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  • Writer's pictureHeidi

Why we need to stop "giving" feedback

Whether we are the CEO of our organisation, running our own business, or leading a team of people, we are charged with getting great outcomes for the organisation. To that end, one of the techniques we all employ is to offer up feedback to our team members to help them improve. Makes sense, it helps us to achieve the outcomes we are aiming for. Here's the rub though. When we offer up feedback to others, we may in fact be undermining the very performance we want to see.

How so? Well, the brain has a bit of a negativity bias. It has an inbuilt radar for situations that are threatening. Approximately 2/3 of the neurons in the Amygdala (which helps coordinate our physiological responses to cognitive information, like the fight-or-flight response) are primed to notice negative experiences. In addition, when we have a negative experience, we transfer it into our long-term memory straight away. However we need to hold positive experiences of a similar intensity in our awareness for approximately 12 seconds before we store them away for future reference.

All of this means that when we lead with corrective feedback, we prime the brains threat response for the person we are offering that feedback to. And when someone is feeling a heightened sense of anxiety, they are unable to do their best thinking - and certainly unlikely to take our feedback on board. Feedback that to us seems logical, can be received with a very emotional response.

Of course you still need to achieve great outcomes for your organisation, so what can you do instead? The good news is we don't react this way to all feedback - just the negative unsolicited stuff! Try turning the tables with these techniques:

  1. Ask the person how they think they went. Let them self-review the situation. Most of us are our own worst critics. If the person hits the nail on the head, then you can simply reinforce e.g. "Yes, I noticed that too. How are you thinking about resolving that". If they don't, then ask if you can share an observation e.g. "Yes, I thought you did that well too, I also wondered if you noticed xyz ..."

  2. Feedback is a gift, so encourage a climate of people asking for feedback regularly (rather than feedback being given by others). When we ask for feedback, we are in control, and as such feel less threatened and are far more likely to be open to what the other person is saying. We can also keep it future focused with questions like "What served me well in that presentation that I should keep doing?" and "What could I consider doing differently next time?". Encourage your team by role modelling the practice yourself.

  3. If you do give feedback, consider what your ratio of positive to negative feedback is. Given our bias for negativity, if you offer up corrective feedback as frequently, this is likely all your team will hear. The impact of this will be detrimental to morale and over time performance will suffer.

  4. When you do share the good stuff, remember the "12 second rule". Rather than a quick "hey thanks", if you want your feedback to be impactful, take the time to be specific about what the person did and the positive effect of their actions.

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