Don’t Take “It looks good” for an Answer

Are you looking for a seal of approval or are you trying to improve?

It’s a scene that plays out in offices around the world millions of times every day. It goes something like this:

Amy: “Hey Chuck, did you get a chance to look over my presentation?”

Chuck: “Yep, it looks good Amy.”

Amy: “Great, thanks Chuck!”

I’m sure you’ve been in a situation like this. And I’m sure you’ve felt happy and relieved to get that stamp of approval. It’s fine. It looks good. Nothing to change. You didn’t make a mistake. Mission Accomplished.

A common reaction to being told what you’ve done “looks good.”

Don’t Feed the Fixed Mindset

When we react with a sigh of relief upon learning what we did “looks good” we’re tapping in to our fixed mindset. If you don’t know what that is, basically it’s the devil. In short, it’s a mindset that worries more about looking good than improving.

Often a fixed mindset can hinder our ability to learn from difficult problems or mistakes we’ve made, and it’s important to develop our ability to learn during those challenging times. But don’t think that just because your report “looks good” you’re not missing out on an opportunity to improve.

How to Feed the Growth Mindset

What if the scenario played out like this:

Amy: “Hey Chuck, did you get a chance to look over my presentation?”

Chuck: “Yep, it looks good Amy.”

Amy: “Thanks Chuck. I’m flattered you liked it, but you’re an expert on this topic, so I’m sure you could find something in it that I could improve. Could you give me at least one suggestion for improvement?”

Chuck: [provides a suggestion, probably a good one to consider]

Amy: “Great suggestion, I’ll think that over. Thanks for helping me improve this presentation.”

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is one of the 5 Success Secrets Every High Achiever Must Know or How One Life Hack From A Self-Made Billionaire Leads To Exceptional Success, but there are a number of moderately sized real world benefits to this approach.

  1. You demonstrate to your colleagues that you genuinely value their feedback and want to learn from it.
  2. When you press for specifics your colleague is more likely to actually read the thing you’ve asked them to read.
  3. Your presentation (or report, or whatever) will be better than it was before.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This approach comes with costs:

  1. It takes more time.
  2. You might get lousy feedback, and your colleague might not like that you didn’t blindly follow their advice.
  3. Your ego will not be fed.

So is it worth it? Yeah, most of the time it is. But not all the time. Here’s an embarrassing example of how I went overboard with the concept:

At MakeStickers, where I work, we’ve been improving our new employee on-boarding process. So at the end of a brand new part-time employee’s first day, I said something to the effect of, “We’re always looking to improve, so what’s one thing about your first day experience that we can improve?”

The poor kid looked at me like I was nuts.

That’s when I realized you need to have some degree of confidence that the other person is likely to have good feedback for you before you demand suggestions from them.

Put it into Practice

Next time you hear “looks good” from somebody who looked something over for you, tell them you value their opinion and expertise, and believe they can find at least one thing that you could improve.

If you’d like to learn more about how to ask your colleagues for advice, I recommend Kim Scott’s Radical Candor. That’s where I first saw the suggestion to push your colleagues to give you critical feedback. It’s an excellent book.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

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