Beyond the Unspoken: Breaking Through Feedback Reluctance in the Workplace

Beyond the Unspoken: Breaking Through Feedback Reluctance in the Workplace

In a recent NWORX survey involving 150 mid-level and senior-level managers from industry-leading organizations globally, a startling revelation emerged: 66% of managers receive feedback only annually. As we navigate through a globalized, post-COVID world with increasingly remote and technologically advanced workplaces, diversity in culture, background, gender, and upbringing is more pronounced than ever. This diversity brings to the fore the complex issue of feedback—a critical, yet sensitive, aspect of today’s multifaceted work environment.

Over the past six years, NWORX’s extensive work with organizations with diverse workforces, coupled with insights from our closed-door round-table conversation with 36 CXOs of industry-leading companies, has culminated in this article. This article explores the nuances of the complex issue of feedback reluctance among managers and employees. Additionally, it discusses the strategies distilled by top leaders over the years to navigate this challenge effectively.


Managers’ Reluctance to Provide Feedback


Mid-level managers are often hesitant to provide feedback for a variety of reasons. They perceive it as an uncomfortable conversation, one fraught with potential conflict, especially when they anticipate differing views or defensive responses from their employees. There is also the underlying fear of damaging workplace relationships, which can lead to managers choosing to maintain a status quo rather than initiate potentially beneficial but challenging discussions.

This avoidance strategy fails to address performance issues related to skills or processes and hinders the opportunity for constructive dialogue and professional growth. Without addressing this reluctance and equipping managers with the right skills and mindset, business leaders risk an environment where critical feedback is seldom given, leading to stagnation in both individual and team development.


Employees’ Resistance to Accept Feedback


On the flip side, employees often exhibit resistance to receiving feedback, a challenge that managers must adeptly navigate. This reluctance primarily arises from the conventional practice of conducting feedback sessions on an annual or infrequent basis. Such a sporadic approach contributes to a climate of anxiety and uncertainty, where feedback is less a tool for growth and more a dreaded evaluation of performance.

For mid-level managers, the challenge lies in dismantling these misconceptions and reshaping the feedback culture. This involves shifting the perception of feedback from a judgmental process to an ongoing, collaborative, and positive experience. Leaders need to cultivate an environment where feedback is regular, constructive, and integrated into the daily workflow, thereby normalizing it as a part of professional growth and development.

By addressing the frequency and nature of feedback, leaders can help employees view it not as a threat but as an invaluable opportunity for learning self-improvement, and career advancement. This shift is crucial in creating a more open, resilient, and adaptive workforce.


Empower Feedback through Active Listening


The cornerstone of successful feedback is active listening, a skill in which most managers today struggle to excel. Active listening involves more than just hearing the words spoken; it requires a deep understanding and genuine engagement with the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

By actively listening, managers not only comprehend their employees’ perspectives but also build an atmosphere of trust and open communication. This approach helps managers to grasp the underlying issues and concerns that may not be immediately apparent. It also demonstrates empathy and respect, which can alleviate the tension often associated with feedback sessions. Employees are more likely to feel valued and understood, paving the way for a more positive and open relationship with their managers.

Moreover, active listening challenges managers to step out of their preconceptions and biases. It demands that they consider different viewpoints and reevaluate their assumptions. This enriches the feedback process and promotes a more inclusive and dynamic work environment.


Address the Lack of High-Quality Conversations


Despite efforts by some business leaders to establish regular check-ins, such as monthly or quarterly discussions, these interactions often lack depth and substance. They tend to fulfill only procedural requirements rather than fostering genuine engagement and understanding. This deficiency in substantial, meaningful dialogue significantly hampers the effectiveness of the feedback process.

For feedback to be truly transformative, it needs to go beyond the mere exchange of performance-related comments. Leaders should encourage and facilitate a shift from mechanical feedback exchanges to meaningful, two-way dialogues. These conversations should not only focus on current performance but also delve deeply into the employees’ aspirations, challenges, and untapped potential. They should be framed in a context that brings alignment between the employee’s career goals and personal aspirations with organizational goals.


Establish Routine Feedback Sessions


Effective business leaders believe that a shift from the traditional, often dreaded annual reviews to more frequent, less formal interactions is highly needed. This change in approach transforms feedback from a once-a-year stressor into a regular, integrated aspect of everyday work life. Regular check-ins facilitate a dynamic process where feedback is not just about critiquing but about continuous dialogue and mutual development. This shift helps business leaders build a culture where feedback is demystified and normalized, reducing the anxiety and formality typically associated with it. By embedding feedback into the fabric of daily operations, it becomes a tool for ongoing engagement, rather than a seasonal event.


Implement 360-degree Feedback for a Holistic View


Traditional feedback mechanisms are subjective and mostly reflect the perception of an individual’s contribution from the lens of one or at max two personnel. In contrast, 360-degree feedback provides a well-rounded view of an employee’s performance, behavior, and impact within the organization. By incorporating diverse viewpoints, this method overcomes the limitations of one-sided feedback, ensuring that assessments are not solely reliant on a single perspective. This multiplicity of voices contributes to a more balanced, objective, and holistic understanding of an individual’s contributions and areas for improvement.

This inclusive approach has helped effective business leaders build a culture of open and honest communication, breaking down hierarchical barriers. It empowers employees at all levels to voice their opinions and feedback, which can be particularly enlightening for managers and leaders. Understanding how their leadership style affects various team members is a powerful catalyst for personal growth and improved management practices. Moreover, employees gain insights into how their actions and behaviors are perceived by a wide array of colleagues, offering them a unique opportunity for self-reflection and personal development.


Leverage Technology to Streamline and Automate Feedback Processes


The integration of technological solutions in the feedback mechanism is not just a trend but a necessity to cope with the fast-paced and ever-changing business environments. Technology in feedback processes offers several significant advantages. First, it enables the automation of routine feedback tasks, such as scheduling meetings, sending reminders, and compiling responses. This automation reduces the administrative burden on managers and HR professionals, allowing them to focus more on the qualitative aspects of feedback and less on logistical details.

Furthermore, technology facilitates the collection and analysis of feedback data. Sophisticated software tools can gather inputs from various sources, aggregate them, and present them in an easily understandable format. This capability is particularly useful in the context of 360-degree feedback, where the volume of data can be overwhelming. Technology simplifies this complexity, providing clear and actionable insights.

Another critical aspect is the consistency and objectivity that technology brings to the feedback process. Digital tools can help standardize the way feedback is collected, ensuring that all employees are evaluated based on the same criteria. This standardization is crucial for maintaining fairness and objectivity in performance assessments.




In conclusion, the act of giving and receiving feedback in today’s modern workplace can be a complex task for both managers and employees. It is not just a managerial challenge but a barrier to the growth and development of both individuals and teams. Recognizing this, effective business leaders are actively transforming the feedback culture within their organizations. By integrating feedback as a regular, positive aspect of daily operations, they are fostering environments that are more resilient, adaptive, and conducive to success. As a result, these leaders have observed substantial benefits, including enhanced team dynamics, increased employee engagement, and a marked improvement in overall organizational performance. This shift not only propels individual career growth but also drives the collective progress of the workforce, steering organizations toward greater innovation and productivity.


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