Managing disagreements: How to handle diverging points-of-view with your boss

Six leadership tips on what to do when you disagree with your boss (or another senior leader at the company)

It’s inevitable: You’re going to disagree with your boss. No two people on the planet agree with each other on everything, 100% of the time.

That’s a terrible idea,” you think to yourself, after listening to your boss share a decision she’s come to. “She strongly needs to consider an alternate option.

Yet, managing disagreements at work is tricky — made only trickier if the person you disagree with is your boss. Of all people, you don’t want that person to get defensive or misinterpret your disagreement as an attack. You want whatever thing you’re arguing for to be considered, and hopefully enacted.

The key is to share your opposing point-of-view respectfully — and effectively — so the outcome you’re looking has a higher likelihood of happening.

So, how do you do that? How do you disagree productively with your boss, or another senior leader on the team?

In The Watercooler, our online community for leaders in Know Your Team, managers from all over the world suggested taking these five steps when you and your boss disagree:

Peel back the layers of “why”

Start with the assumption that people are reasonable and make rational decisions. Then, ask yourself, “Given that assumption, what would have to be true for them in order to cause them to make the decisions they did?” Are there other priorities they’re managing that you’re not aware of? Are there other stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome that you aren’t considering? Rigorously peel back the layers of their rationale to figure out what those underlying reasons are.

Emphasize the common destination, not the divergent paths.

You’re both on the same team. Remind them of this. While trying to explain your own view, extrapolate the assumptions, beliefs, and values you both have in common. For example, you both care about the team’s success, you both value speed over perfection, you both see X priority to be most critical. What you most-likely differ on is the approach: The strategy to execute, the timeline, the resources, etc. Highlighting the points of agreement re-centers the conversation: While the roads you mapped out are different, you both want to end up in the same place.

Show, don’t just tell.

Evidence is compelling. How can you show — and not just tell — that your recommendation or idea should be taken up? Is there anything that you can work on that directly contributes to the company primary goals and illustrates your point? For instance, one Watercooler member discussed how she started a project without many resources, and eventually recruited people who shared similar views to build her case. It worked — her boss implemented the idea.

Consider: What is the one thing you can fix right now?

When we see a lot of fires, our urge is often to build a brand new fire station. However, in reality, all we might need is to find the nearest fire hydrant to hook up to. If many things are broken and you think you know a better way, avoid the desire to solve everything at once. Focus on just one thing that can be a visible quick win. Connect to the fire hydrant, first. Then, you can better make the argument to build the fire station for the neighborhood.

Ask yourself, “Do we really disagree on core beliefs?”

Sometimes, the gap between the opinions of you and your boss isn’t just a crack — it’s a chasm. It’s much wider and deeper than you initially thought. This is important to pay attention to. If you disagree with a coworker on core beliefs, then the change will be an uphill battle. You’ll want to seriously consider if it’s worth the trouble. And, if it’s not, perhaps it’s not the right company for you to be at. Core principles that you want to be aligned on include: your beliefs around company culture, how managers see and respect employees, the ratio of autonomy vs. control, iteration process, team structure and long-term goals.

Look for an outside advisor or mentor.

A third party can bring objectivity to a disagreement. One Watercooler member recommended how this option is helpful when the conversation becomes circular and isn’t progressing in a positive direction. Having someone fresh can not only be useful to moderate the discussion, but provide new insights that you both may not have considered. However, when doing this, it’s important to set clear expectations, and decide on how to handle the outcome of the discussion. You don’t want the outcome to devolve into office gossip because you “brought someone from the outside in to help.”

These tips have helped orient my thinking around approaching differences of opinion within my own team. I hope they help you too.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

How do you discuss sensitive, confidential leadership issues… with people you’ve never met?

What we learned creating an anonymous online forum, “The Chatham House,” for leaders in The Watercooler

Where do you go to talk about the really hard stuff? Sensitive, confidential leadership issues that you don’t really want to be getting out to the rest of your company, let alone the rest of the public?

A few months ago, our CTO at Know Your Company Daniel Lopes and I were talking about this. How it’s hard to have a candid conversation to get advice on truly troubling leadership situations: Your company is running out of money, someone on your leadership team was caught stealing from the company, or you think you need to fire your co-founder.

