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External Feedback: Why You Need it And How it Helps

Need a fresh perspective? External feedback can offer new insights into what you’re doing right and how to improve.

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According to research by Gallup, employees who receive fast feedback1 are more engaged. Amp up your employee satisfaction by including external feedback!

What Is External Feedback?

External feedback is gathering outside (or external) information to assess performance and make improvements.

You’re probably most familiar with internal feedback, which every organization and company offers in some way. Internal feedback is self-assessment or assessment from people close to the person receiving the feedback. That could include friends, family, and coworkers. Often internal feedback involves things like an annual performance review or showing appreciation to your team for a job well done.

On the other hand, external feedback is given by people such as clients, coaches, and customers. Gathering external feedback offers a fresh perspective that often is less biased. External feedback can also help a company spot problems before they become a serious issue.

Why Do You Need External Feedback?

You need external feedback to help you mitigate self-serving bias2 Self-serving bias is, quite simply, when people have a skewed perception and inflate their self-assessments. Here are some examples.

  • One study of medical workers3 found that “estimates of their character, abilities, or future prospects are more optimistic than reality warrants.”
  • This study of athletes4 found that runners “are more likely to be subject to a biased self-assessment contingent upon achieving their best finish time at the event.”

Translation: Whether you’re a medical worker, an athlete, or just your average Jill, you may think you’re better at things than you are.

Self-serving bias is considered a coping mechanism, a form of self-protection. As business professionals, it’s important to identify coping mechanisms that are holding you back! That’s where external feedback comes in. Coaches and consultants offer important insight and perspective into how you’re actually doing. Often, they pick up on areas where your perception may be skewed.

Let’s say your goal for the year was to increase interpersonal intelligence skills. You want to have more influence on your team, and you’d love to start offering workshops on the side to share your business skills with others. One problem with relying only on self-assessment is you may become oblivious to the nonverbal cues you’re missing. Getting regular external feedback from a coach may help you identify where you’re doing well and what areas you need to focus on to accomplish your goal.

Whatever your goal, this training is designed to help!

Master Your People Skills

  • Create a Memorable Presence
  • Communicate with Confidence
  • Achieve Your Goals

Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.

How To Request External Feedback

Clearly, you and your company need external feedback, but how do you get it? The short answer: just ask.

Here are some examples of when and how to ask for external feedback.

Conduct a Survey

Surveys are a great way to get an immediate response from a large number of customers and clients. Many companies offer an incentive for taking a survey, such as a coupon or entering the participants in a drawing for a prize. When sending out a survey, asking for feedback immediately after a person engages with your team or product is important. The longer you wait, the less likely people are to respond.

Survey Tools:

Amazan Mechanical Turk

Survey Monkey

Google Forms

Plan a Focus Group

Focus groups are a wonderful way to gather external feedback from small groups of people. Focus groups are usually used to test a product, research a topic, and get feedback about a team or service. While focus groups are a quick way to gather information, it limits the number of people who are giving feedback and doesn’t allow for anonymity. 

To run a focus group, simply choose the topic you’d like to gain feedback on and gather a small group of people from your target audience. Set an agenda, as you would for any meeting, and record the information you gather. Hubspot has a nice template that can provide you with even more guidance to run your focus group

Hire a Coach

One of the best ways to get external feedback for personal improvement is to hire a coach or consultant. Bringing in a new person may initially feel uncomfortable. But give it time, for a coach or consultant will be able to see the situation clearly without the bias of office politics and personal history. The most important thing when seeking external consultation is to ask good questions and be open to implementing their suggestions.

Listen to Your Clients

When it comes to clients, you probably want more space from them, not less! But no matter how frustrating your client is, listening to them can change everything. I mean really listening. 

Vanessa Van Edwards shares four tips for charismatic listening.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Even if you’re not asking, clients, customers, and, yes, even your employees are talking, and they’re talking online. You might have a communication or PR team that handles public communication. Still, as a manager, you should also be aware of who’s talking and what’s being said about your company.

Take ten minutes each month to check out reviews on Glassdoor, follow your branded hashtags, and read some of the comments on social media. If people aren’t happy, start tracking that to see if any patterns emerge in what people say online. For example, if you have one disgruntled customer who complains about your customer service, it’s probably not a concern. But, if you have multiple customers or clients complaining about customer service, this is important feedback that should be addressed immediately.

Talk to People With Alternative Views

It’s natural to gravitate to people who have similar views and a similar business approach. You can learn a lot by talking to people with alternative views. One of the best things to strengthen your business is to befriend your competition.

