Contrary to what many of us think, employees really want to receive more negative feedback from their leaders than they are actually receiving.
As humans, we suck at receiving negative feedback. We're not wired to listen to someone tell us something negative. Our brains have helped us to survive as we've evolved. If we hear bad feedback, we can see it as a threat. Our body reacts. Our emotions go high.
So the efforts to give negative feedback often fail in organizations because leaders know those feelings. And we don't always like the conflict we would feel in addressing the issue.
But hear is the rub; if we want others to feel safe and open to receive negative feedback, we as leaders have to show we're comfortable with that negative feedback. Don't get me wrong. Employees need to receive more negative feedback than what they're receiving today. But to get us there, we need to push leaders to ask, rather than give, negative feedback.
Luckily, I've got some digits to support me here. A recent study showed that the best leaders are those who are asking for the tough feedback. And the leaders with low performance are afraid to hear the truth. So would your employees be more willing to listen to a high performing leader who is open to the tough feedback or low or average performing leader who doesn't ask for feedback themselves.
Being a good manager is not about avoiding these negative emotions - its about using the emotions to understand as many different paths forward as possible. So how do you get comfortable receiving feedback from your peers and your team members?
Focus on the right data. A manager’s willingness to ask for specific and even negative feedback is a way to both demonstrate how to ask, and also the way it is ideally received. To do this, stop looking at feelings as data and look at the feedback as data. As managers, we need to search out the right data.
Remember that you're not da' bomb. I can't tell you to be more self-aware. You can't tell yourself either. But you can admit that you don't know everything. That you're learning. To get ourselves ready to accept feedback and not focus on feelings for data, we need to acknowledge that there may just be someone cooler than you.
Look for those who tell it like it is. If you don’t have people on your team who tell you how to improve, how are you growing? Asking for feedback shows that you have a culture that desires to learn and that we are open to other ideas. Yes, you'll need people who can give you a hug when you need it. But if we can trust that everyone is acting in good faith, we can search out the people who tend to give us negative feedback, rather than avoid them.
Earn rather than demand feedback. As a leader, you can command people to act, but you can’t command people to feel. The more you push people to respect and trust you, the more they push back. When we do ask, we can’t have an agenda. We have to go in with our arms open, rather than crossed, in asking for the feedback of others.
Get specific. Asking questions is important, but asking “How did that go?” gives people an out. It’s too vague. We have to ask specifically ask “what”. "What did I do that you liked." "What’s one thing you would ask me to do differently? Just listen to what they have to say. And don't forget to say thank you.
Analyze the information. If we are gathering data, we have to eventually analyze and process the information. Be sure to ask yourself the difference between "What did I just hear?" and "What emotions do I have from that feedback?" to understand what you can learn and own moving forward.
Find other clues. If you look around your workplace, your employees are more than willing to share their feedback without you having to ask. Look for the subtle nonverbal communication signs your team is sending you. The eye roll when you bring up another idea. The sigh when you suggest an alternative solution.
Realize the benefits. By asking for feedback, you’re seeking out the advice of your employees. By seeking them out you’re showing that they matter and are valued. You get an excuse to show you're listening - if you do it right. Share progress or lack of it to help others see that you have listened to them.
Negative feedback can be the most useful type of feedback to provide and receive. As leaders, and as organizations, we have to be able to ask for feedback as much as we give. And we as leaders have the chance to serve as role models if we have any hope of our employees feeling safe to put themselves in situations not only receive feedback, but to be eager to receive it.
When is the next time you'll ask for feedback?