How to Get People to Tell You the Truth

New-Business-Ideas-Need-Feedback2-297x300“While feedback can be hard to take, it’s even more difficult to give to someone who’s unwilling to hear the message.” — Misti Burmeister

As leaders, we know it’s important to give timely, constructive feedback. But it’s just as important to receive it. As Rich Fairbank, founder and CEO of Capital One, told me during our exclusive interview:

Actively seeking out feedback is one of the most important qualities of great leadership. It’s the only way to know what’s working and where we need to improve.

So true, I thought, nodding my head as he talked. And it is true, but here’s the thing: It’s not easy either. As much as I talk and write about feedback (heck, I even wrote an ebook on it), I still struggle with it sometimes.

Case in point: Proud to have the opportunity to share Fairbanks’ thoughts on feedback, I told my client and colleague, Harrison, all about our conversation. As I was excitedly recounting the experience, Harrison decided to burst my bubble.

“You laugh too loud,” he said.

Taken aback, I immediately got defensive, thinking, I like my laugh. Lots of people like my laugh.

Then I slowly began remembering a previous conversation with a few close friends about what they call my inauthentic laugh, which is apparently louder and more jarring than my authentic one.

Knowing Harrison was referring to a recent networking event we attended together, I said, “Melanie, one of the hosts that night, also mentioned my loud laugh.”

Harrison didn’t say anything, so I added, “But it’s distinctive and helps people remember me,” hoping he wouldn’t notice my defensiveness.

“It’s loud,” he said. “And it’s not very classy. You’re a classy woman.”

My insides were exploding with resistance to every word. Feedback on my work is one thing. But my laugh? That felt personal.

I dug deep for the words to respond graciously, to thank him for his feedback, but I was hardly feeling grateful. I felt highly irritated and ready to pelt him with some mumbo jumbo about how much people love my laugh.

A solid 90 seconds passed before I could find words that were not defensive. Reminding myself that his intention was to help me, not harm me, I was finally able to authentically thank him for his honesty. After all, while feedback can be hard to take, it’s even more difficult to give to someone who’s unwilling to hear the message.

In the moment, feedback can feel like an attack. Yet, as Mr. Fairbank so eloquently put it, “Feedback is essential to growth.” Thanks to Harrison, I can now be more conscious of when (and why) I’m laughing inauthentically.

My therapist, Pat, once told me that feedback sometimes comes across “as a gift wrapped in shit.” Not very eloquent, but very true. When we get past the smell (or the crappy emotions that feedback incites), we find the gift in it.

Join the Conversation: When has someone given you feedback that was hard to hear but also true? How did you respond?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

Misti on Google+

2 thoughts on “How to Get People to Tell You the Truth

  1. LN

    So- are you going to NOT laugh anymore? Or, will you jokingly laugh silently (mine-style) whenever you’re around him?

    What is the appropriate outcome/fix? And how do you go about fixing something that you have been doing since birth?

  2. Misti Burmeister

    Great questions, LN! It’s less about “fixing” anything – more about being aware. Of course I will continue to laugh … I love to laugh! If my loud, authentic, laugh bothers anyone, that’s not my opportunity – it’s there’s. My opportunity only comes in when I recognize that I’m laughing inauthentically loud… the truth is, I know the difference.

    The question is… am I laughing to gain attention, or because I found something funny?

    And, you’re right… we all have patterns that started at a VERY young age – and, they’re not easy to change. My interest does not lie in judging myself poorly, but in recognizing a pattern (habit) that no longer serves me.


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