The Fear of “Feedback”!

Tags: Assessing Performance, Coaching, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Worth Sharing Blog

Let’s face it, we all have ‘feedback fear’ to some degree. Don’t get me wrong, everyone likes to be told what we’re doing well. What we don’t like is being told what we can do better. And, this even applies to those individuals who claim they ‘love’ constructive feedback.

Truth be told, we all have an embedded ‘fear’ of feedback. After all, who wants to really change? Or admit they might be wrong? Or hear they are less than perfect? Negative feedback can hurt our egos and our own self-perceptions. It can even make us second-guess ourselves.

Yet, feedback is an inevitable part of everyone’s career. Think annual review time! The good news is you can conquer your fear and learn to accept – and benefit from – feedback with just a few simple tips.

Feedback is the Path to Continuous Improvement

Ironically, we’re all our own worst critic. Cue the voices in your head! But when someone else critiques us, our defensive guard comes up and we’re the first to deny it! If you can’t tell by now, I am purposely spiraling this blog around negative feedback in particular, because that’s where we struggle most. But it’s also the area where we can benefit most.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know deep down that we aren’t perfect. We do make mistakes. And there is room for improvement. Feedback – like it or not – is the mechanism to let us know what’s working or not working, and if we’re on the right path.

Organizations recognize that feedback is a sensitive subject for most employees, regardless of your level. However, they still need us to continually improve for the good of the organization, our team(s) and ourselves.

That’s why companies continually invent new ways to help employees receive – and successfully accept – ‘constructive criticism.’   Everything from ‘anonymous’ feedback to ‘sandwiching techniques’ (positive-reprimand-positive) to 360 assessments. These techniques reinforce that our employers need everyone to continuously improve to stay competitive, and feedback – positive and negative – is the path to do so.

Why is that? Are we rebelling against the feedback itself, the giver of the feedback or simply the approach used in providing the feedback?  To some extent, it’s likely all of the above.

Candidly, some of us are so used to receiving negative feedback that we are no longer capable of even receiving the positive feedback! Or even believe the positive feedback we receive is not true! It’s no wonder why so many people struggle with receiving it!

9 Steps for Receiving and Overcoming ‘Feedback Fear’

As I said before, the good news is you can learn to overcome ‘feedback fear.’ The bad news is it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires considerable time, effort and application on your part. With that said, I can guarantee – having given and received feedback thousands of times – that the below recommendations will help close the gap.

How to Receive Feedback

  1. Realize that the feedback is NOT about YOU as a person, but your actions or behavior. This is whether the feedback is good or As human beings, we tend to personalize everything, to the point where we subconsciously believe all feedback defines us. It doesn’t!
  1. Keep an objective mindset. This builds on the first point. Again, remove your emotions and personal ties when receiving feedback. They only serve to cloud our judgments. Instead, try and detach yourself and listen to the feedback as if you were providing it to another employee. This will allow you to evaluate the feedback on its own merits. Believe me, this step will take a lot of practice! 
  1. Realize feedback is meant to help you, not hurt you. Every company has rumors of someone being fired without cause. The bottom line is that those situations are very Feedback is given because people and organizations care. Period. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t invest the time in you to give feedback! And be clear, they are willingly investing time in you with the express intent that you will benefit to help yourself and the organization. 
  1. Accept feedback as the mechanism for ‘continuous improvement.’ Use feedback to celebrate what’s working and resolve what’s not.  The most successful businesses actively seek internal and external feedback to improve. Why wouldn’t you do the same? And besides, you are far more important than any business! 
  1. Learn to crave feedback. Candidly, this is truly where the ‘rubber meets the road.’ The greatest leaders of our time possess great humility, listening skills, openness and the ability to change and adapt. And all of which continue to grow when we allow ourselves to receive feedback. In fact, I – and many people I know and admire – judge someone’s ‘leadership maturity’ on how well they are able to receive feedback. Time and time again, the ‘best in class’ are able to take feedback and grow from it.
  1. Allow yourself time to ‘mourn’ and then bounce-back.   Sometimes you’ll be hit with a ‘surprise,’ guard-down feedback scenario. Or maybe you’re ‘hit’ with some feedback that just didn’t sit well from the on-set. Be ‘OK’ with needing time to digest and reflect before you start resolving. And don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for things to be further clarified. Then bounce-back with your plan to improve, celebrate your successes and move on!
  1. Be honest with yourself.   Deep down, when we finally let the emotions and resistance settle, the feedback is usually pretty accurate. Perception – which often coincides with feedback – is It’s just sometimes a hard pill to swallow. Be ‘OK’ with that.
  1. Waste NO time in shifting in the ‘right direction.’   After your temporary ‘mourning’ period, do whatever you can – as quick as you can – to shift into proactive resolving mode. Make your feedback count. Turn the tide. Demonstrate to yourself and to the ‘world’ that you are way beyond your feedback. That it really doesn’t define you. That it simply was an objective measure to show where you were winning and where you weren’t.
  1. Say ‘thank you for the feedback!’   You might be thinking, ‘are you kidding me?’ The feedback ‘hurt to the bone’ and you want me to say ‘thank you,’ really? Really! You have to experience it to believe it. But giving a powerfully, positive-like ‘thank you’ out loud actually allows you to receive the feedback on a sub-conscious level. You don’t have to ‘like it.’ But saying ‘thank you’ allows you to own it. And, even more importantly, move on to make it ‘water under the bridge.’

