Name It Then Tame It

Relationships with clients, with colleagues, with our team members and with our bosses-that’s how we spend our days and years in our career. Relationships are also where we learn the most about ourselves. While we know the benefits of 360 feedback from and to leaders; we may be neglecting it from the best source of growth around us. What if we as women, asked for that feedback from one another? I tried it a few years ago with a colleague I deeply respected and immediately felt unstuck.

The male boss to whom I was reporting was making me crazy. The kind of crazy where you grow a wrinkle each time you see his name in your inbox, want to punch a wall, consider swigging gin at your desk hourly and you just KNOW you can’t hate your job anymore then he makes you hate your job. I was constantly on planes during this time of my career, always feeling like cattle in airport security lines, never not emailing, and while I loved my clients, I knew I would risk throwing the laptop across the room one day if I didn’t figure out a way forward with him.

I called her out of the blue and just asked her, “Would you do me a favor? Will you please give some thought to three things I do really well and three things I should change about the way we work together?” My boss was never going to give me this feedback, he always missed our 1:1s and vacillated between hovering over my every move and never being available. If I wanted a change, I needed to turn to the one woman who was on every single conference call and email with me. She grew quiet and said that she would do this. She would put some thought into this and come back to me the next day. I felt heard and as if a pressure valve released and my shoulders relaxed. Her feedback meant I could focus on what I loved most about my role-my work with clients.

“What can I do differently?” Is a question organizations with strong cultures regularly ask themselves. Entrepreneurs do this daily and sometimes hourly. A product cannot get better unless we examine it and ask hard questions, companies cannot deliver better customer experiences unless they ask for feedback from their clients, leaders and employees develop trust this way and colleagues can bond when this is a question asked between them.

My brother and I have done this over the years and my husband and I do it regularly. We just ask, “What can I do better?” We recognize that just as we cannot taste our teeth, we aren’t always certain how others are perceiving us. Adults who have done hard work on understanding themselves and personality types also know that everyone else has a personalty type which may or may not clash and communication is the best way forward, but this must be done with someone you respect and who is trustworthy. Henry Cloud would call this person a safe person.

If your friend sits you down once a year and tells you what terrible thing you recently did and how you need to change, you would not stay in friendship with her. If your boss is constantly criticizing you, you would switch bosses or find a new job. Some humans are just critical people roaming the earth with an invisible clipboard, finding fault with everyone. Don’t go to these people and ask for feedback. Finding neutral ground is where the growth can happen.

Just as we ask clients questions with open ends, we should do the same with colleagues. Ask someone to coffee or book a conference room and time on calendars for time to cover the following ground:

  • What do you think I do very well?

  • What do you wish I would do more of with clients, with you, with other teams?

  • What do wish I would stop doing or where do you think my work style causes friction?

Most people know this by the name Stop. Start. Continue, which is exactly what it is. It works with clients, in marriages, with teens who live under your roof and it works best with work wives, the colleagues to whom we can say the unsayable.

We learn most about ourselves in relationships and some of the longest lasting ones I’ve had and continue to enjoy are with women who were in the trenches with me, under pressure, week after week. There’s a reason we are still friends long after we’ve all moved on to other companies-they are smart, fun and we’ve given this feedback to one another over the years. When we ask these open-ended conversations we build trust, we invite growth and we improve our performance and work better as teams which are all things any HR department would be thrilled to see.

If you are a leader by title and are not practicing 360 degree feedback, please consider starting. If you are not a leader by title and begin this exercise with your colleagues, I promise you will be promoted to lead soon and in the interim, you’ll be able to grow and improve in the ways needed to take your career to the next level and leveling up is why we’re all working so hard in the first place.

Dorothy JohnsonComment