Modern Leadership: Give & Get Honest Feedback at Work | Claire Lew | Skillshare

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Modern Leadership: Give & Get Honest Feedback at Work

teacher avatar Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Understanding the Feedback Loop


    • 3.

      Getting Honest Feedback


    • 4.

      Giving Honest Feedback


    • 5.

      Final Thoughts


    • 6.

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About This Class

Learn to give and get honest feedback at work in this quick, essential class!

Giving and getting honest feedback is one of the hardest skills for a current leader or aspiring leader to master. Whether you need to tell a coworker something they don’t want to hear, or you need to uncover valuable insights during a one-on-one meeting, understanding how to communicate and extract buried information will help you avoid blindspots, resolve problems, and improve your team’s performance.

Join Know Your Company CEO Claire Lew for an actionable class all about giving and getting honest feedback at work. Packed with research, statistics, and scripts, each lesson tackles common scenarios and practical methods you can immediately start using in your day-to-day. You’ll learn:

  • Why a healthy feedback loop matters for high-performing teams
  • 3 ways to get honest feedback from your most introverted coworker
  • 4 ways to give honest feedback that your coworker typically doesn’t want to hear

After taking this class, you'll walk away with an arsenal of tools to help you get to the truth of how your team is actually feeling, and to give the truth on how they’re actually doing, more painlessly than before. And your team will be able to work better together because of it.

Meet Your Teacher

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Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team


Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Team – a software company that gives managers the tools, resources, and training to help managers become better leaders. Her company, Know Your Team, has helped over 15,000 people in 25 countries at companies like Airbnb and Kickstarter. Claire’s mission in life is to help people become happier at work. She speaks internationally on how to create more open, honest workplace environments, and has been published in Harvard Business Review, CNBC, Inc, Fortune, among others. Claire is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at her alma mater, Northwestern University.

