The 6 Uncomfortable Reasons Managers Avoid Giving Feedback

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It’s been the topic of conversation on many an evening over a glass of wine with our training team over the years. Why do so many managers avoid giving feedback?

In our experience, the reasons are not so different today as they were 10 years ago.  

While it’s relatively easy for managers, even the less experienced ones, to identify areas for performance improvement, doing something about this in terms of starting with a feedback conversation seems to be a different story.  

What does startle me more though is that this avoidance doesn’t only relate to ‘developmental’ feedback?

The results of two surveys were recently published in Harvard Business Review which showed

  • 44% of managers believed that giving developmental feedback was stressful or difficult.
  • 21% of managers admitted that they avoid giving developmental feedback.
    (when self-assessed)
  • 37% of the people who took the self-assessment conceded that they don’t give positive reinforcement

The question is ‘why do so many managers avoid giving performance feedback?’  In this week’s article, we explore 6 common reasons and how to change them.

A little added bonus for you here too. At the bottom of this blog we have a downloadable feedback cheatsheet, that will enable you to deal with the many different responses you may receive when having feedback conversations.


What Stops Managers Giving Feedback?

I Feel Uncomfortable Giving Feedback

Let’s be honest; many people avoid what they perceive as uncomfortable conversations, especially if they think their employee will have a conflicting view of the feedback they have received.

Even though managers are more than capable of having the conversation, for some this requires stepping up and being courageous even when they are worrying about how to say what they know needs saying.


I'm Not Sure How To Give Feedback

From experience, there is some validity for this idea as many managers haven’t received any formal management skills training.

Yes, training helps and I suspect that there is a lack of belief about whether giving feedback really does work and it’s this belief that underpins the lack of motivation to find out the “how to”.

We do however have an infographic designed to help!

I'm Not Sure How To Give Feedback And Be Able To Keep People Motivated

“I don’t want to demotivate them”, is common in a relationship focused and empathetic manager and is often accompanied by various additions such as: 

  • Because they are under pressure already. 
  • Because they are having challenges at home. 
  • Because they always pull out the stops when I need them to… and the list it goes on.  

You could argue that this is being empathic when really, it’s an excuse masquerading as a positive intention.


I Don't Have Time To Give Feedback

As the saying goes, ‘If I had a pound/euro/dollar’ for every client who recounts the frequency they hear managers say this, it would be a bumper cheque I would be writing to
my favourite charity at the end of each month.

Reality: A manager’s job is to make sure the right things get done on time and on budget. How will that happen if they don’t make the time to find and develop the right people? 

Developing people requires giving feedback.

It’s a must do and it’s interesting to see that the most successful mangers and leaders have the same hours in the day and have invested time mastering this skill.

I Don't Know How They Will React And What To Do If They Get Emotional

Real reason: Fear. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have a voice in our heads that can run riot at times and this is one occasion. Managers can have an exaggerated fear of how their employees will react, especially how emotional they may be.  

The fear of the employees’ response is compounded by a further fear of ‘how will I handle their response’.  

As we have mentioned before, this is a skills issue which is easy to address.   Unfortunately, these managers fail to see the dramatic and positive impact that developmental feedback has on results.


My Direct Report Used To Be My Peer And So It Will Be Uncomfortable

This is increasingly common as ambitious Millennials are being promoted far quicker than colleagues from previous generations.

The reality is this isn’t about giving feedback. This is about the manager struggling because they haven’t re defined the boundaries of the relationship and clarified their expectations.

There are times where there is an underlying lack of self-confidence or self believe that is getting in the way.


What Do You Do To Overcome These Reasons?


1. Own It:

Own the fact that you have been using these excuses and decide to stop, today.

Ask yourself: What have I been doing that has contributed to me avoiding giving feedback?

Then act on your answers


2. Change Your Belief:

Research proves giving feedback works. This is part of how you develop individuals. 

It’s also important to position the feedback appropriately; it’s ‘developmental’, not ‘negative’! 

3. Have a Structure:

There are various models to use to help you structure giving feedback use one. Check out the STAR is one we particularly like using with our clients. Also be aware of some simple ground rules so that your feedback has the impact you want


4. Practise:

There is no better way than to practise. Look for opportunities to give both motivational and developmental feedback and notice the impact it has


5. Learn How to Handle Responses to Feedback

There’s generally 5 responses to feedback and we all go through them, it’s just some of us get to acceptance almost instantaneously. 

If you are unsure how to handle emotional responses, talk to other managers and ask your own. Read our companion post to this here.


6Take Responsibility

All of us have a responsibility to give both developmental and motivational feedback. Until you’ve shared that feedback the issue will continue to be your problem. Besides, it’s not fair; you owe it to your employees to give them the opportunity to develop and grow. 

Being able to give team members feedback is a ‘must have’ skill for managers and leaders. The one thing that stops managers from giving feedback is themselves. When you act on developing this skill area, you and your team will reap the rewards.


The Excel Team

With over 30 years of experience as a global leadership and communication skills team, Excel Communication can teach the techniques required to develop high performing managers. Our experts deliver programmes in various languages, across four continents. Get in touch today on +44 (0) 1628 488 854.