How good are you at giving or receiving feedback? When used correctly, feedback can be a crucial element for success in your team and organisation.

Did you know that 65% of employees would like to receive more feedback than they currently do? Also, 98% of employees feel disengaged when managers give little or no feedback?

Feedback can help you increase engagement and performance. Unfortunately, giving feedback is not as easy as it may seem. The reason behind it is the way our brains work. 

How our brains work

Our brains primarily exist in two states: “approach/reward” versus “avoid/threat”. In order to survive, our brains are wired to avoid threats or danger and seek rewards.  

Our limbic system, where the amygdala is, is the part of the brain that receives information from our senses and translates them into emotions. This means that our limbic system is in charge of labelling a situation as a reward or a threat. 

When the limbic system senses a threat, it automatically activates the famous “fight or flight” response. Furthermore, in this process, it impairs our ability to make decisions, solve problems, etc.

Unfortunately, feedback is perceived as a threat by our brains, which means that we move into survival mode when it happens. This makes us incapable of rationalising and considering the feedback as constructive. 

In addition to being unprepared to receive feedback; the majority of us don’t like giving it either. It makes us feel stressed, pressured and generally uncomfortable. 

According to research, 44% of managers believed that giving developmental feedback was stressful or difficult. 

Why do we feel threatened by feedback?

To understand this, we will use the David Rock SCARF model. This model explains five major concerns that drive human behaviours:

Status: Status is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority. Humans hold a representation of status in relation to others when in conversations. 

Uncertain: Our desire to predict the near future, or at least have some level of certainty about it.

Autonomy: Our sense of control over our environment and the events around us. 

Relatedness: Our sense of belonging and desire to feel part of something. 

Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges. 

When we are given feedback, we can feel threatened and all or some of our behavioural responses listed above can begin to be feel compromised and challenged. 

For example, we can think that we have been treated unfairly if more people were responsible for whatever caused the feedback, but we are the only ones getting the input. 

It can threaten our status if we think that the feedback may lead to being excluded from the project or even let go from the company. 

It also threatens our certainty because we are unaware of what may happen. 

All these can seem a bit dramatic. Unfortunately, our minds are constantly worrying about the future, and any of these situations will lead them to think about all the bad things that may happen because of the feedback. 

Optimists Tips towards giving great feedback

Fortunately for all of us, knowing the reasons behind it can help us choose the right way to give feedback. Here are some tips:

The right environment 

The environment in which we offer feedback is crucial. For example, toxic environments that don’t tolerate mistakes or where there is no trust will make it really difficult to provide feedback. 

On the other hand, if people feel safe with you, as a leader, and the rest of the team, they will be more open to receiving feedback constructively. 

  • Focus on creating a healthy environment.
  • Nurture the relationship within your team to build trust.  

Normalise feedback 

feedbackAnother essential part of feedback is making sure that it’s constant, constructive and efficient. 

  • Make it part of your culture. Offer feedback constantly. 
  • Ensure that it is reciprocal. Encourage your team to offer feedback too. 
  • Positive and constructive feedback. Ensure that you provide both positive and constructive feedback.

This doesn’t mean that when you want to give constructive feedback, you start with a positive one (our brains can see through this tactic pretty quickly). It means that you’re genuinely making feedback part of your daily activities. 

Choose the right time and place

It’s important to consider when and where we should offer feedback. Also, because you know the people in your team, you will be able to decide if people are in the right state of mind that day to receive the feedback. Remember that we are all entitled to have bad days. 

This impacts your time and place too. Avoid giving feedback when you’re upset or agitated. All of which will involuntarily show through your non-verbal signs. 

Be aware of non-verbal cues

  • Choose the right tone of voice.
  • Carefully consider how you talk (paralanguage). Pauses, speed, loudness, …
  • Pay attention to your posture and facial expressions. 

Choose the proper focus 

As much as any of us wish to, we can’t change the past. So make sure your feedback has the proper focus. 

  • Instead of putting the attention on the past, choose to offer feedback that focuses on how a past situation can help us do better in the future.
  • In the same way, focus on how your feedback can help the individual’s learning and growth. 

Use questions 

Using questions to offer feedback makes the other person more receptive and responsive to the feedback. (Check our previous post where we talked about how questions activate our brain). 

You can use questions such as:

  • What would you change?
  • How would you do it differently next time?
  • How can I help you more in the future? 

Make sure to take action

Whether you’re giving or receiving the feedback, make sure you act upon it. There is no point in offering feedback or asking for it if it won’t impact how we do things in the future. 

The Optimist view…

feedbackWe’ve talked mostly about offering feedback, but just as important is being open to receiving it. 

As individuals, whatever position we’re currently in, there are always ways in which we can improve and better ourselves. If you seek improvement, you need to welcome feedback.

At Optimist Performance, we help leaders and individuals maximise their strengths to achieve their full potential. 

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