Joanne Trotta
Managing Partner & Founder
LeadersEdge Inc.

By Joanne Trotta, Certified Emergenetics® Associate, CEO of LeadersEdge, Inc.

Communication is the energy that powers an organization. Like electricity, it needs to flow in a circuit to be useful. However, the stream of communication energy can be impeded by leaders if they stop the conversation once they’ve received feedback from their employees.

Here is what I often encounter when engaging with leaders in various companies and industries. After they’ve have paid attention to what their people have had to say, they are unable or unsure of how to act on feedback and keep the conversation going, which grinds the flow of communication to a halt.

As a leader, you may understand the importance of communication and the value of feedback. And you also understand that the cycle doesn’t stop once you’ve gathered feedback and listened to what people tell you.

Simply paying attention to the voices of your team members is not enough. To ensure that your organization keeps humming along in a productive and dynamic fashion, you need to take action with the feedback and leverage it in a way that continues the flow of communication.

Your employees will be more engaged and enthusiastic if they know they’re being listened to. In order to continue energizing your organization, you have to become a master of acting on employee feedback and the process has to start with the right mindset.

The Challenges of Acting on Feedback

Whether it’s positive or negative, leaders sometimes feel paralyzed by the feedback they’ve received.

Some feedback comes from employee engagement or satisfaction surveys. Other input comes from informal conversations. Savvy leaders seek out this feedback, and when their employees feel that they have a safe space to do so, they will share their honest opinions and insights. Unfortunately, leaders don’t always process this input with a mindset that allows them to develop useful strategies to take appropriate action.

Developing a healthy perspective and strategy around responding to feedback is challenging because not all feedback comes in the same shape, size, color or flavor. Sometimes it can be contradictory — employees seem to be saying one thing in surveys and quite another when you speak to them in person. Other times it can come in an unsolicited manner, leaving leaders unsure how to proceed, particularly if a sensitive issue is being addressed. Furthermore, feedback comes from a variety of different people with wide-ranging personality types and life experiences, which can lead to confusion and indecision for leaders. After all, as we see with our Emergenetics® Profiles, every person has a unique set of Thinking and Behavioral Attributes, which means they need different things from their leaders, and what may work well for one set of preferences, may not support others.

I understand that dealing with feedback is incredibly challenging sometimes, and leading effectively depends on your ability to process the insights of your employees appropriately. Done well, responding to feedback keeps the flow of communication moving at a healthy pace and direction within your organization.

Develop a Feedback-Friendly Mindset

When I see leaders struggle with the feedback they’ve been given, I notice that they tend to approach it with an anxious mindset. They may become disillusioned by perceived criticisms or feel irritated by suggestions that, to them, seem ill advised or impractical. If they begin to see feedback as a source of frustration, the whole process breaks down.

The reality is that the observations and insights you receive from your people are a gift, and you may have to change your mindset in order to see it as such.

Mindfully processing and responding to feedback is the key to creating different thinking around the subject. It requires self-awareness and the cultivation of a sense of gratitude. Ultimately, every comment represents an opportunity to improve your leadership and the fortunes of your organization.

When you receive feedback, I recommend paying attention to your initial reaction and taking time to tap into your feelings, thoughts and instincts.

How does the feedback make you feel? Does it intimidate you? Does it make you feel overwhelmed? When you take the time to notice how it affects you, you give yourself the space to make a mindful decision instead of reacting without reflection. Sure, you may feel like the feedback is harsh; still, when you allow that initial emotion to pass you can deal with it much more constructively.

Here are some other ways you can cultivate a more feedback-friendly mindset:

  • Avoid an immediate response — Unless the issue is extremely urgent, you do not need to respond to feedback right away. Give yourself time to process the information so you can take appropriate, mindful action instead of acting on impulse.
  • Ask questions — Dig a little deeper by opening lines of inquiry. Are there examples that support the feedback you’ve been given? Do you fully understand what you’ve been told? What is the thought process that led to the comment? What aspects of the idea or suggestion appeal to the employee? Asking clarifying questions helps you understand feedback better, and it helps to build your brain’s mindfulness muscles.
  • Take time to empathize — In a previous blog post, I described why empathy is one of the most powerful and effective “soft skills” in a leader’s toolbox. It is especially powerful when it comes to handling employee feedback. Your initial instinct will have you paying attention to how the feedback affects you, and I encourage you to take a moment to tap into the Emergenetics Social Attribute to see the issue from your employee’s perspective. When empathy becomes a more prominent aspect of your thinking and mindset, you will deal with feedback more effectively.
  • Be thankful — As I mentioned above, feedback is a gift, and I can understand why it doesn’t always feel that way. Practicing gratitude for others’ perspectives even when it feels unwelcome can help you make your mind become more flexible and open, giving your the freedom to act on feedback in a manner that shows your people you’ve heard them and are taking them seriously. Your role as a leader is to make your organization better; feedback is the key to making those improvements.

Acting on Feedback

Once you’ve begun to cultivate a more feedback-friendly mindset, you will find that taking action is a lot easier, and it keeps the flow of communication moving. Continue asking thoughtful questions of your employees and solicit their advice as to how to implement their feedback. Be honest with them about the challenges you face and share when they can expect to see action. Also, let them know what they can do and what role they play in implementing the desired changes based on their feedback.

Your newfound mindset will help you more readily take action, and it all begins by supporting free-flowing, honest two-way communication.

Learn More about How to Deal with Employee Feedback

Do you struggle when it comes to knowing what to do with employee feedback? Are you having difficulty developing a more feedback-friendly mindset?

You can leave a comment below or email me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!