How to Ask and Get the Feedback You Need Without Any Stress and Awkwardness?

“I want to give you some feedback.”

If you are like most people, once you hear the above statement, your heart will start to beat a little faster, your palms might begin to sweat, and in certain situations, you might even begin to shake. Feedback can make anyone anxious and stressed – not because there is something inherently negative or bad about it, but because most people have never been trained in giving and receiving feedback. If you give and get feedback only once a quarter at work (even worse if it is once a year), and without any preparation, obviously it will be a strange conversation.

What I have learned over my career is that feedback can be an immensely valuable and insightful tool in our growth and progression, but only if we are ready and prepared to digest and use it for our benefit. Today I want to share via this article my thoughts on the value of feedback, what is the best way to receive it, and then what to do with it. I hope that after reading this article, instead of just waiting for feedback you actually start asking for it. If you are thinking why would anyone do that, let’s dive right in.

Why Do You Need Feedback?

Feedback is one of the easiest and most insightful tools to uncover your blind spots. A blind spot is anything that others know about you but you yourself don’t. For example – if you think you are confident but others find you arrogant and cocky, how the hell do you figure that out if nobody ever tells you that?

Feedback is like a beam of light which shows you how others perceive you. It can be the simplest way to uncover your strengths and weaknesses, but it is often not easy to digest and process it. Feedback lets you know how others perceive you and your talent, skills, behaviour and performance. And knowing them is a good thing. When used correctly, feedback can be a very useful tool to move in the right direction, change course if necessary, and grow in your career (and in life).

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

How Do You Ask For Feedback?

Just like hearing feedback can be stressful for you, providing feedback can also be a stressful experience for the person on the other side. But there are a few ways you can make the feedback conversation a pleasant experience :-

  1. The best way to make the process easier for both sides is to actively and explicitly ask for it. When you invite feedback regularly, it removes the formality surrounding the process and makes the conversation more “normal”.
  2. Explain that you see feedback as a tool to learn and grow, and that you welcome any negative or uncomfortable feedback. You can also go one step ahead and assure the person that the feedback will not have any negative impact on the relationship. Knowing this always puts the other person at ease and allows the conversation to continue more maturely.
  3. Know what you are looking for in feedback. Feedback is not always critical. You should also ask for acknowledgement or appreciation for a task well done. Positive feedback will help you understand your strengths, and gives you the confidence and assurance required to look objectively at your weaknesses.
  4. Be specific and ask for examples. Don’t let anyone get away with a vague feedback. Always dig deeper and ask for specific events and evidence in support of the feedback you receive. Here are a few questions you can ask :-
    a) Can you explain what you mean?
    b) Can you give an example to support your point?
    c) Paraphrase the feedback and ask – Is that what you mean?
  5. Seek feedback from people all around you and not just your boss. Ask people above, below and sideways in your organisation. Multiple sources of feedback can eliminate any outliers and helps to surface any obvious blind spots immediately.
Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

Powerful Questions

Whenever you are looking for some powerful and insightful answers, there are always corresponding powerful questions to go with them. Below are a few such questions you can ask to solicit deep and meaningful feedback about yourself :-

  1. If I were to wow you with my performance, what would that look like?
  2. What’s one thing I could improve?
  3. What would you have done differently had you been in my position?
  4. What’s your opinion about how I handled that conversation, presentation, task, etc?
  5. What specifically can I do to handle that task, conversation, project better?
  6. What is one thing you can always count on me for?
  7. What is one thing you will never count on me for?

What To Do After Receiving The Feedback

The worst thing that you can do with feedback is to do nothing with it. The feedback conversation is just the beginning on the road to learning and growth. So once you are done with the feedback, you can take the following steps to make the most of it.

