4 tips to get incognito feedback

by Marie Zaiti, certified coach


During coaching sessions, some of my clients struggle when I ask them about what feedback they have received so far on the situation at hand. I will either receive a quite dubitative answer or very vague information.

Making sense of feedback is an important phase in the coaching process* as it not only helps increase self-awareness generally, but it also gives important information to determine priorities and action planning to reach the desired coaching goal. Execs may for instance suddenly realise that they have been focussing on the wrong side of an issue, or that the way they are perceived is actually preventing them from reaching their objectives.


We know leaders often find themselves in a no-feedback zone, and in some cultures, asking for feedback is even interpreted as a sign of weakness.  However, feedback is one of the most efficient ways to learn about ourselves, it is a mirror that will reflect back to us what others perceive. It may or may not correspond to what we are feeling or thinking internally but it is extremely valuable information nonetheless.


In situations where a 360 degrees approach is not possible, there are some ways we can gather information and learn about how others perceive us without actually having to ask for it :


1.     Turn off the sound 

When interacting with other people, during lunch, in a meeting, or at the water cooler, we can consciously turn the sound off. We stop listening to the words for a moment and start watching out for the non-verbal cues.


-       How distant are others? Do they let you in in their personal space ? Do you?

-       What is their facial expression ? Do they keep eye contact?

-       How do they stand or sit? Do they look like they want to walk away? Whas is their body language saying

-       How relaxed or tense is their posture? Are they making themselves smaller? 


2.     Enter a meeting first

For your next meeting, get in 5 minutes earlier. Sit with arms and legs uncrossed and don’t start the conversation when people enter the room. Watch how people will acknowledge and greet you, where they will sit, if they will start a conversation with you and what they will talk about. Make a list of what you observe, repeat the exercise and see what pattern emerges.


3.     List causal remarks

During a normal working day or week, make a list of all the causal remarks you hear about yourself, note from the most insignificant comment to the most blatant compliment or overt critique. Review the list, rate each comment as positive or negative, and try to see the pattern emerging from the negative comments.

Also, take notice on how people react when you make remarks about yourself.


4.     Look homewards

Unless we have a serious disorder, we usually don’t leave our typical behaviours or flaws at work. They don’t vanish when we get home. Share your findings with your family and loved ones, and ask them what they think about it. Just acknowledge the comment and thank them for giving you their input.


* Columbia University’s Coaching process


Sources, further reading and additional resources :

-       On the importance of how we are perceived by others and leadership behaviours: Marshall Goldsmith (2007) What got your here won’t get you there

-       On reading facial expressions : Paul Eckman’s work

-       On reading body language : Synergologie (French only)

-       On the influence of body postures : Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk


(c) Erima sprl