as fearless! Hopefully role modeling for them this simple process begins to engage them in thinking about what’s possible … versus what’s wrong.