Which comes first, trust or feedback?

leadership Sep 01, 2021

Think about an inspiring product leader from your past – a leader who inspired you to do your best work. My guess is they could give you constructive feedback, and you would take that feedback as a gift and make necessary changes. You may not have enjoyed receiving the feedback, but you could hear what they had to say and carefully consider it. You knew they had your best interests in mind. You trusted their motives.

Many product managers struggle with giving constructive feedback because of a lack of trust. When trust is absent, we end up glossing over feedback. Trust must be built for constructive feedback to be effective.

Product managers are continually giving feedback. Whether its on the product, to a colleague, or to their teams. Trust must be present for feedback to be effective.

Here are six things product managers can do to build trust and enable feedback to be a learning experience.

  • Lead with positivity.

The most fundamental way to build trust with your team is to connect with them. As the number of positive interactions product managers have with their teams increases, the more trust grows. Research shows there should be three positive interactions with an employee before constructive feedback can be a learning experience.  

  • Create a safe environment.

By encouraging your teams (direct/indirect) to be comfortable learning and making mistakes, trust and connection increase. This enables people to generate more ideas and collaborate more; feedback just becomes part of the routine of work. In a safe environment, feedback is an opportunity to grow. Managers must set the expectation that they will give both positive and negative feedback when appropriate because they want their employees to succeed. 

  • Get in the right mindset.

There’s a difference between feedback and blowback. Feedback is information intended to help another person learn. Blowback is used to hurt and wound. If an employee has let a manager down or has performed poorly, and the manager feels angry, the feedback will come across as punitive. If you find yourself about to give blowback as part of an angry moment, try to deal with your own emotions before engaging in any sort of dialogue.  

  • Model vulnerability.

When managers give feedback from a place of vulnerability, this increases trust and employees’ willingness to be open. Brené Brown writes that engaged, vulnerable feedback encompasses:

•          Talking about similar mistakes you have made

•          Acknowledging that you may not fully understand the issue

•          Being willing to own your part in the challenge

When employees understand that feedback is not a personal attack, but a dialogue with their manager, collaboration and trust can grow.

  • Demonstrate the value of feedback.

Product leaders must model feedback by asking others for feedback and then taking action based on what they hear. Product leaders should be open with their teams about what they are learning and what changes they have made. When leaders ask for feedback from their direct reports and then take action, employees feel valued and that their opinions matter.  

Which comes first, trust or constructive feedback? The answer is simple: trust. To build an engaged workforce where people bring their whole selves to work each day, trust must be built into every interaction. 

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