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1. Introduction: Hi, there. I'm Claire Lu, and I'm the CEO of Know Your Company. A software tool that helps managers, CEOs, and employees all get to know each other better by getting honest feedback. We work with over 15,000 people in over 25 countries and I speak internationally on this topic of how you actually create more open and honest work environments. This class is for anyone who feels as though they would really like to get better at this practice of both giving and getting honest feedback. Now, that can be if you're a manager in a company and struggling to figure out how do you actually get the truth of how your team is feeling. So, from the data through Know Your Company, that we've collected over the past four and a half years. I'm really excited to share our insights based off this research, so that you don't have to go through the same struggles that I did. That's really what the culmination of this class is. The tips, the techniques, actionable steps that you can take to the office starting tomorrow. I really invite you and encourage you to join us in the discussion section. I'll answer any question that you have. Now, let's get started. 2. Understanding the Feedback Loop: What would you say the hardest part is about being a leader? I'll give you a second to think that through. Maybe you're thinking, oh, it's firing and hiring people. Maybe you're thinking it's having to make a decision when it's crucial, and trust me as a CEO myself all those things are true. It's interesting though. This question was posed recently. What do you think is the hardest part about being a leader? In the Washington Post, to Peter Thiel, who is the former CEO and co-founder of PayPal, and Peter's answer was fascinating. He said that the hardest part of being a leader is the fact that you are often the very last to know anything in your company. In some ways, you're in the absolute center of the organization, and in other ways, you are a complete outsider. This sentiment of being the last to know as a leader is common. It's everywhere. The CEO of Charles Schwab has said that being the last to know as a CEO has been his number one challenge. The CEO of Infosys has said that when you're the last to know as a CEO, it's just because you're continually trapped in this good news cocoon. In other words, the hardest part about being a leader for many leaders is getting honest feedback. It's hearing from the employee who's quieter or more shy more introverted. It's hearing from the employee who's located in your office that's on the other side of the world. It's hearing the bad news, the things that people just don't really want to tell you. This has been a continual struggle for so many leaders, and the truth of the matter is that leaders, we are the last to know all the time. Studies have shown that 85 percent of employees feel that they're actually unable to speak up at work. Seventy percent of employees have said that they've hesitated to speak up at work and actually 42 percent of employees have said that they've actually withheld information at work. So, it's not just that we as CEOs, leaders, executives, and managers feel like we're the last to know, we are. People aren't coming to us telling us about the problems that they're facing. They're not coming to us telling us the things that they're observing on the front lines. So, as an aspiring leader or a current leader, recognizing this pain point, recognizing this challenge that we have inherently as leaders that we need to discern the truth about her and get this honest feedback in a way that's more rigorous than we've ever done before should truly be one of our top priorities. What feedback really is is simply truthful information. It's hearing back things that we might not know, but that is actually true. The ability to get that honest, truthful information and the ability to give that honest, truthful information as well. When we're able to do both of these things, to have this healthy feedback loop, to be giving and getting and have this exchange of honest information, then we're able to make better decisions. We're able to overcome mistakes and blindspots we might not have seen, and we're able to move faster, and actually improve how our team is performing, and get the results that we're looking for within our team. When we think about this feedback loop, we're usually only doing one part of it. We usually only asking questions and maybe delivering surveys and trying to get that honest feedback, or we're simply not listening at all and just telling people what we think they should be hearing. We're just shooting out what we think is the information and giving that feedback as often as possible. It's very, very rare in an organization that we do both sides of the feedback loop and that we do both well. The amazing opportunity here is that if you're able to do this feedback loop well, if you're able to institute this feedback loop in your company to both get honest feedback regularly and give honest feedback in a productive, constructive way, all of a sudden you're going to be able to bubble up problems a lot sooner. You're going to be able to uncover mistakes and be able to fix them before you ever would have previously. You're going to be able to make improvements and changes in your company much more quickly, and lastly build the rapport, the connection, and the overall ability for your team to work better together. What that really just means is that your team performance gets better. Studies have found that 37 percent of managers find it extremely uncomfortable to have to give direct feedback about the performance of their team. So, what we're talking about here is that we as managers, executive leaders, aspiring leaders find and fear having to give this honest feedback, and it's really one of the most difficult parts. If you're watching this video and watching this lesson, I'm sure it's one of the biggest reasons