Part 2: Practical Tips on the Art of Receiving Feedback, or The Critical First Step is Not Enough
Article by Jim Jensen...
In Part 1 of Practical Tips on the Art of Receiving Feedback, or The Critical First Steps is Not Enough, I discussed the art of asking for feedback and how what you do, say or even think immediately after someone takes the risk to share his or her perceptions with you is even more important than the asking. I pointed out five negative reactions you can exhibit which will guarantee that your people will likely never provide their feedback again: 1. immediately disagree; 2. don’t say anything at all; 3. rationalize or justify your behavior; 4. get angry; and 5. turn it back onto them as if they are at fault.
On a more positive note, here are six things you can do to make it more likely that people will trust you and your leadership enough to share their perceptions and give you ongoing support:
1. Educate your people about what you expect from them. If you want to create an environment where people are able to be open and honest, and take responsible risks by giving and receiving feedback, start a discussion by communicating that to them.
2. Educate people about who you are. If it’s easy for you to hear feedback, and you tend to appreciate it in the moment, let them know that. If it can be difficult for you to ask for or hear feedback, but you still want it, let your people know that. If you know you tend to react to challenging feedback in less than desirable ways (because after all we are all human) tell them that too. For example, I want you to know that I’ve been told I can come across defensively, and that I might not even know it in the moment. Please don’t let that stop you, or let me know if you sense that. I may not appreciate it in the moment, but I promise I’ll come back around and thank you for it.
3. Educate your people about how to best communicate challenging things in a way that you are more likely to hear them. Are there “front loading” statements or questions people can say or ask? For example, There’s something I’d like with talk about that might be a bit challenging, is now a good time? I’ve got some potential feedback for you that you might not want to hear, do you want it? Remember you said you wanted feedback if we thought something was important; are you still in that mode? Learning how to start these kinds of conversations can help people relax and lighten up a bit when going into them. I’ve even seen people learn how to have fun with this ... can you imagine that?
4. Monitor your self-talk. What’s going on in your head as people are sharing challenging perceptions or feedback with you? Are you thinking for example, There’s no way I came across like that. I can’t believe how out of touch this person is! Or on the positive side, Yup, I think I’m feeling defensive. I need to be careful how I react. Or perhaps, I really appreciate this! Self-awareness is at the top of many leadership-skills lists for a reason. If you are not fully aware in the moment how you’re feeling, and what’s going on in your head, it’s a whole lot more challenging to react in an authentic, yet constructive way.
5. Find the part of you that sincerely appreciates the risk they just took and say “Thank you!”, even if you disagree or don’t share their perceptions. A sincere, Thank you, I appreciate you taking the risk to share that, will go a long way toward creating an environment of open communication. Saying it in front of others will go even farther. That doesn’t mean you have to roll over and just accept something at face value. If you are having a hard time understanding how they can see something so differently than you, ask them for more information: Tell me more or help me understand that, because my perceptions are so different. Always be aware of your intent and your tone. The above statements can be made to encourage more trust and openness, or to punish – and yes, we’re all capable of that. One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits suggests seeking first to understand, then to be understood. According to Covey you are not truly listening unless you are open to the possibility that your perceptions will change. Simply making the sincere effort to ensure that you understand can build trust. Ultimately, though, you get to decide if the feedback fits and what you will do with it. If in the end you still disagree, you can still value the risk they took and communicate that to them.
6. Meet with your team to ask them how you are doing at modeling a trusting and effective interpersonal culture: Can you give me examples of times in the past month or so when I could have done a better job at responding? What would that have looked like? Have there been times when I’ve been successful at influencing a more trusting environment? Imagine the impact on members of your team when they see you, the leader, willing to be vulnerable and sincerely initiating this kind of dialogue. What impact could that have on their ability to be vulnerable and more trusting?
The most effective leaders in my experience are those who have learned to be openly human, capable of being confident as well as vulnerable, without sacrificing their credibility.
Paradoxically, it is often this willingness to allow vulnerability that can increase credibility in the eyes of the people they lead.
The first step is critical in order to take the next. Asking for feedback is a high level, and perhaps underestimated leader skill. But more importantly, what you do and how you react after your people have responded to your request will decide whether you will be able to tap into that incredible wealth of developmental information; the perceptions of those you lead.
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A version of this blog post first appeared in Crux Move Consulting’s blog
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