Overcome Your Fear of Giving Feedback

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Why is it that giving feedback to other people is so uncomfortable? It is so uncomfortable, in fact, that many of my clients avoid giving it as much as possible.

What is avoiding feedback costing you? You probably have chronic stress because problems don’t get resolved and even worsen, relationships become strained, growth and change of your practice is stunted and the person who doesn’t receive the feedback is unfairly shut out. Ask yourself: is this constant discomfort really worse than the discomfort of sitting down and providing someone feedback? I’m guessing no!

Here are some ways to make giving feedback productive and maybe even a little less uncomfortable:

1) Set up a formal meeting and inform the person of its purpose. Surprise meetings and a mystery agenda can cause people to go into fight or flight where they fear that something bad could happen (job loss, demotion, etc). Once a person is in this “lizard” state of mind, they are unable to process feedback well. They will think in black and white terms and recall very little of the meeting because their Reptilian Brain is dealing with a perceived threat instead of the higher mind being engaged.

2) Make sure that your own “lizard” isn’t activated. Giving feedback can be stressful and cause you to go into fight or flight. If this occurs, do not push through it. Take a break, drink some water and take some slow, deep breaths. When you return to the meeting, stay very calm and provide the feedback in a fair and helpful way.

3) Put your feedback in writing so that the recipient can reflect on it. Include concerns as well as positive feedback. It may help to provide specific examples so that it’s clear what you are referring to when you cite a situation. Make a plan to follow up soon.

4) Ask the person who you are providing feedback to for his/her side of things and his/her own ideas for solutions.

5) Normalize giving feedback going forward. Ask the person receiving the feedback when and how they prefer to receive it (in person, email, voicemail, etc). Most of the time, providing the feedback as soon as possible is the most effective.

6) Be as direct and clear as possible. Most of the time when things aren’t working, it’s because expectations were never stated. Both people made assumptions and no one said anything. Set your expectations with things proactively whenever possible. It is never too late, though, to go back and state and clarify what they are when it’s clear that things aren't working.

7) Use researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly Engaged Feedback Checklist to guide you. Her approach is designed to reignite creativity, innovation, learning and connection. When people feel shamed and blamed they are “disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute and we stop caring,” she writes in her book "Daring Greatly - How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead."

Remember that the short term discomfort of finally delivering the feedback that needs to be heard will never be as bad as how it feels to withhold it and struggle with the ramifications. If you are coming from a place of compassion with a genuine desire provide engaged feedback, it may not even be as bad as you think.