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Open to Feedback – Train People to Tell You the Truth

Looking for a 5 10’, 45 year-old with some of his hair. Must enjoy long walks on the beach, dogs, and great conversations. No baggage please!!

At work this might sounds like, looking for employees who will do good work with little to no oversight, be open to feedback, and never get defensive, no matter what bad news we give them.  Otherwise known as, no baggage.

Unless you work alone, you know that people come with baggage. I’m calling our negative experiences with other people –parents who lost their tempers when we expressed a counter point-of-view, bosses who punished us for saying what we really thought, and peers who killed us off when we told them the truth – baggage. Every time we got yelled at, in trouble, or punished in any way for giving feedback, we learned it was not safe to speak up.

Your direct reports and coworkers have been trained by every person who came before you, both personally and professionally.  We have all been trained.

We all know that when we tell most people what we really think, and they don’t like it, there are negative consequences. So we learn, pretty quickly, to keep our opinions to ourselves.

If you want people to tell you the truth about what’s not working in your organization or about your own performance, you need to retrain them. You need to get your employees and coworkers to believe that it’s safe to tell you the truth, even when the news is bad.

So how do you make people feel safe giving feedback and speaking up? Be open to feedback:

  1. Ask for their opinion.
  2. Promise that no matter what they tell you, you will say “thank you”.
  3. Manage yourself and ensure the other person felt heard. Say “thank you” out loud, regardless of what you say inside your head.
  4. Then walk away.
  5. Once you’ve had some time to process the feedback, you can go back to the person to discuss it.
  6. If you got defensive, apologize and recommit

Every time you get defensive you train people it’s not safe to tell you the truth. The more often you ask for input and are open to feedback, the more information you’ll get.



Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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