All companies say they value transparency and honesty. Most are lying.
A truly transparent company--one that encourages open and honest communication from all employees--is hard to find. Instead, in most organizations you'll find a complex web of office politics. Employees have limited access to managers and team leads; those who do are often hesitant to share critical opinions, for fear that they will be blackballed, demoted, or even dismissed.
That's why I was taken aback by an email I received recently.
Not long ago I attended a large conference, and I was one of dozens of speakers. Everything ran smoothly for the three days I was there. The executive in charge, along with his team, had done a remarkable job.
Still, being a stickler for continuous growth, I couldn't help but identify two small areas for (potential) improvement. I initially debated if I should share them, before forgetting all about it.
But the day after the conference ended, I received the following email (adjusted slightly for anonymity):
Subject line: Thank you. Can we improve?
Thank you so much for your help in making our recent conference a success. We'd like to express our sincere gratitude for your fine cooperation with our administration office: you checked in, you stayed on time, and you gave a wonderful talk.
We would really appreciate it if you could help us do better. Tell us, do you see any place where we in the administration office could improve?
Please be open and frank, otherwise we won't improve.
Wow. Short. Sweet. Majorly effective.
And an excellent example of emotional intelligence--the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you. (I recently wrote a book on this topic, called EQ Applied.)
What made this email so remarkable?
Here's what stuck out most:
It begins with sincere and specific commendation.
We all crave to be shown appreciation when we work hard on something--and this email satisfies that craving. (Read the opening paragraph again. You can't fake sincerity.)
But the commendation goes further--by outlining specific ways the conference speakers made the administration staff's job easier. By telling us speakers what we're doing right ("checking in," "staying on time") we're motivated to keep doing those things in the future.
It inspires genuine feedback.
Growth-minded individuals know that real advancement comes by identifying problems, and finding solutions.
Instead of building echo chambers and promoting groupthink, such persons want to hear opposing viewpoints and opinions. Even if negative feedback is unfounded, they realize such comments provide a valuable window into the perspective of others.
By sending the email one day after the conference ended, not only did the conference manager get me to share thoughts I may not have otherwise, he got me to do so while those thoughts were still clear in my mind, providing for optimum feedback.
And then, there's my favorite line:
"Please be open and frank, otherwise we won't improve."
So often when delivering critical feedback, the key message gets lost. This is either because the feedback giver's counsel is too ambiguous, or the feedback recipient is too sensitive and allows their emotions to get in the way of growth.
This single sentence helps combat both problems.
The ability to get feedback like this is vital because it allows you to expand your horizons and learn from others' experiences. So, if you truly want to promote transparency in your organization--and experience the growth that results--try sending an email like this out to your staff.
Because it's those who challenge you who will truly make you better.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.