Facing the fear of feedback

Rosanna Machado | April 14, 2020


Fellow Brits amongst you will appreciate the many articles about when a Brit says “Very interesting”, a Brit often means “This is clearly nonsense”. Culturally British politeness sometimes stops us giving honest feedback but it’s not exclusive to us. Why do we shy away from both giving and receiving feedback? 

Traditionally feedback has been associated with purely negative feedback and is often built up to be a big moment in an annual review. We are often worried about hurting someone’s feeling – sometimes too much self-awareness and empathy works against us! On the flipside, receiving negative feedback has been taken as an attack on the individual, rather than an opportunity to grow. 

HBR research suggests that employees would prefer candid honest feedback; giving and receiving feedback is more important than ever right now. We’ve lost some of the social norms and we’re operating in a very different environment. Whether it’s dealing with your housemates in close quarters or colleagues at work, having an open environment where feedback is welcome, can only be a good thing. 

  • Make feedback the norm – regular positive and negative feedback so that it breaks the discomfort and people are more likely to respond well
  • Coach colleagues on how to give better feedback

When giving feedback:

  • Rehearse beforehand and be clear on what you want cover
  • Be specific, direct and honest – give concrete examples of situations, identifying the behaviour and the impact of the behaviour on others or the project. Do this for positive as well as negative feedback as people learn from understanding specifically what they did well or badly
  • Choose how and when to communicate it – whilst a lot of feedback is best delivered one-to-one in a safe environment, there are also times in groups when behaviour should be called out on the spot to set the right tone and culture
  • Approach the conversation with empathy – be sensitive to how the other person is likely to react
  • Think about the person in question and whether you need to adapt how you deliver the feedback for it to be received more effectively
  • Pick up on how they are reacting to the feedback and adapt accordingly
  • Allow them time to respond and listen to what they are saying
  • Discuss a way forward and coach them into coming up with their own specific solutions
  • Agree a follow up and acknowledge that some people may want to reflect on the feedback and discuss it further – be generous with your time to get the best result
  • Be respectful throughout the conversation

If you are receiving feedback:

  • Be open and listen to what is being said
  • Understand the facts and ask for clarity
  • Thank the person for the feedback
  • Reflect on it afterwards and follow up
  • See it as an opportunity to grow

Feedback is essential to create a place of curiosity and learning, where things can improve and people can grow so let’s step into our discomfort zone, practice empathy, celebrate the good, be respectful, specific and honest when delivering negative feedback and try to receive feedback in the spirit in which it is intended.