Would you like me to tell you that you are bad at dealing with people because you don't listen, and that's why people don't trust you?
Would you like me to tell you that the presentation you just gave to your bosses' boss made you look ridiculous because it meandered, had no point, and you were wearing a hideous article of clothing?
Would you like me to tell you that you have a spider on your back?
What's the difference between these three things?
Recently I was meeting with the executive team of an amazing company where they told me they all did 360 evaluations regularly for each other, and they did them themselves. They also told me they had such good relationships with each other that they could "tell each other anything, any time," and that they regularly did.
What an awesome company! Wouldn't you love to work in a place like that? Except it was complete and utter rubbish. The CEO and his team really believed it, yet just a cursory inspection of the team and their dynamics highlighted disfunction caused by lack of self awareness, including political maneuvering, murky accountabilities, and some personal behaviors that should flat out not exist in a senior management team.
I don't blame them. But think that assertion through: we have such a good relationship we can tell each other anything. Is that ever true? After 12 years of marriage I believe I have a pretty good relationship with my wife, but can I tell her anything? Would I really tell her that the sweater she spent 10 hours knitting me for Christmas was ugly? Would I tell her that her relationship with our children suffers because she's too controlling? Would I tell her she's not as good looking as her best friend? (None of these things are true, by the way.)
What do I need to tell her? What does she deserve? What does she need?
Feedback is dangerous because it's powerful. It's the atomic bomb of our vernacular. Have you ever yelled out a hurtful truth to a loved one in the height of an argument just because you knew it would cut them in half?
The more true something is, the more it hurts. The more negative it is, the more it hurts. The more unknown it is, the more it hurts. Very true, very negative, very unknown feedback can rock your whole world. Very unknown, very good feedback can leave you smiling for days.
We all pick what we share, to whom we share it, and when we share it. All are carefully planned to reduce risk. Emotional risk to you and the person you are giving feedback to.
Think about all the times you have shared benign feedback for your friend with all his other friends. Why did you do that? Because you want him to hear it, but you don't have the fortitude to tell him to his face. So telling someone else 1. removes the burden from you (you have shared your insight, now you can relax), and 2. raises the hope that perhaps someone else will tell him. (Or by the mere fact that now everyone else knows it, he will somehow cotton on: which by the way is one of the most hurtful ways to give feedback ever.)
Think about the time you have shared a little bit of innocuous feedback to your significant other and they have flown off the handle. Or a time you gave the smallest compliment to someone and they lit up. Timing is everything. How you share it, is far more important that what you share. Also, think about the people you are prepared to hear feedback from. It's almost impossible to hear constructive criticism from someone you despise. Love and trust are vital. Respect is vital.
Maybe we hold back sometimes because we don't have the genuine love and trust we need. Without deep human connections, it's difficult to have the positive impact you need.
Bottom line is, we all deserve much more feedback. It's only through feedback that we can learn and grow. We get feedback from the world around us all the time: we can read the invisible threads of unspoken feedback, perceptions and the outcomes of our actions (which can take decades). But human to human feedback is the panacea. It's what life is all about.
Think of the last person who gave you feedback that changed your life. You loved that person. Guaranteed. But what came first, the feedback or the love?