Filed in

All Feedback Isn't Created Equal: 3 Things to Remember Before You Solicit Someone's Opinion


“Why wouldn’t you be open to receiving feedback from as many people as possible?”

When my husband asked me this question, I wasn’t really sure of my reasoning behind it–it was based on gut instinct.

Then it hit me.

I remembered I once made the mistake of asking one of my English teachers to write a letter of recommendation for my college admissions applications.

I figured, as a former honors student of hers, I could certainly trust her to accurately assess my potential and character.

But I was wrong.

Unbeknownst to me this veteran educator didn’t like me, and took my request as an opportunity to exact revenge by crafting a scathing letter.

Excitedly, I read the letter in front of her and upon watching my face go from exuberant to crestfallen, she gave me the most self-satisfied smirk.

It broke my 17-year-old heart.  And now, nearly twenty years later, the memory still frustrates me and has greatly influenced how carefully I select potential appraisers for feedback on any project I undertake.

Maybe you think I should just get over it, but despite taking me a little while to rebound from it, it clued me in on something:

Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on how we learn and grow. 

It impacts how we receive information and how easily we will assimilate knowledge that is new to us.

It can embolden us to forge forward in new, uncomfortable directions–stretching ourselves beyond our current boundaries.

Or it can stop us dead in our tracks–paralyzed with feelings of worthlessness and uncertainty on how to move forward.

Studies have even shown that it can also have deleterious effects on one’s physical health.

That alone is reason to be mindful.

Keep reading for 3 questions you need to ask yourself before you solicit someone’s opinion. Because though you can ask anyone for their feedback, you probably shouldn’t.

  1. Is he/she even qualified to provide feedback?

What is the popular saying about opinions being like belly buttons?  These days everyone has something to say about any given topic, and with the proliferation of social media and blogging, they aim to share it.  Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but these days you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t believe they are uniquely qualified to dole out advice on a project or scheme you might be working on, and that’s just not true.  You have to be very selective about who you allow to influence you with their guidance.

What to do:

Be very clear upfront about what you hope feedback on this particular endeavor will achieve.  Working on a branding campaign and need guidance on your copy?  Solicit the advice of a branding strategist or copywriter with proven knowledge and skills. Securing this type of feedback may cost you money, but in the long run it will be to your benefit.  Good feedback should be corrective and productive, not malicious and non-directive.

  1. Does this person have my best interests in mind?

Like my story illustrated above, giving someone who dislikes you the green light to appraise you is like giving them the knife to shank you with.  Of course, you will likely be unaware of this, otherwise you wouldn’t ask for their input. Any advice given out of malice will not be to your benefit and can really obstruct your growth.

What to do:

Again, securing the guidance of a coach is a good way to go, but even then you must be extremely selective.  As Rich Litvin states in The Prosperous Coach, one of the biggest problems with the coaching profession is its low bar for entry and when the gates are wide open, you never know who’s being invited in.  Your intuition coupled with proper discernment will serve you well here.  If someone’s energy seems off or they are overly praising or critical of your work, take heed:  they may not have your best interests at heart.  You don’t always have to pay someone for their feedback, however, a trusted and knowledgeable colleague works well too.

  1. Does this person know me well enough to appraise me?

All criticism isn’t bad, but auditing an individual’s performance is sensitive work and is best delivered when the assessor has some sort of relationship with the assessee.  Relationships take time and you need to be wary of individuals who rush to judgment about you before building some sort of rapport.  Again, this isn’t necessarily the sole domain of a coach or other helping professional, but it would behoove you to solicit the opinion of someone who is trained in helping individuals learn how to perform optimally in various life dimensions.

What to do:

Use your discernment when seeking out someone to evaluate your work.  Yes, it is more comfortable to ask a family member or close friend to review a project, but they might be too close to objectively assess you. However, you do want someone who knows your tendencies, personality, and strengths well enough to appropriately guide you toward a more improved you–as long as they also have a relevant knowledge base.  This could be a professor, supervisor, or work peer.

In this economy, lifelong learning is a must and you can only benefit from making skill-sharpening a priority. As humans, we prefer to learn from one another so the social aspect of skill acquisition cannot be ignored, but some people just don’t have your best interests in mind. Rather than ask why,  it’s best to apply specific criteria to those you would allow to influence your progress and growth.

Your very success and personal well-being may depend on it.

Additional Resource 1

Additional Resource 2

Additional Resource 3

Photo Credit



Leave a Reply