How to Get – and Give – Feedback
We often want to know how we are doing as negotiators. Extensive research shows that most people are reluctant to give honest feedback. After mock negotiations run by two psychologists (David Yudkin at the Wharton School and Tessa West at NYU), those who did poorly asked “how did I do?” The result: “Most winners gave overly positive, noncritical feedback that was basically useless” ( “How to Tell if You’re the Office Jerk?, Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/office-jerk-how-to-tell-9f69a49f.
People have a good reason to be unresponsive: “Even the most carefully worded negative feedback can result in unpleasant consequences for the deliverer – like anger [and] dismissing or devaluing the advice.”
By the way, their analysis of comments on the Reddit thread “Am I the Asshole?” is that 85% of the posts resulted in a consensus verdict. In other words, people have a clear reaction to what you are doing, even if they do not tell it to you.
Yudkin and West recommend that you ask for feedback, don’t wait for it, because you usually won’t get it. They say: make your requests specific. For instance, rather than “how did I do?” ask, “when I opened with the offer of $10,000, did you think that was too low? Why?” Plus ask for the advice right after the negotiation – over time, people’s memories fade. That recommendation applies to giving feedback as well as receiving it: make it specific, tie it to a just-happened event.
They warn that what gets people in the biggest trouble are overreactions and judgmental comments.
They also say that another way to encourage honest advice is to ask about “ideal behavior” rather than about your own behavior. So instead of, “did I wait too long to get back to the client”, ask what is the ideal turnaround time for getting back about an offer.
A final word of advice from these psychologists: “the things we spend our time worrying about may be not that big of a deal in others’ eyes.”
For more analysis, see West’s new book from Penguin Random House, Jerks at Work.