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Encouraging Honest Feedback for Leaders

January 12, 2018

iStock-618182858.jpgThe higher you climb on the corporate ladder, the more difficult it becomes to receive honest feedback from your peers and your subordinates. As a leader, your incumbents are likely to be hesitant to voice their opinions and concerns about your performance. However, as a leader within an organization, it is critical that you continue to receive feedback. Without feedback, you will be unlikely to see what your areas for improvement are and you may not continue to develop as a professional. Furthermore, as a leader you may be hindering your team’s performance without realizing it, and if your team is unable or unwilling to provide you with feedback, you likely never will.

Related: How to Reduce Leader Failure

The following are recommendation on how you can encourage your incumbents to openly share their feedback with you.

Create a psychologically safe environment. A first step in receiving feedback is asking for it. Your team should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. Allow them to push back against your ideas without fear of repercussions. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for your team’s feedback and they shouldn’t be afraid to give it. At the end of difficult meetings, pull team members aside and ask them how they think the meeting went. Ask them what they think you could have done differently. One of the most basic ways to get feedback is to ask for it.

As your team becomes comfortable experiencing their opinions and giving you feedback, it’s also important that you reflect on it and consciously try to improve. Good leaders try to be aware of the areas where they need improvement and they ask their team members to point it out when they are exhibiting those negative behaviors. Good leaders are also willing to apologize when they’ve behaved poorly. By being open and respectful to your team’s thoughts and opinions, you can create a more trusting relationship with them which will give them the confidence to share their feedback openly with you. For more inspiration, read our CEO's number one tip to empower and engage your employees.

Pay attention to people’s actions. Actions can speak louder than words, so it’s important to pay attention to your employees’ non-verbal cues. If you can learn to read your employees’ cues, you will be able to gather useful feedback about how you are impacting them. While people may withhold verbal feedback, their faces and bodies can often tell a different story. A great skill to have as a leader is the ability to perceive contradictions between a person’s words and his/her body language. Some important cues to pay attention to are when people look down or avoid eye-contact with you, or when a typically energetic or enthusiastic employee becomes quiet. When you notice these cues, don’t ignore them. Instead, probe into the situation gently. Don’t be afraid to ask your employees why you are having a certain effect on them. Ask the quiet employee how you should interpret their silence. By having an open dialogue with your employees, you are more likely to find the root cause of the problem.

Using these tips, leaders can implement regular habits into their daily interactions with employees that will promote candid communication and feedback for leaders. Gather feedback from employees by listening to and acting upon the information they observe in their everyday settings. The key to receiving feedback as a leader is to be open to it and actively seek it.

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Cassandra Walter Cassandra Walter is a Consulting Associate located at PSI's Pittsburgh office. She holds a Master's degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology. She works with clients across many different industries, including manufacturing, retail, customer service, and healthcare. Her areas of expertise include providing training and support for PSI’s applicant tracking system, as well as assisting clients with requests and questions regarding tools and processes.