How to handle vague feedback

How to handle vague feedback

We know how important feedback is for growth. It is the breakfast of champions after all. But what happens when we want feedback; we ask for feedback; but we don’t get quality feedback? 

Consider the case of Yesa. Yesa asked her manager for feedback on how she presented at the annual conference.  

 Here’s a summary of how it went.  

 “How do you think I went at the conference last week?” 


 “Thanks. Anything else? Is there a particular area I should focus on for improvement?" 

 “Hmm…not really. You presented well. It was good.” 

While it’s nice to get positive feedback, responses like good, great, ok, fine or you did well, don’t provide a clear pathway for improvement and growth. Vague feedback can be frustrating to receive. It can feel to the feedback recipient as if the feedback giver is not that interested in helping them grow.  

However, there are several reasons people don’t give great feedback, including (but, of course, not limited to): 

  • Not sure of what to give feedback on

  • Didn’t really notice anything that warrants specific feedback

  • Uncomfortable about having to give critical feedback

  • Doesn’t feel qualified to give feedback

  • Isn’t qualified to give feedback

  • Unsure of how potential feedback might be received

  • Doesn’t have time to give proper feedback

  • Doesn’t really care enough to give feedback

One of the ways to combat vague feedback, regardless of why you’re getting it, is to make it easier for the person to give it to you. 

If you want actionable, specific and relevant feedback from someone, then you need to make it easy for them to do so. 

How to get great feedback

Ask the person for feedback, before the event occurs, so they know what to pay attention to in the moment. 

Give them something specific to focus on, so they can give you useful feedback when you ask for it. Tell them what you want feedback on, and why it’s important to you. 

 Here’s a re-run of how Yesa’s interaction could be improved on for next time. 

 “As you know I’m presenting at the annual conference next week. I’m wondering if you would mind giving me some feedback after the event? I’m working to develop my presentation skills, so I can get out on the road and do more customer presentations.”


 “Great. Thanks. I’m working on slowing my speech down and maintaining strong eye contact with the audience. When I get nervous I tend to speak quickly and look away from the person I’m in front of. Any feedback on those areas would be great.”

 “Ok. I can do that.”

 “Thanks. I’ll catch up with you after the event to hear your thoughts.”

When people know what kind of feedback you want, it makes it much easier to help you. So do yourself a favour and introduce the feedback conversation before they need to give it to you. That way it’s not a surprise feedback conversation; it’s a strategic one; one that they are ready to deliver on. 

 Let me know how you go.


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