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Feedback: How Do You Opt-Out of It?

Any of you who have read our book, The Beauty of Conflict, know we talk about opting-out and opting-in to conflict. When you and your team get good at opting-in to conflict, it will lead you to creativity, transformation, and innovation.

Yes, we know, people don’t like conflict. The same is true for feedback.

Sure, you know it’s important and needed, but damn it can be so uncomfortable. Just like conflict - we tend to ‘opt out’ of getting and receiving feedback. Yet, feedback is crucial to your success. Without it, you’ll have glaring blind-spots that will undermine you, your team, and your company from reaching your full potential.

In our coaching with leaders and teams, we’ve found there are three feedback opt-out styles people use. This means, instead of taking in feedback appropriately, people use one of these styles to undermine their ability to receive, digest, and assimilate feedback.

The three opt-out feedback styles are the:

  • Defender

  • Apologizer

  • Rationalizer

I’ll demonstrate each one with client stories. See if you recognize yourself.


Roger was the new head of marketing at a fast-growing drug company. He’d been key in one of the company’s first commercialized drugs and was considered somewhat of a marketing rock star. Since his promotion, his role had shifted from being directly involved in running the marketing campaign to leading and driving his team.

The problem was that since Roger took over nine months ago, the marketing team had had the highest turnover of the company. No one spoke directly to Roger about his leadership style. However, exit interviews showed that people left because they thought Roger was gruff and a micro-manager.

I, Susan, was hired to work with Roger.

After doing some focus interviews, I discovered Roger did get overly involved in projects. However, the bigger issue was people believed they could never disagree with Roger. Behind Roger’s back, people were intimidated and tired of Roger exploding whenever someone disagreed.

My job was to help Roger see his ‘reaction’ to feedback was undermining his leadership. Roger was a Defender.

The Defender

This is the leader who gets angry and annoyed when anyone comments negatively to his or her idea. They’re quick to explain their behavior or simply dismiss the person commenting negatively, leaving everyone else silent and unwilling to speak up.

People interpret them as angry based on the volume or push back when presenting a negative or alternative idea and, of course, don’t want to deal with the intensity of the defense.

I, Susan, am a good coach for this style of leader because I relate to the Defender style. What I find time and time again, is the leader is unaware of the impact they are having on their people. They are usually surprised that people are fearful of speaking up to them.

Let’s look at another leader’s feedback opt-out style. See if you relate.


Sally is the Executive Director of a physical therapy facility. She has a staff of 25 and negotiates with various hospitals and referral sources. She’s grown the organization successfully in the last two years.

Recently, however, key stakeholders have complained about breakdowns in the administrative staff and billing. Their main concern is that Sally’s spending too much time outside the facility and her team is not handling difficult clients or each other well.

Sally asked us for coaching. She felt this was her fault, and that she wasn’t doing enough. She really wanted to get things back on track.

As we worked with Sally, it became clear, it wasn’t that Sally wasn’t doing enough. Quite the opposite.

Sally had historically been too quick to step in when her administrative team was challenged. When she heard any negative feedback, rather than helping her team develop, she would step in and solve the problem for them. This created immense stress for Sally, while also limiting the development of her staff.

Sally was an Apologizer.

The Apologizer

This is a leader who listens to feedback most often through the lens of what do I need to change or do differently. The Apologizer often takes sole responsibility for the problem.

Having coached clients with this style, it can be difficult to even offer feedback because of their tendency to make themselves wrong. They miss looking at the problem from a broader perspective, including themselves, but also the team, and the specific business context.

Too often this type of leader is undermining the development of their peers, their team, and even their boss, because they are taking too much responsibility and not allowing all involved to take ownership.

Let’s look at the last opt-out feedback style, the Rationalizer. It might fit for you.


Tony was a founder and creative mind behind a fast-growing technology start-up. He was brilliant. He was quick to analyze a situation and offer data-driven solutions to all types of problems, computer or human based. In Tony’s mind, everything was going well until two members of his leadership team threatened to quit. Suddenly, Tony was perplexed and reached out to us.

He agreed to do a two-day team off-site. During the session, most of his questions were about statistical value of the assessments we used or the research behind our observational feedback. It was clear from day one of the team’s off-site that Tony had no clue of his impact or the impact of his right-hand man and best friend, Kal.

Kal had a very strong personality. What came out during the offsite was Kal’s tendency to undermine his teammates. Tony didn’t believe the team’s feedback when it had been brought up prior to the offsite. He deemed the relationship issues as irrelevant to the business.

The challenge with this type of leader is that they’re quick to dismiss the human dynamics, and prefer to navigate their problems through spreadsheet solutions. However, business is made up of people, and feedback is always going to have a subjective element.

Yes, facts and data have value, yet if you miss the human element, you won’t be successful. Tony was a Rationalizer

The Rationalizer

This leader relies on their analytical ability. They’ll usually dismiss or downplay human relationship feedback as irrelevant or explain the root cause from a numbers or data perspective. They try to solve problems with processes versus conversations. They’re uncomfortable with emotions, a lack of clarity, or a situation not presented or solvable through objective facts, data or processes.

The problem is that feedback by its nature always has a human element or at least the subjective lens of the person presenting it. Plus, even though we may find emotions difficult, they are a necessary and important part of being human. We are not just a computer chip inside a body.


We all need feedback. It’s an invaluable part of a leader’s sustainability, resiliency, and success. Leaders are also human, and as human’s, we don’t always like to hear how we are doing. We’re usually trying hard to do our best. So, it’s hard to hear negative feedback. Some even struggle with the positive feedback.

The first step in getting feedback is understanding how you may defend against, apologize for, or over-analyze what is being offered.

Once you notice your tendency, you can begin to identify what’s stopping you from taking in the feedback. Then you can make a choice about how you want to respond going forward. We’re always here to help if you want some coaching, too.

It’s feedback that is going to be critical to both your success and the success of your organization. So, notice what’s stopping you, and get good at receiving feedback!

Take care,


P.S. If you haven’t already check out our new book, The Beauty of Conflict, it’s available in Kindle on Amazon. It’s chock full of practical, proven, and simple tools to increase your influence at work (or at home for that matter!).

CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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