Honest and meaningful conversation is an indispensable prerequisite of growth and progress. Intelligent leaders create an environment of trust and safety to promote fluid feedback. They understand the need for balance between positive and negative feedback and focus on baking meaningful feedback exchange into the culture and fabric of their organization.

Intelligent leaders understand the value of open, honest conversation and the dangers of “echo chambers.”

To observe and champion a culture of continuous improvement, leaders have to set positive examples for their followers. They have to commit to continuous improvement on a personal level as much as they want their organization to adhere to its tenets on a higher level. To continue improving, they need meaningful, honest feedback from their reports as much as the latter need the same from them.

Honest conversation and two-way feedback are the keys to improvement and success. 

Engaging in conversation and providing meaningful feedback on special occasions like workshops and town hall events can never achieve a sufficient impact. To gain access to the feedback they need to improve and provide the feedback employees need to feel valued, leaders have to create an organizational culture of fluid, healthy, back-and-forth conversation.

How do you implement and foster such an organizational culture? 

Setting the Stage for Honest Feedback

For many of us, receiving and providing honest interpersonal feedback entails some degree of intimacy. That explains why we may be reluctant to engage in such an exercise under normal circumstances. As a leadership coaching professional, I’m fully aware that an honest and consistent back-and-forth conversation can only exist in an environment of trust and safety.

How do you create such an environment, and how do you maintain it as the new normal?

  • Work to establish trust. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. But it also fosters trust and comfort. Get to know your employees. Share stories with them and listen actively when they open up and share their experiences with you.
  • Remove pressure from the conversation. Let your employees know that they can say “no” to receiving feedback when uncomfortable with it. Leaving this option open for them allows them to relax and conversely open up to meaningful feedback.
  • Bring emotion into the conversation. Feedback is an emotional issue for the provider and the receiver. A community that can openly talk about emotions finds it easier to communicate difficult feedback.

Executive coaching professionals always insist on the importance of developing meaningful relationships with your peers and reports. By creating such relationships, you set the perfect stage for honest feedback.

Striking a Balance 

Creating an atmosphere of trust and comfort doesn’t mean offering only support and positive feedback. Nor should one fall into the other extreme of seeing feedback exclusively as constructive criticism.

Intra-organizational communication tends to shy away from meaningful positive feedback. People may perceive such feedback as insincere or a sign of weakness. How can you make sure that your positive feedback comes across as sincere and actionable?

  • Don’t use positive feedback to preface and cushion criticism. Deliver it and leave it at that.
  • Executive coaching experts like to focus their praise on effort instead of ability. Adopt this approach. The reasoning behind it is that praising effort encourages risk-taking and constructive failure. Praising ability, on the other hand, encourages risk-aversion.

Turning Fluid Feedback-exchange into a Culture

From the perspective of leadership coaching, it doesn’t make sense to limit feedback exchange to special, rare occasions. As the leader of a forward-looking organization, you should strive to give your employees the chance to provide feedback whenever they want.

Such an always-available feedback system sends employees a strong message that the organization values their opinions. It treats employee input as a resource rather than a nuisance.

It’s good to know that you matter. 

Also, consider giving your employees the possibility to provide anonymous feedback.

Being Transparent and Asking for Feedback

Business coaching sees the often glaring disparity between the proclaimed values of an organization and its day-to-day practices as a significant hurdle for progress.

Employees sense such gaps as well, and it undermines their belief in the company’s purpose.

Don’t preach improved feedback sharing to your reports while failing to lead the way. Make it clear to them through your actions that you make efforts to improve your feedback sharing.

Don’t wait for feedback to come to you. Be proactive about it and ask for it. Follow through on feedback. Show your employees that their input is valuable enough to prompt action.

Creating an environment of honest feedback in your organization encourages employee engagement, stimulates productivity, and improves talent retention.

If you’re interested in the subtleties of business coaching and leadership development, check out my books.


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