Getting people to provide useful criticism is actually fiendishly difficult.
It’s drilled into us to be nice and most people don’t enjoy hurting or offending others. We generally go to great lengths to avoid criticisms. How do you get over this intrinsic difficulty when you really need others’ input to grow?
‘One’ vs. ‘any’
When we want someone’s feedback we often use ‘any’ questions like ‘Do you have any feedback for me?’ or ‘Is there anything you think I could do better?’ to get it. That’s a mistake according to Woo. “‘Any’ is too big, too vague, too passive,” she insists. So what should you do instead? Try ‘one.’
‘What’s one thing I could do better?’ beats ‘Is there anything I could do better?’ any day. And ‘Everyone share one idea’ is far more likely to yield useful suggestions than ‘Does everyone have any ideas?’
Why? Just look at this article. If you’re reading this far it’s probably because you were intrigued by the promise of ‘Just 1 Word’ in the headline. That sounds useful, but also totally manageable. Everyone has time and brain space for just one quick thing. Similarly, when you ask for ‘one’ idea or piece of advice you make your ask less intimidating for your listener. And by making your request so concrete you also signal that you’re serious — you’re not just asking out of rote performance or politeness. You really, actually want ideas to improve.
Or as Woo succinctly puts it, “When people hear that number, their minds instantly become more focused. Hmm, one thing, they think. Sure, I can do that.”