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How to build trust through feedback

Feedback between leaders and employees is essential in understanding the effectiveness of their interactions and their impact on others. Furthermore, feedback helps leaders to clarify objectives and reiterate the overall direction of the team.  

Recently, our team held a meeting to discuss several initiatives, as well as some differing opinions surrounding those initiatives. Given that our team has undergone some changes, it wasn’t abundantly clear how we would make certain decisions. Based on feedback from leadership, we set guidelines that we would use to make these decisions going forward; to use this protocol to alleviate any confusion or frustration when we offer strong opinions in the future.

Feedback can also be an important tool when gauging employee progress towards achieving goals. Employees rely on such insight to assure them that they are on the right track; if not, why not.  

Healthy organizations employ a forum that allows and encourages employees to share their concerns and suggestions for improving the culture. Organizations that were strong enough to ask for such feedback and humble enough to admit when and where they could improve have created cultures that allow communication to flow freely.

Building trust

Leaders can utilize even the smallest opportunities to say or share something positive. Those modest interactions show you care, build rapport, help to establish trust, and show genuine concern which doesn’t go unnoticed. While feedback sessions needn’t be hours-long discussions, it’s the deliberate, intentional, and consistent nature of them that provides value.

Quantity of feedback may originally outweigh quality at first. As you earn trust and feedback is viewed as a priority, quality should improve. The goal is to reach a point where you can hold the toughest conversations with relative ease, or the most critical feedback can be accepted with a gracious heart because the recipient knows it comes from a place of support.  

Throw out the compliment sandwich!

The compliment sandwich was at one time (and may still be amongst certain leaders) a suggested method of feedback where managers offered praise, followed by some form of criticism, and ending with another dose of appreciation.

While the intent was to soften the blow of the criticism given its placement between two compliments, the praise is typically overlooked by the recipient, leaving them to focus on the critical part of the feedback. Additionally, as the criticism is the real reason for the input, the compliments tend to be generic or ambiguous.  

When you establish a rapport and feedback is a consistent part of a leader’s repertoire, it allows criticism to be offered and received with a higher degree of success.

Striking the balance

Neither party should be nervous about the negative feedback. We all make mistakes. The culture you want to create is both challenging and supportive. A conscious leader will stretch employees, but also give them the support they need to reach their potential.

Leaders who challenge employees without also providing the necessary support create a stressful culture. 

Conversely, leaders who are overly supportive, but fail to hold employees accountable are just setting them up to fail because they may simply not want to hurt the employee’s feelings. Both extremes pose difficult workplace cultures.

To provide that push to allow employees to succeed while keeping them engaged and knowing you have their best interest at heart, you must strike a balance.

Jim Rowell is the CEO and co-founder of Rising Sun Consultants, LLC, and assists clients in building the health and well-being of their organizational cultures. Co-author of The 10 Keys of Effective Supervision. He can be reached at Jim@risingsunconsultants.com.

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