November 22, 2021

Why I Push Through the Fear and Tears to Give Hard Feedback

What does withholding feedback cost you?

Today I was co-facilitating our Certification in Coaching for Leaders program with Kaley Klemp. We do a lot of ham and egging in this program, showcasing both of our strengths and our different approaches to aspects of Conscious Leadership. It’s extraordinary to have the ability to collaborate and co-facilitate with such a gifted coach.

Something arose today that was emotional, genuine, and vulnerable in our circle. I took the lead at working on this issue with one of our cohort members, and, at a point, Kaley stepped in and asked the cohort member a question. We are co-facilitators, so the tag team approach is a big part of what we do. Kaley’s move in this situation was genius, of course. Kaley is one of the most gifted humans -- much less coaches -- that I know.

I backed away from the situation and allowed Kaley to pick it up with the approach she decided to take. But I felt shaken. I also had an approach that I was pursuing. In my mind I had a plan. After Kaley jumped in, I turned around and said, “Is it okay if I keep going?” Kaley replied “No.”

Everything that happened was perfect. Learning occurred exactly as it should have. And moments after this episode completed I realized that I felt some pain and had some feedback. In the circle, I looked at Kaley with tears in my eyes and asked “Are you open to feedback?” She said “Yes.” It’s worth noting that in circles like this, all of us, including Kaley and me, have an understanding that our work is to engender free-flowing feedback. We have a willingness to offer that feedback publicly for the sake of modeling and learning.

I turned to Kaley and said: “I value you so much and realize how talented and brilliant you are. So much so that when I work with you as a co-facilitator, I find that I can dial myself back out of fear that I’m not good enough. When you stepped into that situation I felt anger and sadness, and I had the thought that you don’t trust me. I also feel enormously appreciative of you being in integrity with your wishes  and saying 'no' to my request.”

Kaley did what we train people to do and what we do in our real lives (even if not always with ease). She took a breath and said, “Thank you.”

A hand giving a paper cutout of a black heart to another hand.

As I reflected immediately after this series of events, I realized a couple of things. First, I frequently say that the best way to engender more genuine, vulnerable feedback is to model genuine, vulnerable feedback as a leader. When I do this as a co-facilitator, I think it’s meaningful. When Kaley and I discussed this situation, she affirmed her agreement with this benefit.

I also realized that I was unwilling to wait half an hour or a day or a year to share this ouch. The reason that I was unwilling to wait is that I value my relationship with Kaley as much as any relationship in my life, and I didn’t want to have minutes, days, or months of disconnection. I shared the feedback to come back into connection with Kaley.

When I talk about feedback, leaders routinely report that they hold back difficult feedback because they want to protect a relationship. Today I saw in stark relief how false that assumption is. I most often give feedback in service of relationships. I was not “right” about the approach I was taking. Kaley was not “wrong” about the action she took. Everything happened correctly. And the thing that means the most to me is that if I don’t share the temporary sting, the feeling of distrust -- which is a story in any event -- then I put at risk the thing that matters most: My connection with my closest relationships.

The next time you decide to withhold feedback in order to protect a relationship, I’d love for you to consider what withholding that feedback costs that relationship. I think the operative question is “what are you really protecting when you do not share feedback?” If you ask that question honestly, I suspect you’ll find that the thing you are protecting is not as important as the thing you actually care about most: the relationship itself.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

Stay Up To Date
Sign up to receive the latest posts from Sue directly in your inbox
Thank you for Joining!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Recent Articles