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The 2 things that hold employees back from giving honest feedback at work

Why we don’t get honest feedback as leaders, even when we ask for it.

As a CEO or manager, it can feel utterly maddening to have leadership blindspots  and not get honest feedback at work— especially when you want to know what you improve on as a leader, in the first place.

You try everything in your power to be “in the know”: employee surveys, suggestion boxes, one-on-ones, town hall meetings… You tell your employees that your door is always open, that you want to hear their honest feedback, that you can handle the truth…and yet it doesn’t seem enough.

Why is that the case? There are two primary reasons why you continually seem to have blindspots as a leader…


When you’re the boss, there’s an inherent power dynamic underpinning every interaction you have with your employees — so fear comes into play. Employees worry about you treating them differently if they speak up. In an employee’s head, you might take a comment personally and become defensive. You might choose to delay a promotion. You might even fire her or him.

But this feeling of fear is not the biggest reason why employees choose not to share what’s on their minds.


The biggest reason employees don’t speak up at work is because of a sense of futility — they believe even if they were to say something, nothing would change. They don’t think their opinion or idea will have an effect on the outcome.

In fact, studies have shown futility to be 1.8 times more powerful than fear as an obstacle to giving feedback. Specifically, according to a 2009 Cornell National Social Survey, more employees reported withholding their ideas due to a sense of futility (26%) than a fear of personal consequences (20%).

In other words, it’s not that we’re merely scared of giving feedback. It’s that we don’t think anything will come of the feedback when we voice it. Futility, more than fear, is why employees choose not to speak up to their bosses.

This means as a manager, founder, or CEO, you need to overcome these sentiments of fear and futility if you want to avoid blindspots.

So what’s the first step is to overcoming the sentiment of “fear”? We have to Go First.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.