1 Feedback Word Every Leader Should Stop Saying

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Shhhhh, I’m on a hunt! It’s just a photo safari - don’t worry - no weapons involved here. Are you curious what I’m looking for? It’s a very elusive creature; it almost never surfaces. Many people have gone their whole lives without seeing it. In some areas, I swear it must be completely extinct. That species I’m referring to is commonly known as FEEDBACK! Today, I will share one crucial thing that YOU can do to increase your chances of a sighting.

When you are looking for feedback from others, there is a bad word you really, really, really need to avoid. But I hear it all the time! Think for a minute of all of the words you might use that aren’t helpful. I bet this one will surprise you. The bad word you need to avoid is the word feedback! If you ask someone, “Do you have any feedback for me?” the word feedback triggers their alarms! Especially if I'm in a leadership role - it’s intimidating to most people to give a more senior person feedback.

I was recently coaching a leader who was struggling with his growth. He knew there were issues he needed to address, and in our coaching session he told me, "I always tell my team, 'I really want feedback!' and no one ever says anything." Well, no wonder! You've just set off the panic alarm and sent everyone running for the hills.

So, what should we, as leaders, say instead? Three sneakier ways you can use to seek input, that avoid the bad word and disarm the usual “fire alarm” response, are:

First, use more disarming questions such as “Do you have any food for thought?” or, “Any ideas on…?” or even, “Could we debrief that recent meeting, email, or presentation?” Food for thought, ideas, and debrief are all more disarming terms.

Two, ask specific/leading questions. “I sounded kind of resistant, didn’t I?” “I know I can be hypercritical. Have you noticed that?” Bait the hook a little bit. Make it clear that you already see some potential room for improvement. In my case, I could legitimately say, “My expectations probably weren’t realistic, were they?” I could probably ask that question a few times a day!

Three, change the pronoun and ask, “What could we have done better?” instead of, “What could I have done better?” Are you saying 'we' like you are royalty? No. No royalty implications here. We’re just trying to use language that makes it less about criticizing ME, and more about looking at a project or looking at the big picture. By the way, I would still use 'I' instead of 'we' with more direct communicators. Otherwise, they’ll be thinking, “Who is we? Do you mean you?” as they make their annoyed face.

P.S. Use the power of the follow-up request for feedback. Most of the time, we throw people off with a startling question such as, “What could I have done better?” So, it’s a great best practice to ask and then be able to walk away, and then follow up a few days later. Adding a later, “Hey, have you thought of anything else related to our conversation about my role in that project?" and, "Anything I could be further on the lookout for, hey - let me know."

One important clarification here! Be willing to follow up, but also don’t turn a feedback robot who constantly asks, “Can I have more feedback? Can I have more feedback?” If you ask the same people daily or weekly for feedback, you will wear them out. And by the way, I have a previous blog about how you also need to avoid the word feedback when you are giving it. It definitely sets off alarms in the recipient. “Can I give you some feedback?” or “Are you open to some feedback?" Both can sound very rhetorical and very condescending!

Well, next time you are on the hunt for feedback, I hope you use our clue today to avoid the word feedback. Your chances of a sighting should definitely go up. Oh! Look!