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October 2011 - Fighting for Feedback: How to Get It

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Dr. John Kline

Last month I told how to give feedback.  Perhaps a bigger concern of leaders is how to solicit honest feedback. Subordinates are reluctant to provide feedback to supervisors, especially if it involves bad news. They fear that, much like ancient messengers delivering bad news, they will be punished.  


Nearly 200 years ago Hans Christian Anderson wrote a tale about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that will be invisible to stupid, incompetent, or unfit people.  The emperor doesn’t want to admit he can’t see the clothes, and neither do any of his subjects.  When the emperor parades naked in front of the people a child cries out. “But he isn’t wearing anything at all.”


What can you do to help accurate feedback reach you?


Tell subordinates you want feedback. Encourage them to give you both good and bad news. Welcome bad news or disagreement on issues. Then make certain you positively reinforce rather than “punish” them for such information.  A simple email or a “thank you” in person the next day lets them know you welcome feedback.


Identify areas for feedback. Don't encourage indiscriminate feedback consisting of idle talk of personal gripes about others in the organization. Communicate your desire for feedback on issues and areas that can help you and the organization. 


Watch for nonverbal cues. Most persons do not control nonverbal responses as well as verbal ones. The person who says, “I am so happy to meet you” as he draws away from the other person communicates more by actions than by words.


Feedback accurately delivered and accurately interpreted is an important tool for leaders.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

October 2011 - Fighting for Feedback: How to Get It
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