Research also that employees are far more engaged when they receive honest feedback; and that leaders who rate highest in managerial effectiveness are those who most actively seek feedback from others. Yet performance feedback continues to look like the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone pretends that it’s different than it is.
The reality is that candid, two-way dialogues are intensely uncomfortable and cause anxiety on both sides of the table. The boss, for example, often worries that too much candor might be hurtful or damaging. As one senior manager said to me, “If I tell this person what I really think, it could destabilize her and make it difficult for her to do her job.” At the same time, the boss may also want to be liked by the subordinate and doesn’t want the relationship to deteriorate, especially if they have to work side-by-side. So it’s easier to pull punches than to say something that might damage the relationship.
On the other side of the ledger, subordinates worry that negative feedback will adversely affect their job continuation, career prospects, or earning power — so they may appear defensive or anxious, which makes it even harder to have an honest conversation. And if the manager asks for feedback, many subordinates will try to say nice things as a way of currying favor, or signaling a quid-pro-quo arrangement of “I’ll give you positive feedback if you give me the same.”
The net result of all this angst and (largely unconscious) anxiety is a stilted, pro-forma, ritualistic, and not very productive pattern of dialogue about performance. It’s a pattern that adds little value to the organization or to managers and employees. […]