When we’re faced with situations like this, we usually seek out a few close, trusted advisors or mentors who’ve helped us throughout the years. But sometimes their advice isn’t quite enough. Or, you can’t get ahold of them when you need to. Or sometimes, you don’t even have a mentor or advisor with quite the expertise you’re looking for.

It’s why we created The Watercooler back in October, in the first place — to give leaders a place to have conversations like this online.

But when it comes to the sensitive, confidential stuff — firing, financials, failings — there’s just some stuff you can’t really post in an online community…

Or can you?

With the importance of these sensitive leadership issues weighing on our minds, Daniel and I decided to try it: What if we could somehow facilitate confidential leadership conversations online.

We decided to create a new section of The Watercooler called “Chatham House.” It’d be a safe place to discuss sensitive topics that require total privacy and anonymity on all parts.

The rule would be simple: “Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Going into it, I had some big concerns about putting this conversation online, especially about making the conversations anonymous. First of all, would people actually we willing to be honest, even if they were anonymous? A big reason The Watercooler had been working so well to begin with is because folks are identified by name, we ask them to fill out a robust profile, and there’s some baseline of trust that’s established because of it. Would that sense of trust and connection be lost if we made things anonymous?

And of course, the other big fear I had with an anonymous section on our online leadership community was if we’d be inviting inflammatory posts or trolls. We all know how the internet works: If you’re anonymous, you say whatever the hell you want. Accountability goes out the window. Yes, we’d moderate the forum, and yes, we have a strict application process so the quality of the members themselves seem to be high… But , you never really know. And with 700 people and counting in our community, that people might write something ridiculous felt probable.

Despite these fears, I felt like it was worth trying. These conversations are too significant not to be had. If we didn’t at least try to give them a space, where would they go?

So we created the “Chatham House” discussion forum. And, based on our own conversations with tens of managers who’d approached us with some of their confidential leadership issues, we wrote a few posts ourselves on different difficult, sensitive scenarios they’d faced.

Here’s an example:

The result intrigued me. Just a few minutes after the first scenarios went up, we had members offering helpful advice. And then a few hours later, someone else posted their own sensitive, confidential issue to the conversation.

Today, we have tens of conversations and threads in the Chatham House on topics like confronting an executive team member, burning out, a dispute between leaders, not being able to hire fast enough, and more.

Members have reached out to me personally saying how helpful it was to have this forum there. For them, it’s validating to know that people are going through these issues to begin with. One person even wrote to me: “It’s like therapy.”

The release, catharsis, not to mention the resolution of some of these issues, has been pretty remarkable to see.

In hindsight, for us, it seems to have worked as an anonymous online discussion forum for a few reasons:

  • We have a strict application process to join The Watercooler — so no trolls (yet!). I think this has been the biggest contributor to why we haven’t had an inflammatory posts shared in The Chatham House discussion forum.
  • We set clear expectations upfront about what the forum entails. In the description, we were specific about how it worked, what was expected, and how folks should participate.
  • We “seeded” the forum with examples ahead of time of what kinds of issues should be posted in it. This gives people an example of what they can model for telling their own story. It also gives them something to respond to.

For anyone else who participates or runs their own community — online or in-person —I hope sharing this is helpful. If you’re looking for a way to give folks space to talk about the things that are usually off-limits to talk about, this is one way we’ve found to do it.

P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

The Bad News Advantage: The importance of giving difficult feedback

Why sharing bad news makes you a more effective leader.

Sharing bad news is a good thing.

As a leader, you might not think it, at first. But it’s true. Leaders who are honest about the bad — just as much as the good — are better leaders.

But it’s not just me saying this. Research proves this.

In a 2013 study discussed in Forbes, researchers found that leaders who gave honest feedback were rated as five times more effective than ones who do not. In addition, leaders who gave honest feedback had employees who were rated as three times more engaged.

Employees yearn for this honest, corrective feedback. In a study shared in Harvard Business Review, 57% people preferred corrective feedback to purely praise and recognition. When further asked what was most helpful in their careers, 72% employees said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.

In other words, people don’t just want to be patted on the back and told, “Good job.” Employees want the truth. They want to know: How can I be better? What can I change or improve?

I call this “The Bad News Advantage.” When you share bad news and honest feedback, you gain three advantages:

  1. You become a better leader.
  2. You engage your team more.
  3. You’re saying what your employees want to hear.

Leaders who understand these benefits of “The Bad News Advantage” have a leg up over others.

