Volunteer the negative.
John: “Hey Mike, I’d love to hear what you think about our product. The more honest you are, the better! I’m ready to listen.”
Mike: “…well, I think the product is great!”
Awesome! Mike says everything’s great. It’s safe to say John’s job is done, right? Not quite.
John didn’t define the scope. Because he asked for feedback on the product, Mike doesn’t really know where to begin. Does John want feedback on the user experience? The design? The available features? How a certain feature worked? John (and the product) would be better served asking specific questions about an aspect of the product.
John also didn’t create a safe environment for honest feedback. Saying “please be honest,” still keeps most people guarded. Even if Mike usually speaks his mind, not many people willingly hurt the feelings of others. Volunteering a ‘negative’ aspect you’re already aware of can help set an example of the type of feedback you’re looking for.
With these things in mind, let’s see how it sounds if we try to correct for them.
John: “Hey Mike, I’d love to hear what you think about our product. Our submit buttons look strange, don’t you think?”
Mike: “No, I actually think they look good. I’m not sure about the form inputs, though. They’re not vertically centered, and look kinda weird.”
John: “Got it. Anything else with the signup form? Are we asking for too much information up-front?”
Mike: “Yeah, I’d remove the phone number requirement.”
Even if John weren’t looking for feedback about the submit buttons, he set the tone. By being the first to throw the gauntlet, it keeps things informal, honest, and conversational. A perfect playing field for true feedback.
This all gets thrown out the window if your company culture doesn’t reward honesty, of course.