Feedback is a two-way street. Companies perform at their peak when everyone feels free to give honest, constructive criticism. Too often, business leaders focus solely on giving good feedback. As a result, they may fail to invite colleagues to give their own critiques.
While giving effective feedback is an important skill, so is soliciting meaningful feedback from colleagues. When employees feel free to speak their minds, they can offer tips and advice that really strengthen the organization and lead to teams that work very efficiently.
The ways in which leaders can encourage their employees to give feedback are not quite as obvious as the strategies for giving constructive criticism. Some tips that can help leaders get honest feedback include:
1. Ask the right questions.
Leaders cannot expect their employees to feel comfortable offering unsolicited critiques. A way to combat this phenomenon and demonstrate to employees that the space is a safe one is to ask the right questions.
To open the conversation, leaders may ask what they are doing that workers would like more of. This opens the door for positive feedback. Then, the logical follow-up involves asking about what they need less of, which opens the space for criticism.
This technique helps leaders signal that they really want and value feedback. Leaders should recognize that not every question will elicit a response from every employee. Learning to read individuals will help leaders make the right inquiries.
2. Share personal weaknesses.
When leaders give feedback to their employees, they generally focus on both strengths and weaknesses. These individuals can share the same information about themselves to open the door to honest communication.
One great way to get the feedback ball rolling is for leaders to point out what they perceive as their personal shortcomings and then invite comments. Sharing this information demonstrates humility and shows that leaders do not expect anyone to be perfect.
Just as leaders ask their employees to work on their weaknesses, they are also seeking ways to overcome their own shortcomings. Showing employees that they are a vital part of this process encourages honesty.
3. Follow up on suggestions.
Employees will quickly stop giving feedback if they feel that it falls on deaf ears. When someone offers a valid criticism, leaders should ask for any clarification they need and thank the person for their honesty. Then, in a later meeting, the leader can offer a strategic plan for addressing that shortcoming.
This follow-up demonstrates that the leader truly wants feedback and helps build trust within the team. In the future, the employee may share more feedback knowing that it could result in meaningful change. Leaders who dismiss the criticism they receive will alienate their employees.
4. Enlist third-party assistance.
Business leaders who are serious about improving their performances may want to consider bringing in a third-party consultant who can hold discussions with employees at an off-site location. This layer of anonymity helps employees feel like they can speak honestly and ensure that the leader receives useful, actionable criticisms.
Importantly, doing this a single time can help eliminate the need to do it again in the future. By acting on the issues presented in these meetings, leaders show that they are willing and able to change. As a result, employees may become more willing to address issues directly.
Alternately, leaders can institute a way for employees to provide anonymous feedback, such as through an online portal.
5. Practice active listening.
Too often, leaders are so busy formulating a reply to a comment that they stop paying attention to what a speaker has to say. Employees who notice this may stop offer feedback altogether. Even worse is the leader who asks for feedback and then becomes distracted by the computer or phone.
Leaders gain trust by simply listening to what employees say in an active, engaged manner. Because of the challenges of the job, business leaders are trained to think about responses and anecdotes as others talk. This means active listening is often a skill that they need to practice.
Active listening signals to employees that their leaders are truly interested in the feedback. It also helps leaders understand that feedback more fully.
6. Read nonverbal cues.
Nonverbal communication is key to understanding how people really feel. Often, employees will withhold feedback, but both their faces and their bodies indicate that they have something to say. In this case, a gentle invitation or an assurance that feedback is wanted can nudge them to speak.
However, leaders should also recognize that nonverbal communication is its own feedback. Leaders should pay attention to how body language changes when they communicate and adjust their styles accordingly.
While some employees enjoy a straightforward conversation, other people may be put off by it. Reading body language will help leaders adjust their approach to ensure that they make each employee comfortable enough to be honest.