It was really fun to engage in a feedback debate with Emma Barnett and her friend Bea on BBC Radio 5 Live in their “Bea in my Barnett” slot!
Listen back at:
It’s towards the end of the show at 2hrs 39 minutes in. The rest of the show was quite good though so maybe don’t skip it!
If you don’t have time, have missed the boat and the link has expired or want something easy to access just before you are about to give some difficult feedback here we go:
GIVEN WELL – FEEDBACK REALLY MATTERS
More than 1000 people interviewed internationally in a study published by Harvard Business Review. 92% of respondents agreed that feedback was effective at increasing performance IF (and it is a big IF for a reason!) it was delivered well. If you want to check out the study it was done by Zenger and Folkman.
WE WANT FEEDBACK – BUT DON’T GIVE IT
The same study highlighted a problem. We want feedback – but we avoid giving it.The study found we are twice as likely to want CHALLENGING rather than POSITIVE feedback
But in terms of giving feedback we will tend to put off giving it – and are TWICE as likely to put off giving CHALLENGING feedback.
I think that is because when we give feedback it is not always well received. So even if our feedback is well-intentioned, if people get upset or angry, it puts us off giving it again. As human beings we are wired to avoid things that give us discomfort or we find threatening – even if they are good for us!
IN THE MOMENT FEEDBACK IS BEST – TRUST IS CRUCIAL
Many studies have found that regular in the moment feedback is best – rather than saving it up.
Study by the Corporate Executive Board has found receiving in the moment feedback from someone you trust to be an indicator of high performing companies – in a study it has repeated for 20 years
YOUR INTENTIONS MATTER
To give feedback it has to be well intentioned. If our subconscious thinks it is a “threat” and not a genuinely well intention piece of critical feedback
The research mentioned above found that feedback from someone you TRUST leads to high performance. Trust is the operative word here. If we don’t trust someone’s intentions towards us and we feel that far from being something that is for our benefit, their feedback is designed to hurt us, humiliate us or make themselves look good, our brains can’t help but see it as a threat…and when we are threatened – our bodies react accordingly…
OUR BRAINS PROTECT US FROM FEEDBACK IF WE PERCEIVE IT TO BE A “THREAT”
Can I give you some feedback can strike fear into even the hardest of hearts – especially if it comes from someone who only ever gives you negative feedback – and saves up all their vitriol for the moment where you are really not really to hear it.
In those moments, pay attention to your body for a moment you will probably notice some tension, or you might feel flushed or sweaty – If I’m in this sort of high stakes situation, I can get a flush on my chest or my fingers start tingling? Do you recognise those sort of reactions?
The reason for this quick physiology lesson is that we all have an inbuilt “fight or flight” response which you may have heard of. It gives us a rush of blood to certain localised areas of our bodies which causes these sensations of tingling or a visible flush. What is really interesting is that we now know from neuroscience that the rush of blood to your hands or your chest when someone threatens your Status or your sense of being right about something has to come from somewhere.
And it comes from the particular part of the brain that we need to process feedback! The part of the brain that deals with logical and rational thought, decision making and controls our impulses.
So “Someone asks to give us feedback…we experience a “rush of blood” the clever bit of the brain is starved of blood and oxygen and as a result we lose rationality and impulse control – just when we need it the most!
It is new news to many of my clients is that a physical “fight or flight” reaction can be triggered not just by the threat of a fight or fire that you need to run from. It can be triggered by everyday threats and just those words “Can I give you some feedback” can actually be perceived as a threat. Give people a moment if you see them flush when you ask them. It gives them time to collect themselves and get the blood and oxygen away from their chest/fingers/armpits – and back to their brains!
So really its not a surprise that we are not good at receiving feedback – and if we worry about how we might come across – we can worry about giving it too – and end up receiving and giving it poorly.
If you want to read more David Rock, a professor of neuroscience writes brilliantly about this. – Google him and his SCARF model. He says that the modern things that set off our fairly ancient fight or flight reactions are threats to our Status, Certainty Autonomy, Relationships or our sense of Fairness.
Another thing that we know is that people listen to feedback more when it is given to them by someone who is known to give out feedback all the time and this feedback is both about good things and bad. People become more used to feedback if they receive it all the time.
One more note on positive feedback – The fastest way to extinct good behaviour – especially when it is someone trying really hard to develop a new skill or a behaviour that is less natural for them – is to ignore it
An important point to note about positive feedback though is not to “hide” negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback. It’s sometimes called a shit sandwich…The “Feedback sandwich” is rubbish. It just doesn’t work. The reason is that the first positive is discounted in value or diluted when you get to the negative in the middle. And the negative piece is obscured or muddled with the positive bit at the end – so people are often confused about what you actually want them to do.
Don’t give people extraneous information – just cut to the chase and name the thing you want them to think about, but do it in a way that preserves their dignity and tries to reduce their sense that they’re being threatened or judged.
Sounds a bit new-fangled but it’s good to bear this term in mind. “Back” – is about the past that we can’t change. Important that we understand it but more important to focus on the future So instead of “you interrupted too much in that meeting” TRY. “I think that you listening rather more – rather than jumping straight in with questions at the start of the meeting when we meet the client next week would really make you sound more experienced and build their confidence in you”
Good Feedback should be like FAST CARS !
In general terms good feedback is:
FREQUENT – Give good and critical feedback all the time so people get used to receiving it
ACCURATE – Be factual and precise. Don’t exaggerate – avoid “You always…” “Everyone says…”
SPECIFIC – Don’t generalise or get personal. Avoid: “You are aggressive” Try “Yesterday you did…”
TIMELY – Give feedback as close to the incident as you can but check the person is ready to hear it.
When preparing the words you will use and the examples you will give, consider the following:
CONTEXT – Time might have moved on help people remember EXACTLY where and when the incident happened. Don’t be random – “I’ve seen you being aggressive a few times recently”, help people to remember “I noticed at the meeting yesterday that Anna visibly flinched when you said…”
ACTION – Be specific about the behaviour – what did they do or NOT do – don’t blame the person or give THEM a label “you are aggressive” be specific and own the feedback yourself if you can. “I felt myself shrinking back as well”
RESULT – Be clear on what happened as a result of the behaviour. “Did you notice that Anna was quiet for the rest of the meeting? I think it was connected to your comment”
SUGGEST – Be positive about what they could they do next time. “Next time I’d like you to think about your intentions. If you feel angry with what Anna says in our next meeting, I’d like you to think about whether you need to get it off your chest there and then? I think we would get a better results from Anna’s team if you talked to her on her own afterwards?