I got asked a great question last week by my friend Lori. She asked "why do people fear feedback?" I actually think it needs to be broken down into employees and managers - because both do fear it in different ways. Today I will answer the employee part of it, tomorrow I will answer the manager part of it.
There can be many reasons why, but here are my top 3
Employees only get negative feedback. They start to see feedback as a mistake, and no one likes to hear only about their mistakes. Managers need to give more positive feedback than negative. This shouldn't be hard because your employees do more good than bad things (if they aren't, you have bigger issues). Also, don't confuse praise for positive feedback. "Great job" is praise. Feedback has to contain a reference to a specific behavior and it's impact, just like negative feedback.
Employees don't feel psychologically safe. This is a much more complex discussion, but your employees have to feel safe so they see negative feedback as a chance to improve, not as a criticism that could put their job in jeopardy.
Managers are bad at giving feedback or haven't built a solid relationship. This makes any of these discussions awkward and difficult. Even for positive feedback. Feedback isn't difficult to give, but too many managers haven't learned the right way.
It would appear by this that I put a lot of blame on the manager - and I do. That doesn't mean some employees just know how to take feedback or don't want to. However, the manager has to set the expectation that feedback will happen and teach the employee the proper way to accept the feedback. If they don't, and you can't coach them to proper performance in this regard, then they need to move on. They may be fine performers now, but the inability to grow (which is the purpose of feedback) will eventually make them poor performers and hurt the engagement level of the entire team.
Here's the thing: when I have asked an employee "can I give you some feedback", no one has ever said no. NO ONE. People want feedback from others they trust and respect.
Tomorrow, I'll talk about why managers fear giving feedback.