If Feedback is Like a Land Mine, Why Bother?

Last week, I wrote about feedback as if it were the interpersonal equivalent of a land mine. If that’s the case, why bother giving feedback at all?

In spite of how challenging it can be, offering constructive feedback plays a valuable role in enhancing teamwork and collaboration, whether it’s at home, at work, or with your friends. Here are some reasons why:

  • Offering feedback about another person’s behavior provides important information that they might be oblivious to. For example, you’ve got a friend who has a pattern of being 20 minutes late to any gathering then offers lame excuses. She has no idea of the eye rolling and half humorous comments (“What’s she going to come up with this time?”) because no one has said anything to her.
  • Offering feedback serves to get things off your chest rather than letting them build up. Using your tardy friend as an example, what happens over the long run when you fail to offer honest feedback? Most likely, that person’s behavior will become a source of friction and potentially compromise the relationship.
  • Offering feedback can improve collaboration and teamwork by ensuring that interpersonal issues are addressed directly and in a timely way.  A good flow of communication improves trust and reduces the likelihood of destructive conflict.

Unfortunately many people avoid giving feedback because they fear it won’t go well (or they’ve had experiences where it didn’t.)

I’ve sometimes put off giving feedback because I was afraid the person wouldn’t receive it well and our relationship would be impacted. Or that if I gave the feedback, the person would get defensive and the conversation would be unpleasant.  

 I visualize waves of energy coming off the other person that make even the most delicately worded feedback impenetrable. With such an image in mind it’s easy to rationalize not giving the feedback. “I’m too tired,” “I’m already stressed out enough,” or--my all purpose rationalization--“I don’t have time for this.”

I’m not alone in this concern. For example, during a recent workshop, one participant shared that she’d been avoiding giving feedback to her husband for almost a year about something important. She said every time she broached the subject, he got defensive and she would back off.

Interestingly, Vital Smarts recently conducted a study…”of 1,409 participants asking about their “vault”... Fifty-six percent of respondents stated they have been safeguarding toxic secrets or workplace grievances for more than a year!”

So if people don’t give their feedback, what happens instead? Do these sound familiar?

  • Avoidance: You figure out how to work around the person or you suppress your views in the interest of “keeping the peace.”
  • Sarcasm: You make sarcastic comments to the person about the issue, hoping they will “get the point” without you having to address it directly.
  • Triangulation: You recruit another person to share your feedback with, hoping they will address the issue or at least take your point of view.
  • Gossip: You talk about the individual to whom you need to give feedback as a way to “let off steam.”

The problem with these behaviors is that they don’t address the matter. Plus, avoiding the conversation, you don’t develop the skill to offer constructive feedback.

Worst of all, the “work around” behavior alone can erode teamwork and collaboration.

Okay, you’re convinced that no matter how uncomfortable giving feedback might be, you need to “wo/man up” and address that issue you’ve been avoiding. In my next post, I’ll suggest some guidelines for giving constructive feedback.

The following week, I’ll offer some guidelines for receiving feedback so it makes a positive difference. 

If you have any ideas on this topic, please leave a comment and I’ll respond. I also love to do individual coaching and workshops on giving and receiving feedback. I learn something new every time! Contact me if you’d like more information.