Annette Shaff/

Why We Hide From Feedback

There are a number of key elements that influence our receptiveness.

We needn’t debate the power of feedback.

However, regardless of its potential to enhance both work and career—its full benefit is not always realized. One obvious reason? Individual differences. Some of us are naturally more receptive to feedback—others—not quite as much. I’ve worked with clients who were completely open to feedback and absorbed the content effortlessly. Others experienced great difficulty processing its content and applying it effectively to their work lives.

The differences that exist among us concerning feedback, are not often acknowledged or addressed. As such, much of value that we might gain from feedback is left on the table.

We cannot deny that our predisposition toward feedback—what we bring to the equation—is critical.

So, how might we understand differences in how we approach feedback? Researchers have been examining a multifaceted construct, aptly called the Feedback Orientation Scale, which captures a number of key elements that collectively influence our receptiveness. These elements include perceived utility (our beliefs concerning the usefulness of feedback to help us reach desired goals or outcomes), accountability (the belief that we should respond to given feedback), social awareness (the tendency to utilize feedback to gain a picture of our performance through others, and feedback self-efficacy (an individual’s perceived competence to interpret and respond to feedback appropriately.)

Where we fall on the continuum has broad implications for performance development. Those of us with high feedback orientation are more likely to seek feedback, perceive its value, process it effectively and find avenues to apply the information to their work. Those lower in feedback orientation are not as likely to embrace the elements of the feedback cycle.

While feedback orientation may be stable in the shorter term, it can be enhanced longer term by addressing its components. We can learn how to process and apply feedback more effectively. With this, we might then view the entire process more favorably.

A few things to keep in mind.

As a manager:

Acknowledge individual differences. Feedback is indeed valuable—however, we do vary in terms of our receptiveness. Get a read from your staff on how they feel about feedback, their past experiences and what they find valuable. Discuss what needs to be communicated and how it is shared.

Develop a culture of feedback. Employees are more likely to be open to feedback when the environment consistently supports feedback-seeking behavior. But first and foremost, model this. Seek feedback from your direct reports and act on it. In return, offer honest feedback accompanied by coaching whenever possible. This should be ongoing, frequent and not reserved for formal appraisals. A supportive climate is critical.

Offer time to process. Everyone deserves the opportunity to think about feedback—whether positive or negative—before they respond to it. We’re more likely to utilize the feedback, if this is built into the process. Organizations that value continuous learning are ripe to gain the most.

Facilitate application. Once work-related feedback is delivered, offer help for employees to process and apply it to their work lives. Develop solutions to keep your employee moving forward. Feedback should enhance development—not derail it. Don’t ever “drop the bomb” and retreat.

As a contributor:

Be mindful of your individual orientation. Pause and examine your overall attitude toward feedback. Do you believe that feedback can help you reach desired outcomes? Many of us undervalue feedback for a variety of reasons. As a result, we can’t take full advantage of its merits. Be mindful of your preconceived attitudes toward it. Ask yourself: Are you a doubter or supporter of feedback?

Monitor your resistance to change. Feedback sets the stage for needed change, including how we work. This can be difficult to process and effect as we become attached to our patterns of behavior. Attempt to open your mind and realize that change can help your progress. Approaching your work in a new way can lead to a positive outcome.

View it as another tool. Feedback can allow you to assess your “invisible resume” and help gain a read on the impression you leave with others. Although this can be a challenge to process, it can allow you to capture information not picked up through other channels.

Seek a feedback mentor. Formulate a plan to respond to feedback effectively—and seek out help to make this happen. This will help build self-efficacy and the overall feeling that the information is useful. This “translation” step is often overlooked.

Overall, strive to give feedback a chance. This does not come naturally to us—as we can perceive feedback as a threat. However, try not to abandon ship. Remind yourself that learning to receive feedback effectively is a worthy skill that can be honed over time.

Marla Gottschalk, an industrial/organizational psychologist, is a senior consultant at Allied Talent.

(Image via Annette Shaff/