Employee Feedback: It’s More Than Words – Part 2

–Avoid Avoidance and Focus on Your “Why”

I was excited for this employee. He was about to receive a much-deserved promotion. His manager was going to deliver the message today. When I followed-up I could tell he had not received the message. What the heck? What a missed opportunity between him and his supervisor.

Our mindset about our role as “message-deliverer.”

In part 1 (see below) of this “It’s More Than Words,” 2-part series I addressed these aspects of context:

  • Relationship.
  • Their current-state.
  • How you both view feedback.

Employee Feedback: It’s More Than Words – Part 1

Let’s now dial in how we view our role and intention as “message-deliverer.”

Avoidance is human, and it’s not.

According to a Harris Poll, a mind-blowing 69% of managers express discomfort in communicating with their employees, in one or more of the following situations:

  • Recognizing employee achievements.
  • Giving clear directions.
  • Crediting others with having good ideas.

Unsurprisingly, but still concerning, more than 37% say they are uncomfortable giving direct feedback about their employees’ performance if they might respond badly. This discomfort can lead to outright avoidance. Avoidance may be a human response, but it doesn’t support treating others like human beings.

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

~Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations.

Who wants to deliver difficult feedback? No one. But as Brené Brown points out, avoiding the situation is not kind. Avoidance and lack of clarity is a disservice to the human beings who happen to be employees and to the goals of the organizations we serve.

It doesn’t have to be difficult.

Let’s rethink “difficult.” Not only does the process of giving feedback not have to be difficult, the feedback does not have to be considered “difficult.” What if we elevate this by thinking about why we are offering it? Our noble motives as leaders might include:

  • Facilitating their success.
  • Building on their potential.
  • Encouraging their progress.

It’s not about the energy of “correction.”

It’s about seeing the person who is on the receiving end of feedback as a fellow human being, who deserves to hear constructive, compassionate truth from someone important to them, someone who cares about them, someone invested in their development and success.

Our clarity about our intention helps us navigate the discussion no matter how they respond, even if is off-putting.

When we observe someone struggling with feedback, responding with blame or defensiveness, it doesn’t have to set us back on our heels. Because we can see that this is just another precious human being we can relate to, who is struggling with their current interpretation of what is going on.

The more we are connected to our noble intentions to support what they are capable of, even their capacity for trying, the more we elevate an often-avoided situation and honor our common humanity for the good of all involved.


Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer
Mary is a fierce advocate for developing workplaces where the human beings who happen to be employees, thrive. Her speaking, coaching, training, and writing all focus on making the most of what human beings can contribute to an organization through their distinctive energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. As the principal of her own business, Mary is a guide to increase empowerment and cultivate productive manager/employee interactions. Drawing from her experience as an HR manager, her work centers on talent development, performance management, and a positive employee experience. She is a co-author of the book, "The Character Based Leader." Mary has presented at the Inspiring Women in STEM Conference and is also a TEDx speaker. Her clients include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. Mary has a master's degree in human resources management and is a certified HR professional. This Midwest farmer's daughter is a big fan of homegrown cantaloupes, gapingvoid art, and LinkedIn.

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  1. Thank you for up-leveling the discussion about giving feedback, Mary. And for holding all managers to the standard of “noble work.” It’s so good to remember that doing our noble work as managers includes putting our avoidance patterns aside and meeting our team members eye to eye, heart to heart — especially when sharing feedback.

    • So glad this post spoke to you. “meeting our team members eye to eye, heart to heart” – yes! You got my intention – to elevate the role of managers, not to feel more burdened, but to reignite a sense of purpose and meaning, particularly in interacting human-to-human with employees, versus avoiding or just going through the motions. Thank you for commenting!

  2. Mary — One of the biggest problems with “feedback” – really with the whole business performance evaluation process – is that it’s a once in a year, perfunctory exercise. SO much can go under the rug in the meantime that confronting issues becomes a real challenge when the manager finally sits down across the table. More frequent conversations would help to alleviate that problem.

      • Management practice sometimes needs to show employees where they actually need to improve. In order to obtain the correct effects desired by the negative feedbacks, it is necessary to adopt methods to decrease the emotionality, making sure that the collaborators concentrate above all on the message that one is trying to convey, rather than on the emotional part of the message itself. Therefore, it is essential for managers to also learn to give negative feedback in the right way. The advice is to think of them mentally and call them “improvement feedback”, rather than corrective or even worse negative; this can help you understand the right approach. The focus in this case is on potential future improvements, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Focusing on behavior in this way, while achieving the objective of feedback, the identity of the person is not directly affected. . It is essential to explain well the consequences of that specific behavior to be corrected and why it should be modified. It is of fundamental importance to propose concrete solutions, highlighting the good work performed and the margin of improvement available.
        Last but not least, it is fundamental to have a good level of awareness and emotional intelligence, which helps the manager or manager to follow the right steps, to manage their own state of mind that influences the correct approach of feedback, to listen with empathy to the responses of the collaborator and to be able to interact in the best way.
        In any situation it is necessary to create a collaborative and non-combative base, and find a productive solution that can (to the extent possible) bring benefits to both parties.