Have you been through situations where you observed the behavior of a loved one or colleague at work which was not desirable. However, you resisted giving them feedback.

The answer is usually a big YES.

But have you ever thought back on why you did that? Why didn’t you or couldn’t you share what you observed?

Reasons for avoiding giving Feedback

Some of the reasons which could have been responsible for you avoiding giving them feedback could be:

  • Fear of a strong retaliation – Yup, just the thought of their reaction to what you share could well be freaking you out! Some people get very defensive when you give them feedback and can retort to rather unruly behaviour. You might just be avoiding that snowstorm!
  • Fear of losing the relationship – Some relationships are dear to us. And we really don’t want to risk the damage that our feedback can do to them. So, we avoid sharing our observations in such cases all together.
  • Fear that the person will feel bad – Some of us are overtly empathetic. Or should I call it sympathetic! We immediately put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and think how bad we would have felt if someone pointed out the same to us. And imagine that the other person would also feel the same. This prevents us from taking the step.
  • The person may not accept the feedback – Just as the person can have a tendency to react strongly, they may also have one to reject our feedback. In such cases, we feel it a waste of time and energy to even bring up the matter. And simply let it go.
  • Or fear of not being able to provide feedback properly – Some of us suffer from the ‘I’m not good enough syndrome’ and hence may feel inadequate to share the feedback. Others may feel they are not detailed enough or not good at communicating. In turn, they may fear sharing incomplete information or creating misunderstandings.

Overcoming our Fear

Overcoming fear of giving feedback

So, how can we overcome these underlying reasons which stop us from sharing our feedback?

The answer lies in dealing with our fear on one hand. On the other, it’s about good preparation. Luckily, both are things that we can manage. And are also independent of the person we are to give the constructive feedback to. Surprised? Let’s see how to do this with the help of a hypothetical situation:

Say your colleague Rahul has reached late for meetings by 15 to 30 minutes on multiple occasions during this week. He is quite an authoritative and strong personality.  

You are upset with Rahul’s behaviour. However, you are also scared to give him this feedback as you feel he will react badly.

Now how will you give Rahul feedback in a way that he accepts and changes his behaviour, while maintaining your relationship with him?

The Steps for Giving Feedback

Let’s see how we can make the above possible.

Step 1: Examine and Correct Your Intention

  • Check if your intention is to help the person improve or to punish or take revenge.
  • If it’s to genuinely help the person then it’s fine. A word of caution, further investigate your good intention. Our mind is a trickster and can fool even the best of us into believing our good intention!
  • In case you can feel some negative energy lurking inside you, trying to put the other person down or teach them a lesson, check your mental story about them that’s fueling the feeling. Usually, such intentions are linked to past incidents with the person and the stories we form about them based on the same.
  • Be sure to manage negative intentions by reframing your thoughts and processing your emotions. You cannot give effective feedback if you are not centred, positive balanced and neutral.

For e.g. Check with yourself what emotions you are experiencing before giving this feedback to Rahul. Also inspect the thoughts that are running in your mind.

Some of the feelings you may be experiencing could be of fear, guilt, low self-esteem, loss, etc. Similarly, the thoughts that could be running through your mind could be: What if Rahul says, “What’s your problem if I come late, or how dare you tell me when to come.” Or what if he feels bad and stops communicating or collaborating.

Perhaps you can reframe that last thought by telling yourself that your feedback is for his good. It will help him get punctual and will also create a positive influence on the other team members.  Therefore, it’s important to give him the same.

You can also do some deep breathing exercises or take a break. Basically, do anything that helps settle your emotions. Focusing on your new positive intention will also help.

 Step 2: Separate Facts from your Story

  • Distinguish between real observations (facts) and your story or interpretation of it.
  • Facts are neutral and further help in settling emotions and unwanted stories.

In Rahul’s situation, the facts are that he has reached late by 15, 23 and 30 minutes (suppose) respectively during the last 3 meetings.

The stories running in your mind could be he is lazy, not bothered about other people’s time, arrogant and rude, unwilling to change, not interested in work, not a team player, etc.

 Now you can well imagine what will happen if you enter into a conversation with Rahul with these stories running in your mind. Yup, an atomic explosion with plenty of finger pointing and insulting!

 Now if you separate the facts from these stories, you come closer to being neutral and non-judgemental. It also helps you focus on this particular incident and what has happened here rather than pulling up Rahul’s file of mistakes from the past!

 In turn, this relaxes you and brings you to an assertive position. You become more open to hearing Rahul’s side of the story without reacting and your confidence takes on new heights.

 Step 3: Share Feedback Neutrally

  • Share only your observations with the person. Avoid attaching your interpretations or past stories.
  • Express how the observed behaviour impacted you or others using ‘I’ Statements.
  • Give time to the person to respond, creating a safe and non-threatening environment.

For example, you can say to Rahul:

“Hi Rahul, I want to share a quick observation with you. I am sure you are already aware of the same. However, I felt it best to still bring it up with you.  During the last 3 team meetings you reached the meeting 15, 23 and 30 minutes post the scheduled meeting time.”

After sharing this, take a pause. Allow Rahul to digest what you have just told him so that he gets the space to think and respond.

Keep it simple and to the point. You may have an urge to add more or justify why you shared the feedback. However, that may backfire and make you appear low on confidence.

Step 4: Gain Commitment for Change

  • If the person accepts the feedback, move to gaining commitment for change. Usually, people will accept your feedback if it is shared in a neutral, non-threatening and non-judgemental manner.
  • In case they do not accept, encourage an open dialogue over confrontation. Understand their perspective and share yours.
  • In case the person is unwilling to change or give a commitment for the same, make them aware of the consequences of continuing the same behaviour.

You can ask Rahul:

 “Rahul how do you think people may feel if we have to keep delaying our meetings by 15 to 20 minutes every time, waiting for you?

What would be its impact on their morale and business outcomes?

How may they feel towards you?”

 This helps the person realise that if they don’t change their current behaviour, they will lose out or will have to bear the consequences of such behaviour.

 Step 5: Make a Plan for Change

  • Work together to create a plan for change.
  • Discuss specifics such as what changes will be made, how, when, how progress will be measured and what support they require.
  • Ask for their inputs on the process and offer suggestions sparingly.

For example, you can ask Rahul:  

“What steps would you want to take to ensure you reach 15 minutes before the decided time for all future meetings?

What can derail your plan?

What support do you need from me?

How will you measure your progress?

What should we do if you are still unable to reach on time?”

This approach increases the likelihood of constructive outcomes and minimizes the fear associated with giving feedback. It promotes a collaborative atmosphere where both parties are engaged in finding solutions. While not a guaranteed solution, it creates a positive foundation for addressing and working on undesirable behaviors.

So, let’s start practicing.





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