Valid Excuses to Avoid Giving Feedback Are Still…Excuses

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Aug 7, 2020

We spend our entire lives engaging with feedback. It starts in school with report cards, grades, test scores, and even parent-teacher conferences (which are essentially feedback sessions that happen behind our backs, and we don’t even get invited!). Even in college, we measure and understand our achievements through a succession of grades.

Then we enter the workforce, and suddenly for many of us, the feedback stops. 

Remember that first day of work, showing up, full of eagerness and excitement and wanting to hear “great job!” or “brilliant idea!” all day? It rarely happens.

First days are often such letdowns. We aren’t sure if we measured up. We didn’t get feedback. Did colleagues like us? Why didn’t they comment?

So we turn to social media in hopes of receiving likes and comments which are, in fact, forms of feedback. We are all asking for feedback all day long. Indeed, the average social-media user has more than seven social accounts. In other words, we are in a constant state of asking for feedback or sharing it with others. 

Except at work. That’s where we clam up. It’s a danger zone of sorts. 

What Makes Work Different?

Withholding feedback impacts productivity in work situations. At the same time, we all worry about the same things when it comes to feedback at work. We tend to view them as “valid excuses.” 

  • I don’t want to start an argument or have a conflict with this person…
  • I don’t know if it’s my place to address this issue… 
  • I waited too long and now, it may be awkward to bring it up…
  • I plan on discussing this, but I can’t until we finish the XYZ project…
  • I’m not sure it’s even worth it. I doubt the person will care or change…
  • I don’t want to face any repercussions (with HR, politically, within the company)… 
  • I need “evidence” and want to have plenty of examples to support my feedback…
  • I don’t really know how to share this feedback the right way…
  • I don’t have the time for this conversation…

Valid excuses are not totally  illegitimate. It is valid not to want to hurt a relationship. It is reasonable to believe a certain amount of  evidence may be required before sharing  formal feedback. It makes perfect sense to think twice if you fear conflict and believe you may lose your job as a result of making a certain comment. 

Nonetheless, valid excuses are still just, well, excuses.

Letting go of our excuses means having candor, courage, and care when delivering feedback. It’s about viewing authentic feedback as a means to help a person see something from someone else’s vantage point. It also means that feedback should be given if and only if it comes from a place of good intent — with the main aim of adding value for another person. No other reason. In this way, the more feedback that is shared, the more it is appreciated, desired, and valued. And the more continuous it becomes. 

Feedback should also be FAST:

  • F—Frequent. The more often we share candid insights to help others, the more comfort and trust we build through giving and receiving feedback. This helps to ease intimidation and increases the frequency. Plus, the more we practice, the more we build the feedback muscle, and the more we can increase our comfort and trust. Simply put, feedback should be ongoing and continuous.
  • AS—Action-Oriented and Specific. The best feedback is behavior-based and provides specific examples that help the receiver understand which behavior or action to repeat, change, or stop. Vague commentary like “communicate better,” “I love your style,” or “be more strategic” requires decoding because it is not clear enough.
  • T—Timely. The longer we wait to share feedback, the harder it is for the deliverer and receiver. Ask yourself this question: If there were something you could fix, would you want to know now, or wait to find out?

It is natural for us to want to protect ourselves — our relationships, our work, our jobs. As a result, many people struggle with giving feedback in the workplace. The broader picture, however, is that sharing and receiving authentic feedback allows for growth, development, and addition of value that can make all of us better. Learning to manage feedback in the right ways ultimately builds competency and trust, fosters more communication, creates opportunities for positive reinforcement, speeds up improvement, and decreases anxiety and confusion. 

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