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Trust and Honest Feedback: Up Close and Personal

Posted by Dr. Holly Latty-Mann on

“Trust me. I’m just being brutally honest here.” When I hear the phrase “brutally honest,” it does not create a feeling of trustworthiness. For trust to abound, one must feel safe. That would suggest when receiving constructive feedback, one must be able to trust the spirit in which the feedback is given.

While much is to be learned from constructive feedback, even when given from someone unconcerned with others’ feelings, the inspiration and motivation to change is dampened by potential trust issues with the messenger. One starts to wonder about their hidden agendas or real motivations in sharing their critical overviews.

But what if the feedback receiver is perhaps too sensitive such that any constructive feedback, even from those trustworthy, is met with a sense of compromised trust? Consider the following four suggestions:

  • Tone of voice. I know trustworthy people who are still working on the authenticity piece, and they unknowingly can sound like they are talking “at” or “to” others rather than simply “with” them. It is as if some people have worked hard to create a persona of authority and somehow can’t seem to find their way back to just being themselves. I like to refer to the value of using one’s own “fireside chat” tone of voice.
  • Consider using introductory qualifying phrases that create a sense of safety. Therefore, instead of “brutal honesty” as an introductory phrase, consider something along the lines of, “Because I’m in your corner and want to see you grow your success ratio, I need to share an observation for your consideration.”
  • Simply ask the person to whom you have just given feedback if there could have been a better way to share the same message? By posing such a question, one is saying, “I care about you and want to make a positive difference for you.” You may discover some feedback of value as well in their response.
  • Ask following any tough conversation, “What can I do for you to feel more supported by me?”

Leaders can repeat core principles and company values throughout the day, but if their demeanor fails to make meaningful human connections with others, they will be hard pressed to create a culture of trust, which can be done one person at a time through a trust-inspired feedback process. Even in large companies, the ripple effect can expedite a positive shift in the company culture, because those who felt humanized and motivated by the feedback process will not only speak to their positive feedback experience but will also be more likely to treat others in a similar trustworthy fashion.