  1. Thank the person for providing you feedback. Not only is feedback essential for your growth, it is also often a courageous step to provide it in the first place. Acknowledge the person for the conscious act of providing you feedback.
  2. Do not defend yourself during a feedback conversation. Do not get into a game of blame and justifications. Respond to the feedback, not react to it.
  3. If the feedback is critical, take responsibility (not blame) for what you hear. Let the other person know that you will evaluate the feedback and get back.
  4. Take time to introspect and evaluate the feedback. Does it resonate with feedback from others? Can you gather more data or feedback to validate it? If no, explain to others how you see it. If yes, let them know what you will change. Make certain promises and then do what you say.
  5. Take all the positive feedback and put it into a complements” document. Often we tend to focus too much on the negatives and ignore what we are doing well. Visiting this document regularly will give you motivation and positive reinforcement. Sometimes reading one little positive feedback can make your day.

Following the above guidelines doesn’t mean that your feedback conversations will be painless, but they will certainly go more smoothly. Once you see feedback for the powerful tool it is in your learning and growth, you will fall in love with it. The more you seek and get feedback, the faster you can move learn, adapt and change course if necessary. To conclude I would like to leave you with the below quote by Ken Blanchard.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard

The Distinction Between Meaningless Activity and Meaningful Actions, And Why It Can Make All The Difference

In today’s age of always connected devices and nonstop notifications, we all have more to do each day than the hours can fit. Crossing items off the to-do list always feels good and gives one a feeling of accomplishment, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves – accomplishment towards what?

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Whenever I have stopped to ask myself that question, I have realised that I have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than being productive. Being busy often relieves us from the fear of sitting still and the pain of conscious thinking, while the really important tasks often gets neglected.

We are often sucked into doing meaningless activities, either through algorithms running on our “smart” devices, or through habits we have formed by emulating our peers rather than consciously choosing them. In other words, we waste most of our time doing meaningless activities that we have no time left for what really matters.

Meaningless Activity vs Meaningful Actions

Meaningless vs Meaningful

Everything that we do can be divided into either meaningless activity or meaningful actions. What I mean by meaningless activity is anything we do to only keep ourselves busy. Example – checking email and social media, hanging out with friends, or anything we do without a specific intention in mind.

In contrast with the above, any activity which adds meaning to your life, or takes you in the direction of a conscious intention (or a goal), is what I would term meaningful. It could be a business trip for one, or spending time with their family for another.

What is meaningless and meaningful is different for everyone. Only you can define that. No-one else can make that distinction for you.

We are often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. Only by being aware of our decisions we can be deliberate about them to move our life in the direction we want to go.

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S Thompson

Focus and Prioritise

Research has shown that not having the courage to live a life true to ourselves, not expressing our feelings when we should have, and working too hard are the top three regrets people have at the end of their lives.

Doing things that we find meaningful is essential to our well being. But how many of us spend time wondering about what gives our life meaning, and what is really important to us?

Three Questions

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What need can you serve?

I believe the intersection of answers to the above three questions will be the most meaningful work for you. Once you have these answers, it will give you the clarity to prioritise tasks and the courage to say “No” to anything that doesn’t align with what you discover.

Having the clarity about the “why” before the “what” and “how” of any action will ensure you create focused output that moves you forward, rather than effort that just takes you around in circles. So the next time you think you have no time to follow your dreams, you know you have fallen into the trap of being busy with meaningless activities.

Have You Discovered Your Leadership Lighthouse? Why Should You?

A Global World

Today, we live in globalised world which is more connected than ever before, and movement of people and goods has never been easier. It is driven by economics and money, and it is possible to sit in your couch and order what you want from the opposite corner of the world, and have it delivered to you in a few days.

Open markets, lower trade tariffs and an ever increasing movement of people, goods and information to any part of the world has resulted in great prosperity for everyone involved. Major world problems like poverty, hunger and disease have decreased considerably over the last 50 years. The health and well-being of people all over the world has never been better.

However, living in a consumerist society driven by economics has also resulted in greed, corruption and a pursuit of economic success at any cost. It is no surprise then that we saw scandals like Enron in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015-16. These scandals resulted from cutting corners in the pursuit of success by leaders in these companies.

