Why is Giving Feedback SO Hard?

A few years ago, I developed a course for DailyBitsOf.com on giving effective feedback. Thousands of people have tried it, and they said the course changed how they give and receive feedback.

Recently, DailyBitsOf interviewed me on this topic and, in particular, on what makes giving feedback so hard? Here are some of my thoughts, from that interview. I hope it gives you further ease in giving and receiving requests! (And at the end, there’s a fun question about what I’m reading this summer!)

DailyBits: Why do so many have a hard time giving feedback?

Dian: We’re afraid about how our words will be received. Will we be heard? Will we get pushback? Will there be some judgment or disconnection? We basically want to protect ourselves, and the relationship.

In coaching managers and working with organizations, I find that often the most crucial conversations simply never happen. People feel there is too much at stake. Or there is a history of previous conversations not going well (where they were not heard). So they are hesitant to try, or try again. But of course the danger is that frustration and disconnect simply builds up and accumulates—and crucial information (for working together effectively, or intimacy and connection) simply never happens. That erodes trust and communication in the long run.

DailyBits: If you could give one advice to people reading this that will get them to give some feedback today, what would that be?

Dian: If you don’t speak up about your needs, who will? And if this is an intimate relationship, or any relationship important to you, how will it impact your trust and connection with this person not to tell them what’s on your mind, and be heard?

Before going into the conversation, get clear about your needs, on a core level. What’s your main objective? Is it to be heard, to get on the same page, or create shared reality? Do you want understanding—to restore trust?  There are just a few examples. But if you can go into the conversation focused on your core objectives—on a meta level, that can help you stay grounded and focused.  To see a longer list of core, universal values, check out this link.

DailyBits: So you must be a master at giving feedback, right? Have you always been like that?

Dian: No, I’m not a master. I’m not sure anyone is! But I know a lot more than I knew five years ago, or one year ago. Giving effective feedback, and communication in general, is like most things in life: it takes practice and the more you practice, the more confidence and skill you develop. As in any sport, I learn mostly from my mistakes. And luckily, this is one thing you can practice everyday.

Practice first in more neutral situations (where you don’t have a history of pent up conflict or frustration with the person). Practice giving “positive” feedback too, about needs met. And start with small things that have less consequence or weight for you. Once you start developing that muscle—to speak up in a connected way—it will become easier to speak up about more difficult things and the things that matter most to you.

DailyBits: What will you read during the summer?

Dian: I’m usually reading several books at once! I have broad interests and I rarely get to finish one book before I dive into another. Right now I’m in the middle of a very interesting book on the unconscious, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. It actually gives a lot of insight on communication blind spots.  And I read a lot of articles too. There’s a feature article in The Atlantic this month on psychopaths that’s fascinating. I know it sounds like a dark subject, but it’s actually about empathy—how 99% of the population is born neurologically hard wired for empathy.

Scientists have even identified the part of the brain where this function is located.  The 1% of the population missing this gray matter usually develops empathy skills in the process of growing up with other humans. Neurology is now documenting much of what I teach and is so effective—now there’s hard science to back it up.  Beyond the unconscious and neurology,  I also want to do some light, fun reading this summer too, so hope to get to Patti Smith’s more recent book, My Train. I loved Just Kids, so want to read this one too. I am a proud New Yorker and a musician, so reading about the downtown music scene that Patti Smyth was part of in the 70s of is pretty engrossing for me! 

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