I’ll never forget facilitating a class with a group of leaders on the topic of difficult feedback. About half way through the class I noticed the group starting to squirm a little, looking uncomfortable and a bit unsure what to do with themselves. I looked around the room to see what might be happening to create this discomfort but nothing seemed apparent. Although I continued to facilitate it started to feel almost pointless. I was losing the groups interest and I was completely unsure as to what I was doing wrong. I was sensing frustration from them and I was definitely frustrated. Finally, one woman had the courage to stand up, lead me out into the middle of the hallway and point out that the third button down on my white, tailored shirt was undone and my shirt was gaping wide open. I was mortified! I quickly put myself back together and reunited with my class whom were all completely relieved that finally the cat was out of the bag. I was no longer working against my own interest trying desperately to connect with a group that was trying desperately to overlook me as much as possible.
Think about how much energy we waste by skirting around the real issue. Often, when we choose to withhold feedback we think we are being nice or diplomatic, but in reality were just being flat out scaredy pants. The true irony of this story is withholding feedback from people who would otherwise benefit from it is not a nice thing to do. Far from it! Feedback is what allows us to see what is otherwise invisible to us. It is a powerful flashlight that allows us to work in the light rather than the dark. Giving feedback is a respectful and caring way to say I believe in you and I want you to succeed. Without it we give others a false sense of security in their less than desirable performance.
Being courageous enough to provide useful feedback means saying what needs to be said, rather than what is easier to say, and saying what needs to be said, rather than what is easier for the other person to hear. In our personal lives and at work, we need to give and receive feedback before, during and after tough times. Tough times are situations or people that cause us some level of discomfort or pain. We give feedback before tough times so that we can prevent the tough time from happening or mitigate the extent to which we experience it. During tough times, giving and receiving feedback helps us to be more clear and move through our challenges more quickly. After tough times, we need feedback to help us learn from the experience. When we give and receive feedback either before, during or after tough times, we are adding meaning to the situation around us, helping ourselves and others to transform our pain into a growth experience.
What are some of the situations where you are withholding necessary feedback because you don’t want to say what needs to be said or where you are concerned the other person may not want to hear it? What are the consequences if you do not provide the feedback? Chances are we are better off speaking up in the long-term even if there is a short-term pain involved in the process.