As a leader, you’re used to giving feedback to team members. But the thought of asking for and receiving feedback from others creates anxiety and triggers–from you and the people you’re asking.
Without feedback, you can’t get better faster because your ability to figure things out, to determine what’s working and what’s not, is limited to your own. You need feedback so you can see things from a different perspective and leverage the experiences of others.
There are two big challenges to feedback: First, you need to ensure your team, stakeholders, colleagues, etc. feel comfortable giving you quality, constructive feedback that may not always be positive. And second, you need to have the right mindset to accept the information, process it and do something with it.
The two go hand-in-hand, every time.
Getting others to give you feedback is key though, and you can only do that by asking for it and then reacting to it in the right way. (Which comes first? Chicken or egg? The answer is both.)
The larger your leadership role, the less likely you are to receive constructive (negative) feedback. So it’s important to start asking for feedback, in a variety of ways, early in your journey.
Sitting in the weekly staff meeting and asking for feedback in an open format is not the best time or place to ask for a critique on a recent town hall meeting or an event you spearheaded. There’s too much pressure on team members in this situation, especially if they don’t know how you’ll respond. If feedback and open discussion hasn’t been part of your leadership style to date, they don’t know what they’re walking into.
As a leader, your first inclination when it comes to criticism or feedback that isn’t glowing is to ask for proof. But open conversations that feel safe to the other party and where you can gather more information are best.
If you’re really serious about getting feedback, start by asking open-ended questions in 360 surveys and 1:1 conversations. And when you hear views that differ from your own perception, ask follow-up questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?” and “Can you share some examples?” These help you to gather more information without making the giver feel threatened.
Of course, if you need processing time or are unsure of what to say, the best response to negative feedback is always, “Thank you.”
You may also receive unsolicited feedback from unhappy stakeholders. You can’t simply ignore what the other person says; you’ll need to find a way to respond even if it’s given heatedly and in the moment.
First, determine how emotional and charged the person giving feedback is. Responding at the same level will only escalate the situation, so find ways to lower the temperature. Responses that work in this situation include, “I hear you and I’m interested in what you have to say,” or “It’s hard for me to hear you right now because you sound so angry. Let’s talk about this when we’ve both had the chance to breathe a little.”
When you set behavioral boundaries in the organization, employees learn what the right emotional temperature is for difficult conversations. It’s up to you to maintain that by putting a hold on escalating situations.
It goes without saying that arguing about the feedback you receive will make others feel unsafe and threatened, which will eventually lead to an environment where you don’t get any feedback at all.
And because feedback is such a pivotal part of growing as a leader and ensuring staff members feel safe and heard, it pays to listen and learn.