To survive pandemic-related disruptions in the midst of a turbulent economy, associations have to incorporate constructive feedback from stakeholders about the quality of their meetings product. Securing constructive feedback is critical in determining which aspects of your event programming is working and which ones are not.
Yet, many association leaders fail in engaging stakeholders effectively due to reluctance to incorporate and act on feedback in their meeting planning. This results in communication gaps between executives and members.
To address these problems, leaders need to adopt best practices of getting constructive feedback from stakeholders. These practices are a product of insight obtained from both external research and interactions with senior organizational leaders.
Why You Should Seek Stakeholder Constructive Feedback
Learning to incorporate constructive feedback is vital for building a trusting relationship with stakeholders. It provides you valuable insight into how they view and make decisions.
Recently, I met Alisha, my consulting firm’s client, who is the head of membership engagement at a professional manufacturing association. Alisha shared how communication gaps between the organization’s executives and its key stakeholders around meetings had strained their mutual relationship. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the association requested an in-depth, neutral, third-party investigation into the opinions of its members and the quality of outreach to them around meetings.
Alisha approached me for advice. She realized that to work effectively as head of membership engagement, she needed to learn the best ways to infer the truth about the stakeholders, their opinions, and the quality of the organization’s outreach.
Mental Blind Spots Thwart Progress
Obtaining accurate feedback is key to stakeholder engagement. It ensures that you have a clear picture of what’s working—and what’s not. Our inclination to avoid information that opposes our beliefs due to confirmation bias is very dangerous for our modern-day organizations. This behavior stems from our evolutionary history, when it was more important to align our perceptions of reality with our tribe than to determine the truth.
Constructive feedback allows leaders to identify the perceptions of the stakeholder accurately, rather than what we would want it to be. I explained to Alisha that perceptions and reality matter equally in stakeholder engagement. Thus, leaders must learn about these filters to effectively engage stakeholders. Naturally, getting constructive feedback is a great way to achieve this goal.
Unfortunately, we often believe that we know our stakeholders well enough to fully understand their requirements and thus fail to seek their input about essential matters.
This dangerous judgment error, termed the false consensus effect, causes us to mistakenly believe that others share our beliefs. It is one of many dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. Fortunately, recent research has shown effective and pragmatic strategies to defeat these dangerous judgment errors, such as by constraining our choices by focusing on the top available options. By doing so, we can improve our stakeholder engagement.
Members often suggest changes to meetings that make executives uncomfortable. That can result in leaders falling for the status quo bias, a desire to maintain what they see as the right way of doing things.
We have a natural tendency to avoid accepting information that counters our beliefs. This is another dangerous cognitive bias called the confirmation bias.
How to Solicit Quality Feedback
There are several ways to obtain constructive feedback. The easiest is active feedback. This means asking targeted questions to yield precise answers.
We can also apply social intelligence to get passive feedback from the stakeholders by analyzing their behavior, words and actions. Social intelligence refers to the strategic capacity to evaluate and influence other people’s emotions and relationships. Research in cognitive neuroscience shows that it is our emotions, not thoughts which determine the majority of our behavior.
I shared the following methods with Alisha to help her receive quality stakeholder feedback from during their outreach assessment meeting.
Getting Active Feedback
- Ask how they feel about what you’re saying to explore their emotions on the topic.
- Ask them what they think about what you’re saying. This gives you an insight into their beliefs about the topic.
- Ask how well their experience aligns with what you’re saying. Learning about their personal experiences provides insight into the influences behind their perceptions.
- Formulate other topic specific questions. Each kind of question about feedback will help you understand their filters.
Alisha decided to arrange a focus group with stakeholders—her members—to explore meeting policy in our brave new world. The meeting atmosphere was initially tense. However, the mood lifted as members were actively asked questions and realized that she was sincere about understanding them.
Eventually, members started to express their opinions on recent decisions. Alisha was able to address their reservations by offering reasonable explanations for each point.
Getting Passive Feedback
You can also learn about stakeholders indirectly through passive feedback.
- Give them time to absorb what you’re saying. Offering sufficient room for response allows them to express themselves comfortably, giving you an understanding of their filters.
- Observe their communication with others about what you’re saying. This intercommunication is an insight into their perceptions.
- Observe comments on social media, blogs, and other public interactions. This offers you an unguarded understanding of their personal filters.
Acknowledge feedback and adjust your actions accordingly. Gradually, this feedback will help you understand your stakeholders and improve your stakeholder engagement.
Three months after her consultation, Alisha shared great news. She told me how the association implemented my suggestions and noticed a significant improvement in their stakeholder engagement and in meeting attendance. By bridging the communication gaps, the C-suite found it much easier to reach amicable compromises on points of contention.
Leaders often fall prey to cognitive biases that prevent them from incorporating feedback from stakeholders. The best way to ensure that you stay on the same page as your stakeholders is to obtain regular constructive feedback. You can achieve this by proactively applying best practices for seeking active and passive feedback. By doing so, you will be able to bridge communication gaps and improve stakeholder engagement.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps association and meeting industry executives drive collaboration, innovation and retention in hybrid work. He serves as CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts.
He is the best-selling author of 7 books, including the global best-sellers Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters, The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships and his newest book, Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.