Why won’t my team members give me real feedback?

Many leaders complain to me that their staff won’t give them constructive feedback, even when specifically invited. This can be very frustrating for leaders who are genuinely trying to strengthen and improve their leadership effectiveness. Everyone needs feedback to grow and develop – even leaders. Time and again I see the same patterns of behaviour playing out; People in positions of power and rank not getting access to critical feedback conversations that jeopardise their ability to develop.

Ever run a team meeting, asked for feedback and been met with silence? Ever asked your team member how you can support them better, only to be met with a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders? To cap it off, despite your requests for feedback you get slugged with low engagement scores on your annual engagement survey or 360-degree feedback review. What’s going on here??!!

3 reasons people don’t give feedback to their bosses

Giving feedback to a boss is not always easy. It’s one thing to know what a boss should do differently and another thing altogether to be able to tell them to their face. Here are some reasons team members don’t often provide feedback up the chain.

1/ They get punished

They’ve tried it a few times and been burned. Maybe not by you, but by people in charge, over the course of time. They have learnt that it’s not worth the risk to give feedback even when you ask for it. They’ve become conditioned to keep their mouth shut, or tell you what you want to hear instead.  

2/ It’s not you; it’s your position or title

Sometimes working underneath people of high rank or power can feel intimidating. It may not be you personally, but the position you hold and all the power that comes with it. To some people giving feedback to their boss can feel like being sent to the principal’s office to give the head master feedback. The power gap feels too big to broach.

3/ They don’t have any feedback

Occasionally people just don’t have any feedback to give. Either they think all is well or they don’t know enough about the situation to give more constructive ideas. From their perspective they can’t actually see any room for improvement.

4/ They give feedback… but you don't hear it

Some feedback is easier to reject than to absorb. Especially if it comes from someone you don't necessarily respect, or if it doesn’t fit your self-image. Maybe you’re getting feedback but you don't like it, so you ignore it or discount it.

5/ They give feedback… but you can’t decode it

Sometimes people provide feedback in indirect ways; A hint, a suggestion, a subtle clue to what they’re thinking. Without paying close attention it can be easy to miss the signs that can open up a useful conversation.

Breaking through the silence

Whether your team members hold back because of you, because of them, or for some other reason altogether, the fact remains that without feedback from those you lead, your leadership development is at risk.

The key to encouraging feedback is through a culture of psychological safety. Team members need to feel that their perspectives are valued, encouraged and supported. They need to know that there will be no backlash for speaking their mind. Psychological safety is not something you talk about; it’s something you demonstrate, consistently, over time. The quickest way to build trust with your team and encourage them to give you feedback is to let them see you respond positively to other people’s feedback. The magic words are, ‘Thank you for your feedback.’ Repeatedly, consistently and genuinely.

Need to improve your leadership effectiveness through greater influence, engagement and impact? Contact Anneli today to discuss how working one on one with a communication expert can help you reach your leadership goals.

Anneli is an author, speaker and communication expert (a.k.a professional People Whisperer), who helps her clients improve their communication, influence and engagement. She’s obsessed with decoding people dynamics for improved performance and specialises in interpersonal intelligence - the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation.  
Anneli is the co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. She is currently working on her next book, ‘Decoding Resistance: The real reason people won’t do what you want’, a practical guide for increasing buy-in, reducing push back and navigating the daily barriers that impact influence, engagement and change.