Getting feedback: What to do when… everyone is telling you what you want to hear

One of the dangers of being “the boss” is that people suck-up to you. Even if you don’t have Eddie Haskell level suck-ups, your team is likely accommodating you in lots of ways. They know what upsets you (and they avoid it) and they know what you like (and they amplify it). It’s natural, it’s what humans do.

No matter how hard you try to be “one of the team” — by being transparent and vulnerable with them — there will always be some level of “protect the boss” going on. And, if you react easily and/or explosively to bad news, or annoying behavior, it will only be worse. When we are reactive, we give our employees an even greater reason to tip toe around us, or to apply a delicate spin to every piece of information they send our way.

Suck-ups are insidious. Not when they are super obvious about it — that never works. But most people play to us just a little bit. They don’t lie; they color the truth. They massage the data. They speak loud and clear the part of the truth that makes us happy, and murmur the part that we don’t want to hear. And somehow, their efforts work! We, all of us, like it when people agree with us, validate us, and indirectly tell us how smart we are. Since we feel good around them, we spend more time with them, we find ourselves giving them positive feedback… and there it goes. A giant convection current: they suck up, we love it, we give them attention and they suck up more…

This poses several problems, but I’m going to focus on one in particular. If my team is amplifying the good things and minimizing the bad things, I end up with a distorted reality. I don’t really know the truth about myself, or my company! When we don’t get good feedback we can be overconfident, or worse yet, we may continue actions or initiatives that aren’t working at all!

So how do we get the honest feedback from employees that we need?

1. Ask, seek it out.

Because we know that it’s natural that our people will protect us, we need to be proactive. We need to seek out unvarnished feedback. Who on your team has no filter? Who is known for their candor? Ask them. And, don’t underestimate the power of looking outside of your organization for feedback. A CEO peer group is great for this. Face it. Honest feedback is not going to come to you on a silver platter, you have to go get it.

2. Listen to what is said

When people take the risk to give you direct feedback you need to listen. This seems obvious, but the truth is most of us don’t listen well, especially to criticism. When people stop treating us with kid gloves it’s easy to get defensive. We can tell them, or ourselves “That was because…” What? Your vendor screwed up? You didn’t fire someone you should have? Someone was sick? Bad weather? Enough.

Just take in what is being offered to you; resist the temptation to justify, shift blame, or somehow protect your ego. Some of the feedback you will get might even be based on bad information, or poor reasoning. It doesn’t matter. Listen. Whether perception or reality, listen to that feedback. Listen to it all.

3. Make a big deal when you get good feedback, say thanks!

When people do give you direct feedback it’s a gift. There is only one thing you need to say in response: “Thank You.” Again, people are taking a big risk giving you straight feedback — if you blow up at them, or argue with them, they won’t give it to you again. If you truly value what they are sharing with you, you need to make it safe for them share it. It’s really important that you have a positive reaction (to whatever they say) and protect them as a source. If some of their feedback is critical of another team member or idea, you need to make sure that person doesn’t find your source and shut them up. You need them. Protect them!

It’s not easy to break through the suck-ups and get direct, honest feedback. You are going to have to go out of your way to find, and protect, good sources. But it’s worth it. Getting feedback from employees that is honest and clear is gold.

Where do you find good honest feedback from employees about your performance?





Photo credit: gagilas (Flickr)

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