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10 ways to get and use more honest feedback from your team
Leaders don't get the insight they need by simply asking for it: In fact, you may be derailing discussions before they start. Here's how to encourage honest feedback – and how to respond
As a manager, you know that your actions and behaviors – good and bad – impact your team’s performance. To help your team succeed, you need to understand how your actions affect its members – and that requires consistent and honest feedback.
But you won’t get the insight you need by simply asking for it: In fact, it’s all too easy to derail the discussion before your team members even say a word. Here are a few tips to help encourage honest feedback – and how to respond.
How to ask for feedback
The truth is that how you ask for feedback may be what's stopping you from hearing what you need to hear. Here are some points that can help.
1. Don't ask for honesty
Asking team members to “be honest” may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s ineffectual: Remember old adage “Never trust anyone who says, ‘trust me.’” If you have developed trust with your team, they will give you honesty. If you have not…well, keep reading.
[ For more leadership advice, read IT careers: 5 essential soft skills to strengthen. ]
2. Ask them what they need
You may be tempted to ask, “How am I doing?” After all, that’s what you want to know. But to your team, this approach may come across as needy, self-serving, or at worst, disingenuous.
Better to ask, “What do you need?” This bases the discussion on their needs, not yours. And when they tell you what they need, guess what? They are telling you how you are doing.
3. Don't talk about yourself
I have made the mistake of including “How can I do better as your manager?” as a standing agenda point in performance reviews. I thought I was being open, vulnerable, and even-handed.
I wasn’t. Instead, I was making their review about me (see above), robbing them of time that is supposed to be dedicated to their career. Asking someone for feedback when they are naturally vulnerable pretty much guarantees they will be guarded in their response. While you should welcome feedback in any context, don’t dwell on it, and don’t make it the only time you ask.
How to respond to feedback
Giving one’s manager feedback feels inherently risky. How you respond in that moment will set the tone for future interactions – and remember, it’s much easier to destroy trust than build it back up.
4. Don't explain, argue, or rationalize
When a team member offers feedback you did not expect or that you disagree with, don’t try to get them to see your side – this tells them their feedback is not welcome or valuable. Simply accept the feedback for what it is: their point of view.
5. Believe them
Whatever it is they are telling you is true to them – so in the context of your relationship with them as their manager, it is true in every way that matters.
6. Get details
If you don’t understand what you are hearing or don’t remember a specific incident, ask for more information. If a team member says, “You can sometimes be dismissive,” don’t prove them right! Accept the feedback and ask them to clarify or give an example. Don’t demand proof or challenge them – instead, seek to understand.
7. Thank them
Honest feedback is a gift, and giving it requires courage. Acknowledge this by thanking your team members.
How to act on feedback
Actions speak louder than words. How you act on feedback will ultimately make the biggest difference in how your team feels about giving you feedback in the future.
8. If one person said it, assume that others agree
If one team member feels compelled to tell you something, chances are others feel the same way. Think about who else might share that point of view and why – and consider how it might impact the whole team.
9. Turn feedback into change
The most important thing you can do to honor your teams’ feedback is to take it to heart and make positive changes based on it. You’ll win trust with your team members and likely others in your sphere as well.
10. Give it time
Developing a healthy feedback culture takes time. But if you work consistently to build trust, you’ll enjoy a more productive, open culture in which people feel respected. You’ll also benefit from a more trusting and positive work environment.
[ Are you leading through change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation. ]