I’ve read The Feedback Imperative by Anna Carroll recently and something stuck out for me. I know that giving project team members feedback is important – that was hardly a revelation from the book. But Carroll did talk about why we don’t offer feedback and it got me thinking. Project teams thrive on knowing what is working and what isn’t; it’s the way we get better at delivering projects and why we spend so much time doing post-implementation reviews and talking to project customers. So what would cause us not to give feedback? Here are 4 reasons that Carroll discusses in her book.

1. Lack of support

This is probably a major one for most project managers. The lack of support when it comes to providing feedback manifests itself in several ways. Perhaps you don’t have a good role model – you never get feedback from your manager so you are not sure what it should look like. Perhaps feedback is actively discouraged, or there is not a culture of calling out people on their mistakes. Maybe no one bothers to celebrate success around you so if you do it there is a risk that it looks insincere. It could be as simple as that you don’t have enough time to prepare feedback so you can’t give it properly and therefore choose not to do it at all.
It’s hard to change the lack of support for feedback in a business and it’s not something you can tackle effectively by yourself. However, you are responsible for the project culture on your own project so it is possible to break out on your own if you are prepared to do the work and take on any raised eyebrows. It is worth it and your team will really appreciate it!

2. Negative beliefs

Carroll says that some people don’t offer feedback because they believe it will negatively affect them or the people they are talking to. That’s possible, of course, but in the main feedback done well is a positive experience for everyone. There is a risk, she says, of people feeling that if they provide constructive feedback to others that it will cause a lack of motivation and discourage talent. In reality, feedback is much more likely to strengthen motivation and give you a high performing team. After all, they can only perform well if they know what you want from them – and that means telling them!

3. Fear

Some people don’t give feedback because it is scary. And I can totally see where this comes from. It is hard to call someone into a meeting to tell them that they aren’t pulling their weight on a project. Or that the stakeholders have requested that they don’t come to meetings any longer or that they are removed from the team (I have had to do this so I know what it is like).
The fight or flight mechanism that helps us in times of fear is also our worst enemy in this situation. It stops you thinking rationally so you stop thinking about the great benefits that feedback brings to your project and start thinking about how awful it will be and how the person receiving the feedback will hate you forever. Without your reasoning ability the whole situation becomes much scarier! So try to tame that fight or flight reaction and stay logical about giving feedback.

4. Lack of skills

Finally, there might be a really simple reason why you don’t give feedback – you don’t have the skills to do it. That isn’t about confidence, it’s about more straightforward things like not having a template for a meeting or the structure for giving feedback. This can create lack of confidence and put you off giving feedback.
Address the lack of skills by talking to your manager and seeing if you can get some training in giving feedback. Many leadership and management courses include this but you don’t necessarily have to go on a full course – see if your HR department run a short session on feedback, or if you could get some coaching from another experienced manager.