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May 6, 2024

Olivier Lemaignen

The 3 Barriers to Honest Feedback at Work: Insights from an Executive Coach

In my many years as an executive coach, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial honest feedback is for growth and improvement. Yet, even in today's advanced workplace environments, delivering and receiving honest feedback is fraught with challenges. Below are the three most common barriers I've encountered, and some of the strategies to overcome them.

Barrier 1: Fear of Repercussions

A major hurdle to open feedback is the fear of negative consequences. Employees often worry about jeopardizing their relationships or career prospects when offering feedback, especially if it's critical.

To dismantle this barrier, cultivating a culture of psychological safety is essential. Leaders need to lead by example, demonstrating vulnerability, actively seeking feedback, and responding constructively. Tools like Mirror 360 can also be invaluable here, offering a way to give and receive anonymous, candid feedback that helps to sidestep the fear of personal repercussions.

Barrier 2: Lack of Communication Skills

Effective feedback requires a blend of clarity, empathy, and respect—skills that are not innate to everyone. In the absence of these skills, feedback sessions can devolve into confusion and emotional conflict.

Organizations should prioritize communication training that emphasizes these aspects. Investing in regular workshops and coaching can equip team members with the necessary skills to communicate feedback constructively. Instead of outdated methods like the sandwich technique, focusing on direct yet respectful communication has proven more effective in maintaining the focus and integrity of the feedback.

Barrier 3: Cultural Norms and Taboos

The diversity of cultural backgrounds in the workplace can make the exchange of feedback exponentially more challenging. What is considered constructive criticism in one culture may be seen as deeply disrespectful in another.

Enhancing cultural intelligence is key to overcoming this barrier. It involves understanding and respecting cultural differences and adjusting communication styles accordingly. Creating a forum for open dialogue and ensuring all employees are trained in cultural competencies can help turn cultural diversity into a strength, enhancing the feedback process.


Honest feedback is often the most constructive type of feedback, contributing to our collective success and professional development.

Overcoming the barriers to honest feedback is crucial for fostering an environment where growth and innovation can flourish. By addressing the fears, skill gaps, and cultural nuances that impede open communication, and integrating technological solutions like Mirror 360, organizations can create a more dynamic and supportive feedback culture.