Why Giving Feedback is so Challenging

Giving feedback is hard. It is one of the skills newly appointed (and even established and experienced) managers and leaders often struggle with in professional settings. It is also one of the toughest skills to master in personal relationships.


Unless you work in complete isolation, chances are you have to face the prospect of either giving, or receiving feedback on a regular basis. At the root of honest feedback is an intention to improve and strengthen relationships. It is therefore the lifeblood of any growing organization and it is imperative to understand how to navigate its murky waters with prowess.

Why Giving Feedback is so Hard

Whether you are calling someone out for inappropriate behavior, missing a deadline or wearing the wrong attire at an important client meeting, giving feedback is hard because there is a thin line between the advice coming out as constructive, or critical. When the feedback comes out as critical, it can easily be perceived as an attack on the recipient. When an individual’s defense mechanisms are activated, being able to openly receive advice becomes less likely, distrust forms and in the worst of scenarios, the relationship itself takes a hit.

Individuals both on the giving end, and on the receiving end, will likely have had traumatizing experiences with feedback. This is not fun for anyone, and yet, feedback remains a necessary part of tolerable business settings.

How to Overcome this Necessary Challenge

Though there are many frameworks for coaching individuals and teams how to master the art of feedback, by and large, a core missing component in these frameworks, is a focus on embodiment. When you breakdown most frameworks for feedback, they go something like this:

  • Create a safe container for a constructive conversation

  • Identify concrete observations of the behavior in need of adjustment, in a timely manner

  • Explain, with clarity and through examples, the impact of the behavior on the rest of the team/on the client

  • Propose mutually agreeable solutions to move forwards and improve

These basic tenets, when taken together, present a succinct and powerful framework for giving feedback. I would bet, that even in reading this general framework, you conceptually understand why it would work and how it would alleviate some tensions. The trouble comes when we are in a realtime, stressful feedback scenario. All we can think about is what the individual did wrong, what they should have done, but didn’t. A conceptually understood framework can be almost impossible to embody with authenticity if we have not practiced or rehearsed it with the full help of the body.

The Power of Physical Anchoring in Feedback

At each stage of giving feedback, there are nonverbal cues and anchors that will allow your intention for good will, constructive feedback and openness to deeper understanding either come across, or not. There are also physical tools you can practice which will allow you to stay calm under rising pressure.

As I mentioned in my article on embodying change, a conceptual understanding of a skill is not enough to implement effectively and with confidence in real life situations.

In order to truly master the art of giving feedback, you must embody your chosen framework. Know what it means and how it feels to set a safe container; pick up on the nonverbal cues that demonstrate certain behaviors are not sitting well with the rest of the team; share the impact in a way that communicates through intentional body language that you are truly open to the consideration of alternate perspectives (aka, don’t look away when someone shares their point of view, don’t cross your arms and lean away and don’t aggressively plant your feet four feet apart when administering your feedback). Find the time to pause and take a breath. And finally, work towards establishing an agreeable solution that is presented not as yet another abstract concept, but as something that can be practiced through actions soon after the conversation.

Feedback is a skill to master. The way feedback is administered is crucial. At CFB, we teach all of our programs from a basis of embodied learning and practice. At the end of the day, we want masterful communication to become a habit. Check out our program offering page to learn more about some of our most popular programs.

Rachel Cossar