A Few Thoughts About Asking for Feedback

By IPLI Mentor Dr. Rhonda J. Mull 

“How do you think things are going?”

I’m going to be honest. I hate asking that question. As a former principal and now director, it scares me sometimes to pose that particular question for feedback. Often times, as building leaders, we don’t even have to ask people for their thoughts because they naturally share them, even when we don’t particularly care to hear what they have to say.

It reminds me of my years teaching middle school English. You never had to ask students what they thought about certain things like your clothes and hair. Many of them would just spit it out with comments like, “Why did you wear that, Ms. Mull? It doesn’t look good” or “Why’d you cut your hair? It looked better long!”

But even though it’s difficult to hear at times, we need feedback. Partick Lencioni, author of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, writes that feedback can unlock tremendous insights and ultimately help us make better decisions. He feels there are several reasons we don’t ask for feedback more often. Here are a few of his thoughts along with a few of my own:

  • We are afraid of what we will hear.

It’s really tough to ask for feedback that we know may not be positive. But if we sincerely want our schools to improve and get better, we need to listen with an open mind and have these honest conversations with staff members, students and parents.

  • We assume people will speak up if they have something to say.

Simply put, most people don’t share their thoughts and ideas unless they are asked. And most times they will not respond in an honest way, unless the building leader has built a level of trust and demonstrated that it’s okay to be vulnerable with each other.

  • We will have to start doing things differently.

If we ask for feedback, we may hear several options for doing things better. Then we’d have to change. Nobody likes to change things unless we absolutely have to, right?

  • We just want to stick to the facts.

It’s much easier to stick to the black and white topics that center on data. Asking people how they feel is not always easy, but we need to know what members of our team think.

So let’s strive to do better as building and district leaders. Let’s continue to build trust in our organizations where we can ask more questions like this to make our schools become all they were meant to be. Maybe we start in our next team meeting or just in a one-on-one conversation with a teacher, but let’s get started…

  • What do you think is our best option here?
  • What could I do better as leader of this building?
  • How do you feel the meeting went?
  • What do you need from me as a leader?

IPLI Mentor Rhonda Mull with her focus cohort principals at the Summer 2014 Seminar held at Indiana State University. Top row (left to right): Rhonda Mull, Amy Hasselbring and Missy Demaree. Bottom row (left to right): Julie Straight, Doug McClure and April Holder.