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How can managers encourage open and honest feedback?

By Peter Cullen FIML


What are your first thoughts and feelings when someone comes up to you and mentions they would like to give you some feedback? Typically, our thoughts tend to sway towards the negative such as, “What have I done wrong?” or “Here we go again”. This could also be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, frustration or dread.

However, when we provide open and honest feedback, what we create is a sense of openness. Receiving feedback becomes an engaging and supportive process when what’s best for both parties is taken into consideration. It should be a positive and productive learning experience where improvement is required, and commendation provided. There should be no such thing as negative feedback.

A question I often ask during facilitation is, “How do you like to be asked to do something or receive feedback?” Typically, attendees say they prefer very clear communication with no ambiguity. All too often the recipient of the feedback feels uncomfortable and is left wondering what the purpose of the conversation really was. You can avoid this by keeping the following points in mind:



Clear expectations on the frequency and format of feedback meetings are essential. During feedback meetings, promote conversations that are open, honest and appropriately respectful. This applies for both one-on-one and team discussions. Use simple yet powerful questions during these meetings. Find out what is working well and why, then explore what can be improved and how. These feedback meetings may be scheduled or ad hoc.



Role model the ideal behaviours of providing feedback to members of the team so they understand what it looks and feels like. Giving your time to people and being 100% present in the conversation can be very difficult when you have many priorities and time limits niggling away in the back of your brain. The discussion will not be taken seriously if you are distracted by emails, phones or other people. This is a quick way to lose respect and trust. Remember, whatever you do or say becomes permissible for others to do the same.



A safe environment is created when mutual trust exists between people. Trust is established over time by our day-to-day behaviours in the workplace. When giving or receiving feedback, it’s important to stop, think and then respond rather than react. Other behaviours that help build trust include being calm, questioning rather than challenging, remaining patient and listening. If you are explaining why tough decisions had to be made, present it from a fact-based, business perspective.



Seeking clarity is often overlooked, leading people to interpret the discussion differently from one another. To ensure everyone is on the same page, either restate what your understanding of the conversation is or ask the other person what their understanding of the discussion is. This will ensure any agreed actions are aligned with all parties involved. If a misunderstanding is identified at this stage, thank the other party for bringing it to your attention.



Following up at agreed times on any decisions and actions is essential to ensure the desired outcomes are reached. This is also an opportunity to ensure you are on the right track and to reflect on the whole process.

When feedback is delivered in the right way at the right time, it is typically uplifting and motivating for everyone. If you want people to be honest with you, you need to be honest with them.

Peter Cullen is an education and training facilitator and Fellow of IML ANZ. He conducts three-day programs that engage participants in developing and implementing their capabilities as managers and leaders.


This article originally appeared in the December 2019 print edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s exclusive Member’s magazine. For editorial suggestions and enquiries, please contact

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