you decided to do so. No one likes to tell someone that they're sucking at something. No one likes to say you're messing up. However, there are some really productive and constructive ways to do this, and that's what we're going to talk about today. So keep in mind how mission critical having a healthy feedback loop in your company is. Yes, I know you're busy running around having to put out fires. I know that there are so many competing things for your interest. Yet remembering that seeing the current reality for what it is, seeing the truth for what it is, getting that honest feedback and giving it is the only way you're going to be able to perform well, do the things that you're setting out to do, and make sure your team is heading in the right direction. Next up, we're going to talk about well, how do you exactly become good at this hardest part of being a leader which is getting honest feedback. We're going to talk about how you exactly get honest feedback from your most introverted employee, the person who you've been dying to hear from, wanting to learn more, and I'm going to talk about exactly why it's so difficult, and most importantly, what we can do about it. 3. Getting Honest Feedback: In this section, I'm going to talk about how to actually get honest feedback from even your quietest employee. Specifically, we're going to dive into why doing this and getting this honest feedback is so mission critical. We're going to talk about how even when we know it's important, why it's so difficult to do? Lastly, very practically, what are the steps that you can take to get honest feedback that you typically do not hear and from people who you don't typically hear from as well? In the research that we've done with Know Your Company over the past four and a half years working with over 15,000 employees and 25 countries, we've come to find that there are actually two glaring blind spots that most leaders overlook because they are not getting the honest feedback that they need. The biggest blind spot that most leaders face is the fact that their employees feel stifled at work. We found that 76% of employees felt that there is an area outside their current role that they feel like they could be contributing in. So, this means if I'm an engineer, that I want to be contributing on the marketing side, that if I'm a designer, I would love to pitch in on customer support, and that if I'm working on HR, that it might be really neat to have my hand in events management. What it means is that employees, they crave growth, they want to be adding to their skills, and finding ways to become better, and often as managers and leaders, we don't think about that. So, the fact that 76% of our employees are feeling this way, they feel stifled, that they feel like they can could be contributing more, this is a really big blindspot, that's important for us as managers to not overlook, so that we can maintain a high morale in our team. The second biggest blind spot that we found through our data in Know Your Company is the fact that your employees think that your company is behind the curve on something. What I would guarantee is it's highly unlikely that you're seeing 65% of your team coming to you, telling you that there's something behind the curve. So, there is this clear disconnect of your employees seeing that there are things that competitors are doing, seeing things that could be better in the company, and you just flat out not knowing. So, think about all the things you're behind, think about how things are lagging, and it sees blindspots, these things that you don't know. That's what's happening, because you're not getting the honest feedback that you need. So, many of us maybe intuitively knew that getting honest feedback is crucial to becoming a good leader, and yet we'll ask the questions, we'll send out the employee surveys, and we often won't get any meaningful insights. Why does this happen? Well, what we found is that there are two big obstacles to getting honest feedback. Two key reasons for why employees don't speak up at work. One of them, you might have guessed, is fear. It's scary for an employee to stick her or his neck out, and say something that maybe the boss doesn't really want to hear. For us leaders and aspiring leaders, it's very easy to forget that this power dynamic exists, that as an employee, I don't really want to bite the hand that feeds me. What's the incentive for me speaking up? So this fear that I could be penalized in some way seen differently, and maybe even fired, that really keeps employees from speaking up, and it's why that even when you ask a question, you're not always going to get a good answer. Now, fear, it does play a big role in being the reason for why employees don't speak up. But it's not the biggest. Studies have found that the biggest reason for why an employee doesn't speak up at work and why it's so hard for you to get that honest feedback is actually futility. So, the fact that even if I were to speak up at work and give you my feedback as an employee, nothing's going to happen. Nothing different. The sense of futility is in fact so powerful. Studies have found it's 1.8 times more powerful than fear as an obstacle to feedback, and that's why you're not getting that feedback you want. So, as a leader, understanding that fear and futility are the main obstacles to getting honest feedback, that's the way that we're going to be able to crack the code of figuring out how to actually get those insights that you're so hungry for. So, now let's talk about how do you practically get honest feedback from your employees? Well, there's three different things that you can do. The first is what I like to call "Going first". It's this idea that if you expect, as a leader, your team to be vulnerable with you, you have to be vulnerable with them. This is how you help dismantle that power dynamic, that element of fear that is at play. Now, it can be as simple as switching a word, and I'll tell