top of page

How To Get Honest, Helpful Feedback From Your Team

This article was based on episode 107 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get a free audio book version of Leadership by Choice plus some additional resources when you become a member at

We’re used to thinking of leadership as a top-down approach; a leader is the person running the meeting or the individual setting the goals or the human you report to. With over twenty five years of experience in the military and sales, however, Sue Salvemini - now the founder and president of Focal Pointe Consulting Group, Inc. a company dedicated to developing exceptional leadership teams - sees things differently.

Sue defines leadership as your ability to impact and influence those around you. From this perspective, everyone is a leader because each person - whether intentionally or not - impacts and influences those around them. Whether by contributing ideas or bringing a sense of humor to lighten the mood, each team member can significantly alter the direction of the group.

Thus, according to Sue, we’re asking the wrong questions about leadership. The question isn’t who is a leader, but, how do we choose to lead?

As a manager, it’s your job to help each team member intentionally realize their power, significance,and influence, in order to best work together and succeed as a team. Sue unpacks successful approaches to having honest conversations with your team about who they are and what motivates and frustrates them, so you can be a better manager.


After we understand our own core values, we need to understand what is important to each of our team members. This is not quite as deep as core values, but it elicits critical insight into how we can better manage, support and motivate our colleagues.

The most effective way to do this is simply to ask them. When we ask questions directly, we demonstrate we care and are curious to really understand who each person is. Through these conversations we can gather multiple ‘data points’ that help us learn how to bring out the best in each of us.

Sue suggests asking questions that bring out more intense emotions, such as “What’s most frustrating to you about working with me?” and “What motivates you about working with me?” When questions evoke emotional responses, they point to underlying values underneath, which the manager can further investigate.


Most managers bristle at asking such direct questions to their employees, knowing that their staff will likely feel uncomfortable speaking truthfully to their supervisors. People may fear hurting their boss’ feelings or risking their security at work if they say something critical. In order to send the message that it is safe to offer honest, open feedback, Sue recommends two essential approaches:

1. Be vulnerable and open.

Show that you are genuinely seeking information. Preface the questions with the reason you’re asking and what's in it for them. For example, “I know this may be uncomfortable but I believe it’s my job to make sure you’re getting what you need from me. I can’t do that if I don’t know how to best support you, so I’m asking directly…”

2. Be supportive, not defensive.

To demonstrate your commitment to listening to their concerns without becoming reactive, one of the best things you can do is quietly take in the information or ask for clarification. Try to keep your responses to one of the following:

  • Thank you for sharing.

  • Tell me more about that.

  • What about that is so frustrating?

  • How would you design it differently? Or What could I do differently to address that point?


As each team member has different needs, Sue offers two different approaches to use with your staff to individually reach them.

The Softer Approach

In this approach, the manager emphasizes the emotional benefits of honest feedback in improving the team relationship.

“It is critical that you and I work well together. I want to make your job easy and I want to remove barriers for you. The only way for me to do that is to understand how I can best lead you. And I will only know that if you tell me. I recognize that I might not always say and show up the way you need, and as painful or as uncomfortable as it might be for me to hear that, I'm committed to being with you, as part of this team, because we only win when we're all winning together. So I have to ask you an uncomfortable question. Through this, we can collectively work better together. I'm hoping that you'll be able to be honest with me.”

The Practical Approach

In this approach, the manager connects to the pragmatic benefits of helpful feedback in improving the bottomline.

“I'm looking at our team, and I'm looking directionally at our goals. I feel that there's some misses. We're not hitting our numbers, I don't feel our communication as a team is great. And I recognize that maybe as your leader, I’m not giving you the resources or the space to show up and be your best. So I'm looking to have a conversation with you. Because I feel that I need to be doing better in my role. And for me to be doing better in my role to help all of us achieve these numbers and meet these deadlines at a much better pace, I need feedback from you. As uncomfortable as it is for me, I need direct feedback from you. So let's get to the nuts and bolts about this, so that everyone is happier.”


While few people want unsolicited feedback, opening the door for your supervisor to hear from you can be extremely powerful. A frank discussion about what your needs are and what is helpful for you motivationally at work, can help your supervisor adjust her own behavior. Before diving in, be sure to set the stage that what you’re sharing is meant to help her get the best performance out of you. This will help minimize the risks that she interprets your remarks as criticism or responds with defensiveness.

This conversation may also provide her an opportunity to open up about her own values and pressures, giving you a peek into why she manages the way she does and the dynamics she must navigate.

Having real, honest conversations with our employees and colleagues can initially be uncomfortable, but yields the greatest fruit. How else can we really understand who they are and what they need? The challenge and strength of modern management is in recognizing the power and influence of each team member. When we take the time to address the awkward but important questions of our work lives, we build up the trust and knowledge to empower teammates to take ownership over their power and influence.


Get a free audio book version of Leadership by Choice plus some additional resources when you become a member at Purchase individual episode guides at to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.

This article was based on episode 107 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


Recent Posts

See All



When you subscribe to my email list, you'll be notified when new blog posts are released.

bottom of page