Have you discovered your leadership lighthouse?

The Leadership Lighthouse

Just like ships need a compass and a lighthouse to navigate in the vast oceans, our companies and their leaders too need a leadership lighthouse to find direction in the vast ocean of global competition. The speed (of a ship or a business) is not the only thing matters. Our leaders need to realise that the direction they choose to go and take their companies along is more important than the speed.

The Leadership Lighthouse is a set of values (to guide us), standards (to measure us), and boundaries (to keep us in check); which will act as a moral compass as leaders take decisions and navigate their companies in the race for success in the global economy. These standards and values guide us in finding the right direction in challenging and exciting times.

Find Your Own Way

The whole essence of leadership is to bring our own unique values, talents and skills into the world, and to express ourselves in alignment with those. When we accept the standards and values others’ have set for us, we surrender our own will and judgement. By figuring out our own leadership lighthouse, we allow our unique light to shine upon the world.

If we only follow what everyone else is doing and not take the time and effort required to find our own leadership lighthouse, which is unique for everyone, we will soon find ourselves lost and confused. But once you have put in the effort and identified your unique set of values, motivations, desires and talents; you can nurture them and let them guide you.

If we stop and look back at the history of the world, be it in the business world or outside of it, you will find that every human achievement is an achievement of the individual who went against the norm and followed their own leadership lighthouse.

Questions to Discover Your Leadership Lighthouse

How Can You Find Your Leadership Lighthouse

As mentioned above, our leadership lighthouse is the set of standards and values that define and inspires you. It will guide you during challenging moments by serving as a moral compass, and give you a solid ground to stand upon when you face turbulent times.

To find leadership lighthouse, try answering the below questions :-

  1. What do you want to achieve in the long term?
  2. What really matters (is important) to you?
  3. What makes you happy, angry or sad?
  4. What are your duties and obligations with regard to different aspects of your life?
  5. What have you learned from the biggest failures of your life?

Answering these questions will require some sincere and dedicated effort on your side, but once you do that, you will have more clarity on how you define your own leadership lighthouse. I would also like to add that it is a continuous rather than a one-time process. You should revisit the above questions every now and then as a “health-check”.

Knowing your leadership lighthouse will give you the confidence and assurance to follow your own path instead of the path others have decided for you. Once you nurture and develop your strengths and act consistent with your standards and values, you will allow your own unique light to shine upon the people and the world around you.

How To (and not to) Deal with an Emotional Employee

As I wrote previously, every human emotion is valid. However, the story behind them might not be, and we always have the choice of how to respond to an emotion. If we want to master how to deal with others’ emotions, our own emotional mastery is the prerequisite.

Studies have shown that emotions like frustration, cynicism, enthusiasm, etc are as contagious as germs. I believe each human being acts like a tuning fork. Every emotion is like a wave, which when reaches others, either accentuates or dies down depending on whether the frequencies match or not.

When two people are emotionally reactive, even a small argument can quickly escalate into a fight. When we learn to master our own emotions, it gives us an opportunity to deal with any situation confidently. It will dampen any emotional waves and allows collaboration, even in the face of disagreement. We can strengthen our relationships with others, even in the most stressful and difficult situations.

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. - Dale Carnegie

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. – Dale Carnegie

1. Learn to Notice Emotional Build Up
Emotions are like storms. Just as we can forecast most weather storms before they strike, we can always notice and predict “emotional” storms too. If an emotional outburst of an employee is a surprise, then there were some signs we missed.

Emotional reactions don’t come out of nowhere. Just like storms, they build up over time. There are always signs, physical and behavioural, which we can observe and watch out for. If we notice these signs, we can get an advance notice of emotional build-up in people.

For example – If we notice tightening of muscles and a red face, the person might be getting angry or frustrated. If we notice a trembling voice, sweating and defensive body language, someone might be feeling scared or anxious. If we notice smiles, laughter and a relaxed body language, the person might be happy about something in his/her life.

