Three (or More?) Reasons for Why It’s Difficult to Get Candid Feedback

  1. People don’t want to hurt your feelings (conflict avoidance)
  2. People have vested interests in your continued demonstration of sub-optimal behavior (self-interest)
  3. People think you won’t take their feedback seriously or utilize it effectively  (rationalization)

Anything else?


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on January 5, 2011, in Business, Learning, Life, Productivity and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Dan.
    First of all, you are wrong. Secondly, I’m still a better blogger than you. And by the way, you wouldn’t be able to change anyway.

    Just kidding (on all three).

    Actually I never thought about how true #2 is — especially in the workplace. #1 seems to me as the biggie. Thinking about it, perhaps another reason, or a related reason to #1 and #3, is that many people don’t know how to give effective feedback, and fear that if they try, it just won’t work well. It will reflect poorly on them for not meeting the expectation inherent in the question — that you can give a good answer.

    Recently someone (who was on her way out of the company) asked me for some feedback on her performance at work and it took me aback, because I had not really thought about her performance until that moment. Her work was pretty irrelevant to me. But I didn’t think I could reveal that — it was more damning than helpful (hint, she was in a position at work where her work probably should have been more relevant to me). So I babbled a bit and eventually found some feedback that I hope was helpful.

    • LOL @Gil… where’s that “Like” button when I need it..!
      You referenced the issue of self-efficacy (to paraphrase: “what if I don’t do a good job of giving this so-called ‘feedback’ thing?”) and pointed out a key issue: Often feedback is requested in a manner that demands an immediate response, and this throws off the person who is being asked for the feedback…. because, hard as it may be for us to accept, our friends/colleagues/bosses/customers aren’t thinking about us much of the time.

      So, the upshot is to give them them some WARNING and some TIME to REFLECT on the feedback they want to give…. and yes, there’s a tradeoff here between Immediacy and Authenticity…. your example illustrates the blurriness of this whole ‘feedback’ endeavor very nicely. …”it was more damning than helpful…” Okay, a bit of rationalization there, too… yet very true.

      • I read this with interest. I am curious as to what you think of peer-review within a company. I have mixed feelings about this type of review. The reasons you state about can also be applied here as to why this is not an effective measure to be used by employers. Your thoughts?

      • Thanks for your question, Silvia.

        I think that well-delivered — and well-received — effective feedback from peers feedback is incredibly valuable for our personal and professional growth. That’s why I’m interested in exploring the barriers to it being delivered (and received) effectively.

        One of the challenges with peer-reviews within the context of an organization is the perception that such reviews are used to “rate” the employee, as the language in your comment suggests (“..not an effective measure to be used by employers”).

        When you think about companies that use peer-review as a part of their professional development / performance review process, what are the things that those companies can do or say to make the peer-review feedback feel less like a “rating” and more like “feedback?”

  2. Somewhat related to what’s above:

    I think conflict avoidance is a big one – fear of rocking the boat, upsetting current relationships, fear of disagreement (what I see as a flaw, you see as a strength).
    Not wanting to get involved — if I tell you “I think you should work on your excel skills”, do I really then want to hear “Oh, can you help me?”, and then end up partly owning every excel mistake you ever make.
    Reputational effects, also – you don’t want to be known as the critical one.

    • @Lev : Fear of rocking the boat, eventually leading to be known as the Critical One. YES. let’s file that under the business-speak label of “Reputational Risk.”

      The not-wanting-to-involved aspect is a subtle one… I like it… let’s call it the “Am I My Brother’s Keeper” Effect, or perhaps more mudanely, the “I don’t have the Tme for This” Effect.

      Thank you.

  3. Danny Silverman

    A fourth could be that the feedback giver doesn’t feel qualified or confident that their POV is accurate, so prefer not to share rather than risk leading the receiver in the wrong direction for improvement.

  4. i’ll go a step further and say,

    i see a growing tendency to be aloof.

    nobody wants to show their cards. say where they stand, commit to a position.

    fear (anger? hah hah)? lack of self confidence? lack of self-awareness? who knows.

    giving candid feedback puts the person in an opinionated position. that is a vulnerable position. not everyone has the balls to be transparent these days.

    • VERY, VERY insightful… fear of taking a Position, or being Wrong. Anonymous feedback-giving mechanisms supposedly help with this (along with general Reputational Risk concerns), and yet, they don’t. Why not? Distrust of the anonymity?

      “..a growing tendency to be aloof” is another thing, too… almost a combination of all the preceding factors into a neat bundle of Desire for Power in a very Old School, opaque sort of way.

      • Desire for power sums it up nicely!

        Desire for attention, too.

        well.. to continue with your reasoning.. if eagerness is what would motivate someone to give candid feedback, anonymous or not…

        then, anger must be the dominant emotion in our society.

        maybe that’s not too off 🙂

        (my own personal work experience says repressed anger is definitely on the rise. more health problems stemming from internal disconnects.)

        maybe what we all need a big hug, and someone to run their fingers thru our (well, yours at least) hair and say, “it’s gonna be ok.” 🙂

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