Life Lessons: How to overcome a fear of giving feedback?

Life Lessons: How to overcome a fear of giving feedback?

We’re used to say that feedback is a gift. However, not many of us wish to accept it. What’s more, the first reaction is usually anger. We feel like not giving and not receiving it anymore. But does it solve the problem?

When given correctly, feedback is not meant to harm or criticize people. Rather, it’s meant as a way to improve.

How many times you received/gave a supportive or complimentary feedback?

We all expect to receive “constructive feedback” and we all promise to deliver “constructive feedback”. The reality is that “constructive feedback” not done well often becomes “constructive criticism”. That’s why we stopped believing in a notion of constructive feedback. Standing in front of it, we started to get prepared for a wave of criticism by embracing a defensive attitude. It might be a matter of one wrongly picked word that leads to a huge emotional explosion.

A friend of mine was used to tell me:

Ok, stop wrapping it up with beautiful words. Just get straight to the point.

Though, when I complied with the requested form of feedback, I didn’t experience any openness for what was actually requested. Instead, I had to face a disappointment, a denial and a frustration.

Why is that?

I made some research and it turned out that our approach towards negative feedback is conditioned biologically. According to, I found out that our brains react faster to negative stimuli which in terms of survival was originally necessary for responding to a sense of attack: fight or flight mode.

Isn’t it similar to the two most frequent reactions when receiving feedback or criticism? Either, we fight or we leave. There’s a small percentage of people who stay and listen carefully. Who try to understand. Who wish to learn.

What’s even more interesting, accordingly to one of the studies conducted by Zenger/Folkman, 74% of employees who received constructive feedback already knew there was a problem! Isn’t it surprising provided our tendency to deny weak points?

Let’s see then what we fear the most when facing feedback:

  • Being rejected
  • Sense of exclusion
  • Not being good enough
  • Not doing well enough
  • Losing illusions
  • Being hurt
  • Not being understood
  • Truth
  • Criticism
  • What other people really think about us
  • Being pushed to leave our comfort zone
  • Losing the known

The success of feedback is not about what we say, but how we say it.

I’m not afraid when I’m supposed to receive feedback from my boss because she uses it as a form of appreciation or reward. I feel reassured that she believes in my skills and sees my efforts. That’s why it’s usually me who ask her what can I do better. I don’t feel the same kind of confidence with other people. I know they can hurt deeply. It’s the same with me giving feedback. I strongly fight to prevent myself from judging, criticizing, sharing top-down instructions or simply seeing positive sides of someone whose attitude who doesn’t act well in my eyes.

According to Zenger & Folkman, people don’t want to receive ready-to-use instructions on how to improve. It’s more likely we’ll get constructive feedback accepted if we listen carefully to what other person has to say before sharing our own thoughts. Demonstrating the interest in the other person’s point of view before communicating ours releases the tension and prepares the background under a trustworthy conversation. How to make it happen? It’s simple. Start asking questions. Let the other person explain the situation and create a plan of action. When you do it in the right way, you’ll receive the answers you planned to offer.

It’s hard to hold my tongue and not to criticize. It’s hard to hold my tongue and to give ready answers on how to do better. But the only way to make sure people get the lesson is to let them discover it on their own. It’s to make them think they found the answer. It’s to guide them towards the right solution. This is the best approach to ensure they keep a sense of dignity instead of feeling humiliated.

Are you afraid of giving or receiving feedback? How do you overcome it?

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5 thoughts on “Life Lessons: How to overcome a fear of giving feedback?”

  • I don’t mind feedback. I prefer it to be blunt, because I can see through all the “beautiful” words. It’s like you’re insulting my intelligence. However, I do get defensive sometimes when I feel like their issues are totally unfounded. It takes me a second to realize that this is an opportunity to review my thoughts and their findings. To learn.

    People say “do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” That’s why I try to give feedback in the same way – straight, with no BS. I know that’s rarely appreciated. I’m working on it, but I think it’s mostly a waste of time. Also, I feel like it detracts from the positives. If someone tells you 1 good thing about you and 1 bad one, do you not wonder if the good thing really is good, or just “not bad?”

    • I’m wondering how do you see through all the “beautiful” words? Is it a matter of your intuition or you’ve got some special methods to discover people who lie to you?

      When it comes to feedback itself, how do you recognize BS wrapped up in the silver package vs true appreciation?

      It’s a real phenomenon for me to hear people asking for straight forward feedback and then not appreciating it. It’s obvious that most of us will get defensive about issues we don’t feel responsible for all. It’s deep in our mentality to find a justification for any kind of mistake or negligence. Why do we want then to get true feedback if actually, we don’t want to hear the truth? Do we count on hearing only compliments?

      Your last question is to the point. I believe we all know the sandwich technique. That’s why we became a bit suspicious. While hearing a good thing, we’re already getting prepared for a bad one. We’re waiting for a “BUT”.

      • I have 6th sense about people. It’s true. However, whenever someone says something to me, I filter it through everything I know about them. If it’s not something that matches with it, I get curious.

        To me, true appreciation is a process. If you rarely get along with someone and then one day they come up to you and tell you how amazing you are, chances are they want something. Or they did something wrong… and they want something.

      • It sounds logical. It’s like with “old good friends” you hear nothing about for years and suddenly they contact you. You just feel intuitively they need something from you. It might be the same with giving positive feedback without having a proper context or which is not a part of regular sessions.

        Does it happen frequently to you that people share with you positive feedback just because they want something from you?

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