Feedback has become a bit of a buzzword in the business world today and for good reason. It’s the best tool we have for building self-awareness — the meta-skill that forms the foundation for high performance, smart choices, strong leadership and a fulfilling career.
People who regularly solicit feedback at work are seen as more effective not just by their bosses but by their peers and employees. One study showed that 83 percent of top performing leaders regularly solicit feedback compared to just 17 percent of the worst performing ones. Moreover, in the absence of feedback about our performance how will we know where we are coming up short and what we can do to improve?
But while most of us know we should be getting more feedback from our colleagues, team members and bosses, the approaches used in most companies often fail to provide the kind of candid, focused and objective information that leads to true learning and growth. We need to get the right feedback and realize that not all feedback is created equal.
We have to choose the right people to give feedback, ask them the right questions and use the right process to get the kind of valuable information that leads to actionable insight.
The Right People
Look for what I call “loving critics.” Loving critics are people who will be honest with you while still having your best interests at heart. They are people who you trust and have a genuine desire to see you succeed. And they’re willing to help you do it.
Loving critics also should have sufficient exposure to the behavior you want feedback on. If you want honest feedback on your public speaking skills, you shouldn’t choose someone who has never seen you give a speech.
The right people also are willing to be brutally honest. Does this person generally speak his or her mind? The best yardstick is whether they’ve ever told you a tough truth.
The Right Questions
While the questions themselves will depend on you and your specific situation, here are a few tips:
Be specific. If I said to a client, “I’d love any observations about how I’m doing,” that client won’t know what’s on the table. Am I asking about my coaching style? Or whether the jokes in my talks are funny? The more specific you are, the more successful the process will be.
Form a working hypothesis. For example, “I think I have a tendency to come across as timid at work. Is that your experience?” A hypothesis will give you a framework for the conversation and help you either confirm or deny your suspicion.
Be realistic. You can’t and shouldn’t expect to transform yourself overnight. Instead focus on one area of improvement at a time.
The Right Process
Armed with a list of the right people and the right questions, the process is relatively easy.
Approach three loving critics but don’t ask for feedback immediately. Ask if they will give it at some future point in time. Offer context on what you want to learn and why.
Agree on the gestation period. Give them a window of time to observe you and record some observations. A month is usually sufficient. Then harvest the data. I suggest one 30-minute phone call or meeting every month with each loving critic for the next three months.
After you’ve identified the right people and given them time to observe you, follow up with them. Check in again after six months. Have they noticed changes in you based on the feedback you discussed?
One caveat to this whole process: The most useful feedback isn’t always the easiest to hear. You may be surprised, defensive and even angry but the insight you gain will be well worth it. When it comes to learning about yourself truth is power.
Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, researcher and author of “Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life.” She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.