Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Having the right feedback can be the difference between a good decision and a bad one. Here’s how to get the information you need.

You’re in charge. You make decisions – lots of decisions. Deciding is your job.

But just because you have the authority to make every decision on your own, doesn’t mean you always have the best information to make every decision on your own. That’s why you need your team to give you their ideas, input, feedback – and most importantly, to tell you when you’re wrong.

But no matter how smart, how talented, and how experienced they are, your employees won’t provide you with honest and open feedback unless you create the right environment.

So – at least for now – forget techniques like brainstorming meetings or buzzphrases like “360-degree feedback” or “stop/start/continue sessions”. Focus on the attitudes and behaviours you display, because creating an environment that fosters open, honest communication starts with you.

Silhouettes of two men conversing with each other

Say, “I was wrong.”

I once came up with what I thought was an awesome plan to improve overall productivity by moving a crew to a different shift on a production line. The inconvenience to the crew was considerable, but the payoff seemed worth it. On paper, it was perfect.

In practice, it wasn't.

So a few weeks later I met with the crew and admitted my mistake.

I felt terrible. I felt stupid. I felt sure I'd lost any respect they had for me.

I was wrong about that, too. Later one employee said, "I didn't really know you, but the fact you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know."

When you're wrong, say you're wrong. You won't lose respect. You'll gain it. And your employees will be much more willing to disagree with you or share opposing opinions. They will know you realise you don’t have all the answers.

Say, "can you help me?"

When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need (or the person you need it from), ask for it.

You'll get help. In the process you'll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen – all qualities of a great leader.

They’re also the same qualities you want your employees to display.

Say, “can you show me?”

When you ask to be taught or shown something, several things happen: you implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice, you show you trust their experience, skill, and insight, and you get to better assess the value of the advice.

So don't just ask for input. Ask to be taught, trained or shown. Then you both win.

And you show, yet again, that you know you don’t have all the answers, and that you realise other people probably do. 

Say nothing until you’ve had time to think

Facts and figures are important. Explaining the logic and reasoning behind a decision can help create buy-in and commitment. But staff sentiment is the key to getting things done. Embarrass employees in front of others and they will never forget.

Once an employee shared an idea in a meeting and I instinctively fired off a cynical comeback. Everyone laughed.

Everyone but him.

Our working relationship changed forever – even though I apologised on the spot and apologised again later. The damage was already done.

Spend twice the time thinking about how your employees will feel than you do thinking about logic and data. Correcting a data mistake is easy. Overcoming the damage you cause - whether intentional or not - to an employee's self-esteem is nearly impossible.

And overcoming the chilling effect a snide, sarcastic, or withering comment has on the rest of your team is just as impossible.

Always think before you speak. You – and your team – will be glad you did.

Fostering feedback

  1. Admit when you’re wrong
  2. Ask for help
  3. Get staff to show you things
  4. Don’t be flippant with your words
As a business owner you need to give feedback as well as take it from your customers.

Find out how to improve customer service here.

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