A funny thing about providing feedback—once you start providing your thoughts to others, you will begin receiving their thoughts on you. It’s a natural human reaction that when you suggest someone can do something better, they will have something for you, as well.
When you first ask for others’ feedback in a one-on-one or group meeting, they may at first seem a little surprised and confused. But nevertheless, a list of impressions will pop up in their mind, even if a few they are not entirely comfortable sharing. Humans innately know this; all of us are full-time observers of other people we work with.
Below are some of the reasons to share open feedback that can benefit yourself and others.
Unstated feedback can bottle up over time
When you can intuit others are thinking things about you, but don’t know their specific thoughts, your mind can fearfully fill up like Greek mythology’s Pandora’s box, with self-perceived weaknesses, incompetencies, and other negativity. We remember incidents when someone sounded impatient or dissatisfied and how we may not be measuring up as a leader, coach, or supporter. Basically, we don’t know what’s swimming around another person’s mind, but we may think to ourselves that Pandora’s box must be filled with bad things.
You’ve been doing a good job of getting your team members used to frequent feedback. They even like it now, seeing how helpful it is to their success. Now it’s your turn to get used to it, even though you may have been avoiding it. Seldom are people immune from the very human emotion of fear of the unknown, followed by a fight-or-flight response from language that feels threatening.
Two-way feedback leads to less fear, more truth
When you ask people to do things differently, you are starting a whole new conversation and a whole new relationship. This is a good thing.
The fact that you are inviting two-way feedback puts you on a peer- and team member-like level with the other person. This equality sends a soothing signal to your employee’s brain that you are trustworthy. Stirring up feelings of equality and camaraderie has an extremely positive effect on other’s openness to your feedback.
When you bring across that you are trying to connect, through authentic emotions, you and your employee release the same positive brain chemicals, such as those released when you hold a baby, spend time with close friends, or feel other deep emotions.
In contrast, one-way, boss-to-subordinate feedback enforces the hierarchical relationship, and the employee feels more guarded and without control. It is the fight-or-flight response within their brain, with its surge of stress hormones shooting, which clouds their thinking abilities.
Another feel-good sensation associated with feedback: It can feel akin to eating a delicious piece of chocolate.
Asking for employees’ feedback positively conveys a sense of fairness and transparency, writes David Rock, the CEO and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute. Fostering the trust that comes from your willingness to sit down on the same side of the table and hear feedback on yourself. This step leads to establishing stronger, learning-based relationships and motivates everyone involved to embrace regular feedback.
The benefit of feedback loops
The other great thing about encouraging two-way feedback is that both you and a team member are now spinning feedback loops faster and faster. This positive cycle of new information is a good thing when the information is perceived to be valid.
As you make adjustments based on new information, you score exciting wins that prompt you to seek even more information. Both of you get hooked. This has an exponentially powerful effect. As you exchange feedback with each of your team members, everyone takes it seriously, it gets easier, and feedback gets more accurate and more timely. Everyone has some feedback in mind.
Avoiding dismissal, insult, or defensiveness
When you implement a feedback culture and request feedback yourself, you will likely have a couple of lively souls who want to use this opportunity to vent all of their complaints. They may even unleash critical remarks in a group meeting. While you may feel frustrated, don’t overreact.
Since you are trying to cultivate a beneficial feedback culture, it is absolutely essential that you do not insult, demean, or answer with a quick comeback. For every single comment, no matter how critical or challenging, it’s important to preface any response with a thank-you for being courageous and sharing the feedback. There are a number of ways you can respond effectively, including: “That is an important concern, and in fact I would like to meet with you and John about this, since you are both the most affected. because you guys are the most affected. Can you stay after and we will schedule a time to meet?”
All feedback is useful
When your team members first give you feedback, you may not immediately see the “gold nugget” in their words. Yes, asking for feedback on a regular basis may leave you overwhelmed—but your team will have an expectation of you to provide them with information, direction, and encouragement, along with training. And mostly, each of your team members will have specific needs. What’s important is to show your sincerity in wanting to make changes and to show evidence of the changes as quickly possibly. Even if you receive puzzling, it’s critical you listen to what the person is saying and give them your complete attention. Ask for clarification on what your worker would like to see specifically.
When you have digested the feedback, acknowledge the specific comments in a meeting (especially if they overlap) through a brief summary.
After your employees have taken the risk to give you feedback, your team members will closely observe whether you have taken their words to heart. They will pick up if you revert back to the regular way of doing things. For instance, if you continue to start meetings late after they provide their honest feedback about this practice, you are sending the message that their feedback does not matter. It’s absolutely necessary for you to make a renewed effort to get the next meeting started on time and to make it efficient.
If you show everyone that you receive feedback well and can change your behavior as a result, you will earn a reputation for receptivity that, in turn, will encourage more people to give you constructive feedback.
Conflict with changes
If you know that you can’t make a change right away, let your team know as soon as possible. If you can make the change later, explain why there is a delay and when the change will occur. They will feel let down if you promise something and then don’t end up doing it. Your inaction will feel like an insult and speak louder than any positive changes you are making.
Stay honest about anything you don’t think you can change. The employee may make an unreasonable request without knowing it is unreasonable. As an example, there may be an unpopular task they wish you would assign on a rotation basis so that no one person does it often. If this approach is not workable, you need to explain why. You might say, “This particular task can only be rotated among the people who are trained.” As much as possible, offer a business rationale, open yourself up to further questions, and talk to your employees in a calm manner.
Stay aware that you are a role model for feedback. As the leader, you are living proof that you can make positive adjustments and learn from feedback loops happening at a faster clip.
Anna Carroll, MSSW, is an executive coach and author of The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success.