2. Act Early. Validate What You Notice
When we notice physical signs of emotional build up in others, we must act early and validate our assumptions. Obviously, we can’t read another’s mind so whatever we assume about another’s emotional state might or might not be true. So the most prudent way is to state our assumption as just that, and ask the other person for validation.

For example – If your colleague has been quiet and detached since a few days, you can approach them and say – “I see that you have been quiet lately. You seem a bit tensed too. Am I right? Is there something which I don’t know, or can help with?” Never walk up to someone and pass a judgement, “Why are you sad? What’s upsetting you?”

Remember our assessments about others’ emotional state are just that – assessments. Mistaking them for truth could trigger an emotional reaction and make them defensive, which we don’t want to. What works for me is to state my assessment tentatively, and to always ask for verification.

3. Listen And Acknowledge. Don’t Judge And React

It is only human to be emotional. When someone opens up about their emotions to you, it is an act of courage. Don’t dishonour that act by rushing to judgement or suggestion. Just like our own emotions, acknowledge them by listening and understanding their point of view. Try to stand in their shoes and sympathetically feel what they feel.

Challenging others’ emotions is often counter-productive and makes them feel alienated and disrespected. If their emotion is directed at you or they feel your behaviour led to the emotion, you might be tempted to justify yourself. But that never helps anyone. If you can stay calm and relaxed, any emotional attack will eventually diffuse itself.

Emotions are the result of an internal fire. Reacting emotionally only adds fuel to that fire. Instead, let we can let it run out of fuel by allowing others to express themselves fully while we listen empathically.

Remember, mastering your own emotions is a prerequisite before handling others' emotions.

Remember, mastering your own emotions is a prerequisite before handling others’ emotions.

4. Let The Storm Pass. Take A Time Out
When there is damage due to a weather related storm, we don’t rush out to do repairs while the storm is still on. We wait for the storm to pass before assessing the damage, and doing any repairs. Similarly, if we notice an emotional storm, it is always best to wait for it to pass before jumping in to help.

There have been many instances when I have been sucked in to respond to an emotional employee. I have always regretted it later as it only made the situation worse. Taking a time out often works for me. A few moments to breathe often allows both parties to stay with their emotions and come to peace with them.

I believe the best way to understand someone else’s emotions is to observe our own. Becoming aware of our own emotions can help us empathise with others. When we feel compassion for others’ emotional states, regardless of whether we agree with their reasons or not, then we are ready to take the next step — which is asking the right questions and coaching them.

5. Coach. Inquire. Ask the Right Questions
The next step is to ask coaching questions and help them understand their own emotions. By genuinely inquiring and listening to others, we can help them clarify their thoughts.

Coaching via asking open questions is about respecting people as individuals, and giving them a free choice to act in a way that is consistent with their values.

Coaching someone doesn’t mean fixing other’s problems. We don’t get to be a superhero through coaching. Coaching is about letting others find their own answers – ones they already know but have become masked behind their stirred emotions. Coaching begins with genuine care for your employees and colleagues. It is a skill which requires practice, and you get better at it with each conversation.

Depending on the emotion, the coaching questions you can ask will differ. Here are a few examples –
Sadness – What are you sad about? What did you lost? Why did that matter so much for you? How could you grieve or mourn for your loss? Is there something I can do for you to support you?
Fear – What is scaring you? What are the chances of that happening? How does that impacts you? How can you prepare better for it to minimise the damage? What else can you do to feel at peace?
Anger – Who hurt you? What boundaries did they cross? How can you express your complaint and act in a way consistent with your values? How can you put the issue behind? What would it take for you to forgive them, or let go?
Guilt – What did you do? What damage did it cause? Who have you hurt? How can you make amends? Have you apologised? How can you be at peace? Can you forgive yourself?

Five Things A Leader Must Do By Default

In today’s corporate environment, after a few years of doing your job well enough, chances are that you will be asked to step up and lead a team. You trained and studied to be good at your job, and now getting to manage people seems like a reward for a job well done.

