Are business leaders giving and receiving feedback in an inclusive manner?

06 February 2020

To be perceived as a good, honest and reliable leader, it is imperative that you are able to deliver and receive feedback. This is one of the most important aspects of leadership, yet it can be a real challenge for those heading up businesses. A recent Gallup poll showed that as many as 69 per cent of senior managers have difficulty communicating, and 37 per cent find it hard to give negative feedback.

Business leaders need to understand what giving and receiving feedback in an effective, yet also inclusive, manner looks like. Importantly, this can be both positive and negative, and transparency is key to ensuring that both types are delivered with authenticity and with the individual in mind. Giving and receiving feedback can often feel uncomfortable and is therefore something that we try to avoid. Being good at this will reduce miscommunication and enable more honest, forthright conversations. Ultimately giving feedback in a manner that makes an employee feel valued – and therefore included – should be at the heart of all business dialogue. So, as a leader, how can you ensure you are adopting this skill?

Providing feedback

Make sure feedback is fair

First and foremost, it may seem obvious, but it is incredibly important to take time to consider your motives when it comes to giving feedback. Ask yourself why you are giving this particular feedback and be sure to consider – and address – any potential biases you might have. For example, are you being fair across your team and giving consistent feedback to everyone? Or are you giving negative feedback because someone has tackled a task in a different way to how you would, rather than not performing? Are you praising everyone equally or some more than others? What is your feedback based on? If it is a report from another colleague be sure to do your due diligence and probe the individual to ensure it is accurate and a fair representation. There is nothing worse than giving unfair feedback – it damages team morale and can erode trust in you as a leader.

Be specific and clear

In order to give feedback that is acknowledged and subsequently acted upon, you must use clear and unambiguous language. Be authentic in the delivery of this and remain honest throughout the conversation. Verbal dialogue will open up the opportunity to further the discussion and allow complete understanding of the feedback being delivered.

If feedback is given through email, or written correspondence, using concise sentences and literal language will ensure that the message is delivered clearly and without confusion. This should also be followed up to confirm that the person receiving the feedback feels comfortable and that their views have been heard, affirming positive behaviours and actions.

The timing and circumstances are appropriate

It is imperative for business leaders to recognise that providing feedback, whether this is positive or negative, is about the individual involved – and it is not about them. In this vein, delivering feedback in a timely and considered fashion is key.

Offering continued support to employees and colleagues who need it is important too. This could include providing ongoing advice, ensuring that targets are being met, and that feedback is perceived as being genuine across the company. When feedback is positive it can be easy to delay the delivery of it – so doing this as soon as possible will help motivate and boost your team.

Ask questions and engage in open dialogue

Remember, feedback should always be a dialogue, never a monologue or directed conversation. Ensuring that your colleague or employee feels heard and has their thoughts recognised will contribute to building and strengthening future working relationships, creating a culture where everyone feels valued.

To ensure that this is a two-way conversation, place considered thought into asking questions and understanding all viewpoints involved. Engaging in open dialogue is more effective as it allows individuals to be held to account for their own progression. Encouraging them to participate in this and share their ideas and thoughts is a positive way to deliver feedback and ensure that they feel included.

Make your focus on the behaviour, not the individual

Giving feedback requires leaders to define employee behaviour that they want to encourage. As already outlined, this should always be delivered objectively, removing personal viewpoints from any professional discussions. Feedback should be given to support a colleague, ensuring that it is goal-orientated, and focuses on attainable future targets.

The truth of the matter is, you will not necessarily agree with the thoughts of your entire team. However, it is important to respect and value each individual. It may be the case that the feedback being delivered is negative, but transparency and honesty will ensure this is delivered in a meaningful fashion and is direct and supportive.

Receiving feedback

Listen to the feedback

Business leaders still need to be open to receiving feedback and suggestions. Importantly, here, you need to be an active listener. This involves probing discussion, understanding the wide range of views and beliefs and acknowledging that it might be your responsibility to instigate any required changes.

Listening also requires you to understand what you have been told and by immersing yourself in the points discussed, you can demonstrate this to your team. Equally, you can ask for further feedback and clarification if you need it.

Be aware of your responses and reflect

Remembering to take the time to consider your thoughts after receiving feedback is key. Awareness is essential to equipping yourself as a conscious, positive, forward-thinking leader and as such, reflecting on the points of discussion and deciding what the appropriate next steps are here should be considered.

You can request time to follow this up, considering if there are any further avenues or questions to be explored. This way, you can process the feedback that you have been given, ensuring that you address it in a professional and open manner.

Follow up on the feedback

It’s important to form a clear pathway for continued improvement. As a senior figure within the business, you need to set an example for others to follow too.

Being mindful is also incredibly important. You need to seek opportunities to follow up and enhance your own activity, working on the critiques you have been given, to show that you are acting on them. Following up on feedback as a business leader can also mean engaging in discussion with your team about the measures you can put in place to support each other and foster an inclusive culture.

Giving and receiving feedback is an important skill in leadership and when done well it will help to foster a positive working environment. If you have any concerns around driving inclusivity in your workplace, Audeliss partners with diversity and inclusion consultancy, INvolve. Together we can provide advice and support to help you promote an inclusive culture across your business.