Giving and receiving feedback is an essential part of any team’s success, but it’s not always easy. Many team members may fear giving feedback due to the potential for conflict or damaging relationships. Giving feedback might come across as too formal, strict, and too forced for many of us. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but avoiding feedback can be detrimental to team performance and can hinder growth and development. Managers, team leaders and team members alike are missing out on opportunities to have these fruitful discussion either for fear of starting conflict, or for the simple reason of not thinking it’s that important. In this article, we will discuss how to help your team (and you) overcome the fear of giving feedback.
Set expectations and create a safe environment
One of the most effective ways to overcome the fear of giving feedback is to set expectations and create a safe environment. As a leader, it’s important to communicate to your team that feedback is not only welcomed but expected. But how can you do this when your team doesn’t even know exactly how to give feedback, what it is, and when to give it? Part of creating a safe environment and taking steps in instilling feedback into your company culture is to make it known, loud and clear, what is feedback, how feedback is given, the appropriate time to give it, and what that looks like. Create an environment where team members feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgment or retribution, and allow them to brainstorm these three questions: what is feedback, how do you give feedback, when do you give feedback, and when does feedback feel good (as opposed to feeling forced).
According to research conducted by Gallup, employees who feel safe to voice their opinions are more engaged and productive—a workplace report from a couple of years ago showed that up to 60 percent of employees don’t even feel confident enough to share their opinions. Creating a safe environment and brainstorming what feedback means can be great, but in reality, it starts with you, the leader. By setting expectations of what feedback is and creating a safe environment, team members are more likely to share feedback that can lead to improvements in team performance when they see you’re open to this exchange yourself.
Encourage a culture of continuous improvement
Another way to help your team overcome the fear of giving feedback is to encourage a culture of continuous improvement. When team members feel that feedback is an essential part of the team’s growth and development, they are more likely to provide constructive criticism. Business professional Elon Musk once rightfully said, “If you’re not progressing, you’re regressing.” When we start seeing feedback through the lens of productivity and improvement ( “I received feedback because my team mate wants me to learn and improve”) instead of a lens of disappointment and failure (“I received feedback because I’m a worthless individual who can’t do their job right”) with time this will help team members learn and understand that the feedback they receive is not about pointing out flaws or weaknesses but about finding ways to improve and grow on a enterprise-level, as well as an individual-level.
Some team members may fear giving feedback because they don’t know how to do it effectively, but also quickly. Meeting deadlines is stressful enough, and so the added pressure of giving feedback when it is warranted without being too harsh is a daunting task. The best way to overcome this is to teach your team members how to give feedback without making it “too formal”—setting a meeting and calling it “feedback” might not be the best move, or even one that would ease the fears of anxious employees. Instead, encourage employees to adopt a more non-confrontational yet effective approach: asking questions instead of telling. Think of questions such as, “Weren’t you working on that project for that client? How’s that going?” or “I remember you said you wanted to improve your interviewing skills, how’re you progressing?” and just leading the conversation with questions can help make feedback-giving less awkward and a more comfortable experience for both the recipient and the one giving feedback.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Instilling feedback into your company culture can help your teams work together to give feedback in ways that are meaningful and conducive to company growth. Feedback is a powerful asset, so when you create an environment where feedback is just a casual, regular occurrence and something to be celebrated rather than feared, you’re also creating a company culture that is also valuing and prioritizing growth for both the team members and the company itself.