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No Negative Consequences for Giving Feedback

Last week I was on plane and the woman in back of me kicked the back of my seat throughout the flight. It made me nutty. The guy next to her talked so loudly, I’m pretty sure the people six rows in front and behind him could hear the conversation. And no one said anything.

Many of us don’t return food in restaurantgiving feedbacks that isn’t good. We often say nothing when people drop the ball and make mistakes. We replace ineffective vendors and service providers rather than tell them where they’re falling short.

People usually claim they aren’t giving feedback because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, think the person is not likely to change, or because they’re not sure if their complaint is valid. I don’t buy most of these reasons.

I think the real reason we aren’t giving feedback is because we don’t want to deal with the other person’s reaction. We are concerned – often rightly so – that the person will kill us off. We will be given the cold shoulder, excluded from projects, or thrown under the bus.

You may be wondering why I, who wrote a book called How to Say Anything to Anyone and who teaches other people to give feedback, didn’t speak up on the plane last week. I too have been trained to pick my battles and that if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. Each day I also grapple with when to speak up and when to let things go.

The concern over giving feedback will get better if the people in our lives – personal and professional relationships – agree it’s ok to tell the truth and agree that there will not be negative consequences for doing so. Open and direct conversations will be had. Disagreements will be discussed and resolved as best they can. And when the conversation is over, it’s over. People can’t hold the conversation over your head or hold a grudge.

It would be difficult to agree to open and honest communication with the people who sit behind you on planes, but you certainly can make that agreement in your office and with your family and friends. Agreeing to tell the truth without consequence can be one of your organization’s values and a practice you establish in your personal relationships.

giving feedback

You can hire people who understand they are expected to speak candidly and then let disagreements go. And you can manage people who don’t speak up, who hold grudges, and who punish people for giving feedback. You can tell friends and family that you want candid relationships in which challenges are dealt with quickly and then the disagreement is over.

Making the request for open and honest communication and assuring people there will be no negative consequence for doing so is the differentiator between being able to speak up when you’re frustrated or say nothing.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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5 Responses to “No Negative Consequences for Giving Feedback”

  1. Karen L. says:

    My mother always felt if she was disappointed with others to say nothing and just walk away. I grew up with this. As I got older I too always grapple with when to make a comment and when to keep my mouth shut.Funny that I should end up in HR , which I never thought I would because I was always afraid to go into HR with a problem. Looking back, I see what a mistake this was, as I missed out on opportunities to move ahead in my career. I still find it easier to bring up small issues than the really significant ones. I guess I feel not everyone really wants an open and free to speak up environment. Most of the time I feel I am doing myself an injustice when I don’t speak up and others are not really aware of how they come across or just don’t care. It is an problem I have always had an issue with, knowing when to speak up and tackeling the big issues or just walk and keep quiet. I still blame Mom for this.

  2. Nancy says:

    Great post!!

  3. Debra SA says:

    In my younger days I treated all feedback as positive – even if it was something horrible from an “enemy.” It was a great and productive period in my life. However, it took lots of effort and I eventually ran out of steam doing this. It’s a lot of work when you’re fighting against a family or work environment that doesn’t support honesty. So much of the culture we have, including family, is built on politics. there is a reason politicians “shade the truth” as much as they do. that’s what people want to hear. It’s what’s most comfortable for the person doing the shading (or so it seems at the time). It’s what gets rewarded in terms of promotion or even likeability. Honest feedback, when done correctly, may gain you respect in the long run. In the short term, there could be consequences, like smaller raises, no promotion, and generally being shunned.

  4. Barb W says:

    I, too, was raised to not say anything in order to keep the peace in the family. I have kept my mouth closed to both of my grown children. Well, when I was called a liar and told that I have mental problems, I spoke up in defense of myself and to voice my opinions on how I have been treated by both children over the last several years. Yep, haven’t heard from either one of them in years and am not allowed to see my grandchildren. But, it lifted a big weight off my shoulders to get it all out in the open. It hurts!

    • Debra SA says:

      I am familiar with this type of pain. My family is used to putting me in their box which I had a hard time breaking out of. Once you begin to teach people how you want to be treated it affects how they see themselves. This is not always pleasant for them. Reach out to them in love and try to re-establish relationships based on mutual love of your grandchildren. No rehash of the past. Just hope for the future. It is a slow process, but the rewards are worth it.

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