you, that word is using advice instead of feedback. When you ask for advice, it means that you care about a person's opinion. You see them as an expert. Yet the word feedback has a negative connotation. It means that you might be critical of something. One of the CEOs that we work with found that when she asked for feedback from her board, all she heard was crickets. Yet when she asked for advice, her board could not stop talking. They had so many ideas all of a sudden for things that could be better, what could be improved. So, I recommend that you try asking for advice instead of for feedback when you think about going first as a leader. Another way to go first and overcome this power dynamic and sense of fear that can happen when you're trying to get feedback is to admit something that you're struggling with as a leader. This can be as simple as saying, "I'm having a hard time with this", or "I can't really figure out how to put together this plan." When you do that, you level with an employee. You show and invite them into actually giving you some input that they might not have given you otherwise. The second thing that you can do to get honest feedback from your team is to simply ask specific questions. Now, I know that sounds obvious. You're probably thinking, yeah, you want feedback, of course, you should ask questions. But the key word here is specific. How many times have you been in a one on one with an employee and ask them how's it going? What's the answer typically? Most times, nine out of 10. People will say, "It's fine." Right? It's because the question, "How's it going?" It's vague. It's general. It's broad. So, the answer you get is vague, general, and broad. As a result, you should ask specific questions. For example, you can ask about one thing. "What's one thing that could have been better about this meeting", instead of "how could we improve the meeting." "What's one thing that you're struggling with", instead of just asking, "what are you struggling with." When you ask one thing, you make the question more specific, and you're able to get more specific answers. Another way to make your questions more specific is to use a tactic that I call time boxing. This means referring to a specific period of time in asking your question. So, instead of just saying, "what's something that could be better", say, "in the past two weeks, what's something that could be better" When you ask specific questions in both asking about one thing and in time boxing, you're able to gets such richer insight into actually how people are thinking and feeling in your company. Lastly, possibly the most powerful thing you can do to get honest feedback from your team is to simply do something. This is how you overcome that sense of futility that your employees might have about giving feedback the next time around. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to implement every single piece of feedback that comes along the way. It's not what I'm saying. One of the things that you can do to do something and act on feedback is simply to show gratitude. We forget to say thank you when someone offers a devil's advocate opinion or share something that might not be in accordance with the rest of the company. Just because you don't agree with it doesn't mean that it's not valuable and that it shouldn't be shown gratitude. So, make sure to bring someone up to the front of the company and publicly thank them. Write them even a note, send them that email that says, "Thank you for your feedback." Even though we disagree, even though we're not doing anything with it necessarily, I am grateful for you saying it. The other way that you can act on a piece of feedback even if you disagree with it, even if you don't implement it, is to do something that I call closing the loop. This means explaining why you're not acting on something. It's very easy to explain when you are, we just as leaders don't often explain why we don't. So, if we decide to go another route, if we've given a survey but decides that, "Oh those are things that we're not going to actually do." Make sure to explain that with your team. Make sure to close the loop. Lastly, the way that you can do something and act on a piece of feedback is simply to act on something small. Knock out a quick win. This can be seemingly trivial when we are so busy with all sorts of things, big projects, deadlines etc. But it's truly the small things that matter. After all, if you act on something small, this is how you overcome that sense of futility that so many employees have that keep them from giving you that honest feedback that you want. So, if you want to get honest feedback, if you want to avoid blindspots as a leader, make sure you go first, you ask specific questions, and you knock out a quick win. If you do those three things, you're on your way to getting honest feedback so much more than you ever have before. 4. Giving Honest Feedback: In this lesson, we're going to talk about the other half of the feedback loop, which is how do you actually give honest feedback? How do you tell someone something that they don't want to hear? We're going to dive specifically into why giving feedback in the first place matters so much especially as leaders. We're going to talk about why this is really difficult for us to do and then we'll dive straight into what you should do to do this well. How do you actually give honest feedback in a way that actually helps you see the results you want to see and doesn't demoralize your team? We hear all this talk these days about why it's important to give honest feedback, but the proof is really in the pudding. Studies have shown that leaders who are able to give honest feedback are actually rated by their team as five times more effective and that their team is three times more engaged. So, the truth of the matter is that giving honest feedback isn't just this thing that books and articles say is good to do, empirically it actually helps your team perform