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Barriers to giving effective feedback

Thinking point

When you are given feedback, what do you think acts as a barrier to receiving it constructively?


Hesketh and Laidlaw (2002) identify a number of barriers to giving effective feedback:

  • a fear of upsetting the learner or damaging the learner-teacher relationship
  • a fear of doing more harm than good
  • the learner being resistant or defensive when receiving criticism. Poor handling of a reaction to negative feedback can result in feedback being disregarded thereafter
  • feedback being too generalised and not related to specific facts or observations
  • feedback not giving guidance on how to rectify behaviour
  • inconsistent feedback from multiple sources
  • a lack of respect for the source of feedback.


Feedback must be given sensitively and appropriately and it is important to acknowledge the relationship aspects between learner and teacher. Learners are often in a dependent and subordinate role to teachers or trainers, and it is easy to dismiss issues of organisational power and authority that often underpin work relationships. This is particularly important if the organisational culture is bureaucratic, hierarchical or results-oriented, as in healthcare, where there are often tensions around professional role boundaries and status. Those giving feedback and the recipients need to be clear about expectations and aim to develop a supportive, relaxed and informal environment. Recipients also need to have and show respect for the person giving feedback, for example when multi-source feedback is being used. Some learners might be quick to dismiss feedback from certain groups or individuals.

Other differences between the person giving feedback and the recipient include sex, age or educational and cultural background. These are not necessarily obstacles, but they may make feedback sessions difficult, strained or demotivating.

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