This is an excellent way to talk to people who may do business differently, and gain a broader perspective, both about the industry and your leadership style.

Sample Questions:

  • Where do you find inspiration? 
  • What have you been reading lately? 
  • What strategies have you found most successful in this industry?
  • How do you develop rapport and trust with those you work with?
  • What values are important to you?
  • I’m curious, how do you handle conflict in your business? 
  • What do you mean? 
  • Tell me more about that. 

Record Yourself

Another great option for external feedback is recording video and audio of yourself.

Next time you’re on a Zoom call or webinar that is recorded, take time to review the recording and study how you react and interact.

You can also record phone calls and meetings. Just make sure to let everyone know that the call or meeting is being recorded for training purposes. They don’t have to know you’re using it for self-training.

Some things to look for:

  • Are you making enough eye contact? 
  • Are you listening to others or visibly zoning out when others talk?
  • Does your body show interest (such as leaning forward, making eye contact, nodding, etc)?
  • What does your voice sound like? 
  • Is your body language or words showing aggression?
  • Are you communicating passivity or weakness with slumped body language and avoiding eye contact? 
  • Do you end sentences as a question when it should be a statement?

Examples Of External Feedback

Let’s look at some examples of how external feedback contributes to a stronger work environment.

Refining Your Business Strategy 

76% of executives have identified a “clearly defined business strategy” as a predictor of company success5 External feedback shows whether you’re meeting your goals and then provides a guide to refine your business strategy.

Let’s look at a scenario to make this even more clear. 

Imagine your company’s business strategy is focused on creating the most innovative products. Internally, you’re rocking it! Everyone agrees your products are changing the industry. But you won’t really know if that’s true until you get external feedback.

In this example, external feedback could include:

  • Market testing. Market testing can help your company reach its goals by reducing risk and increasing your understanding of your audience.
  • Client feedback. Client feedback is essential to identify where you need to grow and see what you’re already doing right. 

“Oftentimes, teams and organizations are so focused on the work they’re doing internally that they become less present to how that work is landing with clients or the public at large. External feedback provides an additional data point that allows teams to see their work through the eyes of others and to make pivots based on that.”

––Michael Sonbert, Business Coach

Improve Team Morale

The research is clear––happy workers5 make for a happier, more productive workplace. Using external feedback is a positive and active way to stimulate motivation and excitement in a team.

Imagine you’ve been working with a client that has been impossible to please. It seems like they aren’t happy with you or your team. But have you asked? Requesting external feedback helps clarify what clients are actually thinking.

Not everyone is able to communicate openly or clearly. It’s also rare for people to give good feedback without being asked. Imagine the boost to your team morale if you learn that a difficult client actually loves everything about your team. Or on the other hand, it could offer concrete information on what the client wishes you were doing differently. Either way, getting feedback enhances client communication.

“…external feedback can be used to feed into performance reviews and provide insight into why clients like working with a business… This is great for team morale and provides marketing content for the business to use on social media and its pitches to win new business.”

––Anna Lake, Client Listening Specialist

What Should You Do With External Feedback?

Once you’ve received some kind of external feedback, don’t let it get filed and forgotten!

Set up a system to process feedback and add it to your weekly/monthly reports and annual reviews. External feedback provides fantastic information to use for brainstorming new goals and strategies for a company.

Make the Most of External Feedback

  1. Debrief. Whenever you request feedback, process it as a team. Debriefing will help you discern whether the feedback is valuable or a distraction.
  2. Set aside innovation. It’s easy to get so focused on innovation you forget the user or customer is your priority! Listen to all external feedback for what it is, even if it means setting aside ideas that feel “innovative” but aren’t resonating with clients or customers.
  3. Keep a record. Whether you collate the data in spreadsheets, keep a printed file of emails, or display feedback with fancy charts, do keep a record. Over time, you’ll be able to see where you’ve grown, and patterns may emerge that show further areas to zero in on.
  4. Focus on one area to improve. As you receive external feedback, it’s likely that different people will identify different areas for improvent. Instead of tackling everything at once, identify one key area for improvement.
  5. Work as a team. Remember, team morale is everything. If you’ve received negative feedback, make it clear that you’re a team and that everyone (leadership included!) is responsible to make adjustments.

Once you begin to incorporate external feedback into your team operations, you’ll learn how to filter out unhelpful feedback and apply the most useful insights that others have shared with you.

On the flip side, if you’re constantly focused on what others think or say, you may be moving into people-please territory! Keep a good balance with these 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You.

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