better. You're a better leader when you're giving honest feedback. So, why don't we do this. Many leaders that I've worked with have said that they will actually write out the feedback that they want to give, sit down with the person, come away from that one on one conversation, look back down at the piece of paper and go, "Huh, I don't think I said any of that, I don't think I gave that feedback in an honest way at all." So, what's happening? The truth is is that feedback is often perceived as negative. We don't want to bear the weight of having to say something that's negative or critical and our brains are in fact wired to hang on to negative emotions more than positive ones. We biologically avoid feedback because it feels so negative. The interesting thing though is as much as we don't like to give honest feedback, our employees really really want to hear. Studies have found that across the board employees are wanting even more honest feedback. In fact, even in our software of New York company when we ask employees and survey thousands of them, we find that 80 percent of employees want even more feedback and keep in mind, these are folks who are using already a piece of software that's asking them for feedback, yet 80 percent of them want even more feedback. So, while you may hate giving honest feedback, your employees want to hear it. So, before I talk about exactly how you give honest feedback in a way that doesn't drain your team or demoralize anyone and has you walking away feeling good, I want to talk about the things that you shouldn't do. Namely, it's something that I like to call a shit sandwich. You may have heard of this before. It's a technique for giving feedback that was popularized in the 1990s, where to deliver a piece of feedback, you layer your feedback good, bad, good. You have the compliment at the top, you have the negative feedback in the middle, the shit so to speak, and then you have the end of the sandwich, which is another compliment. Some of you maybe nodding your heads smiling, saying, "Oh, yes, I've definitely given a shit sandwich or I've been on the receiving end of one." So, it's something that's very popular yet I should say, which simply doesn't work because you and all of us know what a shit sandwich entails, we know what to expect, we know that the good and then the bad and the good is going to happen. So, when we start to hear it, we know that it's going to be good layered with bad, layered with good. Because it's so predictable, it also comes across as extremely disingenuous. We think, "Oh, this is just part of a template, part of a formula, so they're not really meaning anything that they're saying here." Lastly, the shit sandwich really backfires because people only tune in to what they want to hear. Some people they hear shit sandwich and they walk away thinking, "Oh, I did nothing wrong." They only heard the compliments at the bookends. Others walk away from a shit sandwich going, "Oh my gosh, my life is over, there's just so much bad." They zoom in only on the shit, people only hear what they want to hear when it comes to a shit sandwich, which really is it what you want at all. In addition to not giving shit sandwiches any more when you're giving feedback, there are two other things that you shouldn't do when it comes to giving honest feedback. One is, don't give it in public. One of the clients that we work with admitted how they gave a piece of feedback via email and the entire company happened to be CCed it on the email and they happened to have forgotten, that's giving feedback to someone in public, and instead it should really be done on a one on one situation. So, keep that in mind. The other thing that you should not do when it comes to giving honest feedback is to delay it. There is never a perfect time to tell someone something that's difficult, so don't wait. The sooner, the better. All of us have probably lived this firsthand but I cannot stress this enough. So, what should you do to give honest feedback in a way that's going to help you be a more effective leader and to make your team more engaged? What's the formula? Well, there are four pieces to how I think about giving honest feedback to your team. The first is to come from a place of care. Oftentimes, when we're giving feedback, we forget to say the intention for why we're giving it in the first place. We forget to say hey, I'm actually giving this because I want you to be successful in your role because I care about your career progression because I care about the outcome of the team as a whole. We don't say this and we really should. The minute you make your intention clear for why you're giving a piece of feedback, it means that the person's defensiveness melts away. So, make sure to be clear about why you're giving this honest feedback in the first place. You want to come from a place of care, say what that is, that you care about their career development, that you care about the project's outcome. The second thing you'll want to do when you're giving honest feedback is to come from a place of observation. You want to focus on what are the things that have actually happened, the observable traits and behaviors and not on the person's way they may have come across or the way exactly it might have made you feel, you want to distinguish the two, and this is important for making things as objective as possible and sharing your feedback. The more objective it is, the more likely it is that the person who's receiving it is going to understand how can benefit them and what they can do differently going forward. So, what this means is you can say something like when you do X, which are the observable traits and behaviors that you've seen, it makes me feel why. So, you can then show a difference between here are the things that actually happen, here are the facts and the details of the matter, and here's how it affected me and how I think it's coming across. The more that you can come from a place of observation, the