Three reasons why feedback can be fearful

Three reasons why feedback can be fearful 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

Have you ever had to tell someone something but you hesitated?  Perhaps they said something hurtful.  Perhaps they disappointed you in some way.  Instead of speaking up, you avoided the confrontation.  You second guessed your position. You may have even made up excuses for the offender’s poor behavior.  Giving effective feedback can be quite difficult and if it’s avoided can cause even more damage.

For years I personally found it very difficult to give effective feedback to others. In my first business partnership I experienced difficult situations.  My partner would often embarrass me in front of clients.  Or perhaps he would omit important information for me to do my job.  I was often caught being either confused or ineffective in front of clients.  I always found excuses not to give him feedback about these difficult situations because I was afraid.

Eventually the partnership had to be dissolved.  Over time, I came to realize that I contributed to the demise of our company because I lacked the ability and willingness to tell him the truth.  It was at that moment I decided to commit myself to giving necessary feedback without fear.  I created the process called Fearless Feedback.

There are three major reasons why feedback can be difficult in organizations. First, our definitions are confusing.  Feedback can be misinterpreted as criticism.  People do not like to be criticized and most people are fearful of delivering criticism because it won’t be easily accepted.  It is interesting how 96% of people want feedback if they know it can improve their performance. (Folkman, 2014)  Furthermore, 92% agreed that negative information is effective if delivered properly. (Jack Zenger, 2014)

A useful distinction is needed.  Feedback is data for the purpose of learning and criticism is an opinion or judgment.  Unless we make this clear distinction confusion and resistance will be the result.

Second, many managers will avoid being seen as a judge of behavior out of fear of making things worse.  This explains why many of us hesitate to say anything. We don’t want to make things worse than they already are.  We fear damaging trust and relationships by speaking our truth and so we remain silent.  Many fear they will be seen as biased and their insights will be rejected.  This rejection can cause hurt to the giver not just the receiver.

Third, many managers were never taught how to give effective feedback.  This lack of knowledge damages confidence.  A lack of confidence not only damages the credibility of the information but it can also create fear of loss of credibility by the giver.  A loss of credibility is the greatest fear in the workplace. (Kathleen D. Ryan, 1998)

What if there was a way to change our mindset about feedback such that we welcomed it with open arms?  What if there was a way to deliver it without fear?  What if people expected it and felt obligated to both give it and receive it? The next two blogs will explain the details of the Fearless Feedback process including what it is and how to use it. Stay tuned.

Folkman, J. Z. (2014). Feedback-The-Powerful-Paradox. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from

Jack Zenger, J. F. (2014, January 25). Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from

Kathleen D. Ryan, D. K. (1998). Driving Fear Out of the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Share This