However, despite how helpful sharing bad news and honest feedback can be, we as leaders avoid it like the plague.

In two other surveys published in Harvard Business Review, each of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% of managers reported that they found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback. Twenty-one percent of managers avoided giving negative feedback entirely.

Sound familiar? 🙂 You may have found yourself avoiding giving negative feedback or sugar-coating your words to an employee, at some point. I know I have. Giving honest feedback can feel critical, unnatural and just flat-out uncomfortable.

Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, knows this feeling, too. I recently interviewed him, and he candidly admitted how he’d found himself in this situation…

Des had entered a one-on-one meeting, prepared to give honest feedback to an underperforming employee. In fact, he’d written down notes beforehand of what he wanted to say.

Then, he went into the meeting to deliver the feedback.

Upon leaving the meeting, Des looked back at his notes and realized he’d said the complete opposite to the employee. He’d minced his words, and dramatically softened what was supposed to be pointed feedback.

The employee walked away thinking he didn’t need to change anything he was doing — which was not what Des was thinking.

In that moment, Des, like many of us, had forgotten “The Bad News Advantage.” He’d forgotten that when you give difficult, honest feedback…

  1. You become a better leader.
  2. You engage your team more.
  3. You’re saying what your employees want to hear.

Des is an incredibly self-aware leader to have recognized this himself. He clearly saw the lost opportunity to improve things with an employee, and has since made delivering honest feedback — no matter how bad it is — a priority as a leader.

But that’s just Des.

How about you?

How to respond to the negative feedback that’s most-frustrating to hear

Here are some sample responses to the 3 types of negative feedback that are most infuriating to hear.

The feedback we receive can sometimes feel like bullshit.

I recently spoke with a CEO who told me she received feedback from an employee who proclaimed, “This company doesn’t care about parents.” The employee then proceeded to gripe about the lack of maternity and paternity benefits.

Admittedly, the CEO agreed that the company’s maternity and paternity leave policies could be improved… But she was livid about the broad accusation that “this company doesn’t care about parents.” What an unfair generalization. The CEO was a parent, herself!

The CEO was conflicted about how to react to the feedback: She didn’t want to come off as being defensive to her employee. But she also didn’t want sweeping, inflammatory remarks to be seen as well-received by the employee. How was she supposed to take this feedback? It felt like bullshit.

Bullshit feedback usually comes in one of three forms…

The feedback is true — but the delivery is off.

(This is case of the CEO’s situation I just described). The other person complains and makes it a bitch-session. Or she or he is overly snappy, harsh, and rude.

The feedback is flat-out untrue.

The other person doesn’t have the full picture or was misinformed about something. Or she or he may even be lying.

You can’t tell if the feedback is true or not .

The feedback is vague, unclear or supremely subjective. There aren’t any examples or specifics to back up what she or he is saying.

These three types of bullshit feedback — the poorly delivered, the untrue, and the unclear — are insanely frustrating to be on the receiving end. How in the world are you supposed to possibly receive them well?

Given that how you receive feedback as a leader sets the tone of openness and honesty in your company, this is especially challenging. If you dismiss the feedback too readily or respond negatively to it, you’re likely to discourage that person (and the rest of your team) from ever voicing their honest opinion to you again. But, if the feedback goes completely unchecked, then untrue, rude, or vague feedback could become normalized, accepted behavior in your company.

What should you do?

Here’s exactly how you can receive each type of bullshit feedback well as a leader, and still encourage an open, honest company environment…

If the feedback is flat-out untrue, say this:

“Thank you for letting me know. Can I think on what you shared, and get back to you?”

When we receive feedback that is inaccurate, misinformed (or even a straight-up lie), it’s important to not just blurt out, “I think you’re wrong.” Such a knee-jerk response — even if you are in the right — will come across as defensive to the other person.

Instead, take a little time (be it 30 minutes, or a day or two) to verify that the feedback is indeed false, before letting that other person know. This way, you can first make sure you do have your facts straight, and more calmly point out and share why you think their feedback is untrue.

You may also want to acknowledge your own role in why they may have been misinformed, and how you could have contributed to the issue. Rarely does an employee independently give incorrect feedback (unless they are maliciously lying). Usually, as leaders, we haven’t done our role well enough to shine a light on something — hence their misinformed feedback.

