Key Pitfalls that Kill Feedback

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010


Getting back on track demands that we listen to what others have to say. Often that is very difficult. Avoiding these pitfalls could make the difference between success and failure.


by Rick Maurer


  1. We are afraid of hurting their feelings.
    It’s good to worry about that. But stick to the point. Feedback should be based on objectives your organization is trying to meet. If you use objective data or qualitative data that comes from your customers (and not just your opinion), you stand a much better chance of avoiding strong emotions.
  2. We are afraid they will retaliate.
    They might. Once again stick with objective data that you can justify.
  3. All the feedback is one-way.
    One problem with most performance feedback is that it is all one-way. The boss gives feedback to the subordinate. Performance doesn’t work that way. Many things contribute to good and bad performance – the individual’s work, his or her boss’s support and clarity of direction, other members of the team, other pressing priorities. All of these issues should be discussed as part of the feedback process. In other words, the employee should be an integral part of this discussion in helping identify why performance is where it is.
  4. Our style gets in the way.
    Have you ever received feedback on how you give feedback? If not, do so. Sometimes we can be a bull in a china shop, or wildly unclear and not even realize it.
  5. We focus on the wrong level.
    Three things are at play during a performance discussion.

    1. Level 1 – the data
    2. Level 2 – emotional reactions
    3. Level 3 – the relationship itself
Most performance discussions deal with Level 1. We act as if everything is objective and can be put down on paper. Even though we should work hard to provide sound Level 1 data in performance reviews, there are other things at play. Feedback sessions are emotional for giver and receiver. Emotions (Level 2) limit our ability to take in information. The giver may miss important signals that the recipient is overloaded and can’t take in any more. The receiver may react defensively. When both sides are under the spell of emotions, it is almost impossible to conduct a productive feedback session. You must look for signs that emotions are getting in the way of communication. What to do: take a breath, acknowledge your own discomfort, or take a break. Stop talking and listen. Be willing to be influenced by his or her reactions.————————————————————————————-

© 2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations.