Guest Post: Why we fear giving feedback – and what to do about it.

anthony sork image(1)Anthony Sork is the Managing Director of Sork HC, a Management Consultancy and Executive Coaching practice. He is the creator of the Employment Attachment Inventory the world first, internationally patented business instrument used by leading organisations to reduce attrition and increase performance of new employees.

One of the things we all struggle with in the employment space is how to give good feedback. This applies whether you are a recruiter, an employer or an HR Manager. In an interesting recent article, “Bully Bosses Prosper as Workers Sag,”  Sydney Morning Herald journalist Adele Horin quotes a WorkPro survey which reveals workplace bullying to be “endemic.” They found in a national survey of 5100 people, that approximately one-third of workers said they have been victims of bullying, unfortunately, often by their managers.

Adele rightly asks where the demarcation line lies. What is a bully and what is a “rough diamond?”

That’s a complex question, and challenging when it comes to giving employees feedback on their performance. Management theory today talks about adapting your style to the way an employee will respond. And there are some employees who need a more directive style. We would suggest, however, that many of us don’t know the line between being too soft or too hard.

Giving good feedback is so tricky. Often we don’t do it well.

The reasons are varied – possibly we’re not taught how to do it. Or we may never have been given good feedback in our careers to learn by the example of others. Many of us also have an innate need to be liked. We can fear our employee’s reactions if we ask them to improve.  So we avoid giving feedback or we sugarcoat it.  Human beings are terrific at masking their true reactions to what’s being said. We may never really know if we’ve been effective in giving feedback.

So here are a few ideas that might help.

It helps that you create a culture of encouraging feedback between all employees in the workplace. We include in this culture, feedback on your own performance as a manager. When you’re encouraging employee feedback, you may want to stress that the most valuable feedback tells people, something they did not know. It does not just affirm things already understood.

Don’t avoid giving feedback, thinking that an employee may not want to hear it. The giver of the news can find it harder than the hearer. You could actually find most people to be receptive, and even more so, if you position the feedback you provide as some valuable information that can help your employee.

Never come from the position of authority or superiority. Try support. If you have specific data from a feedback survey, or a performance review, let the facts in that speak. Externally measured perception is valuable and typically more objective. If you don’t have access to external measurement, then provide specific examples, so people can relate precisely to the scenarios you are talking about.

It is important to recognize that there always will be a difference between what you say and what people hear. If you think that your employee is applying their own personal filter to the message you are conveying, then ask them if they follow what you are saying. You may be surprised at what you hear back.

Don’t forget the basics around respecting your employee as an individual. If you value them, tell them that. People will be responsive to feedback and take action on that feedback if they feel secure in the relationship. But do not sugarcoat areas an employee needs to work on. There’s little worse than walking away from a meeting thinking, “I think I’ve been told something – but I am not quite sure what.”

For many people, feedback will be unexpected. Often people need time to process it through several stages until they accept the message. When you give feedback, start with the positives, or the opportunity that feedback can provide, end with a positive and give some action tips to get people moving.

We’d love your ideas on how to provide feedback. And if you’d like to find out how the employee attachment inventory can help in measuring perceptions to give reliable feedback, then please visit

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