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Why we fear feedback.

I’ve highlighted in my writing and training that we have a feedback disconnect. While the vast majority of the American workforce craves feedback, leaders aren’t providing it in the manner or as often as they should. So why is that? It’s because we fear feedback.

Why do we fear receiving feedback?

  • We take it personally - even if presented in an objective way, critical feedback stings a bit.

  • Self-preservation / survival instinct - we equate critical feedback with disappointment, which could threaten our standing with our tribe (related to when our survival literally depended on our standing within our tribe)

  • Negativity bias - we can hear 10 positive things but our brain focuses on the 1 negative

  • It makes us vulnerable.

Because we fear receiving critical feedback for all the reasons listed above, we believe that the person receiving feedback will also feel negatively, so we fear giving them that critical feedback.

Photo by nappy from Pexels

Why do we fear giving feedback?

  • We don’t want them to take it personally

  • We fear they won’t like or respect us (survival instinct)

  • We don’t want them to think we only see their negative qualities

  • It makes us vulnerable.

We’ve also had a lack of role modeling and skill practice. Because we fear feedback we avoid it. Because just about everyone avoids it, we don’t get the appropriate role modeling and we don’t have the opportunity for skill practice – thus perpetuating the feedback fear cycle.

We need to overcome our initial fear with feedback and make it a routine part of our communication – through intentional skill practice and role modeling, we begin to ease some of the discomfort.

The more regularly we make feedback a part of our dialogue, the less we fear it. We know it’s just part of the natural rhythm of communication – our standing within the tribe is not threatened just because we’re being told how we can improve. Critical feedback will likely always be somewhat uncomfortable – it’s hard to completely override centuries of hardwiring – but we can make it easier to navigate that discomfort and move beyond it more quickly.


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