“Your behavior is unacceptable; please don’t ever do this again!” said the unhappy email from the head of this organization. He was referring to an email I had sent a few days earlier – and inferred from my message that my goal was to subtly break one of the organization’s rules. I felt hurt. This short email darkened my mood for the rest of the day. I felt that it was unfair: he was reading my intentions the wrong way. We have all experienced it – this makes you hate feedback.

Why would you want to put your employees through such an energy-draining experience? And why would you want to experience it yourself? Feedback sucks, I was thinking to myself. What made this specific feedback hurtful, while my wife complaining a few days later about me gaining weight was not? Did this email contain judgment/fear or was it given with the intention to understand and let the other grow? And what would have been a better response than having a dark moody day? 

This is the first of a series of three articles about feedback. In this article we reflect on ways to overcome your fear of feedback. The next article will help you prepare and give feedback, while the third one will deal with receiving feedback.

 When done properly, feedback is a great way to improve yourself and to help your team members progress and take responsibility for their actions. 

Regular and authentic feedback is crucial to improve performance

72% of employees think that their performance would improve with more feedback. Similarly a Gallup study about employee engagement demonstrates that regular, authentic feedback adds real value to your business: “When managers provide daily feedback (versus annual feedback), their employees are 3.6 times more likely to strongly agree that they are motivated to do outstanding work.”

Most of us need help to figure out how to improve our performance and advance our careers. And yet Gallup has found that “only 26% of employees strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.” 

Giving and receiving feedback are skills. And like all skills, it takes practice to get it right. When given with the right intentions and in the right way, feedback leads to outstanding performance. 

Employees AND leaders need to know what they are doing well and not so well. For your feedback to be effective, though, it has to be delivered properly and frequently.

How can you overcome your fear of feedback?

Over the years we have heard multiple excuses not to give and ask for feedback – sometimes in the hope that time would solve their problem (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). Leaders can be afraid to hurt or demotivate team members, or to damage the relationship (or simply because they want to be liked) – or they may think that their subordinates will respond with strong emotions like anger/tears or will not see the genuine intention behind your feedback.  Subordinates can be terrified they’ll hear nothing but criticism and will get hurt – or, when asked to provide feedback to their manager, they can be afraid of losing their job or missing on a promotion opportunity.

Most of us are afraid of feedback. The key question is: What is your fear of feedback costing you and your business?

Below are a few questions to help you find the motivation to give regular feedback: 

  • What are the business consequences if the situation doesn’t improve? What are the consequences for me and/or my team? 
  • If I were in the shoes of the person who will receive my feedback, why would I appreciate this feedback?
  • What can I learn from this situation about my own behavior and leadership style? What can this feedback conversation teach me about myself?
  • Which company value/personal value would I violate by not giving this feedback?
  • Do I trust the person I want to give feedback to 100%? If not: assuming that I would trust the person 100%, what would make me speak up anyway?
  • If I would be totally honest to myself, what could I gain by giving this feedback? 
  • In 2 years from now, what will make the two of us laugh about this situation?
  • Assuming that this person is well-intentioned AND doesn’t even know they are hurting me or the company by their actions: What should be my next step?
  • What is my most honorable intention going into this feedback conversation?

Conclusion: feedback is a gift of serenity

Starting a feedback conversation with the right intentions is critical to overcome your fears.

Feedback is absolutely essential within a team. Not only because it helps people grow – but also because it greatly contributes to your team’s accountability. As Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” puts it: “Perhaps the most important challenge of building a team on which people hold each other accountable is overcoming the understandable reluctance of human beings to give each other feedback. The most effective way to overcome this reluctance is to help people realize that failing to provide constructive feedback means that you are letting them down personally. By holding back, we hurt not only the team, but also our teammates.”

Next week’s article will deal with the feedback giving process.

What about you? How do you overcome your fear of feedback? How many times a year do you give each of your team member feedback? When was the last time that constructive feedback has energized you?


This article has been co-written by:

–       Johan van Eeckhout, executive and team coach (more information: Praesta France : Cabinet de coaching) – As a professional coach, I enlarge the relational footprint of Leaders and Management teams to improve efficiency, performance and creativity.

–     Xavier Lederer, business growth coach (more information: Ambrose Growth | Business Coaching & Consulting) – As a business coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want – their company has outgrown their management approach. I help them adjust their management approach to get back on track to profitable growth. Lack of honest feedback is often one of their roadblocks, because it slows down their personal development – which slows down the company growth. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.