5 things holding us back from giving the ‘gift’ of feedback

November 19, 2019
Employee Engagement

I’d just spent ten days leading workshops on feedback, so you’d think I’d be the ‘queen’ of feedback, being able to give feedback freely and gloriously. But yet I found myself in the same situation as my students, asking myself – should I, do I really need to give  this feedback? My instructor voice shouted loudly out ‘yes’, but my human voice shouted back just as loudly ‘Hmm, I’m not quite sure’.

We all have these wobbles, these concerns as to whether feedback is worth the time and effort, the fear of saying it ‘right’ and it being received ‘right’. But that cannot and should not prevent us from giving it. For as I say in class over class, feedback is a gift that shows you care, helping each other be the best version of their self.”

But what’s holding us back from giving feedback? Here are five of the most common reasons I’ve heard (or have had myself):

1. We believe others don’t want to receive feedback.

We often think that people don’t want to receive feedback, thinking of it as a punishment. And who’d want to be punished, right? Who’d want to hear if/when they’ve done something wrong, made a mistake, messed things up? The answer is, we all do! In fact, according to a study by Zenger and Folkman, 92% of respondents said they’d want to receive negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, as they felt it would improve their performance.

When we talk about this concept in my workshops, I always have people share funny stories of when they’ve given or received feedback. This lightens the mood in the session and also makes feedback feel a bit more human. One attendee recently shared a story of how he left the house with toothpaste on his face, and it wasn’t until the end of the day that someone actually came up and told him, ouch! So yes, although it was a bit embarrassing for him to receive feedback that he had toothpaste on his face, he said he was happy that they did so. He only wished someone had done it sooner!

2. We believe we don’t have the time to give feedback.

In this fast-paced world, I’m never surprised when I hear people say they don’t have enough time to give feedback. However, I always respond with the same question, which is, ‘do you have enough time to pick up the pieces if they don’t get your feedback and keep doing things wrong?’

3. We believe it’s not our place (responsibility) to give feedback.

We often think that it’s not our place to give feedback, that it’s someone else’s responsibility. And do you know what, you may be right, it may be their boss’s or their boss’s boss. But does it really matter? If you see someone doing something that you feel they could learn from, why wait for someone else to deliver this feedback, this gift? Why shouldn’t you be the one delivering it?

As the expression goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”, and the same is true with feedback, for if we all give it, we will all learn and grow.

4. We believe it will ruin my relationship with the person.

Another common fear of giving feedback is of what it will do to your relationship with the person. I had this happen to me when I had to tell my videographer, someone I had worked with for years, that he had messed up a video shoot by cutting off half of the person’s head I was interviewing. Would he hate me? Would he say he would never work with me again? Possibly, but if I didn’t give the feedback he may make the same mistake again, which wasn’t good for me and it certainly wasn’t good for his professional reputation. 

If we instead think of feedback as a way to actually strengthen our relationships, as they are built on trust and honesty, feedback will flow more naturally and more regularly.

5. We believe we don’t have the skills to give feedback.

Last, and certainly not least, is the fear of not having the skills to give feedback effectively. And while this may be true for many, like any skill, if you work on developing them you will improve and it will become more natural and easier to do.

And if you want to learn more about mastering your skills of giving feedback, two of my favorite books on this topic are ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott and ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brené Brown

So if you do find these fears holding you back, which let’s be honest does happen to us all from time to time, picture the two scenarios I shared of the person with toothpaste on their face or the person with half of their head cut off, and ask yourself if you really want the same to happen to this person? Instead, overcome your fears and give the gift of feedback . . . I know I will!

About Debra

I’m an author, speaker and consultant (or what I like to call ‘pay it forward’ specialist) with over 20 years experience as a global HR leader, working for companies such as Gap Inc., Quintiles, Merlin Entertainment and Reward Gateway.

I’ve published two books, Build it: A Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement and Effective HR Communication: A Framework for Communicating HR Programs with Impact.

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© 2018 Debra Corey.

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