Reason Why Your Team Won’t Give Honest Feedback


We all have felt that awkward silence that seems to last for eternity when a manager asked for feedback. Everyone stares into the depths of their coffee cup and says a tiny prayer that the manager will just give up and go away. 

More often than not, the manager is well-meaning and is only asking because they have a genuine concern. And in many cases, the silence will lead to feelings of anger and rejection on the part of the questioner. The common response is, "Is there something wrong with this group. I asked them a simple question and was met by mute unresponsiveness." Every day, in offices up and down the country, this same scenario is being played out on a daily basis. So, what's the root cause? Is it down to bad management? Are people suddenly shy when needing an honest response?

The answer, in psycho mumble-jumble, is a lack of psychological safety. Essentially, when a group of people doesn't feel "safe", then they will clam up, as they don't feel free to speak up. Even when asked by those higher up. There are a huge number of reasons for this, but virtually all of them stem from the workplace culture.

Fear in The Workplace

You might be surprised as to how many people spend their working day in a more or less constant state of fear. This is triggered by many factors including:

They feel that sharing uncomfortable truths will come back to bite them later
They have confidence issues and so prefer to remain silent in their comfort zone
They worry they'll say something their manager won't like and be penalized later
They struggle to articulate hard messages and think that others might judge their inadequacy
They fear being ostracized by workmates or managers

Within these five fears, lie a thousand smaller ones. Because many managers have been promoted, they tend to forget the feeling and insecurities found in the general ranks. When you point out to them these fear factors, they suddenly remember what it was like back when they were manning the trenches.

 Dr David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute has created a system called SCARF as a means to gain insights into difficult team interactions. He found there are five major factors that will trigger either a three or a reward in brain function. These are:

S = Status. How we perceive ourselves in the group order.
C = Certainly. Our desire to control and predict the future.
A = Autonomy. Our sense of control over our life and work.
R = Relatedness. How safe we feel in our relationship with someone.
F = Fairness. Our sense of justice in any given situation.

If a person feels safe within these five parameters, then they will be able to perform better as well as be more comfortable in taking risks. At the opposite end of the rainbow, if someone feels threatened, it can trigger a state of an amygdala hijack. This is better known as the "flight or fight" reflex. You know this feeling well; your palms get sweaty, your heart rate goes up and you really want to escape or the earth to open up beneath your feet and swallow you. In other words, your logical mind has taken a day off, and your emotional mind has stepped in taking its place. As a team member, your ability to work with others and be a productive team member is significantly reduced.

Moving From Judgment to Curiosity

It's claimed that people can sense when someone really wants to understand them. If you're a manager or team leader then you need to be more aware of the neuroscience behind these uncomfortable situations. If you show a willingness to really try and understand the underlying motivations behind these actions, then those around you will begin to relax and feel safer. Be more curious than jumping to an instant judgement. There are a number of steps you can take in order to insights into actions.

1. Take a Deep Look at Your Own Personal Awareness
If you pop over to and you can take the SCARF test. This will allow you to see which of the triggers are impacting your relationship with your workers. We suggest that you require all management and above to check their SCARF levels so that everyone can gain insights into what drives the group as well as the group's inhibitors.

2. Find Common Patterns In The Team
Take time to understand the overall group and individual dynamic within your teams. You should try and be more observant at meetings as well as on a one to one level. See who might be feeling uncomfortable around you, or is hesitant to share things with you. Try and identify which of the five triggers is being set off. Be aware that it could well be a company policy that, for whatever reason is stifling communication.

3. Be aware of Your Own Triggers
We all have predictable patterns of behaviour. Take note for a week of all the things that trigger you. Then have a look at how you approached those situations and see how you might change that approach next time for a more positive result. By doing so, and repeating these new methods, you're actually creating new neural pathways in your brain, which in turn will lead to new patterns of behaviour. This might also be a positive surprise to your team, and it will then naturally lead to them reciprocating.

4. Be Committed to Curiosity For a Week
Try and smile more, be nicer and be humble around others. Just because you might be management, don't assume the role of being above others. Remember that without your team, you're no longer management! As such you all need each other. That's right, you're actually part of the team, not apart from the team. There's a huge difference. Become more curious and take a real genuine interest in each individual member of your team. Don't be judgemental and show absolute support for them. 

5. If There's an Awkward Moment, Try This approach
If there's an uncomfortable silence, then learn to embrace it. Then you'll have to point out that you're aware of people's difficulty in expressing themselves. Let them know that you genuinely want to know the reasons for their reluctance to speak up. tell them that you understand that it takes courage to speak up but that doing so will help solve issues that need attention and that we can all work as a team. If the silence remains, then you're not trying hard enough. Remember, whatever is holding back the want to communicate with you, it's for you to solve. You can adjust your approach by having one to one conversations with each member separately, and in so doing, really make an effort on your part to build a stronger relationship by making them feel secure. 

It's a common misconception that the workers need to adjust to the needs of management. This is the same as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. All relationships require flexibility. Many work-related problems are due to a lack of communication. many managers know exactly what the problem is themselves in that the chances are it revolves around job security. If you, as a manager or team leader, start the process of open, kind and genuine conversation, you might be surprised as to how well others will react. Concentrate on making others feel safe in their job and the rest will follow.

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