Employee Feedback: It’s More Than Words – Part 2 Avoid Avoidance and Focus on Your “Why” by Mary Schaefer

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…? What a missed opportunity between him and his supervisor.

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

In part 1 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.

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? Not many. 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 fellow 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 honour our common humanity for the good of all involved.

A version of this post originally ran on the BizCatalyst 360° blog December 5, 2019.


Mary Schaefer is a coach, trainer, consultant, and speaker whose work is focused on making the most of what human resources can contribute to an organization through their energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. Mary’s mission is to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive.

Click here to see Mary’s talk at TEDx Wilmington (DE, USA) titled, “Putting the Human Back Into Human Resources.”

Mary is a former HR manager, holds a Master’s degree in HR and is a certified HR professional.

Mary Schaefer