5 reasons we avoid giving the gift of feedback
I got home on Friday after having spent the full day out and about. I spoke at a conference and then spent 4 hours facilitating a client workshop. I knew when I left the house that it was going to be a busy day and didn’t factor in a lot of “me time”. As a result when I finally made it to the bathroom and checked my teeth, I saw that I had lipstick on my teeth. Seriously??? How long had that been there for? Did I speak in front of a whole room of people with lipstick on my teeth? And whilst they were some distance away, so maybe it wasn’t visible, I engaged 1:1 with a number of them after my talk. Why didn’t someone say something????
That is the situation I raise over and over when I train feedback. On Friday that was my reality. Someone was sitting on this very valuable information and they didn’t tell me.
So why don’t people give feedback?
- Fear of conflict or hurting someone’s feelings: One of the primary reasons why people avoid giving feedback is the fear of causing conflict or upsetting the person they are giving feedback to. They may worry about how the other person will react or fear that the feedback may damage their relationship.
- Lack of confidence: People may also avoid giving feedback because they lack confidence in their ability to communicate effectively. They may worry that they won’t be able to articulate their thoughts clearly or that the other person won’t understand or accept their feedback.
- Fear of retaliation: In some situations, people may avoid giving feedback because they fear retaliation from the person receiving the feedback. They may worry about losing their job, damaging their reputation, or being ostracized by their colleagues.
- Belief that feedback isn’t necessary: Some people may feel that feedback is unnecessary or that it won’t make a difference in the long run. They may believe that the other person won’t change their behavior or that the feedback won’t lead to any positive outcomes.
- Lack of time: Finally, people may avoid giving feedback simply because they feel they don’t have enough time to do so. They may be too busy with their own tasks and responsibilities, or they may not want to invest the time and effort required to give thoughtful, constructive feedback.
These are all perfectly valid reasons, but it doesn’t help those of us with “lipstick on our teeth”. Hopefully by now you realise that this is a metaphor for any behaviour that others can see but you are unaware of (open the Johari Window for more on that: Known to others and unknown to you). For many of us, we may be ineffective, offensive or poor performing because of a habit or behaviour that we are not even aware of! If someone isn’t brave enough to move through the discomfort and tell us, how are we supposed to know? Or is everyone hoping that we will get to a mirror and “all will be revealed”?
One action I have taken to crack open the feedback window from the inside is to ASK! Ask your colleagues if there is one thing you could be better at. Ask your manager for one thing you have done well this week. Ask your team members for one area you could be better at as a manager. Ask your spouse for one thing you do that irritates them (just one… don’t get too enthusiastic). Ask your colleague after a client meeting for feedback on what you did well & one thing you could be even better at next time.
If they won’t tell you voluntarily, create the opportunity by asking a direct and limited question. BY asking for only one thing, you make it short and not too onerous. Often people get on a roll, and more feedback ensues.
Or if you like that stomach dropping feeling of staring at yourself in the mirror and realising you have lipstick in your teeth… don’t do anything. Sit and wait.
3 ways to get better at receiving feedback.
I work with an individual who is very difficult to give feedback to. And as a result, I avoid giving him feedback. Whenever I brave the conversation he inevitably falls into both feedback receiving traps:
- He gets defensive
- He attacks back
Interestingly, I have learned over time that although in the moment he is terrible to give feedback to, he does actually listen and afterwards he mulls it over and makes every effort to integrate the feedback into his behaviour. I, on the other hand, need a big glass of wine!
The impact of being difficult to give feedback to, is that I avoid giving him feedback that could help him grow and develop. He is hindering his own growth. As someone who spends a lot of time in the feedback world, I am very good at giving feedback, I only give feedback to help others learn and grow, I check my motives carefully and am calm, kind and structured in delivery. So I am pretty sure it is him, not me 😊. To help others who might struggle with how to be better receivers of feedback, and as a result UNLOCK your own growth, here are some top tips:
Be open-minded and non-defensive: It’s essential to approach feedback with an open mind and a willingness to listen. Avoid getting defensive or dismissing the feedback outright. Instead, take the time to understand the perspective of the person giving the feedback and try to see things from their point of view. An important key to this is to separate WHAT is being said from WHO is saying it. Very often we join these two and because we don’t rate the WHO, we throw out the WHAT. The content of what is being communicated might be gold, regardless of who says it. Be very aware of your non-verbals when you receive feedback. Open your body language, relax your shoulders and warm up your face.
Ask clarifying questions: If you don’t understand the feedback or need more information, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. This can help you get a better understanding of the feedback and what you need to do to improve. Be an active listener in the process. Summarise what you heard the other person say: “Let me summarise what I heard….” Or use words like “just so that I am clear on what I heard, you said…..”. In this way you give the other person time to hear back what they said. Very often they will rephrase and try a second time to communicate the feedback because it didn’t go as they had planned in their head. Communication is tricky, and feedback is right at the top of tricky communication list – so don’t be scared of getting clarity. It will be helpful for them and you.
Focus on specific behaviors: When receiving feedback, it’s important to focus on specific behaviours or actions that you can change. Don’t take the feedback as a personal attack but as an opportunity to grow and develop. Identify specific actions that you can take to improve and work on implementing them. As you do this check your attitude and tone of voice. Be careful not to drip with sarcasm or sound obnoxious. Even if the feedback is about something you already know or feels wrong to you, work hard to find out if there is something small that is useful in it for you.
Be grateful that the other person has taken the time and been generous to give you some feedback. Most people don’t. Do them the courtesy of looking for the specific behaviour you can change. And thank them for the feedback even if you don’t agree with it.
Getting better at being easy to give feedback to, means that other people will generously share their feedback with you. You don’t have to take it all onboard. But when others are sharing their feedback with you, you get access to learning and growth opportunities on a daily basis. This means you can make little tweaks to what you do and how you do it which is much more sustainable than doing big changes once a year.