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How to Encourage Honest Feedback from Your Team

By Paulina Carbonaro

As a manager of people, the last thing you want is to be caught unaware about an issue within your team. But the reality is that many of us are and when we learn about it, the problem has ballooned into something greater.

It often comes as a surprise because we think that telling our team we have an open-door policy, that we value transparency, or that we can be trusted, is enough. We hope that our employees will feel comfortable coming to us with whatever frustration they might be experiencing but we don’t always consider that, as in any human interaction, truth is delicate and difficult to convey.

Most employees struggle with giving honest feedback to their managers. In fact, what they tell managers most often is positive and calculated because they don’t want to compromise their career or be the person to point out operational flaws. But honest feedback, from the bottom up, is important to an organization’s growth and success.

Why is honest feedback from employees important?

Employees see and experience a company differently from leaders. They can provide managers with valuable insights into how a department could be altered to function better and contribute more meaningfully to the bottom line. It helps to proliferate innovation, creativity, and progress. Teams that embrace feedback and open discussions also experience less workplace conflict and manager misalignment.

Simply, managers, we need constructive, truthful feedback from our team to become better leaders, to learn and grow in our roles. Employees need it as well to feel validated and heard, rather than silently frustrated.

Strategies for managers

Building an effective open-door culture within your team requires trust and it takes time, but it’s worth it. When you truly understand what your employees are thinking, what the roadblocks are to optimal performance, it allows you, as the manager, to make better decisions.

Here are a few proven strategies to help you:

Provide a safe space

Designating a time and place for feedback, such as private 1-on-1s or scheduled group meetings, is highly effective but be sure to also enable opportunities for spontaneous sharing of opinions. One of the things our team at Pulsify learned over the years is that the best feedback is given in a moment when context is high, during the experience in question.

Communicate to your team that their honest feedback is welcomed and wanted. Give them permission to speak out and ask for permission to inquire. Encourage inclusive discussions of different kinds, empower your team to ask questions, and above all, be respectful and require respect from all team members.

Practice active listening

Active listening is essential in people management but it could be difficult to master. It involves paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, avoiding interruptions, and being able to recount what you have heard.

There are countless distractions in our day, which prevent us from really listening to what our employees are saying. When Pulsify’s former CEO dropped his phone in the pond, he learned a valuable lesson: we are better listeners and thinkers by disconnecting from technology and being present in the moment. He decided to mandate the silencing of mobile devices during meetings and the result was increased productivity and engagement.

No one likes to be eagerly expressing their ideas or opinions on something only to have their manager glance away for a moment to look at an incoming email.

Introduce anonymous surveys

Sometimes to get the most truthful temperature gauge of your team is to receive the feedback anonymously. Not everyone is willing to share their unfiltered thoughts regardless of ample encouragement. But be sure to do your research on best practices. Formulate the survey to extract valuable information to avoid it becoming a platform for unmerited complaints.

Ask the right questions

Be specific when asking for feedback. A catch all question like “do you have any feedback?” will likely result in a minimal answer or information that may not be useful to you as a manager. If for example, during the last project there was a misunderstanding in the direction you had given, you can ask “how can I better provide direction to the team?” When seeking feedback about your performance, you want to ask questions that will result in actionable answers to help you improve or adapt accordingly.

If your goal is to obtain feedback about how an employee is doing or feeling, in his article for the Harvard Business Review, Paul Axtell, award-winning author and corporate trainer, recommends asking more broad questions such as “where are you struggling” or “what are you proud of”.

Don’t make it about your ego

It takes inner strength to remain objective in the face of negative feedback given by our employees, especially that directed at your management practices. You are likely trying to do your best and have good intentions. However, no matter how experienced a leader you are, when human relationships are concerned, perfection is, well, unattainable.

When you approach your job with a growth mindset and recognize that you can benefit from both negative and positive feedback, your team will be better for it. Know that you can be open to change without forfeiting your authority.

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