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Why Feedback is Difficult

Updated: Apr 24, 2019

Healthy company cultures are feedback rich. Feedback is honest, timely and productive—even when it’s uncomfortable.

The truth about feedback is that it’s uncomfortable...until it’s not. That is to say that when an individual, team or organization is not accustomed to giving and receiving candid feedback, it’s very uncomfortable to introduce new feedback norms.

When feedback is delivered and received well on a consistent basis, everyone begins to experience the benefits, and it eventually becomes more comfortable. In fact, being in a feedback-rich environment is more comfortable than being in an insecure environment created by a feedback poor culture.

Why Feedback is So Hard Here are a few of the challenges to creating a feedback-rich culture:

1) It’s personal. We are wired to be on alert for threats when we anticipate receiving information about us. Regions of the brain, including the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala, are hyper-activated, putting us in a defensive posture.

2) Core fears are triggered. We generally have four core fears lurking beneath the surface, and all of them can be triggered easily with feedback. These fears are:

a. Being Wrong b. Being Rejected c. Losing Control d. Losing Harmony

3) Few know how to receive feedback. Many persons stop delivering feedback when it’s not received well, and few are skilled at receiving feedback, so either the feedback stops or begins to erode the relationship dynamic.

4) Feedback literacy is limited. That is to say that most people aren’t equipped with the right language to deliver feedback in a way that is productive. Good feedback delivery is both respectful and direct, not derogatory or suggestive.

5) Emotional self-management is foreign. Most people aren’t practiced in constructively managing their emotions, and strong emotions challenge both the feedback giver and receiver.

How Organizational Values Can Limit Feedback Organizations have declared and undeclared values, and these values create norms that dictate how persons treat each other. Sometimes the way the values are exercised make it abnormal to deliver candid feedback.

One of the companies where I coach many leaders on their leadership development and company culture has what I call a Kind Culture. They are ranked as one of the best places to work in the state...for now.

The Kind Culture can emphasize harmony to the exclusion of candor. Gestures such as honest and timely critical feedback can be perceived as running against the organizational values around teamwork and collaboration. Feedback is actually an essential component of the realization of these values.

As the company evolves, it must shift to being both kind and feedback-rich. Honest and direct feedback is one of the most valuable gifts a person can offer. As Author Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind”.

Cultural Evolution Organizations can deliberately develop their culture to be productively feedback rich by doing the following:

1) Build feedback into the value system 2) Top leadership demonstrates openness to feedback 3) Train everyone on giving and receiving feedback 4) Work to build individual and collective emotional intelligence

Leaders and organizations that invest in these four areas will create more collaborative, innovative and engaging environments where feedback is no longer another f-word.

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