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To Get Good Feedback, Tap into Personal Connections

February 28, 2020

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Ariela Rosenstein

Executive Coach
Leadership Development

Leadership is a life-long learning journey, and feedback is an important part of the development process.  In addition to the traditional workplace avenues, where else can leaders seek out feedback that helps unlock self-awareness and full leadership potential? 

Receiving constructive feedback can be uncomfortable.  Yet as leaders, it is critical that we understand how others experience us.  Beyond our strengths and areas for improvement, we also come with existing mindsets and behaviors that can sometimes hinder our leadership effectiveness. 

In her esteemed research on modern psychology, Carol Dweck outlined two mindsets that characterize our outlooks and actions. A ‘fixed mindset’ signifies that we deem our talents and capabilities as inherent and unchanging.  In other words, if we hold a fixed mindset, we are less likely to take risks and to seek out ways to improve.  A ‘growth mindset’, on the other hand, is anchored in the belief that we can develop new talents and enhance our capabilities.  Leaders that embrace a growth mindset, not surprisingly, make it a priority to seek out and learn from feedback.      

Many of us can share stories of receiving feedback, and the distinction between effective and ineffective feedback is clear.  Feedback should be specific, based on facts, delivered with intentions to support learning and growth, and be part of a two-way conversation.  The SBI model (Situation, Behavior, Impact) – developed by the Center for Creative Leadership – is appreciated globally as a simple tool for framing both positive and constructive feedback conversations.    

In addition to our workplace colleagues, who else can we rely on to get gainful and trustworthy feedback?

Our family members, friends, and former colleagues know us well.  They have experienced us in different contexts, under different circumstances, and in times of both success and failure.  They have a strong sense of our beliefs and values, as well as the behaviors we demonstrate that enable or hinder our best selves. 

The most common argument against seeking out feedback from personal relationships is the belief that we demonstrate very different behaviors in our professional lives than in our personal lives.  For this reason, we initially deem their perspectives irrelevant to our leadership growth.  While there may be some truth around the differences in our personal and professional behaviors, we can often uncover some important relevance upon closer examination.   If feedback is a gift, as the famous saying goes, why not receive this gift from the people that we love and trust the most. 

The act of tapping into personal connections outside of the workplace to get quality feedback may initially spark sensitivities and feelings of vulnerability that no one is initially comfortable with.  Below are some steps – that I have used myself – for creating a comfortable and meaningful feedback conversation with a trusted family member, friend, or former colleague. 

Define Your Goals

Before reaching out for feedback, determine what you are trying to learn about yourself and your leadership.  Are you interested in knowing how others experience you when you are at your best or your worst?  Are you interested in learning about people’s perceptions of your values and priorities, and whether they match your own?  Perhaps you would like to explore your blind spots, such your attitudes or behaviors that might be impacting your leadership effectiveness.   

Identify the Right People

Based on your goals, determine the ideal candidates.  Select people that will be honest and helpful in their delivery of the feedback.  Challenge yourself to think about people who have different perspectives than you.  Determine the additional consideration factors, based on your specific needs.   

Make a Formal Request

Write a formal request and consider framing your email or text as a favor.  Summarize your goals and express the rationale for reaching out to that person, including how much you value their perspectives.  Share 2-3 specific questions to structure the feedback.  Schedule a time and date for the meeting.   

Create a Casual Environment

Identify a place that is separate from the usual.  Consider a coffeehouse, library, or bar.  If you are engaging a family member, think of a place outside the home. For remote discussions, see if videoconferencing is an option.   A new environment helps to create a sense of both formality and casualness.  Formality is important because you want to appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that was put into the feedback.  A casual setting is important because the conversation should be light and laid-back, not tense or intense.      

Prepare Your Mindset

In the days prior to the meeting, reflect on the characteristics of a growth mindset, such as curiosity, open-mindedness, and the notion that one can find lessons in all situations and feedback.  Consider anticipating difficult feedback, and practice tactics for active listening, such as deep breathing, writing down notes, and creating space for multiple perspectives to co-exist.

Share Your Approach

Towards the beginning of the discussion, share your approach for receiving the feedback. Let the person know that you will be taking notes, asking additional clarifying questions, or hoping for a follow-up discussion once you’ve processed the information. 

Say ‘Thank You’

Demonstrating appreciation for both the feedback as well as the efforts in preparing the feedback is important.  Consider using a sincere ‘thank you’ as a tactic for active listening as well, particularly when you may not agree with the perspective that is being shared.

Process Later

Most people need time to process feedback.  In the moment, we can sometimes be triggered by feedback and feel the need to defend our decisions and actions.  Allow time and space to process and uncover the aspects of the feedback that are helpful.   Often, we need to challenge our very personal and long-held beliefs about ourselves in order to allow space for a different perspective. 

Our personal connections – outside of the traditional workplace setting – are often untapped sources for feedback that can help our leadership development and growth.  I have truly appreciated the feedback that I have sought out and received with regards to my leadership, and I am always impressed by the enthusiasm that friends and family bring to the feedback preparation and delivery processes.  A wonderful bonus is that, through these feedback conversations, we can sometimes forge even stronger bonds with the ones we love. 

I look forward to hearing your perspectives (and feedback)!

Ariela Rosenstein, Executive Coach | Leadership Development, Connect with her on LinkedIn

Ariela Rosenstein has over 20 years of experience in designing and leading leadership development and capacity building programs.  She has lived and worked in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and has a passion for designing and guiding experiences that equip leaders to develop clarity, navigate complexity, and remove barriers to success.  In her role as Vice President of Training of an international conservation organization, she oversaw the global product line of leadership development and behavior change interventions.  Currently, she advises on leadership development for a global humanitarian agency, where she designs, delivers, and scales online and in-person learning programs.  Ariela is an Executive Coach, certified through Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership, and is also a certified instructor of mindfulness and meditation.  Her MA is in Sustainable International Development.  She serves on the board of Impact by Design and is a Child Advocate with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.  She regularly shares her work at the Humentum annual conference.