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Feedback anxiety is very real and here’s how to overcome it

“Okay, they’ve turned up late again. I have to talk to them. But what if something is going on at home? I don’t want to upset them more… Maybe I’ll leave it for now.”

“Right, their work has really taken a hit. I need to ask what’s going on. I can’t approve this work. How do I tell them nicely? What if they take it to heart and just become more disengaged?”

“I’ll just avoid the negative feedback and focus on the good. Hopefully, they’ll read between the lines.”

Giving negative feedback can be extremely difficult.

For managers, there is an expectation that you automatically stop being empathetic and prioritise business goals over your people – especially when they’re underperforming. When most managers are promoted for high performance – often leading former peers – and only around 20% of UK leaders have any formal management training, this just doesn’t work.

Think about it, when managers are hired or promoted, employers are looking for the kind of qualities they know will make a team thrive:

  • Empathetic
  • Understanding
  • Great communicator
  • Dedicated
  • Motivational

Being a great communicator should make feedback and reviews easy, but the reality is 44% of managers find giving developmental feedback uncomfortable or stressful – presumably because of all the empathy.

Managers are struggling with feedback anxiety. Reviews have become rigid, structured, and focused on the negatives, so managers feel under pressure before they begin.

The good news: feedback anxiety is mostly one-sided. While managers dread performance reviews for underperforming employees, many employees actually appreciate tough love. In fact, younger generations are not afraid of feedback. 63% of Gen Z say they want to hear constructive performance throughout the year.

How to give negative feedback without feeling anxious

Breathe – remember to breathe, always!

First, let’s tackle the anxiety.

Just like with any type of anxiety, here are a few coping techniques:

  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling
  • Practice breathing exercises (Inhale: 4 seconds, hold, exhale: 6 seconds, hold – repeat x5)
  • Jot down your thoughts in a diary
  • and get some fresh air

Next, think of what you want to achieve from the feedback you’re about to give. If your employee isn’t performing their best, your role as their manager is to support, encourage, and motivate them. So, you need to learn how to give negative feedback in a way that doesn’t upset or demotivate your employee.

Here’s how to make negative feedback work for you:

  • Be honest and genuine – If you’re avoiding eye contact, looking at the floor, and not giving direct feedback, chances are your employee knows you’re hiding something. Honesty is appreciated, even if the truth hurts sometimes. Being sincere and transparent will help you come to a much quicker resolution that works for both of you.
  • Ask open-ended questions – When you discuss improvements or underperformance issues, stay clear of accusatory statements like “You didn’t complete your work on time” or “You’ve been late on many occasions”. Instead, ask open-ended questions to encourage an open discussion. example, “How has your workload been recently, and how do you feel you’ve coped with it?” or “Where do you feel you can improve, and how can I support you?”
  • Lean on hard data, goals, and facts – Tracking performance is incredibly important when it comes to reviews. You must be able to view employee’s progress and make this an integral part of your review. It’s best to encourage the SMART goals framework when creating employee objectives to ensure goals are measurable and trackable. With a performance management system like Perform, you can track, update, and report on employee progress. Using Perform saves time compared to traditional paper-based reviews.
  • Use a 360-feedback tool – Gain feedback from the wider team about your employees – and yourself – with robust feedback software. Collecting peer feedback about your employee’s performance will help keep the review unbiased and provide another discussion point to cover with your employee. With our powerful feedback software, 360, managers and senior leaders will also gain insights into how employee’s view the review process and their peers.
  • Follow up and check-in – Demonstrate your investment in your employee’s development by setting up regular meetings to check progress and keep updated with projects. If your employee has issues at home, with their wellbeing, or workload, having weekly meetings will enable you to support them correctly.

Digitise employee reviews, track employee performance, and say goodbye to feedback anxiety with the help of our seamless and innovative performance management systems. Get in touch and we’ll show you exactly how to transform your performance management strategy.

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Written by Mara Swann

Mara has a passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion across global workplaces and hopes to inspire learners to focus on their own careers with self-directed learning content.


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