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7 Reasons Why People & Organizations Resist Honest Feedback

Whether you’re leading within or beyond your authority, the ability to talk about the real issues is the essence of leadership. Giving honest feedback on performance is one of the greatest gifts a manager can give their people. But, managers often shy away from giving – and their people resist receiving – honest feedback. Here are 7 reasons why this remains a struggle for most organizations, managers, and people.


Which feels better – when someone praises or critiques your work? Even the highest learners amongst us find honest feedback on our gaps uncomfortable. It’s just a basic tenet of human nature that we’re attracted to things that feel good (like cupcakes) and do our best to avoid things that feel bad (like cardio or vegetables).


Most people have grown up in organizational cultures that prize comfort and corporate politeness over candor. The net effect? People react badly and may even complain to HR when their managers start being open and honest about performance.


Every single member of a leadership team has to be deeply committed to making honest feedback the norm and deeply skilled at providing it – to their people AND to each other. A top team must be “all in” on this endeavor otherwise human nature and culture will prevail. One chink in the armor can doom the entire effort.


Performance has to matter. Good performance needs to be rewarded. Persistent, underperformance must be addressed. Also, we need to acknowledge, recognize, and appreciate managers who step up to performance gaps on their teams…and hold them accountable when they don’t.


Despite good work by HR to update role profiles, managers and their teams often have different mental models as to what good looks like for a particular role. When managers and their teams aren’t singing from the same hymn page, people can experience managerial feedback as arbitrary and unfair.


Most managers don’t know how to give honest feedback effectively, i.e., in ways that motivate and enable better performance. Also, most organizations underestimate the complexity of this skill. It’s not just about giving feedback in the right way. It’s also about giving feedback on the right things. Our research demonstrates that managers misdiagnose the causes of their people’s performance gaps 80% of the time. A day or two of training, no matter how effective and well-received, just won’t cut it.

But, it takes two to tango. Most organizations overlook training their employees on how to receive feedback and extract value from conversations with their managers. When employees aren’t made part of the process, they often feel “done to,” which reinforces a parent-child relationship between managers and their teams.


Much of the advice about how to give feedback and coach for higher performance (e.g., self-discovery questions, focusing on strengths, and catching people doing things right to name a few), if implemented correctly, would actually make things WORSE. Practices that have been tried, tested, and proven in the real-world versus in some ivory tower or consulting firm’s offices are in short supply.

In subsequent articles, I will offer proven practices and practical solutions on how to make honest feedback – up, down, across, and outside your organization – the norm.

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