Stress Test Your Foundation - Ask for Feedback Every Day
(Originally published here - http://wildfigsolutions.co.uk)
I had this manager, early in my career, who always got the best out of me. I didn't realise how rare this was at the time, but I actually looked forward to her emails. I didn't quite get why I worked so well for her and struggled with other managers until she gave me some advice: don't ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the answer.
Suddenly I realised why I always looked forward to our interactions - because I felt my expertise and opinion were valued. Importantly, I also never felt like she was testing me or trying to ‘catch me out’ These days we call that psychological safety and it's one of the few research-backed ways to create a high performing team.
Creating psychological safety formed the foundation of my management and leadership philosophy. I was 100% confident that I was executing it until an offhand comment from a member of my team. He told me that when I asked a difficult question he felt I was looking for a particular answer, and judging him until he got it right. Shocked, I interrogated everyone.
It turned out I was making a face. A face known to my team as "the Melissa face" or "The Eyebrow”, which intimidated my team into talking until they got the answer they thought I wanted. I was oblivious to something completely obvious to everyone around me and I was driving behaviour completely counter to my intentions.
So, I asked for help. I told them to let me know every time they saw the Melissa face.
Turns out there was some psychological safety on my team, because the next time I did it I had fingers pointing at me in triumph and shouts of "there it is." And because I had real time feedback I had an epiphany - this face was my thinking face. I made it when someone challenged the way I thought about things. Ironically, the moment I was most impressed with someone's input and wanted them to continue…they were reading as negative feedback and shutting down in response.
This shook me to the core but also thankfully helped me correct something very important to me.
Critically, it made me realise the importance of 1) creating an environment where critical feedback is given and taken in good humour 2) asking the right question - people have no idea what you are trying to do and can't tell you whether you’re successful unless you ask and 3) always asking the follow-up questions - have I become better?
My unsolicited advice? There is no shortage of learning to be had - it comes at us through a fire hose of well meaning vendors, personal learning networks, social networks and the publications we follow. But the most valuable learning happens when you ask the people around you for feedback on the things that are most important to you. Do it daily.