Conquering The Fear of Giving Feedback

Posted January 25, 2013 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

Late last year, I let you all in on my journey of becoming a boss for the first time. I suppose it’s part of what you get with being an entrepreneur, eventually you’re going to be an entrepreneur….with staff. And as I’m learning to be a good boss, I’m talking to a lot of other women and entrepreneurs alike who are also learning to be good bosses. One of the constant questions and pieces of contention I hear is that women, in general, hate giving honest feedback.

Feedback is incredibly hard to give in a manner that is both effective and successful. Many women practice what I call the “sandwich” process of providing feedback. We’ve all experienced it at some time. Someone says, “You know you’re absolutely incredible. I love the way you interact with customers. You know, leggings are not pants, right? You’re so amazing in your role!” It’s a great piece of feedback and a great piece of feedback bookmarking a really tough piece of feedback. The problem with this tactic is that you either don’t hear the negative feedback or you don’t hear the positive feedback. Neither reaction is good.

Good news, though! Karen May, the vice president for people development at Google told NYT’s Adam Bryant her best tips for giving feedback well:

It’s simply harder to give difficult feedback than positive feedback or no feedback. It’s harder because it can be an uncomfortable conversation. It creates tension. You might be disappointing somebody or potentially leading them to feel worse about themselves.

If you’ve identified something that isn’t going well, then you’re likely to be asked, “How do I fix it?” If you don’t know the answer, you might not want to start the conversation. I think that’s the primary reason managers don’t give feedback. They’re willing to give the feedback, but then they won’t know how to help fix it, so why start the conversation?

As a coach, I was often in the position of giving people feedback they hadn’t heard before, after I interviewed a bunch of people they work with. It was always difficult for me, too. Just at a human level, it’s difficult to tell somebody that something that isn’t working about them. But I came to find that people are incredibly grateful. If I’m not doing well and I don’t know it or I don’t know why or I can’t put my finger on what’s not working and no one will tell me, I won’t be able to fix it.

And if you give me the information, the moment that the information is being transferred is painful, but then I have the opportunity to change it. I’ve come to realize that one of the most valuable things I could do for somebody is tell them exactly what nobody else had told them before.

So go ahead, Career Girls, give that feedback! You have to give people who work with you and for you the opportunity to change issues in the work they’re doing and better themselves within the company.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."