If you ask most leaders and HR professionals, they’ll tell you they wish their teams gave them more feedback.

Everyone will tell you they want to improve and need feedback to know where and how to do so.

So why is it that no one can get enough feedback from their teams?

After all, we all ask for feedback, right?

The problem goes deeper than that – so the solution must go deeper as well. Allow me to explain.

Asking for Feedback Isn’t Enough

If you want to make your team members feel heard, the first step is asking for feedback. It’s important to solicit input from your teams and give them the opportunity to voice their thoughts. However, this step alone is not nearly enough!

95% of leaders and HR departments ask for feedback and stop there. Then they wonder why they can’t get honest feedback from their teams.

The reality is that team members usually feel uncomfortable sharing constructive criticism. There are countless reasons why this may be the case. They’re afraid it’ll hurt their career, or afraid it’ll damage their relationship with the manager. Alternatively, they might even be afraid of being punished for speaking out. We’ve all had bad leaders that didn’t respond well to constructive criticism!

The bottom line is that people fear that being honest will backfire. They fear that even though a leader is asking, the leader doesn’t really want to hear honest feedback.

Some people try to get around this problem with anonymous surveys. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem: a lack of trust. It’s not an open dialogue, and you can’t respond to each individual’s concerns, because you don’t know which individual has which concerns!

So how do you get past this barrier? It starts with building an environment of trust.

Building an Environment of Trust

The first thing you can do to encourage open, honest dialogue about your leadership and workplace is respond productively to criticism.

When someone does have the courage to give you constructive criticism, how do you respond?

Do you get defensive and start arguing about the finer points of their criticism?

…or do you thank them?

Do you ask them to tell you more about what they are experiencing and how it makes them feel?

How you respond sets the tone for whether the individual in question will trust you with constructive criticism. Bear in mind that other people will see how you respond or hear about it from the individual in question!

Before you say anything else, offer your genuine gratitude to the person delivering feedback. Thank them for being open with you about their concerns. Then ask open-ended questions to get a deeper understanding of how they feel, why they feel that way, and what they might want you to do about it.

After that, it’s important to either act on the criticism, or respond with a carefully reasoned response about why you are choosing not to address the specific issue at hand.

If you listen to feedback but never act on it or don’t respond, people will still feel ignored!

Building Real Relationships

Beyond the environment we create, leaders must build strong relationships with their team members to build the necessary trust for honest feedback.

Who trusts a stranger more than a friend? Nobody!

If your team members don’t know anything about your personal life or vice versa, they’re more of a stranger than a friend.

If you don’t know what gets someone out of bed in the morning, who the most important people in their life are, or what goals they have for themselves…you don’t have a relationship with that person, you just work with them.

Take time out of your day to really get to know your people. Ask questions to understand what makes them “tick,” what drives them, what they care about more than anything else. Support their goals and objectives however you can.

I recommend scheduling time for one-on-ones to make sure these relationships don’t fall by the wayside with busy schedules.

The more you show someone that you care about them and want the best for them, in the workplace and in their life as a whole, the more they will trust you and be willing to open up.

You Have to Earn Feedback

It’s easy to think of constructive criticism as an attack, like someone is just giving you a piece of their mind. Sure, sometimes feedback is given with all the wrong intentions. But most of the time, I’ve found that’s not the case at all.

See, I’ve grown to think of feedback as a GIFT.

It’s a gift from someone who is taking the time to share their perspective. To help you get better at what you do. More often than not, our teams give us feedback because they care about us, they know we can do better, and they want to see us grow.

But they have to trust that you DO want to improve. They have to trust that you really want to improve your relationship…even if that means hearing some difficult truths. You have to earn that level of trust. It’s not given freely!

What are you doing today to earn your team’s trust and get more honest feedback?