A Leader's #1 Fear

Number One Fear
I've heard it.  You've probably heard it.  The notion that most people's biggest fear is public speaking.  (Dying is distant second.)
I no longer believe that public speaking is the number one fear.  In the United States, many leaders fear delivering negative feedback above all else.  

When a leader avoids giving negative feedback, they deny subordinates the opportunity to improve.  And undermine the motivation of other employees who see poor performance tolerated. Ultimately, the entire organization suffers.
Of course, some leaders give lots of negative feedback in a destructive manner.  And some leaders give negative feedback in a constructive manner.  But many give only positive feedback. And avoid giving negative feedback -- or saying anything whatsoever to an employee that might cause an emotional outburst.
Most leaders agree with me when I discuss the consequences of avoiding feedback.  They are acutely aware of the problem, and feel a high degree of stress when interacting with a poor performer.  They hope that the employee will simply improve on their own.  Or be transferred.  Or decide to quit.  Some leaders cling to any slim hope that justifies postponing difficult conversations indefinitely.
How to Start
If you are avoiding giving feedback, what can you do?  First, please don't beat yourself up.  This is a common issue.  And if you're not it the habit of giving direct, negative feedback in a constructive way, it can be difficult to start.
Second, recognize that effective feedback focuses behavior, not emotions.  Telling someone that you're unhappy or upset is not useful to them, and often starts the conversation off on the wrong foot. The purpose of feedback is to give a person honest information about their behavior and give them an opportunity to improve.

Third, start by giving negative feedback in situations where your personal emotional involvement is low.  Most of us interact with service people in a variety of situations.  The next time someone asks you for feedback, be honest.  For example, when your waiter asks, "how was your meal?" give both positive and negative feedback.  Let the server know what met your expectations and what did not.  Give them an opportunity to fix things before you leave a tip.

Practice, practice, practice.  As you become more confident delivering constructive, negative feedback as a customer, check out my next blog post on delivering feedback as a leader.

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