Why asking for advice is better than asking for feedback

Susanna Kahr

We’ve all been there, we’ve worked hard to get a task done only to ask for feedback and get stuck in a never-ending feedback loop. Not only is it incredibly frustrating, it’s also really inefficient. So, next time you want to get something done well, ask for advice instead. 

Asking for feedback is just part of daily life at work. Whether we’re writing a pitch for new customers, finishing a proposal, writing an article or putting together plans for social media, we spend a lot of time asking for feedback, implementing it and asking for follow-up feedback. But, what if we told you that, contrary to popular belief, asking for advice is the better way to go about things? Here’s why. 

Why asking for feedback isn’t that effective

Do you ever feel like the advice that you get given is vague or difficult to implement? You’re not alone! Harvard researchers recently found that feedback often has zero, or even negative, impact on our performance! Often this is down to the fact that the feedback we receive isn’t very specific and fails to really point out the specific things that we can change. 

The other problem with feedback is that it usually comes too late in the process, i.e. after you’ve started putting a significant amount of effort into making something, or even right at the last minute when you’re scrambling to get something finished. This means that feedback only ever refers to the place that you’re at right now which isn’t really very useful when you only have a few days/hours before your deadline. It’s also really specific to one particular project, so it doesn’t really help you to improve in the long run. 

At this stage in the game it’s also difficult not to take it all personally. You’ve worked really hard to produce this work and often your colleagues will deliver feedback in ways that make you feel defeated or upset, even if they don’t mean to. 

On the flipside, your colleagues are also way more likely to sugarcoat their feedback at this point too, which also means that any feedback they give is less likely to help you make real improvements. It’s no wonder then, that the feedback we receive has little, or even negative, impact on our work. 

“I work in an environment that values honest feedback, and provides developmental training for your career and yourself.” – anonymous employer review at lululemon athletica

The benefits of asking for advice instead

Researchers at Harvard think that they’ve found a solution though. As they explain, “our latest research suggests a better approach. Across four experiments — including a field experiment conducted in an executive education classroom — we found that people received more effective input when they asked for advice rather than feedback.”

In one study they asked 200 people to offer input on a job application letter written by one of their peers. Some people were asked to give feedback and others were asked to give advice. Those who gave feedback, gave more vague and complimentary comments compared to those who gave advice. The advice that was given was more specific and more actionable i.e. the advice givers pointed out more specific places where things could be changed. In fact, those who gave advice suggested 34% more areas of improvement and 56% more ways to improve! 

This is because, when we change the language to asking for advice, we can focus less on our past performance and more on our future. This is great, because the past is done and can’t be changed, whereas the future is full of possibilities and the chance to approach things in new and different ways. 

When you ask someone for advice, when you’re just starting, or while working on a specific project, then it’s much easier for you to use the advice to try something different or change direction and you’re less likely to feel upset because there’s actually time to change things. 

“Office Manager and some staff encouraged staff to work together and gave honest feedback and advice to complete projects. Always helped out.” – anonymous employer review at Macy’s

How to start asking for advice

It takes guts to admit that you would like some advice about a specific project or task. We’re used to getting input and getting started only to ask for feedback later on. Asking for advice requires addressing that you’re not entirely sure how to approach something. But, it also gives you a chance to strengthen your relationships with your team, as asking for advice means that they have a chance to help you and it will encourage them to ask you for advice too. It can also show your team how serious you are about something, as you can show them how much you want to get it right. 

Next time you get given a task that you’ve not done before, or a project that you think a colleague can help you with, why not reach out and ask for advice? You could ask your colleague for a quick meeting/brainstorming session, or you could invite them to have lunch with you. Chances are it’ll make your colleague feel great, and it could help you both learn something. Sounds like a win-win situation to us! Just don’t forget to say thank you



What’s the feedback culture like at your current employer? Do your colleagues ask you for feedback or advice? How easy is it for you to make improvements? Let us know in a review on kununu so we can help jobseekers find great workplaces with great teamwork


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