9 Steps to Delivering Effective Feedback

I can’t simply talk about receiving feedback without giving a few pointers on how to give it. Although a number of the principles to ‘giving’ feedback are simply another way of looking at the ‘other side of the coin,’ there are some helpful things to keep in mind.

How to Give Feedback

  1. Be ‘quick’ to give feedback. I often say, ‘do not wait for a mole-hill of a problem to become a mountain of a problem before you address it.’ Feedback given early is much more ‘receivable’ and resolvable. Delayed feedback leaves you in a bind because you are bringing up past scenarios and can leave your recipient wondering why you waited so long.
  1. Keep an objective mindset and ‘emotion-less’ communication. You realize by now that receiving feedback is not easy for anyone. Adding emotion and bias to your feedback will not help the situation. Keep to the facts about the person’s behavior, not their personal traits. And, above all, remain calm and objective. If you can’t do that, wait until you can or get help from a third party. 
  1. Be direct, truthful and transparent. No one wants unclear, ‘sugar coated’ feedback. I’m not advising you to be a ‘jerk’ about it. I’m simply advising you to be direct, truthful and transparent. Your recipient deserves this courtesy. And, the last thing you want, is for them to be confused about what you’re trying to communicate.
  1. Keep it short and concise. Belaboring feedback just opens up the door for a ‘mess’ and can create a ‘feedback hole.’ As with step #3, be on point when delivering feedback. Nothing more and nothing less. 
  1. Allow recipients’ time to ‘mourn,’ but follow up.   Give your people time to digest the feedback before following up. Circling back allows time for additional questions, adding more clarity and ensuring they really heard you. It shows the importance of the feedback and validates that they are bought in, as well. 
  1. Be honest with yourself. Make sure the feedback is truly applicable, relevant and within the recipient’s control. We’ve all had bosses who transferred their frustrations to their employees. Don’t be one of those people. Be genuine in your desire to help the recipient progress versus just ‘venting.’ 
  1. Provide feedback in the right setting. This is all about helping the recipient accept the feedback. Choose a time and a setting that will be more conducive for the employee. Make the conversation private and at a time that won’t create unnecessary ‘stewing,’ such as the end of the day or end of the work week. You want to ensure the employee has the chance to come back and ask questions in a timely manner.
  1. Feedback shows your leadership and accountability ‘maturity.’ Let’s be honest here, giving feedback can be just as hard as receiving it. But like the recipients, you are not doing this to ‘harm’ anyone, rather help them be better. If anything, you are doing a disservice to them, and yourself as a leader, if you don’t provide it. 
  1. Say ‘thank you to the recipient for receiving the feedback!’   This shows you appreciate the maturity level and openness of the recipient. It also shows ‘I know it wasn’t easy to receive, but I really appreciate you receiving the feedback.’

Feedback is Necessary to Your Personal Growth and Your Organization’s Success

While we all have ‘feedback fear,’ we must overcome it for our own sake and for that of the companies who value us. Again, believe it or not, companies are demonstrating they value us by giving us feedback. Accept and benefit from this feedback, and you will be on your way to a lifetime of continuous improvement. Apply the above principles and begin your journey today.

I’d Love to hear about your toughest ‘Feedback’ scenarios 

Privately send me your challenges, questions and comments at I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine. All of us can inspire, lead and achieve, and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.


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