Merge's Blog

Leaders, do you solicit and listen to negative feedback?

Woman With Sore FeetI’ve often blogged about how leaders can give negative feedback more effectively (including this post: Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback).  But a recent event caused me to consider how good leaders are at soliciting and listening to negative feedback.

Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

My dad used this phrase the other day, specifically to give a vendor negative feedback about unsatisfactory service.  My father had complained about the quality of the service he had received from one of the company’s staff members, and the supervisor-in-charge was arguing with him, questioning my dad’s account, and suggesting that what he had received was adequate.  My dad’s response was a succinct way of emphasizing that because he was the sole recipient of the service, he was the only one who could offer first-hand knowledge of whether the result was acceptable or not.  In other words, the person receiving the service is in the best position to offer feedback, both positive and negative!

This phrase got my attention, and not just because it was unusual.  It also got me thinking about the importance of first-hand feedback, and whether we as leaders actively solicit it, particularly negative feedback.  And if we take the time to seek it out, do we actually listen, or do we try to rationalize it away as this particular vendor was trying to do?  Not only feedback from our customers, but also from our employees.  When a staff member tells us that something (process or product) isn’t working as well as it should, are we open-minded enough listen?  Are we objective enough to realize that as the people dealing directly with the situation, our employees may know best “where the shoe pinches”?  My experience has been that unless leaders are thoughtful about not falling into this trap, the tendency is to stumble into the erroneous belief that “because we built the shoe, only we can tell you what it good or bad about it”.

So I’m asking – is it only the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches?  Could you and your organization benefit from paying attention to the wearer’s first-hand experiences?  Do you actively solicit and open-mindedly respond to feedback, even if it’s negative feedback?  Do tell.

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