Giving Feedback Even When It’s Hard

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

Feed Them

Remember, for a moment, a specific time when a colleague at work acted in a way that was detrimental to the business, or to herself. It is likely that you observed the mistakes made and you even saw the damage done. You were probably convinced that this behavior should stop, but felt it wasn’t your personal responsibility to stop it. So you watched idly, debating whether you should speak up or stay silent, hedging the possible risk of doing damage to the relationship if you did speak up. The clock ticked and time passed. What did you do? Did you face her head-on? Or, did you turn away, hoping its negative effects would never come?

Confronting people close to us is a daunting experience. For some, it can even be paralyzing, inducing sweaty palms and a quickened heartbeat. For those overcome by the uncomfortableness of confrontation, their decision is usually to hold back, rather than to give feedback.

Giving feedback is especially hard for me as I am from Minnesota, where we are commonly referred to as “Minnesota Nice.” This niceness sounds admirable at first glance, but in actuality, the truth is that we Northerners would rather be passive and avoid confrontation than we would actually deal with others’ issues. If you are from another place in the world, you can better understand Minnesotans by picturing a man who says “sorry!” even when someone bumps into him in a wide-open hallway.

No matter where you live, however, the opportunity to speak up is present and it is important to understand that, in our modern economy, really helpful feedback is an extremely rare-commodity. Those who can give feedback and help others grow will improve their own careers and lives by benefiting from honest relationships.

No, this isn’t the single defining trait of success by any means, but it is crucial. The value in the act can be often overlooked, however, because even some of the most successful of people might avoid giving feedback to others. Those who withhold this from others can still succeed greatly, but there will always be missed opportunity left on the table that could have inspired, challenged, or built up. Personal growth, in its purest form, often comes through stress and hardship, rather than when everything is going “peachy.”

Even in the best companies and on the best teams, our colleagues, friends, employees, and bosses sometimes act in ways that will need our feedback, but we often fail to speak up. And when our silence seems innocent, we must remember that it isn’t. Withholding feedback is like starving a person of the nourishment needed for growth. Withholding feedback isn’t nice, it’s selfish.

The word feedback is explicit: it is to feed, to nourish, to supply, to build-up. So then, giving feedback shouldn’t be thought of as a negative, insulting, or uncomfortable act. No, instead we should view feedback as selfless and loving. For a moment you will need to put yourself aside, disregarding completely how uncomfortable you might feel, and instead focus on feeding someone whom you care about.

Tough Love

Often we think of feedback as giving “tough love.” We worry about being “too tough” on people who might be too fragile to hear our criticism. But this is still a misunderstanding of what it means to give feedback. There is no such thing as tough love. There is only love. I’ll explain.

Picture this: a child is chasing a ball into the street, her father runs behind her in a panic, screaming. Fortunately, there is no oncoming traffic this time, but the father knows that there could be someday.

tough love feedbackThe father yells at the daughter, “Stop it! Stop it right now!”

To the child’s ears her father sounds tough, even angry or mean, and so she begins to cry.

He catches the child by the arm and firmly scolds her. He says, while looking into her eyes, “You cannot run into the street! Don’t do that ever again!” Or something to that effect.

The father does this because he knows more than the child. He knows that if she continues to run into the street and develop this habit then she could be seriously hurt.

Is this tough love or just love? Even though he appears tough to the child and she may cry, this feedback will make her safer. This is just love.

Likewise, we are surrounded by co-workers, employees, bosses, family members, and spouses who all need our generosity in order to remain safe, to grow, and to prosper.

Here are four tips for giving feedback:

  1. Get over it; realize your feedback is feeding
  2. Consult a trusted friend first; ask for advice on how best to deliver the feedback
  3. Always give the feedback in private
  4. Never give the feedback over writing or text such as email or SMS; in person is best and over-the-phone is second best
  5. Make sure the person knows that you care


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2 thoughts on “Giving Feedback Even When It’s Hard

  1. More than just good advice. The emphasis on heartfelt compassion makes all the difference here. Thanks for offering something that not only has the potential to help others succeed, but a way that we can be a part of that success. These bones have skin on them!

    Liked by 1 person

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