Opening The Window: How To Get Useful Feedback

Opening The Window: How To Get Useful Feedback

By Anton McBurnie

Want to guarantee an awkward silence? Go and ask some colleagues for feedback.

If you want to make it even more awkward, go and ask the people who work for you…. and finally, if you really want to stress yourself out – go ask your boss for some honest feedback! Why is it that asking for feedback tends to feel like the business equivalent of asking someone out on a date – often fraught with tension or panic and open to wide misunderstanding and misinterpretation?

For one thing, in both cases, the person asking has no control over the quality of the response or feedback they receive, which means they are vulnerable – which is not a state most people actively seek out. A very common result is that after one or two tentative attempts at asking for feedback we conclude that it doesn’t work, give up and withdraw back into our comfort zone.

The trouble is, to become a really effective leader, we need to get good feedback – it is probably the most powerful tool available to keep ourselves self-aware, grounded and able to make decisions, or change, based on best information. So how can we take charge of the feedback process? The secret lies in focusing on the things we can control rather than get hung up on those factors we can’t control and this is where Johari’s Window comes in.

As a brief summary, Johari’s Window is a simple model about how we relate to others, which combines 2 factors:

  • My awareness of my own behaviors
  • Others awareness of my behaviors

When these factors are put together, you end up with a simple four-quadrant matrix or “window”:

If we accept the idea that the most effective and open communication will occur where there is a shared understanding and awareness of my behaviors, ie: in the OPEN quadrant, then the goal must be to expand the size of that window. There are two ways we can do this:

  • To find out about my behaviors that others are aware of but I am blind to, I need to ask for feedback.
  • To help others become aware of my hidden behaviors that only I know about, I need to disclose what these are.

So basically it all comes down to feedback and disclosure, but we have already looked at the difficulty of getting good feedback – it doesn’t depend on me, I can’t control the feedback I receive….or can I? Let’s take a closer look at the process of disclosure.

The first key thing about disclosure is that, unlike feedback, it is completely under my control!. I choose if, what and how much I disclose, to whom and when. Next there is what happens when I disclose something about a particular behavior:

“Jack, I have to confess I hate having to stand up in front of people in a formal meeting and make a presentation, I feel all uptight inside and I tend to rush through my material so I can sit back down…….”

To which Jack might reply:

“I didn’t realize that, you always look very calm. To be honest I thought the reason you were so fast on that last presentation was that you didn’t really believe in your proposal, I was rather surprised….”

I have just learned two new things, I’m not as bad at giving presentations as I think I am and secondly, my speed of presentation is sending the wrong message – I have just received some excellent feedback AND it was on a topic I wanted to learn more about!!. So disclosure invites feedback, without even mentioning the word! – But it doesn’t stop there, what is so powerful about the effective use of disclosure is that I have consciously chosen to make myself vulnerable and in a majority of cases this results not only in receiving feedback, but also the person I am talking to is also likely to respond by disclosing something about their own behavior in return. Jack might say:

“Actually I’m the opposite, I get a real kick out of presenting, I had even been hoping you might ask me to do that last one….”

My disclosure has resulted in a two-way feedback session at a time and on a subject of my choosing. So in conclusion, although it is counter-intuitive, you ARE in control of the feedback you receive – so don’t say you don’t know how to “open the window!”

If you’re interested in finding out more:

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   About the Author

Max is the CEO of Belbin North America. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia. Max has assisted CEOs and senior leaders within client organizations with the design and implementation of Interaction Planning processes, team based organizational development programs and Lean Six Sigma initiatives.