Take the fear out of feedback: How managers can handle their own anxiety about giving feedback


People enjoy yearly performance reviews as much as their visits to the dentist. It can be stressful for both the appraiser and the feedback receiver. Though the exchange of feedback is vital for career growth, people often dread actually being in the conversation.

Feedback receivers naturally shy away from the process because, let’s face it, who likes being criticized? But interestingly, managers, too, tend to avoid giving feedback because they are just as anxious about the process. A survey by Harris Poll found that 69% of leaders confessed to being uncomfortable communicating with their staff.

Here are some of the most common reasons that managers fear performance reviews:

1.     Fear of a negative response:

If feedback is seen as confrontational, the feedback giver will logically expect a negative response – argument, pushback, emotional outbursts, even tears. Will they start crying or create a scene? Will they start acting differently and hate me because I’m mean? Will they stop working, and what will happen to this quarter’s deliverables? Worst of all, will they quit? The anticipation of such stress results in a self-fulfilling prophecy, with both the manager and feedback receiver entering the conversation in a defensive frame of mind.

2.     Fear of appearing vulnerable:

Managers are expected to project a stoic image depicting solidity and competency that can lead a team toward success. Unfortunately, this is a real roadblock at work, especially regarding authentic conversations such as feedback.

As the performance review spotlights the employee, the manager too can feel spotlighted and exposed as the conversation gets real – an uncomfortable process. Many managers solve this by appearing aloof, diplomatic, and strong, which adds to the stress of feedback instead of mitigating it. 

     3.    Discomfort with giving praise and recognizing others’ achievements:

     In most cases, praising employees for their accomplishments or good work won’t cost managers a dime. But here are some startling stats, nearly 70% of managers are uncomfortable offering praise, showing vulnerability, or communicating with their employees. Conversely, managers misjudge how lack of feedback affects the subordinates. 

    Perhaps in an effort to provide employees with what they believe as direct, honest feedback, managers, coming from the “tough-love” paradigm, fail to deliver positive reinforcement even when it is due. Some managers mistakenly believe that offering positive feedback will lead to building close relationships with these employees whom they might have to fire in the future. Others believe positive feedback will be perceived as ‘un-macho’ – a sign of weakness, especially in male-dominated industries. 

According to a study by Indeed, 30% of people who left a job within the first six months said being recognized more for their unique contributions could have helped them stay longer. At a time when people are either abandoning their jobs or being fired from them, how managers handle this process could make a lot of difference. If you have a team working with you, here are four things you can do to take the tension out of the feedback process and turn it into a useful conversation.

  • Set a clear agenda for the year-end conversation:

Annual performance reviews should ideally recap what you and the employee have discussed throughout the year. Let team members know beforehand what the feedback process will include so they won’t feel blindsided. This will help them come prepared for the conversation and lays the foundation for a trusting relationship.

  • Encourage a self-evaluation:

When an employee comes prepared with a self-evaluation, managers can better view individual performance and what motivates them to do their best work. Taking the time and effort for a self-evaluation process will be worth it as it helps to craft a clear, concrete, and accurate portrayal of an employee’s performance throughout the year. Employees will also be able to advocate for themselves and their careers in the process.

  • Giving Feedback more often: 

We fall into a flight-or-fight mode when so much pressure rides on the annual performance review. Effective and timely feedback, if offered consistently by the managers, makes the environment more casual, relaxed, and open. Regular feedback exchange encourages and empowers your employee to progress toward their goals. If improvement needs to be seen in someone’s performance, the sooner they receive it, the sooner they work on it.

  • Keeping the conversation two-way:

Effective feedback should be a two-way conversation as it can help to increase self-awareness. Managers who take time to ask their employees questions and listen when they address their concerns create an environment that promotes self-driven development where employees feel valued and empowered. This way manager can align with his employees and motivate people.

Receiving and giving feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be terrifying. Instead, we can reimagine feedback as an opportunity for growth. By creating a culture of effective feedback, you can have the chance to celebrate your strengths and unlock and empower the potential of the entire organization.


About the Author:

Dhannyaa Menon is a Digital News Writer, graduated with a Master’s degree in Journalism from MIT ADT University, Pune. She supports the TAQ team with research, content development, social media, and the delivery of workshop.