If the feedback is true, but poorly delivered, say this:

“Thank you for sharing what you think and feel. This is helpful for me, and I’m going to think on and act on it right away. Also, not to detract from the merit of what you’re saying — in the future, it may be worth considering that you came across as ____ when delivering your feedback to me.”

When someone blows up at you or goes on a complaining rant, no matter how true the content of what their feedback may be to you — you’ll want to make aware to the other person that their delivery was off. Again, to make sure you don’t come across as defensive, you don’t want to say: “You’re a complainer” or “That was rude.” Instead, use this as an opportunity to coach them. Show you’re not resentful by saying, “not to detract from the merit of what you’re saying,” and be forward-looking by saying “in the future” or “next time.” You want this person to continue to speak up and give you their candid perspective… just not in how they delivered it. Communicate this to them calmly, kindly, and directly.

If you can’t tell whether or not the feedback is true, ask these questions:

“Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about, just so I can better understand and improve for the future?”

“Going forward, what’s the one thing you’d like to see done differently?”

“Was there a specific moment or occurrence that triggered what you’re describing?”

“What would success look like to you in this situation?”

Unclear feedback is perhaps the most frustrating type of feedback to receive because it can feel like a waste of your time to try to unpack. Asking questions is the key to learning and getting to the truth of the feedback. Questions can also serve as guideposts to your employee, encouraging them to give you more clear, specific manner next time.

Handling these three types of untrue, rude, and vague feedback require a bit of patience and self-discipline. Our natural reaction in our inner monologue (for instance, “WTF?!”) must be quelled and placed aside.

How you handle bullshit feedback is a test for you as a leader. Handle it well, and you’ll set an important precedent for your team.

P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @cjlew23.)

The importance of feedback in the workplace

Keep these 3 things in mind when you– or someone you know –starts to doubt how much feedback at work really matters.

You know this person. That one person who’s skeptical of feedback in the workplace. To them, asking for feedback feels like a distraction. Or giving feedback seems unnecessarily negative and burden to consider. They’re thinking: “Of all the things that need to happen in running a team, do we really need to spend all this time and energy on feedback?

I get it. The word “feedback” has been thrown around so often in business articles and at conferences, it’s easy to forget the core of why feedback is important in the first place.

But the importance of feedback in the workplace can’t be understated. It is a fundamental pillar of a successful company culture. Without it, that culture that you worked so hard to construct can come crumbling down.

The good news is that you don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way. Let’s zoom in on the three reasons why feedback matters so much:

Reason #1: Feedback helps you make better decisions.

Did you know that 65% of employees think their company is behind the curve on something in particular? Yes, sixty-five percent of employees (according over 1,200 employees we’ve surveyed through Know Your Company). Or, did you know that almost 60% employees feel that something is holding them back at work? Sixty-percent! Imagine trying to make a decision on business strategy without knowing these things. When you stop to take the time to listen to what your employees are saying about what’s happening on a daily basis, you can unlock an incredible amount of insight as to what’s happening at every level of your company. Getting feedback is how you can make more informed decisions.

Reason #2: Feedback helps employees do their best work.

Employees crave hearing feedback because it helps them perform better. In a study shared in Harvard Business Review, 72% employees said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. For employees, they don’t just want to be patted on the back and told, “Good job.” Employees want the truth. They want to know: How can I be better? What can I change or improve? In fact, in that same study, 57% people preferred corrective feedback to purely praise and recognition. Employees actively want to be improving, and feedback helps them get there.

Reason #3: Feedback makes you a better leader.

In a 2013 study discussed in Forbes, researchers found that leaders who gave honest feedback were rated as five times more effective than ones who do not. In addition, leaders who gave honest feedback had employees who were rated as three times more engaged. Clearly, your team views you more positively the more you give them feedback.

On top of that, hearing feedback from your team is the fastest way for you to improve as a leader. Others view you differently than you view yourself. So hearing their perspective can challenge you to learn, grow, and overcome a shortcoming you had as a leader that you’ve always wanted to address.

The Feedback Road Map: Putting it into practice

Ready to give it a try? If you’ve never implemented a formal or even informal employee feedback system, you might be wondering where to even begin. Start with these chapters from our Knowledge Center guides to feedback in the workplace:

P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @cjlew23.)

