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Getting Candid Feedback: 3 Question Prompts for Leaders

“Can I give you some feedback?” As your throat tightens, take a big gulp and you utter “sure”, you brace yourself for the worst. Typically, feedback is something that people get when they are not ‘getting it,’ when they are not seeing that their behavior is negatively impacting others or the circumstances. This kind of feedback can sting when it’s unexpected, and you may discount it when you are not ready to hear it. But a way to make it more palatable is to see feedback as a gift of insight.

Another challenge is that as you progress in your career to leadership roles, you may get less direct feedback while you increase the feedback you give to others. But you still need feedback to continue to grow and perform at your personal best. While you may rely on other data to gauge your performance like employee turnover rates, engagement scores, etc., there is nothing more impactful than hearing directly from an employee or colleague. Here are some simple steps you can take to increase your chances of getting and taking advantage of helpful feedback.

Take control of feedback

As a leader, take control of getting the information you need. Feedback is an important way to validate self-awareness, which is a critical step in improving one’s effectiveness. A 2018 Harvard Business Review article by Tasha Eurich, “What Self Awareness Really is and How to Cultivate it,” explains that the true benefits of self-awareness occur when leaders understand themselves through introspection and also seek feedback from others.

So, if you want to accelerate your growth as a leader, don’t wait for someone to say to you, “can I give you some feedback?” Seek out people you trust who will give you candid feedback. To get a 360 perspective, be sure to choose people at different relationship levels, i.e. colleagues, bosses, and direct reports. These should be people who have had enough experience with you to provide meaningful feedback on specific behaviors.

Make the feedback process simple and positive

Tell people why you are asking for feedback and that you value their input. Give them time to reflect on 2 or 3 questions before you meet with them. The questions should be open ended but somewhat focused. Avoid broad questions like, “what you do think of my leadership style?” Most important is to listen. Avoid commenting other than to ask legitimate clarifying questions, such as, “Can you give me an example?” Or “What did I do to make you feel that way?” Your main goal is to keep the information flowing and not shut down the speaker, who may be uncomfortable giving feedback, especially if you are their boss! Be sure to thank the individual for the feedback at the end.

Start with 3 simple question prompts

Here are 3 simple question prompts (and possible behavioral focus areas) to get the feedback process started:

The above question prompts are meant to illicit more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Pick 3 to 5 questions to ask, and then go with the flow to deepen your understanding of their perspective. Focus on behavioral areas that you are most curious about yourself. Your gut will often tell you what you need to hear most about!

Do something with the feedback

The focus of this blog post has been on asking for feedback, but the real value of feedback is actually doing something with it! The people who provide you with the feedback will want to know that what they shared with you mattered and made a difference.

Once you’ve had your feedback sessions, take some time to reflect on what you heard to make sense of the information. Look for themes, things you clearly recognize, and things you need more clarification about. This may lead to asking more questions before you set 2 or 3 goals for yourself. Try some new behaviors and then circle back to your trusted feedback crew to help you stay accountable. As the process evolves, make feedback conversations part of your norm rather than the exception. You’ll find feedback as the gift that keeps on giving!

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