My son got his driver’s license. During the six months, he had his permit; I taught him to be a safe driver. I was willing to tell him to slow down, keep two hands on the wheel, and signal when changing lanes. I did not fear giving him feedback and tips to be a better driver.
Why is it so difficult in many other situations, including our work relationships?
Let’s change the driving scenario a bit. Now I’m the driver, and my son is in the backseat. Why doesn’t he correct me when I drive too fast on the freeway? I’m far from a perfect driver! I’m confident that my response would be less appreciative should he decide to critique my driving. I might make some kind of retort, “don’t be a backseat driver.” He may feel like I’m the parent, so correcting me is not his place. He may figure, “well, she’s been driving for many years, so she’s probably right.”
Many of these feelings are also true in the workplace. As Pemo Chodron, American Tibetan Buddhist, stated, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closing to the truth.” These fears include:
- Damaging the Relationship
- Being Wrong
- Losing Face
- Hurting the person
We also hold back because we may feel:
- It’s not my place
- It won’t make a difference
- Power dynamics
My family may experience all three of those fears when I drive! However, it is not helping anyone by holding back and, in the case of driving, puts the family and others on the road in danger. Better to risk our relationship by telling me to watch out for the girl on her bike than to let me take the right turn without seeing her.
The lack of providing feedback also puts your company and the careers of year teammates at risk. In my earlier blog, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, I talk about why it is important to provide feedback. Kim Scott speaks very eloquently on this topic in her book, “Radical Candor.”
I’m passionate about this topic and will continue to write about the consequences of holding back, and how to give and receive feedback in a way that drives the business and your business relationships forward, and how these same muscles apply to difficult conversations. Let’s talk about overcoming some of those fears we all carry. After all, many of us were raised to the saying, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
What does it mean to be “nice?” Is it nice to clap and compliment my dancing while I dance off a cliff? Is it nice to converse with me while I have cilantro in my teeth without letting me know? Is it nice to watch me stumble in my work with advice that may help but fail to inform me?
Is it nice to observe that someone would be more effective and even earn that next promotion if they took the time to check in with key stakeholders more often, but keep that to yourself even though you see the damaging effects?
Let’s agree that giving people the information they need to succeed is kind and move on to the fears and reasons we hold back.
Fighting the Fear
We need to open our minds to the reality that we don’t become our best selves by only hearing what we want to hear. As the person receiving feedback, how you receive it will determine whether people will continue to invest in you in the future. As the person providing feedback, how you give it may impact how it is received. Sharing feedback with good intent and an honest desire to help is essential. If you are angry and frustrated, it may not be the best time to provide meaningful feedback.
Let the person know you are providing feedback because you believe it can make a positive difference from them. You are investing in them by taking the time to have the conversation. Use it to understand where they are coming from and offer suggestions for being more effective.
When you provide feedback to be helpful, the relationship will generally stay intact, and increased trust will build. In the rare occasion where the opposite happens, reflect on what you could have done differently, but also accept that you don’t control others’ reactions. It may be the time to ask your manager or HR representative for help. As a leader, building a culture of honest feedback reduces the chances of damaged relationships.
You may be wrong, and that’s ok. Remember, you are just trying to help and share your perspective. Don’t go into the conversation with a desire to be “right,” and don’t hold back on the fear that you aren’t. As the person receiving feedback, appreciate the investment, understanding that this is one person’s perspective. Use it to build trust, helpful open dialogue, and increased shared understanding.
You can also avoid hurting others by seeking to understand each other’s situation and circumstances and expressing the desire to help.
Moving past the fear of providing difficult feedback may never feel easy. But as you engage more in these meaningful discussions, you will be surprised to see that strengthening this brings to your work relationships. You open yourself to greater understanding while investing in the success of others.