Getting effective feedback

“The task of a leader is not to know everything but to attract people who know what he / she does not know.”

John Maxwell

Getting feedback is one of the best ways to learn and improve. Whether you’re an executive or a team leader, one of the best sources of effective feedback is from your team who have first hand experience of your strengths and weaknesses.

However, there’s little value in just asking your team “How am I doing?”. It’s too vague to offer specific learning and quite daunting to the employee. Here’s some things to work on encouraging effective feedback;

Create a culture of open conversation

  • Be aware that everyone feels a risk in being candid and sharing ideas. As the leader, you’ll need to start by being curious and humble in seeking opinions. Acknowledge the perceived risks of being candid, highlight the benefits of sharing and reassure them you are seeking feedback regardless of what it may be.
  • Ask open ended questions that encourage collaboration on an issue and actively explore their perspectives. Remember the goal here is not to push your own views or be defensive. Conceding you can do better will encourage others to do so.
  • Supporting a safe environment for the team to share feedback importantly reduces the isolation that comes from being a leader.

Be Specific

  • Asking for opinions on specific future opportunities is less daunting to respond and encourages brainstorming. For instance, “I’m working to be a better presenter and would like to hear any suggestions you may have for me to improve.
  • Similarly, focusing on how to do better on a particular aspect of a project going forwards will bring out more discussion than asking for a breakdown of past mistakes.
  • Try also asking about your personal impact and patterns of behaviour in a sincere effort to improve. Asking someone how your approach made them feel or the effect of a recurring way of doing something is best done from a position of caring and vulnerability.
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Invite the Good and the Bad

  • Allaying the fears of employees in giving negative feedback will take time and continual engagement. They need to see that honest comments and delivering bad news will not lead to repercussions on the messenger and be kept in confidence where appropriate.
  • Specific positive feedback is as important as negative as it reinforces what the leader should focus on and effective for the team member.
  • Maintaining a culture of open conversation and being able to voice opinions will reduce the presence of complaining and gossip.
  • It’s helpful to give people time to compose their responses. Where possible, share your questions ahead of time and meet later to discuss.

Respond Well

  • We all know effective communication is a two way interaction. How you respond to the feedback you’ve painstakingly encouraged will determine the culture of your team and organisation.
  • Remember that the feedback you’ve received has come from a place of mutual trust and desire to improve. Be present and take notes to make clear you are treating the feedback respectfully. We use Verbz to transcribe audio highlights that allows me to minimise disruption to the discussion. Interestingly, I find the audio capture reduces their worry what I’m recording and the few moments it takes gives them an opportunity to think of what else they can add.
  • It’s human nature but resist the urge to defend your actions or counter the feedback given.  Expect and own your reactions and don’t act on them. Be aware of your body language and tone so you don’t risk shutting down future feedback being offered.
  • Ask open ended follow up questions to clarify the feedback and show you are taking it all in. Watch out you don’t try to change their minds or lead them to an answer.
  • This is an information gathering exercise so ignore the temptation to analyse and act on the feedback straightaway. Give yourself the time to process all the perspectives. Let the team know that is your intent and you’ll follow up when you have a plan of action.
  • Appreciate the courage it’s taken for your team to provide the feedback and thank them for their candor.

Review and Follow up

  • Start with reflecting on your reactions and understanding what aspects were the trigger. Look at all feedback as constructive in some way rather than positive or negative. Learning to treat negative feedback as an opportunity for personal development is fundamental to developing a Growth mindset.

“Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”

John Maxwell
  • Evaluate the perspectives, identify issues to work on and what improvement looks like.
  • Build a plan of action and arrange time to share with your team. Explain the process you took to get to a decision and also the reasons where you chose not to act.
  • Where appropriate, engage the person who provided the feedback to assist in the action plan both to drive progress and celebrate success.
  • For example, if the issue raised is the lack of transparency or access to timely data then engage the team in a plan to break down information silos and improving communications channels.
  • Maintain the momentum for the action plan and share regular updates. This will help to bolster the collaborative culture and validate the value in providing feedback. Every leader sets the example for their team.

“To become more effective and fulfilled at work, people need a keen understanding of their impact on others and the extent to which they’re achieving their goals in their working relationships. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for them to gather this information and learn from it.”

Ed Batista

Want more?

Executive coaches highlight the value of effective feedback. As you ready yourself to welcome feedback, here are some experts to learn more from;

Ed Batista talks about how receiving feedback is an inherently stressful experience as we perceive it as social threats. Recognising these triggers and gathering feedback in small, regular doses can help manage them and stop them from shutting down your ability to listen and learn from the feedback.

David Rock’s book “Your Brain at Work” (2009) expands on identifying these social threats with his SCARF model. I’ve found his technique to Label & Reappraise perceived threats is remarkably effective.

Force yourself to name the emotion as you feel it and then Reassessing it in a different way shifts your mindset. Rather than being dominated by the Fight/Fright/Freeze responses of the Limbic system, you engage the Problem Solving Prefrontal Cortex instead and take the emotion out.

Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone offer invaluable advice on how to be better receivers of feedback and dive deeper in their book, “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” (2014).

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