Giving Feedback Should Not Be Scary (You Can Do It)

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I took one of my previous managers by surprise after he elected me to be part of one of the key projects. I thanked him for selecting and trusting me with so much as this project was massive and would expose me to a lot in line with my career aspirations. After thanking him, I followed up with a question, “please shed some light on why you selected me for this project?”.

At that point he cringed and answered with a question, “aren’t you happy to be part of this project?”

I responded, “certainly I am over the moon. I just want to work more on what you considered in nominating me”. He finally strung two or three sentences and I got some idea behind my selection.

This and many examples based on my personal experience and working with leaders in various industries, confirmed that most leaders are challenged to give feedback, be it positive or negative. In most cases, leaders believe that positive feedback should be convoluted into words like you are excellent, smart or a pillar of this team. On the other hand, negative or what is alternatively called constructive feedback is delayed, avoided or used as a weapon of mass destruction.  

Based on my coaching reports, working with focus groups and analysis of various research reports, I found that most managers dread giving feedback for a few reasons listed below.

By working on improving these, you stand a better chance of being great at giving feedback:

  • married to mechanical process: many organizations prescribe set periods during the year to conduct mid-year and final reviews. This piles up stress on leaders to prepare reports for the “occasion”.  It becomes even stressful if the leader is disorganized in terms of storing information. It is also unfair to allow time to pass without letting the employee know about it.

Giving feedback in the moment or within a reasonable time from the point of occurrence reduces stress on the leader.  It benefits the employee to work on the issue in time and not be caught by surprise later when it is too late to deal with it.

  • wanting to be liked by their direct reports: Most leaders want to be bearers of good news only. They dread giving feedback where employees might not be comfortable, instead, they are happy to tell people what they want to hear. This is a poor sign of leadership because such leaders end up blaming their peers and not owning up to the feedback.

Leaders can make this task easy by starting with understanding the “WHY” of feedback. Feedback should be aimed at encouraging a growth mindset and aligning the team and employees behind the compelling vision of the organization. It is about encouraging a culture of continuous learning and organizational effectiveness. It should not be about the leader who gives feedback.

  • always catching people doing something wrong: It seems easy for leaders to give negative feedback, hammering on shortfalls almost all the time. For some leaders, this approach seems to cement their positional power. They demoralize and tear their employees down instead of building confidence and self-esteem for future tasks. Such leaders are more likely to ignore the good things the team members do. 

Picking up strengths and catching someone doing something right matters. Employees deserve to be praised, recognized and applauded when they are doing something good. This should be the case all the time, no matter how minuscule you may think the behavior or the result is.  Good feedback should be specific and directed at the behavior and evidence at hand. This is different from focusing on general matters, personalities and passing value judgments on employees.

To improve on giving feedback and minimize idiosyncratic rater effect (rating is not about the rater), leaders should look at becoming better and work on turning the above points around. It helps if leaders understand the WHY of feedback, remove themselves from the equation hard as it may be, making feedback provision a common occurrence and catching their people doing something right.

Tex Hlalele is a Personal Mastery, Leadership & Organisational Effectiveness Specialist. He is the author of the book, Face the person in the mirror. Book Tex to help you and your team gain insights and possibilities for individual learning and organisational advancement on +2764 656 6174 or visit

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