more that a person who's listening can separate the two, see the truth and the objectivity behind it, and then want to actually make the change. The third thing that you can do to give honest feedback well is to come from a place of fallibility. Remember that your feedback is not the word of God, it is simply an observation, it is simply your interpretation of what is happening. As a result, you should make that known. Let your teammate know that I don't have all the answers and this is simply what I saw, I could even be wrong using phrases like, "This is just my take," or, "I don't have all the information," or, "This is what I happened to see," shows fallibility, shows that you understand and acknowledge that your feedback is just an opinion. When you come from a place of fallibility, you create an opportunity for this person to really take stock of what you're saying, not take your feedback personally, and then make the changes that you want to see. Lastly, to give honest feedback well, you want to come from a place of curiosity. Feedback should not just be a one way street. It's not just a mandate of what should be better, it's a two-way conversation. You want to make it such. The best way to do this is simply to ask a question, to say, what do you think? That's actually my favorite question I like to ask when I'm giving someone honest feedback. When you come from a place of curiosity, it lets this person know that they can engage in thinking through this with you of how things could be better and how they themselves can improve. So, that sounds all nice in a video, I'm sure. But, what does this actually look like in practice? Well, I'll tell you, a few months ago, there was a piece of feedback that I needed to give to a teammate here in New York company, and I was really worried that it was going to damage this person's morale. They are a high performer and oftentimes especially with high performers, it's easy to have even the smallest piece of feedback be interpreted in the wrong way, and I didn't want that to happen. So, what I did as I said "Hey, I'm giving you this feedback because I truly care about your career development, and I want you to be the best person in this role that you can, and I want this project to be successful too, that's why I want to share these thoughts with you." I then came from a place of observation and said I noticed the way that you created these write ups, didn't have the level of detail and attention because I saw this, this and this. I talked about specifically what the details were. I didn't just allude to it, I didn't make a statement that was brought about how this person came across. I came from a place of observation. I then said, "But, that's just what I saw, I'm not sure if I didn't give you enough information, I'm not sure if there's more to the story," so coming from a place of fallibility, and then lastly, I said, "Well, what do you think? That's just what I saw, I would love to know what you think about what could be improved going forward." Then, I braced myself. I wasn't sure what was going to happen or what the reaction was going to be and gladly it was good. This person took this feedback incredibly well and most importantly made productive changes that were really beneficial to this person and to the team. So, as you think about the next one on one meeting that you have coming up with an employee as you think about perhaps even giving feedback to your boss, consider how can you come from a place of care, observation, fallibility, or curiosity. Maybe you don't pull all four elements into your delivery, maybe you focus just on one. Most importantly, remind yourself that the cost of not doing this is poor leadership, poor engagement in your team, and that truly, the person on the other side, they want to hear it. 5. Final Thoughts: I hope you found this class helpful, as an aspiring leader or as a current leader, as you think about how to both get and give honest feedback in the workplace. Now, I know you're busy. I know you've got a million things going on. So, I challenge you to really take stock of why this stuff is important in the first place. Keep in mind the cost of not doing these things, that you'll encounter blindspots if you're not getting honest feedback, and that you won't be an effective leader if you're not giving honest feedback too. Keep these things in mind when you're slammed at work and not sure how much energy you should be putting into the feedback loop. It's worth it, it matters, and it will pay off. The other thing, before you head out, that I want to challenge you with is to consider what's one thing that you want to do based off the lessons that you learned here. Is it that you're going to use the word "Advice" instead of "Feedback" when you're asking for feedback? Is it that you're going to knock out a quick win that you've been meaning to, and that's how you're going to overcome futility when it comes to getting more feedback as well? Or perhaps you want to come from a place of fallibility when you're giving feedback, or maybe you're just going to stop sitting on feedback and waiting so long to give it in the first place. Whatever it is, write it down right now, put it down on paper, hold yourself accountable to it because at the end of the day when it comes to becoming a better leader, when it comes to creating a more open and honest work environment, it starts with action, starts with changing something small, and you can do that right now. I'd love to hear about your progress as you start to make some of these changes. So, feel free to chime in on the discussion section. You can even email me personally at I'd love to hear about what challenges you're facing, what's working, what's not, and other ways that I can help you as you think about becoming a better leader. I look forward to hearing how it all goes for you, and how you're positively affecting your team. Thanks again. 6. 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