We all like to receive praise. For most managers, giving that kind of feedback is an enjoyable part of their responsibilities. Employees need more than praise if they’re going to grow as the organization changes, though. Giving and receiving feedback that aims to improve performance can be tricky, unless you set specific boundaries and objectives.
In a detailed report on feedback and neuroscience, David Rock and his co-authors review why feedback makes us so uncomfortable. Humans are biologically evolved to watch out for threats. Negative feedback is a form of threat. In some studies, 50% of subjects who received negative feedback exhibited physical signs of stress, such as sweating. While people are in that stressed-out state, they aren’t receptive to what you’re telling them. They’re looking for a way out. These reactions mean your feedback isn’t having the intended effect.
Rock and his co-workers refer to research done by Tessa West, a New York University psychologist and NeuroLeadership Institute senior scientist to find out what we can do about this problem. According to West, giving and receiving feedback has become increasingly difficult in our culture of ‘niceness.’ As a manager, you need to turn around this trend, slowly.
For example, set an example and start asking your team members for feedback on smaller issues. You can ask if they’re happy with the type of snacks or coffee that you’re providing. Over time, ramp up your requests and start asking for their opinions on how you’re doing with running meetings. The goal is to get team members accustomed to a ‘feedback culture.’
The next step is to encourage team members to engage in a constructive feedback system. As a manager, you might be accustomed to giving ‘sandwich’ feedback. During a regularly scheduled meeting, you praise a team member for what went well this week, fill in the middle of the session with comments about what they might have done better, and end the feedback on a positive note.
This feedback style won’t work for all employees. In fact, some people might walk out of the meeting feeling positive about the praise you heaped on them and miss the suggestions you made about changing their work style.
Since your ultimate goal is to help employees improve performance, talk with them about how they want to receive feedback. Insist that they get specific and make requests on a regular basis. For example, they might ask for your feedback on how well they negotiated with a business partner. As soon as possible after that negotiation, chat with the employee about whether they promised too many of the company’s resources or how well they did squelching the employee who wouldn’t stop talking during the call.
When you make a deliberate effort to strengthen your feedback system, your employees will see that you’re helping them improve.