Making It Safe to Tell the Truth (Practice #13 in Todd Davis’s bestselling book on effective relationships, Get Better) is an important theme when setting the groundwork for receiving feedback. You must create the conditions for others to feel comfortable offering truly courageous feedback to you. It’s more your responsibility than it is theirs. Don’t be naive about people’s ability to tell you their truth about you…to you. After all, how often do you tell other people, to their face, what you really think about them?
Here’s a way to get unvarnished, truthful feedback about yourself. In fact, I did it just a month ago. I sent an email to about 50 friends and colleagues. I asked for feedback on what they liked about me—and more valuably, what they didn’t. I’ve inserted below a few of the critical points I received:
“Combine this with your complete efficiency and an abruptness that goes with that and you sometimes come across as cold and uncaring.”
“You have complex projects and you seem to cut through it and make it happen…You machete through the forest like a mad man.”
“Sometimes makes judgments or assumptions about people that are wrong. So passionate that sometimes it comes across as patronizing—and you have to push hard on him.”
“You treat people at your pace (which I certainly can’t keep up with) and plow over their needs to meet your own.”
Do you think these people would have said this directly to me? Likely not. I’ve known these three friends for more than twenty years, and they’ve never even come close to giving me this level of feedback. It’s my experience that people are more courageous in email than in person (for good and bad), including those closest to us.
Here’s how to use this for your benefit:
- Identify someone (not 50 people) that you really trust. Someone influential, mature, trustworthy and competent, who knows you well, but isn’t an unabashed supporter of yours.
- Send them an email like this:
“I have a favor to ask. I’m trying to work on building my effectiveness as a leader/teacher/communicator/friend/etc. and truly want someone I trust to help me identify where I’m succeeding and, perhaps more importantly, where you see me struggling. Over the next few days, would you be willing to think carefully about my strengths and weaknesses and send me an email about them? The more specific (and courageous) the better. I’d like to digest them and then perhaps meet with you to debrief them.”
You can certainly craft your own version of this (much better I’m sure), but the theme is letting someone ponder and offer you feedback in print, at their own pace and not under the pressure of you sitting across the desk or a fly-by in the cafeteria. After they send their feedback, you can then consider it at your own pace. When your emotions are calmer, reconnect with them to ask for specifics, examples, etc.
Most importantly, after that process is completed, you must employ the advice. The surest way to cut off the feedback loop is if someone goes out on a limb to tell you their truth, then sees you ignore it. You also can’t punish them for giving you the feedback. You asked for it, you got it. If you ever want to benefit from their feedback again, you must continue to make it safe for them to tell the truth.
Conversely, you’ll create even more supporters when they share the story of your proactive outreach and how they saw you implement it.
Learn more about making it safe to tell the truth and other proven practices to build more effective relationships at work by registering to attend a complimentary Get Better webcast.
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