1: Reality check: It is easier to see problems in others than to see them in ourselves.
“As human beings we almost always suffer from the disconnect between the self we think we are and the self that the rest of the world sees in us.” Marshall Goldsmith writes in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
“Even though we may be able to deny our problems to ourselves, they may be very obvious to the people who are observing us.”
Which is why gathering feedback from others is so important if we are going to learn, grow, and get better.
The Johari Window is a simple four-pane grid that divides our self-awareness into four parts: What is known and unknown about us to other people and what is known and unknown about us to ourselves.
“The stuff that is known about us to others is public knowledge. What’s known to us and unknown to others is private,” “The interesting stuff is the information that’s known to others but unknown to us.”
When this information is revealed to us, it often provokes dramatic change because we discover a truth about who we are. “These blindside moments are rare and precious gifts,” Marshall writes. “They hurt, perhaps (the truth often does), but they also instruct.”
2: When we ask for feedback from others, Marshal believes “the only question that works—the only one!—must be phrased like this: “How can I do better?” Semantic variations are permitted, such as, “What can I do to be a better partner at home?” or “What can I do to be a better colleague at work?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of this group?”
And how do we respond to the feedback? We say, “Thank You.”
That’s it. No expressing our opinion about their opinion. No arguing.
“But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we ask for feedback from someone and then immediately express our opinion,” Marshall observes. “This is certainly true when our opinion is negative (“I’m not sure about that. . . .”). Whatever we say, however softly we couch it, our opinion will sound defensive. It will resemble a rationalization, a denial, a negation, or an objection.”
Marshall’s advice? Stop doing that.
3: As one of the top executive coaches in the world, he begins each coaching engagement by gathering feedback about his new client from their colleagues at all levels of the organization. “Confidential 360-degree feedback is the best way for successful people to identify what they need to improve in their relationships at work,” he writes.
He tells each coworker about his client’s plan to change and asks them to commit to helping. Marshall has a “foolproof” method of capturing this input. He presents them with four requests. He has them commit to the following:
1. Let go of the past.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Be supportive and helpful—not cynical or negative.
4. Pick something to improve yourself—so everyone is focused more on “improving” than “judging.”
“First commitment: Can they let go of the past? Whatever real or imagined sins we have committed against people in the past, they are long past correction,” he notes. We “can’t do anything to erase them. So, we need to ask people to let go of the past. This is simple, but it is not easy.”
Next up? The second commitment is to swear to the truth. When we “solicit—no, demand—honesty from people, we can proceed with the confidence that we’re going in the right direction.”
The third commitment is to be supportive without being a cynic, critic, or judge. Marshall notes that this request asks a lot of people, especially those who work for the person being coached.
Fourth and finally: “Will they pick one thing they can improve in themselves?” Marshall asks. Suddenly, both parties “have become equals: fellow humans engaged in the same struggle to improve.”
Over the years, Marshall has witnessed “the massive side benefits of getting other people involved—especially the part where they committed to changing something too,” he writes.
“It enriched the entire experience. The client not only changed for the better because he was getting support from his coworkers, but the coworkers changed too because of what they learned by supporting him. This is a rich and subtle dynamic, proving that change is not a one-way street. It involves two parties: the person who’s changing and the people who notice it.”
Marshall intentionally keeps the questions he asks simple.
Does the executive in question:
• Clearly communicate a vision?
• Treat people with respect?
• Solicit contrary opinions?
• Encourage other people’s ideas?
• Listen to other people in meetings?
These questions are designed to provide insight into the individual’s interpersonal tendencies, and behaviors which Marshall believes are “the difference between being great and near-great, between getting the gold and settling for the bronze.”
Reflection: How might I gather feedback about my interpersonal behaviors from my colleagues across all levels of my organization?
Action: Do it.