Business owners and managers need to get information from their teams. If they don’t they risk living in an “executive bubble”. That said, managers are often mistaken about how easy it is for other more junior staff to speak honestly to them. If you want your team to give clear and direct feedback, start by asking yourself a few questions.
How interested are you in other people’s opinions? (Be honest!)
Whose opinions are you most interested in hearing? Whose do you tend to be impatient with or dismiss? What data do you listen to most, and what are you largely deaf to?
Maintaining genuine curiosity about other peoples’ perspectives is necessary if you’re going to get the feedback you’re requesting. It also requires a degree of humility (not always easy for senior managers),so be patient and open-minded.
Does it feel risky for others to give feedback to you?
How do you respond when challenged? If you tend to interrupt. Argue (before you’ve even heard what’s being suggested) and/ or disagree in a bad tempered way a more junior member of your team may not have the courage to give you honest feedback.
How aware are you of workplace politics?
Politics is an inherent part working life, especially if you occupy a senior role. Enabling others to speak up means understanding why a person might be saying what they are saying. Are you able to “listen between the lines” to decide how to progress?
How do people describe you? How do you describe others?
When we meet with others, we tend to pigeonhole them. For example, we badge others as “CEO,” “consultant,” “young,” “woman,” “new,” or “sales,” and these labels mean different things to different people. Labelling of this type tends to create tacit rules around who can speak, who gets heard, who gets taken seriously. It’s unhelpful because it can limit the flow of feedback. Be aware of such descriptions and the impact they might have and try to remove the label.
What do you need to do and say to enable others to speak frankly?
Make it safer and easier for team members to speak up. How you do that is up to you and there are plenty of ways to do so. You could: reduce status difference by dressing more casually or introduce a process, for example, a “red card” at meetings to ensure someone has the ability to challenge you.
Above all be prepared to listen and reflect on what you hear. Ask for supporting evidence if it’s needed, but think about it before responding.
If you want to be a more approachable leader give some thought to the five points considered here. If you value straight talking feedback take steps to acknowledge the differences in levels of authority and encourage others to give feedback to you.
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