Mel Savage Executive Coaching
Leading a Team

Four Types of Feedback That Never Work

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Here are 4 types of selfish feedback, how to recognize them and why they work against you.

There was this saying around the halls of McDonald’s; “feedback is a gift”.

It was the kind of thing that made you want to raise an eyebrow or roll your eyes. Not everyone treated feedback like a gift. Usually, it was used more like a weapon.

I’m guilty of that myself.

But upon reflection, the idea of “feedback as a gift” is a great one.

I mean, why do you give someone a gift?

You give it because you care about them. Or you want to offer them something they need. Or to put a smile on their face. Make them feel special.

You’re thinking about someone else. You’re not thinking about yourself.

And that’s the perfect mindset for giving feedback.

Think about the needs of the other person.

But when you’re a new (and not so new) leader, you often treat feedback as a tool to tell someone what they did wrong.

You’re not really thinking about them and how you can motivate them to stretch themselves. You’re thinking about how to get them to stop doing the thing that’s getting in the way of results… or that’s pissing you off.

It’s a subtle shift, but it makes a huge difference.

Because the feedback becomes about helping you and not them. Your feedback comes from thinking about how you can make things easier on yourself.

It becomes, by definition, selfish feedback.

We’ve all delivered selfish feedback before. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s not effective. We damage people. We break trust. And ultimately, we negatively impact the team’s results.

So if you want to improve your ability to give feedback, it’s important to know what success looks like. It’s equally important to be aware of current habits that are working against you.

Today I want to offer you 4 types of selfish feedback, how to recognize them, and why they work against you.

Btw… I’ve done all four. Many times.

1: The Passive Aggressive Feedback

Passive aggressive feedback is a judgment dressed up like a kindness or a compliment.

“You did better than I expected”

“Your presentation was so unique. Not everyone can pull off that style”

“I’m glad you had a fun weekend. I worked all weekend.”

“It’s so great that you can take your time on things. I don’t have that luxury”

It comes from resentment and judgment. You think someone shouldn’t be doing things a certain way, and you want them to know. But you’re scared of backlash.

You want to be able to say “I didn’t mean it that way” if someone calls you on it.

It’s selfish because you’re focused more on your own safety than helping someone else. And because of that, you make it hard for them to understand or find the growth opportunity. You leave it up to interpretation.

The danger of this kind of feedback is it breaks trust. When you don’t have the courage and care to be direct with someone, it comes across as insincere.

It signals you care more about yourself than you do about them.

And once the antennaes go up, it takes a lot of work to get them back down.

2: The People Pleasey Feedback

The intention of people pleasing is so people continue to like you. People Pleasey feedback is when you want to deliver feedback and control how someone feels about you at the same time. You can recognize this feedback because it’s littered with qualifiers.

I hope you don’t mind I’m saying this … but…”

I don’t want you to get mad…. I’m only saying this because I care so much.”

I know you don’t mean it this way … but it sorta, kinda feels like… and I don’t want you to think that … it’s just that … “

“I’m just trying to help …”

Oh. Em. Gee!!! This is the most painful feedback to hear. You know you’re doing this if even you want to scream “get to the point” to yourself!!

It comes from the belief that the feedback you’re giving is tough and will upset the person you’re giving it to.

It’s selfish because you’re more worried about being liked by the person than you are about their growth. You’re also trying to control their reaction to the feedback so YOU don’t feel uncomfortable.

It doesn’t work because the person can tell you’re holding back and uncomfortable. They worry there’s something you’re not telling them, or things are worse than you’re saying.

3: The Blatant “It’s All About Me” Feedback

All the types of feedback we’re talking about are selfish in some way. But this one is directly about how your people are impacting you and your reputation.

This feedback is less about how to make them better and more about how to make sure they don’t make mistakes that make you look bad.

“Next time tell me before …”

“…it made me look bad when you …it makes us all look bad when…”

“If this isn’t done on time, we’re all getting in trouble”

You generally only take time to give feedback when it’s this type of feedback. Otherwise, you tell yourself you’re too busy.

Another way this one can show up is what I like to call ‘drive-by feedback’. This is the feedback you just drop on someone to get it off your chest.

You’re just angry or frustrated by something they did and you want relief from those uncomfortable feelings. So you dump the feedback on them without thinking about them, their growth, or their feelings.

Both of these types of feedback are purely selfish. You don’t care about the person. You only care about yourself, your comfort, and your reputation. And that’s also why it never works.

4: The Feedback Avoider

If you’re the feedback avoider, you think giving feedback is a challenge. You tell yourself you don’t do it well and you’re too intimidated or uncomfortable to learn how to do it.

You think constructive feedback is inherently negative and will upset someone.

So you don’t do it very often and when you do, it’s usually people pleasey.

You save up feedback for big discussions or annual reviews. Your people are usually surprised by feedback in some way because they haven’t heard it before.

It can trigger shame or frustration in your report because they had no idea things were not going well. And it can weaken the bond of trust.

It’s selfish because you delay someone’s development to prioritize your own safety and comfort.

Bottom Line: When you focus on your needs over someone else’s, you weaken the feedback process.

Selfish feedback risks the trust and connection between you and your report. And ironically, the more trust you can build with someone, the more direct you can be in the feedback you give.


I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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