A familiar cynical saying resurfaced for me this week, “If a leader asks you for feedback, they either want validation or information, they rarely want feedback”. I find this pessimistic view to be troubling. Since hearing it, I’ve recommitted to making myself accessible and incorporating the pursuit of actively seeking feedback into my leadership values. Why? It’s simple: the removal of barriers to communication effectively creates an atmosphere that supports creativity, Team Member engagement, and innovation.
It is not uncommon for leaders to miss the critical opportunity of going after and receiving feedback. Opening ourselves up and asking for feedback can be daunting. Frankly, if our organizations are not built around the principles of active and open communication, it can feel completely counterintuitive and downright weird.
Earlier today, I had the privilege of asking Reb Rebele, who is a consultant and educator at the University of Pennsylvania and often works with Adam Grant, Author of Give and Take, for his perspective on how to support a more creative and innovative work environment. His response to my inquiry directly correlates to our topic. Reb stated that healthy organizations should consider a culture “where help seeking is normalized”. He continued to explain that in fostering a help-seeking environment, we as leaders can be instrumental in creating an incredible cultural shift, including improved collaboration, team member engagement, and opportunities to actively receive feedback to further enhance communication.
If this is indeed the case, why are cultures of poor communication and limited information sharing so common? As many of us can attest from firsthand experience, these closed systems only serve to stifle trust and credibility on our teams. Despite the findings of educators and researchers like Rebele and Grant, organizations continue to operate with limited opportunities to give and receive honest feedback.
Let’s jump right in with a tried-and-true cost to benefit analysis of receiving and giving feedback. As we analyze further, I believe that the benefits of seeking feedback will far outweigh the risks of not doing so.
Risks of receiving feedback:
- Fear of hearing the truth
- Uncertain of intentions
- Convinced we are too busy
- Inability to have difficult conversations
- Lacking the skills to hear and process the emotions of others
- Missing queues that ideas or concerns are present
- Convincing messages from advisors that things are as they should be
- Operating with rose colored glasses
- It can be absolutely exhausting
If you are unwilling to openly receive feedback, the desire of others to collaborate and share with you will be diminished. You may also find there to be a generalized lack of cooperation throughout your organization as your position and point of view may be seen as unreachable.
Benefits of receiving feedback:
- Building trust
- Establishing credibility
- Improving communication
- Gaining invaluable insights
- Picking up efficiencies
- Mitigating mistakes
- Project completion improves
- Better connection to your team’s operating environment
- Team and personal learning occurs
Years back, as a young leader, I will never forget how uplifting it was to have a supervisor ask for my perspective. Feeling valued and recognized as a contributor was both gratifying and inspirational. I can also clearly remember feeling hurt and uninspired when my point of view was undervalued. Think of those moments when publicly we were asked to share our thoughts to only realize that the final outcome had long since been determined. When you observe this type of disconnect within your organization, clear the way for future thoughtful discussion.
How do we create the environment that encourages and welcomes feedback? First, we must make sure the necessary conditions supporting receiving and the actualization of feedback are present in our organization. When structuring an active approach to receiving feedback, it’s important to emphasize your commitment to establish a nonjudgmental and safe place for discussion. Listen, and resist the desire to present your personal point of view. You’ll be surprised at how this approach can create a warm, inclusive dynamic and support your desired results. Publicly state your belief that receiving honest and direct feedback is essential to the organization’s success.
When confronted with information you knowingly or instinctively want to challenge, evaluate the potential benefit of considering the opposing view. There is value in seeking meaning behind the other person’s statement, beyond simply hearing the words spoken. It’s not always comfortable for our Team Members to come forward. Always appreciate the care and courage of the Leader or Team Member who is representing their thoughts and ideas. Lastly, be willing to amend your position or worldview while being fully prepared to act upon feedback when appropriate.
If you are finding that creativity and openness are lacking on your teams, challenge yourself and be receptive to change. Actively work to be present when receiving energy and information from your teams. Commit to deeper and more meaningful collaboration with your fellow Leaders and Team Members. Develop richer and more caring relationships that are based on substance and trust.
Go back and read the list of benefits again. If we only improve in those areas, our organizations will achieve transformational results!