U.S. Congressman Frank A. Clark once said: “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
Yet, the reality is that listening to others as they point out our weaknesses is not always easy. In fact, an upcoming evaluation can sometimes feel more like an impending thunderstorm than gentle rain — and that’s how a fear of feedback can arise in the workplace.
According to ClearCompany, 43% of highly-engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week, leading to increased company productivity. On the flip side, however, a fear of feedback can at times cause individuals to resent constructive criticism, viewing it as an unpleasant and embarrassing experience. Such feedback avoidance can prevent employees from making improvements and advancing in their careers.
Let’s look at common ways that a fear of feedback could be holding you back in your career, and how to overcome it:
You’re Dreading Your Next Performance Review
The thought of an upcoming performance review often causes employees to feel anxious and unsettled. A fear of the unknown, criticism avoidance, and a fear of failure are all common reasons for such a response. Additionally, long gaps between review periods could make the experience feel even more overwhelming. One way to reduce the fear of performance reviews is by soliciting feedback often. For example, at the end of each project you complete, touch base with your supervisor for comments or suggestions. Such regular communication will make quarterly or annual performance reviews seem less intimidating.
A fear of feedback can hinder employees from making progress in activities that involve other people’s input, leading to chronic procrastination. Individuals may get lost in the details they feel comfortable with, while avoiding tasks that are beyond their area of expertise. While it’s good to harness your strengths, it’s also important to seek additional perspectives that could help you identify fundamental flaws in your current approach to a project. External feedback can help you fix problems more quickly, ensuring that you stay on track to meet important deadlines.
You’re Missing Opportunities for Mentorship
Mentorship involves receiving inspiration, encouragement and feedback to help you reach your goals. A good mentor will help you point out areas for improvement, while offering suggestions that they have found useful in their own life. If you tend to associate feedback with hurtful criticism, it could cause you to inadvertently miss out on opportunities for mentorship. You might confine yourself to only associating with peers who are in the same situation as you, rather than connecting with experienced industry leaders. Such apprehension can be overcome by speaking to and learning from those who have benefited from the valuable advice of a trusted mentor.
You’re Second-Guessing Yourself
Honest feedback allows you to assess your performance and build up confidence in your work. However, if you tend to avoid getting feedback, you may find it hard to realistically gauge your abilities. As a result, you may find that you constantly second-guess yourself and don’t take advantage of opportunities to grow. For example, a fear of rejection may hold you back from applying to your dream job. If you ever find you’re unsure of your abilities, make an effort to listen to others — constructive criticism often also contains reassuring compliments. Taking a moment to carefully absorb feedback can help you become more self-aware, and ultimately, more confident.
You’re Not Innovating
The process of creating something new and different tends to put one in the spotlight. Innovation often involves a feedback loop where you collect research and test the market for your idea. However, a fear of feedback may cause an individual to avoid the sense of vulnerability that comes with presenting a novel idea to the world. Within the workplace, this fear might also manifest in employees hiding behind the group, rather than accepting either credit or responsibility for their suggestions. Such fear can be overcome by focusing on the potential rewards that can accompany any risks associated with innovation.
You’re Missing Opportunities to Help Others
A fear of feedback works both ways – it can cause resistance in terms of both giving and receiving feedback. For example, a supervisor might avoid giving feedback, worrying that her direct reports will shrivel up at even the mildest criticisms. A negativity bias might cause a manager to cringe at the thought of being perceived as mean by other employees. A mindset shift is needed in these scenarios, because when given correctly, feedback is not meant to hurt or humiliate people — it’s meant to help them improve. In any situation, listening to an individual’s point of view before giving feedback can lead to a better outcome, since it often causes the other party to view the feedback as being more honest and trustworthy.
Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t always come naturally — it’s actually an area that requires conscious effort for most people. However, mastering this skill can greatly improve workplace communication. When you’re not limited by a fear of feedback, you’re more empowered to help and be helped by others as you move forward in your career.