Are you afraid of negative feedback

Are you afraid of negative feedback?

Graham Jenkins

When did you last survey your staff? How about your customers? When did you last review their experiences with your organisation?

If you can’t remember when you sought reviews from these stakeholders, it’s important to ask yourself why. Are you afraid of how a set of honest reviews might read?

The concept of giving feedback constructively is nothing new for leaders, and in fact remains an essential part of their role. While many leaders are working on their ability in this regard, how many are learning to be on the other side of the fence?

For leaders, knowing what to do with group feedback – especially if it’s not as positive as they were expecting – is an important skill, and one that fear may be getting in the way of.

It’s a problem I’ve encountered in the past. One of the organisations that I have worked with appointed a new CEO and as you might expect, over the next two years they made a large number of changes: changes the business needed I might add.

Early on in his appointment, the CEO held meetings with the staff and customers – both in group and one-on-one situations – and formulated his plans. Once they were in place the listening seemed to stop and during one of our discussions he expressed the view that he was receiving so many suggestions from all quarters – his board, consultants, staff, contractors and customers that he said “You just have to decide who to listen to and stick with that”.

Is that the best approach? Yes it is if your judgment is correct and nothing changes. But we live in a world where there are changes confronting us endlessly, so it’s not an approach leaders can rely on in every case.

In fact, it is wise to lift our heads from time to time and ask ‘Is this working’?

‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions.’

Ken Blanchard

People like to be right. Our ego can stop us from accepting our mistakes, and our self-esteem may not be able to handle being wrong.

It is sometimes valuable to have a peer group of CEOs on hand to challenge our thinking, or help us correct our course. That is where a TEC group is valuable, as it consists of a coterie of peers who are prepared to challenge and confront our thinking with the best of intentions.

But that is not the only way.

Evaluations can be found all across the Internet these days: hotels, restaurants, Uber! There is even a US site for students called Rate My Professor, where people are free to anonymously reflect on college staff performance.

Employee feedback surveys need not be a long-winded and cumbersome process. They can be slick, quick and easy for employees to complete and leaders to analyse.

A well-managed process can improve engagement, productivity and profitability. Employees are more likely to speak their mind if the surveys are conducted anonymously. People know that open and honest feedback to the boss can be career limiting!

‘Examine what is said and not who speaks.’

African proverb

Anonymity encourages honesty but it can also encourage people to vent disingenuous grudges that reduce the value of the discourse. The positive is that at least the vehicle is allowing people to express their frustrations. A more public airing can multiply grievances and increase levels of disengagement within a business or stop people from contributing altogether. Sure, this may preserve a leader’s ego, but does it benefit the business?

Customer feedback is easy to obtain using low-cost services like Survey Monkey. Establishing a regular process will enable you to see trends and identify new ideas of value to customers. A routine will help you to give your process a focus.

Great leaders will utilise every piece of information to strengthen the performance of themselves and their followers. Genuine constructive criticism is one of the most valuable ways in which a business, an employee or a leader for that matter can improve their performance.

‘Negative feedback can make us bitter or better.’

Robin Sharma

Leaders in a business have to encourage feedback, whether it’s likely to be positive or negative. They can’t just listen to one person and ignore everyone else, as suggested in the example I mentioned earlier. They’ve got to draw information from a large number of sources, especially if they want to keep up with the changing business environment.

Businesses are living, breathing organisms, and they need constantly improve and develop. The way to make the right decisions, in this regard, is to encourage feedback from those who are working in the business or those who are using its products and services.

When faced with negative feedback, leaders need to pick through the data to ensure it’s actually valuable. Are people just having a rant? Or are they actually communicating about something that’s worth taking a look at?

Leaders can’t afford to dismiss everything as a rant, but they also cannot act upon every bit of feedback. The key is to spot trends in the data. Are there a range of common concerns that might need a bit extra investigation?

Many people in leadership are experts at giving feedback to their teams. However, it’s important they are just as adept when they’re the ones under review.


Graham JenkinsBy Graham Jenkins, TEC Chair