Giving feedback – A moment to learn, a lifetime to perfect

The ability of a team and its members to receive and accept criticism depends on many different factors. Most of the time, it’s the person giving the feedback.

Just to make it clear, there is no ultimate recipe for giving feedback, it is a never-ending quest that requires constant innovation. We encourage you to test new approaches regarding giving feedback, because people’s reactions differ depending on situations, and you never know which approach will give the best results and increase efficiency in your organization.

The reason for constant innovation in the feedback giving process is simple, we always need to find better ways to increase the quality of our team members, team efficiency and hence improve our organization and achieve the goals we have set.

Working together towards a common goal

By giving feedback to the team you are guiding them towards the desired goal and making them more competent and knowledgeable in the process. This applies to mundane activities like giving a simple presentation and more complex activities such as creating a long term strategy.

Of course, giving feedback for routine tasks is not nearly as challenging as providing it for skills such as management, entrepreneurial decision making, or strategic thinking. In those areas, you need to be extra careful of your communication.

According to psychometric research, conducted in the last 40 years, people usually have difficulties giving feedback about business skills because they are not objective about their skills, or rather the lack thereof. It is hard to give information about something we see from our unique perspective.

It’s no wonder then that giving feedback is one of the most challenging tasks for managers, even with all the courses and workshops on that topic.

Pointing out flaws in people doesn’t contribute to learning and growing

On the contrary, it discourages it.

What you can do is point out the virtues and the strengths of a person, which will raise their confidence and self-esteem and directly motivate them to work on themselves to become even better. Neurological studies confirm this. They show that our brains function better when we focus on things we are good at, and quite as you would guess, when we focus on things we don’t thrive at our brains don’t work as well.

In one such research, scientists had divided students into two groups and approached each group differently. They approached the first group with affirmative actions, asking them about their dreams, how they plan to achieve them. The second group had questions about homework and mistakes they have made, and what needs fixing. Students were scanned with an MRI during the questioning, to see which parts of the brain show the most activity during this procedure.

The results were staggering. The second group of students, the ones that were questioned about homework and flaws, had their sympathetic nervous system working off the charts. It is the same system that overpowers other parts of the brain in moments of survival. Only the most important information we need for survival gets through.

This renders all negative feedback we give, even with good intentions, pointless, because our brain automatically reacts to negative feedback as it would to a threat. “Strong negative emotion caused by criticism limits access to existing cognitive, emotional, and perceptual knowledge,” said psychologist and professor Richard Boyatzis, summarizing the findings of this study.

Students focused on their dreams and achieving them had their parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called “the resting system”, activate. To quote doctor Boyatzis one more time “The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates neurogenesis, that is, the growth of new neurons, a sense of well-being as well as cognitive, emotional and perceptual openness.”

These studies also show that learning happens when expanding our understanding of what we do well, not on what we fail at. Leaving your comfort zone is often essential, or so we have been told. These results show exactly the opposite.

The best learning environment for us is inside our comfort zone because our neuron paths are most concentrated at that moment. It’s exactly then when we are open, creative, insightful, and productive, making it also the best time to receive feedback, taking constructive criticism only.

Look for results

The goal is excellence, have that in mind next time you are working on a project where everything is going smoothly. That is the perfect moment to compliment your colleague on their results.

One great example of people using this method to improve their team is none other than Dallas Cowboys legendary coach Tom Landry.

It is common practice to rewatch a game and look for flaws in the game and especially players. So, while the other coaches did precisely that, missed passes and dropped balls, Landry analyzed the videos to look for moments of excellence. He wanted to praise his players for plates they have one well, and he did this for each player. Landry realized that there are infinite ways to make a mistake or do a bad play, but, there is a finite number of correct and right ways for each player. “From now on, we will only replicate your victories”, he said, and to do that, he looked only for players’ highlights in a game.

Landry was aware of the power of praise, but he had his mindset on teaching the players, much more than praising them all the time. His instincts told him that for a person to improve they must see the best version of themselves. They needed to see themselves excel.

You can do the same thing with your team. Take a moment to praise your team members when they do something well, every time they do. By enabling them to see themselves in the best way possible, you are allowing them to gain insights about their other professional skills. By pointing out jobs well done, you are setting a frame for future development opportunities. Your team learns from constructive feedback.

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