The 2 most common excuses that keep you from getting honest feedback

Take a closer look: You may be unintentionally cutting yourself off from the honest feedback you want to hear.

I was on the phone with a CEO the other week. He wanted my advice for how he could cultivate a more open, transparent company culture for his team.

This CEO seemed to be already doing a lot of the right things. He held monthly all-hands meetings to get everyone on the same page. He also regularly asked questions to his employees about what could be better in the company.

However, when I recommended one question that he ask his employees, he was a bit taken aback.

“You want me to ask my team: ‘Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you think we should?’ Hmm, I dunno, Claire,” he told me.

This CEO assured me that he welcomed and valued feedback from employees. But asking about company benefits? And asking about them so publicly? He started to feel nervous about it.

“I don’t want the feedback to be a distraction,” he shared. “There’s so much we already do around benefits — I think this could set the wrong expectations and derail people from getting their work done.”

He continued:

“And, I don’t think we’re ready to act on that feedback. If we ask that question, it implies we need to implement something. But it might not be cost-effective. If we can’t do it, I don’t want to let people down.”

I get it. I’m a CEO myself. No CEO wants her employees to be distracted. No CEO wants to make false promises.

Here’s the reality, though: If you dig deeper, those two statements are actually excuses that are keeping you from building the open, transparent company culture you’re keen on.

Let’s take a look.

Excuse #1: “I don’t want feedback to be a distraction.”

Any feedback your employee might have already exists, whether or not you choose to ask about it. If someone has an idea to improve company benefits, that’s an idea that they’re already thinking about in their heads. So if you don’t ask about it — if you let that feedback sit and fester — it becomes a distraction. The longer you ignore it, the longer you don’t ask about it, the greater the distraction balloons. The way to nip the distraction in the bud is to ask about it. When you ask a question like, “Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you think the we should?”, you have an opportunity to clear the air, and help an employee feel heard. Asking for feedback isn’t the distraction — pretending that your employees don’t have feedback is.

Excuse #2: “I’m not ready to act on feedback.”

Popular management wisdom tells you that,”You shouldn’t ask for feedback unless you’re ready to act on it.” Sure, if you don’t do something with the feedback, you’ll look like you’re not following through on your word. Butacting on feedback doesn’t necessarily mean implementing the actual piece of feedback. You can thank the person who gave you the feedback. You can explain why you’re not enacting the feedback, and provide context for the decision. Both routes show you’re listening, and that you value your employees’ feedback. Oftentimes, that recognition and explanation is all an employee is looking for. They’ll take notice.

If you’ve ever caught your own manager — or yourself — saying the above two excuses, then here’s my tip: Stop.

While you may mean well, you’re hindering yourself from creating the open, transparent company culture you’ve always wanted.

This article was originally published for

Watch: Stop Feeding Shit Sandwiches — the worst method of giving feedback

In this 5 minute lightning talk given at Disrupt HR, I share the worst way to deliver feedback – and what we should do instead.

Ever catch yourself feeding a shit sandwich? You know, when you layer your feedback good-back-good. I happen to think this technique is the absolute worst method to give feedback in the workplace. I had the honor to give a quick, five minute talk at DisruptHR in Chicago on the topic. It ended up being the #1 watched video from the event.

Take five minutes to watch it below👇

On Yonder Podcast 🎙: Best Practices for Leading Remote Teams

From communication to delegation to meetings, I speak on what we’ve observed to be the most important things for remote leaders to keep in mind.

Recently, I was interviewed by the incredible Jeff Robbins on the Yonder Podcast about best practices in managing remote teams. I had a blast. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jeff for several years, as he used to be a customer of ours while he was the CEO of Lullabot.

In the podcast, we chat about:

  • How do remote leaders need to communicate differently?
  • What the best practices of managing remote teams?
  • How does introversion or extraversion affect how you lead a remote team?
  • To what extent is respecting quiet, uninterrupted time important for managing a remote team well?
  • What are the advantages of leading a fully distributed team, versus a partially distributed team? Are there best practices for each?

Listen to the full podcast here.

Also, if you’re looking to become better as a remote leader, you might enjoy a few of these pieces:

Hope you find it helpful as you lead your own remote team.

Anonymous employee feedback breeds a culture of distrust

The pitfalls of anonymous employee feedback aren’t often talked about. Here’s how it can backfire.

