When I was in middle school, my older brother once told me, “Nate, you will never know what people really think of you.”
I was shocked. In my typical style of never taking “no” for an answer, I challenged him to explain himself.
“You act so sure of yourself and are so persuasive that it’s very hard for anyone to be honest with you,” he answered.
I’ve always cared what people thought. Sometimes too much. Why would I make it so hard for others to give me honest feedback?
This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. I’m better than I used to be, and I still sometimes hear second-hand that someone doesn’t feel comfortable being honest with me. As a leader, I want feedback. I rely on honest, sometimes brutal, feedback to get better as a leader and do the best job I can for my team. What I’ve learned is that telling people that I want feedback and actually getting it are two different things. It takes more than words to get people to take the risk of putting themselves out there.
If you’ve asked for feedback and your people still aren’t shooting straight with you, here are strategies to help things along.
Show you care
This isn’t about anyone’s ideas. This is about being intentional in demonstrating caring. Statements such as “I care about how you are doing” or “I really care about you and what you have to say” go a long way.
Remember that your truth is not THE truth. Your perspective is just one perspective. When you share your opinions as though they are the only right way, it creates an unwelcome environment for disagreement.
Affirm others’ input by following up with open-ended questions like “I’d love to understand better. Will you explain?” Hold back on your urges to explain or defend your position. Getting defensive or trying to prove a point is the surest way to shut others down. Whether you agree or disagree, seeking first to understand is the best way to encourage honest input from your team.
During your next brainstorming session, wait to weigh in until others have had a chance. Always going first sets the bar too high and makes it difficult for others to contribute.
Practice these tips and watch your people open up.
This article was originally published in the Wichita Eagle.
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