Upward feedback can be some of the most impactful for leaders. Consider that if you can improve the way you work with your direct reports, your entire team can achieve more collectively. 

But eliciting honest feedback from people who report to you is easier said than done -- even if you have a strong relationship. 

There's no one thing you can do to make your direct reports instantly comfortable giving you critical feedback. However, you can create a more conducive environment over time simply by avoiding the following five common mistakes managers make when seeking upward feedback.

1. Only asking for feedback once. 

It can be tempting to treat seeking upward feedback as a box to be checked -- ask once, and then you can cross it off your to do list. But by making it a repeated and regular ask, you set the tone that you genuinely want feedback, and an employee who might be hesitant to share after just one ask is often more apt to weigh in after the third or fourth request. 

2. Asking the expected question. 

Just like "How are you?" is often met with an automatic "Good" -- even if the person being asked is anything but -- the question "Do you have any feedback for me?" often gets a knee jerk "Nope."

Wording matters, and the less expected you can make the question the more likely it is you'll get a real answer. 

3. Posing a vague ask.

Going off the above, another reason "Do you have any feedback for me?" is less than desirable phrasing is due to its vagueness.

To increase the chances of getting helpful feedback, try making your ask about one specific thing instead of your performance in general. For example, "How was my rate of speech during that presentation?" or "What did you think about the intro of that meeting?" 

4. Always using the same channel.

The best leaders tailor their communication styles to how their direct reports prefer to communicate -- and the same goes when soliciting feedback. Some people might not be comfortable giving you feedback verbally in a meeting, but they'd be willing to write up their thoughts via email or in an anonymous survey. 

Make sure to ask for feedback in a variety of channels to increase the chances of hearing from everyone on your team, regardless of communication style. 

5. Reacting instead of listening. 

Giving feedback to your manager is nerve-wracking. With that in mind, the biggest mistake of all is reacting instead of listening -- because it discourages the employee from giving feedback in the future. If you have a charged reaction, why would they be honest with you in the future? Even if the feedback lacks context, it's still their perception -- and perception is reality.

Instead of getting defensive or rushing to "explain" away the employee's criticism, demonstrate active listening: ask follow up questions, confirm your understanding, and thank them for their feedback. If you can consciously model the way you would like them to receive feedback from you through your own behavior, your relationship will be stronger for it. 

Published on: Dec 10, 2019
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