As the CEO of Know Your Company, I often get asked about my opinion on asking employees for anonymous feedback. Is it a useful approach? Would I recommend it?

My answer is the same each time: I hate anonymous feedback. I hate giving it, and I hate receiving it. Here’s why.

Anonymous feedback breeds a culture of distrust — especially in small teams and organizations.

When you ask for anonymous feedback, the first thing that oftentimes runs through employees’ minds is, “Hmmm will this really be anonymous?” They speculate: “I wonder who’s viewing the data? Or if they’ll be able to tell what I wrote?”

You’ve immediately injected a tone of suspicion and skepticism into your company.

On top of this, when you receive this anonymous feedback, you frequently end up feeling suspicious and skeptical yourself. You think: “Hmmm I wonder who wrote this?” It’s a completely natural human tendency. And in some cases, you may even be able tell who the person is from someone’s tone or word choice, thus nullifying the purpose for anonymity in the first place.

This suspicion and skepticism is poison for a healthy company culture. Particularly when one in three employees already don’t trust their bosses, you’re only furthering their distrust. Asking for anonymous feedback fuels an existing an assumption that CEOs do not have their employees’ best interest in mind.

After all, if you’re trying to foster truthfulness and transparency in your company, why resort to a covert, opaque way to get feedback?

But even greater than these cultural repercussions, the biggest reason anonymous feedback sucks is because it’s difficult to act on. I hear this from dozens and dozens of CEOs who’ve started using Know Your Company after running anonymous surveys.

These CEOs told me that after collecting feedback anonymously from their employees, they’d get stuck — they didn’t know how to follow up on the feedback, or implement any of it. They couldn’t go talk to the department that the problem was brought up in, or have a one-on-one with a specific employee and resolve the issue.

Anonymous feedback didn’t help them act on the feedback, itself. This is counter to the very purpose of getting feedback in the first place: to be able to take action.

So what can you do instead of asking for anonymous feedback? How can you encourage employees to honestly speak their minds, without resorting to hiding behind anonymity?

Here are a few things you can do…

State your intention clearly

When a leadership teams wants to start getting more regular, honest feedback, they’ll often kick off a survey or software tool or initiative without any context or explanation as to why. This can be a huge mistake, as your employees might not understand what your intention behind wanting to get this feedback.

Rather, you want to want to be upfront and clear about why getting feedback is important to you — and not just assume employees already know this. This helps clear the air and create an environment where people feel safe giving candid feedback, without having to be anonymous.

Show vulnerability

If you want your employees to be transparent with you, you have to start by being transparent with them as the leader. Showing vulnerability — that you don’t have all the answers, that you want to improve as the boss — helps your employees feel comfortable giving you feedback non-anonymously.

For example, when you announce to your employees that you’d like to start getting feedback transparently, you could say something like: “I feel a little disconnected from everyone and that’s been bugging me. It’s my fault, and I’d like to make an effort to get better.”

As a leader, simply saying or writing the words, “it’s my fault,” signals to your employees that you’re open to hearing the truth of what they really think.

Ask specific questions

A huge part of getting meaningful, honest feedback from employees has to do with the questions you ask your employees. If you want answers, you’ve got to ask questions. You can’t expect the answers to come to you.

These questions have to be good — they need to be specific, relevant, and well-thought out. If you ask a general, half-hearted question, you’ll get a general, half-hearted response. For example, ask someone “How’s it going?” and the most-likely response will be, “It’s fine.”

Instead ask, “What’s one thing about the last board meeting we held that could’ve been better?” This specific question zooms in on “one thing”, one event, and asks for an actionable takeaway. As a result, the responses to the question are far more likely to be more focused and actionable too. And because you’re asking it non-anonymously, you’ll be able to follow up with the specific person to clarify the thought or implement the idea.

Do something

Taking action on the feedback you receive is the most powerful way to encourage your employees to be honest with you. This is because, more than anything, seeing some action or response to the feedback given is what employees want.

Now this doesn’t mean you need to go and implement every single piece of feedback that you receive. Nor does it obligate you to make any changes that your employees might suggest.

Rather, you can take action on feedback to show your employees that you’re listening. For instance, when you decide that an idea isn’t feasible or that you aren’t going to implement a piece of feedback you received, be sure to explain that to your employees. Pull back the curtain on why the company isn’t going to take a certain direction, so employees don’t assume a reason for why something isn’t happening, or that you ignored their feedback.

