In a trendy converted warehouse, an open-concept office full of casually-dressed employees mill around stark white desks topped with laptops, working on the social media services the company offers. The smell of coffee is in the air. The CEO, dressed like all the other employees—t-shirt and jeans—walks casually over from his office to a laid-back meeting room filled with throw cushions and overstuffed chairs.
“Okay, let’s talk about the trade show last week. What was the mood of the audience like? For those of you who saw the video, how did I do during my talk? What do I need to work on?” His body language is relaxed and open as his eyes scan the room. It doesn’t take more than a glance, though, to see that he’s the only one who looks at ease. The employees who had been chatting with one another just a few minutes before are now diligently looking at their notes, frowning in concentration at a spot on the wall, or just blatantly trying to avoid eye contact. Several have tightened up their postures. Knees are pressing together, backs are rigid, and shoulders practically meet earlobes. Mouths are zippered shut. No one plans to talk.
The CEO wonders to himself, “What is going on here?”
Welcome to the dilemma of business leaders trying to do the right thing.
Most executives understand the power of feedback. They know they need input in order for the business to change, adapt, and grow. But getting that information is tough. Employees stay silent at company meetings, comment cards gather dust in the lobby, and online surveys collect answers in the single digits. The result? Leaders end up being the last to hear about blind spots, resentment, and mission-critical gaps in leadership.
So how can entrepreneurs and CEOs garner the information they need and want?
As a certified somatic coach, I've worked with business leaders to figure out this very issue. I've learned a lot about the factors that make a company environment conducive to feedback, especially as those organizations strive to live the ideals of deliberately developmental organizations, as defined in the research of Kegan, Lahey, and Flemming.
From my own research and experience, I have noticed one important internal shift is needed before we even start talking about feedback. Many business leaders start by considering input as something they need headed their way, but feedback, at its heart, is really a two-way conversation. In fact, it’s one of the most important conversations you’ll have at your organization.
And what makes this conversation effective? Master the following three skills and you’re well on your way to honing the art of feedback communication.
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