On Appeasing the Feedback Giver

Home » Feedback Tips Weekly » On Appeasing the Feedback Giver

“Though most of us no longer have to fend off predators, our brains are still exquisitely attuned to threats — both physical and social. It’s a vestige of how survival has largely depended on appeasing group members. Among our ancestors, eviction from the group led to a dangerous, isolated existence in the wild.”

Using neuroscience to make feedback work and feel better

Due to a lack of employee training and other factors, feedback communication at work can often slip into a familiar performance—with one character playing the knower and the other playing the appeaser.

We miss out on reality-based improvements during such a performance. As we talked about in the constructive feedback course, the feedback giver should not simply give feedback because they feel it’s their character’s role to do so. Nor should the feedback receiver play the appeaser role, as many articles suggest they should (the smile and say thank you articles).

Breaking out of our performative feedback roles can be hard work, and knowing why we slip into them can help.

Why feedback receivers appease

As I see it, there are six reasons why those receiving feedback might focus on appeasing the feedback giver rather than truly receiving the feedback. These six arose from my career journey, people management experience, deep conversations with leaders around the world, and courageous insights from attendees in my feedback trainings.

  1. They think this is what’s expected

Those who have yet to have healthy feedback relationships modeled for them tend to fall into this camp. Also, based on the feedback culture, the receiver may have picked up signals that, when feedback is given, they are to passively listen, agree, and do what was asked.

  1. Trauma

As covered in Feedback and Trauma, both negative and positive feedback can serve as trauma triggers. As a defense mechanism, those experiencing this trigger may appease because it’s the quickest way to escape the situation in a socially acceptable way.

  1. Employee hierarchy of needs position
An employee hierarchy of needs, as seen in the online course about Constructive Feedback An employee hierarchy of needs pyramid, with five parts. From the bottom-up the parts are: Money/Paycheck, Security/Culture, Belonging, Growth/Importance, Growth/Fulfillment Great feedback givers can impact the top four

As you may recall from the course, we all sit somewhere along this employee hierarchy of needs. As our opening quote states, those closer to the bottom may be more inclined to act in ways related to how “survival has largely depended on appeasing group members.” Remember, the employee hierarchy of needs doesn’t necessarily map to the hierarchy of an org chart. I’ve worked with very senior leaders who, by position title, are doing quite well, but based on life circumstances, they are near the bottom of the pyramid.

  1. In-the-moment ease

This one typically comes down to a need for more feedback relationship experience. Often, early-in-career colleagues will appease the feedback giver because they have yet to build the habit of asking for time to process what may be challenging feedback. These folks may follow up with questions or even with a disagreement, but in the heat of the moment, they appease to get the processing space they need.

  1. Disconnected from excellence

Some folks have told me they appease the feedback giver because they don’t care all that much about improving their performance. There are many reasons for this, including life circumstances that may cause the receiver to care far more about other personal issues. Regardless, the receiver here appeases because it’s a way to hit the easy button (we all occasionally need such buttons at various points in our personal and professional lives).

  1. Harsh delivery

Suppose the feedback, particularly challenging negative feedback, is delivered with words or a tone that feels overly abrasive to the receiver. In that case, some feedback receivers will use appeasement to quickly move on from the topic.

Escaping the appeasement trap

Awareness is step one and, if you’ve found some of your behaviors in the six types above, well done. For those wanting to change, it’s now about working to become aware of your type in the moment it happens.

Once you’ve built that capacity, you can begin to catch your habits as or even before they happen. From there, you will be in a great position to respond rather than react.


Continue learning

  1. Received Feedback? Ask For Processing Time.
  2. Building Team Feedback Literacy