25 Jun What kind of feedback can have a real positive impact on your people?
You may dread having to give feedback as part of your role, you may have explored the different research, talking points, advice, and even studied tutorials on the standard 360 reviews. For many years, leaders were advised to deliver the “critical feedback” in between two positive points – commonly known as the “s*** sandwich“.
Heather has been running courses on the art of giving feedback and handling difficult conversations for years and talks about the myth that to improve performance we should give negative information surrounded by positive. She speaks of the negative effect on the brain and the chemicals released that hinder the very thing that we may be trying to achieve.
In the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review, the article The Feedback Fallacy reports on the research into the types of feedback which have become standard practices in business, and how neuroscience is showing physical evidence of the processes which do encourage and empower your people to improve their performance. Heather has been practising the positive mindset for over twenty years, and now the science is proving that it does work!
How does Feedback Impact Learning?
The most important outcome from feedback is to learn so that the person can improve. Therefore, giving feedback that will accelerate learning is vital. When we learn, our dendrites build on the connections already sparked between the neurons through repetition of thought and action. By focusing on the negative, we highlight behaviour which is not present.
The article explains that brain science shows people grow far more neurons and dendrites where they already have the most neurons and dendrites, and they continue to become stronger with practised thought and action. Your individual brain grows most where it’s already strongest – in your strengths in behaviour, not in the areas where you need to improve. By focusing on the positive feedback you will enable the dendrites to strengthen and the person’s performance to develop.
Heather has talked about having a positive learning mindset on many courses – by focusing on how you can improve, you can learn and develop as your dendrites strengthen and grown more connections through the repeated learning. Therefore, giving positive feedback on the behaviour you want to experience from the person is vital.
“Focusing people on their shortcomings doesn’t enable learning, it impairs it.”
The HBR article also focuses on another aspect of neurology which Heather has discussed on many courses – the flow of chemicals in the brain. Here, the neurologists have made some fascinating developments in the exploration of feedback.
In recent research, scientists found when someone receives negative feedback or told of behaviour they need to correct, the sympathetic nervous system lit up – the “flight and fight response”. When this happens, the brain mutes other brain areas to focus on mere survival, and therefore, we do not learn from the experience.
However, when given positive feedback, scientists found the parasympathetic nervous system was activated instead – this is “the rest and digest” mode when new neurons are formed, we have a sense of well being, mindfulness, and a stronger immune system. So, positive feedback stimulates the growth and strengthening of brain connections which are conducive to learning and improvement.
In other words, negative feedback prevents your dendrites from growing and strengthening and inhibits your learning and development. Positive feedback actively stimulates the connections in your brain and improves your learning mindset so you can develop.
Here are three tips for how you can give effective feedback for a person to improve their performance
Talk personal goals – Firstly, remind them what their personal goals are so that they can see this as a conversation about being better not about being wrong.
Focus on solutions – It’s about what you want not what you don’t want. For example “you’ve got your shoes on the wrong feet” is a statement often made from parent to toddler – simply pointing out the issue. Instead of “pop your shoes on the other feet and you will be able to run faster”.
Look out for good – Spot opportunities to catch them doing things right and highlight how it makes you feel to see it. In fact, make this part of the routine for all of your team. Leaders are aware that they have to step in at times of a crisis, but stepping in to highlight excellence at the time it happens is crucial positive feedback that the person can excel from.
The positive endorphins, the strong dendrite boost, and the way you make the person feel will all create a highly effective experience and mindset to continue excellence from your positive feedback.