Giving feedback is a core responsibility of any leader. But it can be surprisingly easy to convince yourself not to do it—especially if you are empathetic and caring. (Both great qualities!) Every leader has shied away from saying the necessary thing at times. It can be incredibly uncomfortable!
Genuinely caring about your people and their success, and using that care to build a relationship on a foundation of mutual trust, is the hallmark of a great manager. Giving difficult feedback is not only 100% compatible with achieving that—it’s required.
Here’s what we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook:
1. Feedback is a confrontation
Feedback that works is anchored in humility and a desire to help. Effective leaders rely on feedback to help team members better understand their strengths and areas for improvement—approach feedback with the mindset that you offer a valuable perspective to aid your colleague’s growth. Great feedback opens up discussion rather than closing it down.
On the other hand, if you are angry, don’t give feedback. Then it will be a confrontation. And it won’t work.
2. Feedback is criticism or blame
Great feedback doesn’t litigate the past—it creates a better future. It builds conditions for improved performance by encouraging effective behavior. When you withhold difficult feedback, you deny your team member an opportunity to learn.
3. Feedback is uncaring
Managers often equate negative feedback with not caring, but giving negative feedback demonstrates that you care enough about your people to help them improve. When you give feedback, show that you genuinely care about the person as an individual while challenging them to improve. Be direct yet compassionate. Feedback is an essential tool to help your people grow, achieve their potential, and advance professionally in their careers. Withholding it is apathy.
4. Feedback makes the other person feel bad
It might, in the short run! But ultimately, helpful feedback is kindness. Feedback delivered with genuine good intent helps your team members understand how they can do better—which can positively impact their career.
Be willing to put your team members into mild, temporary discomfort to extend their reach beyond their grasp. There is supposed to be some stress associated with urgency and working to achieve difficult things. Your job is to challenge your people and lead them through discomfort into deep, long-lasting pride of accomplishment.
Put another way: Your job is not to make your people happy. It’s not possible. You can create an environment of kindness, respect, psychological safety, and achievement. But happiness is ultimately up to them.
5. Feedback creates resentment
Real resentment comes from not receiving helpful feedback that could have helped the individual improve and succeed. But by providing constructive feedback, you can prevent future issues and frustrations—and open up new opportunities.
6. Feedback damages your relationships
Managers often worry that giving difficult feedback will damage their relationships. But if you’ve invested the time in building solid relationships and genuinely care, the opposite is true. Honest feedback builds trust. People appreciate and respect leaders who are transparent about areas for improvement. Not giving clear and direct feedback can lead to misunderstandings that turn minor issues into larger ones.
7. Feedback demotivates
It’s true that poorly delivered feedback can demotivate. But for your best people, well-structured and thoughtfully conveyed feedback is a positive challenge to improvement.
8. I might be wrong
No leader has all the answers, and no one expects you to. Giving feedback isn’t about being infallible but sharing your perspective based on observations and experiences. Speak with humility but be confident in your convictions. Your company has entrusted you to lead people for a reason.