Why They Don’t Want To Help You Improve

feedbackGenerally, I am up for the challenge of giving difficult feedback. Helping someone understand how they may be getting in their own way can be rewarding, particularly because few like to give feedback and most want to learn from it. It’s for this reason that I push through my discomfort and offer my perspective. That said, a few days ago, I discovered one of the most critical elements of giving feedback: detachment.

At his core, I find Brian to be a generous, passionate, and motivational person. I’ve watched him overcome many personal changes and build a career he loves. While many of his technical skills make him someone worthy of praise in the workplace, other aspects of his professionalism are less than stellar.

Frustrated with his actions, and realizing that my trust in him was waning, I decided to address a couple of specific experiences I’d recently had. I thought if he understood the impact of his actions, perhaps he would consider a bit of self-reflection and find his way to a shift in behavior, netting him stronger relationships.

With this in mind, I approached the conversation directly. “I have some feedback and a request for help—which do you prefer first?” I asked.

Once we got the request out of the way, I shared my feedback, and was dumbfounded by his response.

“Let me give you some feedback on how you give feedback,” Brian fired back. “I’m tense and uncomfortable. You’re blowing these tiny experiences way out of proportion,” he insisted.

Instead of shouting, “Get over yourself and recognize that you have room to grow,” I asked, “Are you getting anything out of this conversation?” I hoped he might recognize that it took great effort on my part to give him this feedback.

“No, nothing.” he said.

Recognizing this conversation might have been better in person, I found myself reassuring him that this really wasn’t a big deal. “We all have inauthentic qualities about ourselves that we are blind to,” I said. “My feedback is purely to help you gain some perspective about yourself.”

Later I sat, pondering why I had back-stepped so much.

The simple answer lies in attachment. Fear of losing his support forced me to give up on his growth, and belittle my own feedback.

When you are confident in the feedback you are giving—when you know it will strengthen the person—it is important to stand firm, and avoid back-tracking to appease a reaction.

It is also important to understand that a reaction is exactly what you are witnessing. If you stand firm on your input and find a way to deliver your message with clarity and compassion, whatever the initial response, you have given food for thought that can be absorbed later. When you backtrack you blur the message, leaving doubt as to what has been said and why.

Whether you are the person receiving or giving feedback, time and distance is critical. When you give your employees, or yourself, time to discover the validity in feedback, the door opens on opportunities, responsibilities, and new experiences.

5 thoughts on “Why They Don’t Want To Help You Improve

  1. Wendy

    Every word you state here is true, if your premise is accurate. That the person receiving feedback wants it, is willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the changes that will benefit them. This is a huge leap in personal relationships, outside the professional realm.
    Do you believe in the distinction?

    • Misti Burmeister

      What a great point, Wendy – thank you! Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. It doesn’t make any sense to offer feedback to someone who is not interested in hearing it, or growing from it.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you distinguish personal from professional – can you help me better understand what you’re saying?

      Thank you for leaving a comment!


      • Wendy

        In a professional setting, I believe the incentive: (financial as well as ability to move up the ladder) is much greater to grow and learn in the culture of the business. Personally, many people have a conscious choice in their behavior and may or may not be interested in another individuals’ opinion of how they might behave differently that would be beneficial.
        Hope that makes sense, because , again, you are operating on the premises that everyone wants that feedback, personally and professionally.

        • Misti Burmeister

          I so appreciate your perspective, Wendy – Ty!

          Here’s what research shows us – 77% of people say they want to grow, develop, learn… Get better/improve. While that data is from the workforce, I found it to be true in all areas of our lives. We want to improve… whether in personal, or professional, settings.

          In fact, it’s these kinds of difficult conversations that strengthen our bonds. There’s something magical that happens when we make it to the other side of the difficult conversation, while remaining open to personal growth. The best friendships/relationships grow out of “getting through stuff together.”

          That said, there are a few critical elements that make honest and open conversations valuable for everyone involved. Here they are:

          1. Trust. Your ability to offer critical feedback to anyone depends on how much they trust you. Do they KNOW your feedback is meant to help, not harm them? Do they feel safe to look like a fool in your presence? Your ability to give anyone feedback depends upon the depth of of trust within the relationship.

          2. Beneficiary. Before giving feedback, it’s critical that you know who the feedback is for. If it’s purely for your gain, and you’re unsure how/if it will benefit them, hold off. Think about how your feedback will help them get a better result in their life. Go into the conversation w that in mind and you’re feedback stands a much greater chance of making a positive impact.

          3. When/how to deliver feedback. There is no “right” answer here, though you’ll know based on the person and your own instincts. This is actually the area I messed up on in this story. I can imagine my feedback would have been taken far better had I given it in person. My gut let me know that, but I ignored it because i felt timing was also important. Lesson learned.

          Of course, there are other important factors in giving feedback – I cover all of it in my forthcoming book, Provoking Greatness: http://www.measurable greatness.com/provoking greatness

          Ty for sharing your perspective, and please… Keep it coming!



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