How to ask for feedback and increase your self-awareness

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is not taking the time, or calling on the courage required, to increase their self-awareness. Increasing our self-awareness not only means getting clearer on things like our values, strengths and ‘how we see the world’, it also means understanding ‘how the world sees us’.

To see yourself clearly, you need to understand how you’re perceived by the people around you – and that starts by gathering honest feedback.

One of the simplest – and least-intimidating – ways to do this with your colleagues and team is with a technique called the Keep, Stop, Start model. It’s just three open-ended questions that help you highlight your most immediate strengths and areas for improvement.

They are…

  • What’s one thing you want me to keep doing?
  • What’s one thing you want me to stop doing?
  • What’s one thing you want me to start doing?

If you want to put the Keep, Stop, Start model into action, there are four key steps to follow…

1. Identify a few people in your work life whose feedback you would value

Ideally, you will set up four or five of these feedback-gathering conversations. That way, you will be able to uncover some themes and have a good overall sense of how others are perceiving you.

As a leader, it’s important to be sure that at least one of these interviewees is a member of your team – someone who you are leading every day. Other options may be your direct manager, your peers, and even your clients or professional partners. The goal is to get a diverse range of voices from the people you interact with on a daily basis.

2. Give them some context

An email ahead of time is a good idea so that you avoid putting people on the spot. You can give a simple explanation; “I’m looking to increase my awareness in this role, and I would appreciate taking on board your feedback about ways I can help improve our working relationship…” (Or some variation of this that feels natural to you.)

You can even send through the three questions ahead of time to give them a chance to carefully think through their responses before your conversation.

3. Meet in person (or virtually). Don’t rely on purely written feedback.

This technique is much more effective when you talk face-to-face. Ensure that you make the other person feel comfortable and safe. This is especially important when you are asking for constructive feedback from someone in the team that you lead.

Avoid coming across as defensive, even if you don’t like what you hear. This isn’t the time to explain or justify your actions, but rather a time to absorb the feedback and see your behaviour from someone else’s point of view.

If the person gives you a response that you completely disagree with, ask a few questions to better understand their perspective. This is a good time to learn, take notes, and to listen.

Finally, be sure to thank the person for their time and their insights.

4. Reflect on what you’ve heard

Start looking for themes in your feedback. What stands out to you? Is this surprising, or is it something you already knew about yourself?

Identify a few actions you’d like to take in response to the feedback. Then, reflect these intentions back to the people who shared their thoughts with you. This will help them see that you truly are open to improving yourself and your leadership, and enables them to keep you accountable for your intentions.

If you find this exercise helpful, try building it into your regular leadership practices. Encourage your team to do the same so that it becomes normalised in your workplace. The result will be greater self-awareness, better communication, and more openness in your working relationships.

Looking for more practical leadership tips and strategies? Check out my blended leadership programme for emerging leaders, The Leader’s Map.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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