By promoting the good performers to be managers and leaders, people have assumed for centuries that the skills that made you successful as an individual contributor would also make you successful as a manager. If you have led people for any considerable amount of time, you would know how false this assumption is. Yet in the business world, this continues to be the norm.

Today I want to list down five things which you must do, or are expected to do by default, to be effective as a manager/leader. And it is likely that nobody told you this when you were promoted. I have only figured them out after leading teams for over a decade, and I believe I am on a continuous journey to learn and know more about leadership.

1. Lead Yourself
The first thing you must do to be effective as a leader is to lead yourself. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team. Like any worthwhile endeavour, it takes time, effort and daily investments to build trust with your team.

If you want your team members to honour their promises, honour your promises to them. If you ask them to be on time for meetings, you must be on time first. Or you will lose their trust. If you ask them to be respectful to each other, you must respect them first. Or you will lose their trust. If you want them to be humble, you need to exemplify that in your behaviour. If you need them to be honest and sincere, you need to acknowledge your mistakes publicly and make amends for them. You can not lead a team if you can’t lead yourself.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” - Unknown

2. Know Where You are Headed

When you are leading a team, people will look up to you for providing direction. Having a well-defined purpose clarifies why the team exists in the first place. Coming up with the team’s purpose together with your team will empower them to take decisions which are in the best interest of the team.

Listening to your team and engaging in a dialogue will allow the team to define and own its purpose. You need to spend time with the team regularly to discuss, revisit or reshape the team’s purpose. Ensuring each member understands the team’s purpose and their role in the team will empower them to prioritise their tasks effectively.

3. Be a Coach
If you have people reporting to you, then you are their coach by default. You don’t have a choice in being their coach as people will approach you anyways. When they are demotivated, when they have a conflict, or when they need help for any other reason; it is your responsibility to listen, understand their concerns, and then coach them to align their personal motivations with the team’s shared purpose and goals. If you can’t do that effectively, it will impact the results the team intends to produce in the future.

While I assert that you are a coach by default, the skills and conversations required to be a coach don’t come by default. You must invest time and effort in learning and practicing your coaching skills. How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll

4. Demand Commitment and Accountability
Just as every sport has a certain set of rules, each business team can come up with rules (or standards) which apply to their business and industry. These rules will govern how you work and define success and failure. Examples could be how you treat your colleagues, how complaints are handled, and what boundaries you set in matters important to the team. Once these standards are set, it frees up everyone to exercise their own creativity in making decisions. This gives shape to the ‘culture’ in the team.

After you set up these standards together with your team, you have to demand them. Of course, for this to work, you have to exemplify them yourself. Holding your team accountable to these standards (or rules) will bring the team members together and set the team up for high performance. The intention behind it is not to punish or penalise people when they slip up, but to ensure an open, fair and supportive culture in the team.

5. Serve Your People
I believe that leadership is a privilege, and that each leader is a custodian of the company’s values, beliefs and ambitions for the future. Leadership will require you to think beyond your own self-interest, and from your team or company’s point of view. In order to lead you must be willing to serve – to put your team’s interest in front of any individual interests, which might lead you to make some difficult decisions from time to time.

Leadership is not about power or authority, nor is it about popularity. Leadership is about character – which you will need to express yourself authentically, compassion – which you will need to grow and develop your people, and integrity – which you will need to serve your people with the respect and transparency they deserve.

I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves. You show your team the way, give it what it needs to do the job, and then get out of the way. Your biggest job is to create an environment of respect and accountability, where people have fun and express themselves freely by continuously moving forward towards the team’s goals.

Leadership is Service

To sum it up, these five points above are not strategies or tactics which you can incorporate in your leadership style to get better results. These are the bedrock which will give rise to a myriad of strategies and tactics, which in turn will lead to those results. If you try to fake them, your people will call your bluff sooner or later, and you will lose all credibility and trust. An attitude of humble service will enable you to become a better leader, while taking care of your team and company’s needs.