And then when you do receive a piece of feedback that is worth acting on, you’ll want to jump on it immediately. Knocking out a quick win — especially when it’s low hanging fruit — can shift your company’s culture. This could be as small as getting an employee a new office chair, or changing your company’s phone service. But that responsiveness matters, and it’ll prompt employees to be honest with you the next time you ask for their opinion or feedback on something.

When you do these things, you create less of a need to have people hide behind anonymity. You demonstrate trust, and empower your employees to be accountable for what they believe and what they say.

I understand that this can feel scary. It’s much easier to have a box of anonymous suggestions that you can keep at arm’s length, versus having to face the opinions of people who you work alongside everyday.

But it’s worth it. I talk with hundreds of companies every day who choose to ask their employees for feedback in an open, honest way. And they see the positive results firsthand. CEOs have shared me that their employees will say things to them like, “Wow, I’m so impressed with how open the leadership team is,” or “This means a lot that you’re asking such tough questions so openly — my last company would have never done this.”

Will your employees say the same?

P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😄 (And you can always say hi at @cjlew23.)

Go first: The first step of getting feedback at work starts with you

You can’t expect people to give you honest feedback, if you’re not open with them first.

You’re at a swimming pool. The water looks nice. It’s not quite a warm enough day… But it’s almost summer so why not jump in?

You want others to join you in the pool (it’s more fun that way!). So you wander around and ask each of the pool loungers: “Hey, care to jump in the pool with me? The water looks warm…”

Think anyone jumps in? Especially, if you’re not in the pool yourself?

Not likely.

I view the process of getting honest feedback from employees the same way. If you want everyone in your company to be open and honest with you — if you want everyone to jump into that swimming pool with you — you’ve got to take the first dive.

I call this “going first” as a leader. You must take the first step to show it’s safe to speak up (particularly given that fear plays such a large role in why employees don’t give feedback). You must be forthcoming and candid with your employees first, as a leader. You can’t expect someone else to do something if you don’t do it yourself first.

Here are a few ways to “go first” as a leader and jump into that swimming pool to create a safe environment for employees to speak up…

Share what you’re struggling with.

One of the best ways to “go first” is by sharing something that you’re struggling with. If this makes you feel a little vulnerable as a leader… that’s a good thing! You’re modeling the honesty that you’re similarly looking for from an employee. As a result, you diffuse some of the anxiety and fear an employee may have about offering a critical opinion. An employee may now think, “Well if she, my manager, is struggling with this, then I guess it’s okay to share this…”

Try saying this: I’m struggling with…” or “Can you help me understand something that I’m having trouble grasping?” or “Hey, I don’t have all the answers…

Play devil’s advocate with your own opinion.

Another way to “go first” as a leader is to challenge your own opinion in front of your team. The next time you’re explaining a new idea, pose an opposing viewpoint to it yourself, and then ask for feedback. By playing devil’s advocate with your own opinion, you invite others to give dissenting viewpoints. When you’re a contrarian to your own ideas, you give your team permission to be contrarian too.

Try saying this: I could also take a devil’s advocate point-of-view and say ___. What do you think?” or “Another way to look at it is ____. Would you agree or disagree?

Commend vulnerability when you see it.

“Going first” as a leader also means to positively reinforce the behavior you want to see. If you want meaningful, honest feedback to be given to you more often, be sure to publicly recognize it when you do see it. A CEO who is a Know Your Team customer here in Chicago makes a point to do this every month during her company all-hands meeting. She’ll publicly commend an employee for her vulnerability, and say, “Thank you for sharing an opinion that might not be popular. It’s important.” When you do this, you set the expectation that you want to hear frank, non-sugar-coated information in the future.

Try saying this: That’s a great thought — your honesty is appreciated and important to the team…” or “I’m so glad you’re disagreeing with me. It’s helping me understand a new perspective…” or “Thank you for bringing that up. I’m sure that was not an easy thing to share, so I value you doing that.

As a leader, it’s your job is to make your employees feel as safe as possible to speak up. You can’t sit back and ask other people to be candid and forthcoming without doing it yourself first.

Want others to jump into the pool of honesty and openness? Go first.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)