The Six Lies Leaders Tell Themselves to Avoid Giving Feedback
As a leadership coach and trainer, I hear tons of reasons why people don’t give direct feedback. What we don’t realize is the cost of NOT providing honest feedback to the people who work for us.
Like the 55-year-old government employee who keeps being given the next hoop to jump through before he can lead an organization. But no one is telling him that his behavior in meetings is so disruptive that if he doesn’t change, he’ll never be promoted.
Or the CFO who deferentially apologizes before and after each of her sentences while her teammates check their Blackberries. No one tells her it’s because she appears insecure and lacks authority.
We’re suffering individually and collectively from a dearth of clear and honest feedback. Why are we not telling people the truth? Let’s face it — usually it’s because we’re afraid of how the other person will react. In other words, it’s about you, not them – it’s your ego!
Here are the excuses I hear most often:
- I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Sorry to be blunt, but this is B.S. This is more about you than the other person. What it really means is “if I am direct and honest with this person, they may not like what I have to say and they won’t like me any more.” Giving feedback is exactly that – giving. It requires us to be vulnerable, take a risk and be honest, even if the other person doesn’t like what we have to say. And to be empathic when we’re delivering a difficult pill to swallow.
- If I give them (negative) feedback, it will hinder their performance. I typically hear this about rock star performers who are bringing in tons of money, managing the biggest projects or working the most hours, and no one wants the potential downside if they were to react negatively to the feedback. In most cases, in their absolute focus on results, these people have a long line of dead bodies strewn behind them. Trust me, no organization can afford dead bodies. No matter how high performing someone is, it will come back to bite you in the end.
- I’ll do it in the performance review. This is a total cop out. Why avoid doing what needs to be done when it is most effective and impactful — when the situation is current? The most powerful feedback is delivered in the moment. By the time the performance review rolls around, you’ll have forgotten the incident and not be connected to the relevant facts of what occurred in the first place.
- I need to gather more data. I hear this all the time. “I’ve only worked with so-and-so for 6 months now, I can’t possibly give feedback on them, I don’t know them well enough.” Or “I only sit in on one meeting a week with him” or “It’s only my perspective, I need to go around and talk to the rest of the team.” Are you kidding me? I can give someone feedback on their counterproductive behaviors after a 30-minute conversation. If someone is not listening, they are not listening. If a leader behaves in ways that intimidates others, it’s a problem. You don’t need ten other people to affirm that you’re right. And, as a matter of fact, if even one person experiences the consequences of someone’s behavior, I guarantee it’s not an isolated incident.
- People don’t change. I hear this a lot. It makes me very sad. Do we have so little hope in the human capacity to change that we give up on people? Frankly, if people didn’t change, I would be selling iPhones down at the Apple store. This is my job, folks, the business of helping people change. Of course people change! ‘Nuff said.
- Real leaders are born, not made. See point # 5 above, People don’t change. This probably warrants another blog post.
What was the last lie you told yourself and the real reasons holding you back?