Effective Feedback that is Brain Friendly

Effective Feedback that is Brain Friendly

Effective feedback was the subject of an excellent webinar by the Neuroleadership Institute. It focused on the neuroscience of how the brain likes to receive feedback and how to reduce the threat response. This article is a combination of my learning from this, plus past experience.

People need better feedback. Frequent, quality feedback ensures improvement. Research shows that the amount and quality of feedback is a big issue globally. Managers may give feedback without proper training and much damage can be done. Lack of confidence to evaluate performance may mean managers don’t give people the feedback they need.

One of the most common comments I hear from delegates is ‘We soon hear when we have done it wrong, but rarely when it is right’. Giving positive feedback is a great motivator.

effective feedback
Feedback is NOT a big stick to beat them with

What is Feedback?

  • Conversations that help people improve by facilitating positive change. These may be formal or informal, digital or face-to-face conversations between a manager and their team or peers.
  • It should be part of everyday on-going interactions and not just once a year.
  • Feedback (positive or negative) is information about past behaviour and results, in order to raise awareness and create choices for development.
  • Feedback should be based on facts, not subjective opinion, and should always be backed up with evidence and examples.
  • Feedback is NOT criticism. Criticism, by its definition, can never be constructive.

Why Give Effective Feedback?

  • People improve more and faster with regular feedback.
  • Greater improvement comes from frequent, targeted input from many sources.
  • Engagement is highest with weekly quality feedback. Yet less than 20% of employees say they are getting this weekly and of those, only 27% said it was done well and useful.
  • Feedback is broken at the moment. It is still too frequently done badly. If done incorrectly, it achieves nothing or makes matters worse.
  • Poor feedback can be discounted by the receiver.
  • Giving effective feedback is a key leadership skill to improve accountability.

Myths about Feedback

  1. We think people hate getting feedback. – People WANT feedback. What people don’t like is unsolicited feedback or criticism. It creates threat on all 5 areas of SCARF – status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. If you feel you have to give unsolicited feedback, ask their permission first. This will help reduce the threat.
  2. Feedback should focus on problems or what people are doing wrong. – Yes it can outline errors, but we can over focus on this. People need to know what they are doing right too.
  3. Managers know more and should be the ones to give feedback. – In today’s complex fast changing world, this may not be the case. Other people can give better advice, i.e. peers, customers, experts.
  4. We only have to GIVE feedback. – No, start ASKING for feedback. Create a culture where people feel                           empowered and confident to ask for it. This is because:
    • Both the receiver and giver feel less threatened. SCARF is met.
    • Get feedback more quickly and regularly.
    • You can ask many people and get less bias.
    • You can get the specific feedback you need.

 How to Give Brain – Friendly Effective Feedback

  • Focus on what they need to build on (strengths) and then what they need to refocus on (recommendations to improve). Think about the words you use. Compare ‘How I think your report could be even better is’ to ‘what you did wrong was’.
  • Use mental contrasting. The brain loves this. Get them to see where they are now and where they can get to in the future.
  • Reduce the noise in the brain by reducing any threat. It is not just how you give it, but when, where and tone of voice.
  • Simplify the information. Don’t try and change too many things at once.
  • Help activate visual networks and picture what you are saying.
  • Wrap your feedback in a SCARF.
    • Status – help the person feel valued and good about themselves. Focus on what they can build on.
    • Certainty – make it clear at the start what you will give feedback on; what the focus is. Be clear in what your expectations are.
    • Autonomy – ask permission to give feedback. Get them to give their perspective and offer choices in how they can improve.
    • Relatedness – build rapport and trust with this person. Offer support to help build a growth mindset.
    • Fairness – Be objective, fair and consistent in your approach. Keep it factual rather than personal.
  • Monitor and record progress. Give praise for improvement.

How to Ask for Feedback

  • Create a culture which allows people to feel safe to ask for feedback.
  • Be explicit and specific. Be very clear exactly what you want feedback on. Compare ‘How was my presentation?’ to ‘Please give me some feedback on the structure of my speech – was there a clear start, middle and end for you?’
  • Ask broadly. Ask a variety of people who can give you different perspectives; not just the person who you know will say nice things.
  • Ask often. Timing the request close to when you ‘performed’ will give you a more accurate feedback. Our memories fade and distort with time. Make it a habit. For managers reporting at annual appraisals, can they really remember how that person was performing 12 months ago?
  • Negative or positive feedback is a gift. It offers an opportunity for you to improve. Either way, avoid discounting it. Remember to thank the person for it.
  • Accept feedback graciously with no repercussions for the giver.

One way to improve your feedback is to join a local Toastmaster International club. I have found it invaluable, because you not only learn how to give evaluations, but you get feedback on your feedback.

If you would like to learn more about giving effective feedback, then please contact me.


Also published on Medium.

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