A healthy relationship with feedback exists when you can unemotionally assess the results of your business and then rationally determine what inputs or actions you need to change.
Denial is a very frequent manifestation of an unhealthy relationship. It’s important to honestly evaluate and improve your relationship with feedback before you implement them. Otherwise, you can spend time and money and still not eliminate the cause of your frustration or transform your company.
1. Time to Take Stock
The key to unlocking the starting gate is getting a triangulated assessment of your relationship. Is it healthy or unhealthy, and to what degree? If you have an unhealthy feedback relationship, you will need to do some work before you can benefit from implementing any business alignment tools.
With a verified healthy relationship, however, you have an important key to exit the circle of frustration. You can use a number of tools to assess your relationship with feedback. These include monitoring your internal dialogue, searching for emotional no-fly zones, looking for missed feedback, and asking others for their perspectives.
2. Monitor Your Internal Dialogue
Start listening to your internal dialogue. How do you respond when you learn things didn’t go according to plan? Do you react emotionally, with declarative statements, or do you look for the root cause of the problem, using objective, truth-seeking questions?
Write down your internal dialogue, exactly the way it plays in your head. After a week or two, revisit it objectively, as though you were reading a published diary from a historical figure. Do you find emotional statements or truth-seeking questions—especially when you receive unexpected feedback? Does it honestly match the internal dialogue you remember before you started monitoring it?
While you listen for your internal responses, you can search for emotional no-fly zones.
3. Search for Emotional No-Fly Zones
Listen to your internal dialogue during meetings. If it were recorded, what would the transcript look like? Do you fend people off from opening certain issues for discussion? Are people afraid to engage, ask questions, and probe assumptions?
Don’t worry if you start to do this and you’re a little shocked. It’s a good sign if it is easy to determine that you have a poor relationship with feedback, because that is the condition keeping you stuck in the circle of frustration in the first place.
By identifying it, you are already improving your relationship with feedback. Seeing the situation accurately is more than half the problem.
4. Look for Missed Feedback—the Silent Killer
If you aren’t finding any feedback to use to judge your reactions, you should be concerned. Feedback always exists, but sometimes it is unspoken.
Missed feedback is the silent killer. Pay attention the next time you propose an idea. Does your team withhold feedback? It’s not uncommon for subordinates to avoid giving feedback to someone who has a poor relationship with feedback. It’s a survival mechanism.
When customers are boiling angry, many will provide feedback. But have you ever been a disappointed customer and just thought it was easier to find another provider, rather than tell the company what you thought? Or when you were an employee, was it easier to just leave a company rather than say what the boss didn’t want to hear?
Once your team becomes more comfortable giving you feedback, you can then take the most difficult step: asking them to describe your relationship with feedback.
5. Ask Others for Their Perspectives
This is the true test. You have listened internally to assess your relationship with feedback, and you’ve observed your team’s reactions. In a way that encourages candour, you can now ask the people around you how they view your feedback relationship.
First, think about what you expect to hear. When you ask others to describe your relationship with feedback, how do you think they are going to describe it? Could you handle an unexpected description?
Answer the following questions honestly. No excuses or rationalising it. If people felt they could respond openly, without “hurting your feelings” or burning a bridge with you, how would they answer these questions about you?
- How do you respond when things don’t go according to plan: with emotional statements or with questions seeking to find the cause?
- How do you respond when someone tells you something that conflicts with your perspective on an issue?
- Do you have sacred cows or emotional no-fly zones?
- Do people feel comfortable bringing up any legitimate business issue with you?
Now think about whom you will ask. Who can answer and is in the position to state his or her opinion without fear of upsetting you? This may include members of your leadership team, trusted advisers, your former employees, or even your spouse.
It can also be helpful to have an independent third party perform this assessment. This allows participants to respond more honestly, because feedback can be delivered in aggregate. Again, these answers may be hard to hear.
But the bigger the variance between your perception and how others perceive your relationship with feedback, the bigger the anchor keeping you stuck before you even cross the starting line. And the good news is that once you’ve done it, now you know. You have started to confront reality by giving yourself an unobstructed view of it.
6. Assess Your Team
An organisation is generally a reflection of its leader’s habits and decisions. That said, once you improve your ability to confront reality, you need to make sure the people around you can as well. Look at your team and identify which people have unhealthy relationships with feedback. Who defends the status quo? Who addresses problems by asking rational questions about the root cause of a problem, rather than reacting with emotion? Which team members seem the most open to learning and growing their skills and capabilities?
It’s important to identify both the people who confront reality and the people who avoid it. Those who confront it will support you on the journey ahead, when change gets difficult. Those who avoid it will likely want to stop the process and turn back. You will need to talk to this latter group before you begin to transform your company. Let them know that you are committed to making this change.
You will very likely lose some people during this process. However, keep in mind that you are going to lose either the A players who want to work on an aligned team or the people who are okay with the current environment. Whom you keep is up to you.
7. Pull It Together
Because you are the leader, your personal starting position will inevitably be very close to your organisation’s overall starting position. Once you have verified your starting position and that of your team, you can now start to prepare for the alignment journey ahead.
Based on the assessment process already described, you may have discovered that you have a poor relationship with feedback. Let that sink in. Can you handle that? Or do you want to deny it and put the book down? Things will not get better until you change this relationship.
8. Cross the Line
Take a good, hard look at yourself and your relationship with feedback. Be honest, and spend some time and consideration figuring out exactly where you are stuck, the position of your team, and, ideally, the current state of the company. Once you’ve identified your position on the starting line, congratulations: you’ve found the personalised starting line to transform your company.
Author: Alex Vorobieff
Alex is the author of “Transform Your Company” and the founder and CEO of The Alex Vorobieff Company, a premier business-transformation company specialising in helping large companies get their team members on the same page to achieve desired outcomes.