Request a demo Book a workshop Join us


Giving and receiving feedback - why it might be complex for you

Giving and receiving feedback complexity

Posted by: sabine-robinson

Bite-sized conversations - Realising Potential

At RPX2 Ltd, we are passionate about helping people and companies realise their potential. The latest episode of the bite-sized conversations at Realising Potential explores the complexities around giving and receiving feedback.

It’s annual review season when managers and team members get together to discuss and review how the team – and the individuals – performed the previous year. Goals are set for the coming year. It gives managers an opportunity to gauge an employee’s contributions to an organisation, identify any successes and gaps, and devise an action plan.

So, why do some people dread this type of feedback and others embrace it? This is precisely what Fiona Brookwell and Michael Jones discuss in the latest episode of Realising Potential. Why not tune in now and find out why a perfectionist might have a different attitude to feedback than someone who is more relaxed with rules? The insights might make that annual review conversation go even more smoothly.

You might also find our blog Can I give you some feedback? of interest.


If you’d prefer to read a transcript, here is a summary of the conversation:

Realising potential - what makes people tick - giving and receiving feedback

Neale James: Michael, let’s talk about giving and receiving feedback. Why is it so difficult for some people?

Michael Jones: I do feel qualified to speak on this because I’m somebody who hates receiving feedback, I have to say. And I think I probably understand why that is. Recently, somebody said to me, ‘Can I give you a piece of feedback, Michael?’ I went, ‘No, thank you. No, I’m good with that, thanks.’

But I think sometimes people receive or perceive feedback to mean you failed and let me tell you what you did wrong. And of course, that’s not what feedback is at all. Feedback is important. But I think also the person that is receiving the feedback needs to be in a receptive place to accept it.

And I think feedback is difficult for some people because perhaps that person is driven by a need to not fail. So they’ve probably worked very hard not to be criticized and for a lot of people feedback is criticism and certainly that resonates with me. But I just think feedback for some people is difficult because they possibly are quite self-critical people anyway and feedback just feeds into that vein of self criticism and they almost subconsciously hear themselves saying, ‘I knew it wasn’t good enough’.

Fiona Brookwell: If part of your makeup is that you have a perfectionist streak, then as a perfectionist, by definition, your purpose in life is to do things to the best of your ability. So, you will have a tendency to be planned and organised, to be quite structured. You’ll make an effort to build depth, knowledge and substance behind what you do and how you do things.

Your purpose in life is to do things to the best of your ability. So consequently, when something goes wrong, chances are you’ll know it’s gone wrong before anybody else does. Chances are you’ll beat yourself up ten times more than anybody else will.

And if you have this perfectionist streak, the reason why you will have a tendency to be planned and organised and know your stuff, it’s because what sits deeper behind that in actual fact is a fear of failure. And fear of failure is a very, very strong motivator to encourage you to try and do things right in the first place.

But equally what it brings about is this sensitivity to criticism or even what you perceive to be criticism.

Michael Jones: I think that’s the key point. Sometimes it’s the perception of criticism, and we’ll all know people who will sort of snap at other people and say, ‘what did you mean by that?’ And the chances are that person didn’t mean anything by that at all.

It’s just that some people are naturally constructed to look for the subtext, to look for the word, the meaning behind the words. And there is a tendency for some people, I think, to take criticism or the perception of criticism personally, when that almost certainly wasn’t the intention of the person that was giving them feedback in the first place.

Fiona Brookwell: So your manager might come along and say, ‘Oh, Sally, can you give me an update on this project?’ And if Sally is a bit of a perfectionist, she might hear, ‘I don’t think you’re in control of this project. I’m checking in with you. You need to convince me that you’re in control of what’s going on here.’ And in reality, that’s not the question the boss asked.

The boss said, can you give me an update on the project? Probably thinking, because I’m about to go and have an update with my boss, and I haven’t had a chance to look at all the papers you gave me earlier, so give me a quick overview, so that I feel equipped to go in and be able to speak to my boss. So that was maybe the intention.

But if Sally’s a perfectionist, Sally is thinking, ‘Oh, they’re asking for another update. I gave an update earlier in the week. They’re asking for more. He or she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing. They think I’m not in control of what’s going on. They’re checking up on me.’

Michael Jones: They’re controlling me. I would probably have preferred it if my boss had asked me yesterday so that I could have prepare a PowerPoint presentation and a fully scripted report for my boss. Whereas actually all my boss possibly wanted is that just reassurance that things are on track. And of course, this is the challenge that we always have is that sometimes people receive a communication in the way it was never intended.

And I think sometimes the challenge with feedback is that our own perceptions of what the boss is saying or anybody is saying is very different from the intention behind the feedback in the first place.

Fiona Brookwell: Yeah, I know when I’m coaching people with a perfectionist streak, I talk to them about giving themselves permission to be nice to themselves and being aware of how they receive information.

So that they’re not always receiving information with a fear hat on. It’s a bit like if you’re a perfectionist and you’re driving along the road and a police car goes off behind you. If you’re a perfectionist, your immediate response will be, what have I done wrong? I’m about to get pulled over.

And you haven’t done anything wrong. They don’t want you. They want somebody past you. So just pull over and let them pass. But if you have a fear of failure, that would be your immediate reaction.

Michael Jones: And then of course you realise you were actually doing 71 miles an hour and you’re a bit annoyed that they went past you because you think ‘they should have stopped me’.

Fiona Brookwell: But then on the opposite side, you have people who give and receive feedback quite freely. So if you don’t have a particular perfectionist streak, if you’re a very flexible individual, somebody who thinks outside the box, challenges the status quo, maybe you’re a bit of a risk taker, then life is a bit less stressful for you.

You tend to worry less and you’re less sensitive to criticism because your philosophy in life is ‘Well, let’s just do it’. Better we try and fail than not try at all. What’s the worst that could happen here? Let’s just do it.

Michael Jones: But if you are that perfectionist that then has to give feedback to other people, well, that’s a whole other realm of complexity because now I will worry about how I give the feedback to somebody else.

So, I will worry about how it’s been received because I’m sensitive to criticism. Do I necessarily want to give other people feedback if they perceive it as criticism as well? So that can be quite tough, too. And there’s also sometimes a concern that if I give you negative feedback, well, maybe you won’t like me. Maybe our relationship will change. So, I think there’s a huge level of complexity for some people in both giving and receiving feedback.

Fiona Brookwell: But if I am this freewheeling person, and I’m less sensitive to criticism, then better we try and fail than not try at all. Of course something may go wrong. We expect something to go wrong, pick it up, dust it off, learn from it, and then see what we need to do to rectify it, to move it forward.

Opposite ends of the scale here: The less of a perfectionist you are, the less you tend to worry in life. And the thicker skinned you will be, the less sensitive you are likely to be to criticism.

Because I didn’t expect it to be perfect anyway. Something’s gone wrong. So what? Let’s learn from it and move on.

But the more of a perfectionist streak you have, in our experience, the higher the level of sensitivity to criticism or even what you perceive to be criticism. And these are people that tend to worry about things. Life can be quite stressful for them because they tend to worry about things.

Realising Potential with Fiona Brookwell and Michael Jones.  For more information about our services and organisation visit

Huge thanks to Neale James for his expertise, patience, brilliant editing skills and his help with making this happen!

Find more episodes in our bite-sized conversations on Buzzsprout.