Have you ever hesitated to give feedback? Most of us have, and it’s often because we are worried about the other person’s reaction. Besides working on your skill of giving feedback, it’s good to identify the possible ways in which feedback can be blocked.
In this article, we will go over the four reasons why people block feedback. In addition, we will explain how to identify these different situations and navigate in each of them, so that you can have a constructive, positive exchange rather than a counter-productive conversation.
Keep in mind that there are other potential reasons why somebody might block feedback, but these are the main four reasons that come up time and again. What makes these four scenarios particularly challenging is that the person receiving the feedback often isn’t aware that they are blocking it out.
By identifying each of these four feedback triggers, you will be able to stay calm and ensure that your feedback is received in a constructive, productive way. So, what are the four feedback triggers?
This type of feedback trigger can manifest when people have a problem with what’s being said. They may not believe that certain points delivered in the feedback are factually true, which can cause them to go into a defensive mode, putting up barriers and blocking out the feedback. Some examples that indicate you are dealing with this type of feedback include responses such as:
- "You're wrong."
- "That's wrong."
- "That's not true."
- "That's not a real problem."
The truth trigger occurs most often because there is a disconnect between what was said and what was heard. To resolve the situation, calmly seek their opinion on the matter in question and reiterate why you believe your feedback was true. But also be aware that the other person may be right with their rejection! If the person is too incensed to discuss the feedback right now, then you should let them know that you'll be available to talk about it another time.
This feedback blocker occurs when the person receiving the feedback has a problem with receiving it from a particular person; this can occur for several reasons. You will know you are dealing with a relationship triggered feedback blocker when you hear phrases such as:
- Okay, but you are even worse
- Yeah, but you do X, Y, and Z.
- Well, you never had to X, Y, and Z, so you can’t understand my situation
When you encounter a relationship trigger, the best thing to do is calmly accept the counter-criticism you are receiving and then acknowledge that it seems to be another topic which should be discussed at another time in the near future. In this way, you can demonstrate firsthand that you are willing to listen to the other person, and that you expect them to behave similarly. If the situation allows, continue with your original point. But if not, return to the issue another time when the other person has calmed down. And remember to allocate time for the other topic as well.
The third feedback blocker is the identity trigger, which occurs when the feedback conflicts with the recipient’s fixed idea of themself, e.g.:
- I’m always inclusive (so I never fail to account for other people’s opinions or needs)
- I’m a great leader (so I never make mistakes when it comes to leadership)
- I’m a good listener (so I always give others enough room to express themselves)
If your feedback is blocked with the identity trigger, the recipient will usually just plainly ignore what you said. But if you persist and push with your message, you may receive a defensive reaction that may include being hurt, crying, running out the room, hanging up the call, etc. For the recipient, your feedback is simply too disruptive towards their idea of themself.
The best way to handle this situation is to give the other person some space to calm down, let them know that you can finish the conversation later, and consider giving them some reinforcing feedback so that they know you appreciate working with them. This may help put the feedback in perspective and allow continuing the discussion later.
However, there’s a risk that you cannot get your feedback across with any reasonable amount of effort. If you think that’s the case, you need to do a mindfulness exercise of accepting the things you cannot change. There are problems in every team, every single moment, and you already co-live with many of them.
Finally, if the other person struggles to receive the feedback and none of the triggers above fit the situation, it could be that the recipient has so many other priorities in their mind that it’s hard to allocate attention for your feedback. Some indicators of this could be:
- The person seems anxious to move out of the situation
- The person “is not there” and seems to be lost in their thoughts
- They respond “Now is not the time for this discussion”
In most situations, you cannot. It may be best to accept that the other person is busy with other topics, and you can try to offer the feedback later at another time. You can even say it out loud: “you seem to have a lot on your mind right now, we can get back to this later.”
To learn, grow, and be successful in life, it's important that you develop the skills of giving and receiving feedback. But people, including yourself, can sometimes be reluctant to receive feedback, and it’s good to understand the possible reasons behind it. There are four main reasons why people block feedback, and each one should be approached in an entirely different way if you wish to have productive feedback discussions, which lead to increased understanding, trust and better collaboration.