by R. Murphy-Weast | July 26, 2022 | 3 Min Read

Battle of the Brains: Leadership and Feedback

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“Hey, can we chat?”

These might be the four most nerve-wracking words to hear from a manager. Do they want to talk about your latest report? What about the email where you accidentally replied-all? Or maybe the fish you microwaved in the breakroom?

Giving and receiving feedback can be an emotional experience. Feedback consists of judgments on someone’s work—things are bound to get personal. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be unnerving. At Unboxed, we’re all about establishing the behaviors you want to change and problems you want to solve. Let’s talk about the mechanics of feedback—what it is and why it’s nerve-wracking. Then, we’ll discuss how employees can counter its effects, leading to stronger partnerships between better developed teams.

Why Is Giving Feedback Difficult?

So, it turns out that people are bad at giving feedback. In 2020, only 28% of employees strongly agreed that they “received meaningful feedback in the past week,” according to Gallup. When we get to the root of it, people psychologically struggle with giving feedback. Here’s why: it’s hard to give objective observations. According to Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall at the Harvard Business Review, “Our evaluations are deeply colored by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on.” People have ideas and unconscious biases about what “success” looks like. You therefore apply a litmus test when you give feedback.

Employee Feedback Last Week

It's easy for employees to get caught up in the power or weight of judging others. Liane Davey, author of The Good Fight, agrees: “We believe feedback is about the other person, when really, feedback is about you.” She argues that subjectivity should only be about the person giving feedback. For example, using “I” statements like “I feel” or “I observed” can add a much-needed layer of separation from the feedback giver and the feedback receiver. Giving feedback can make you feel powerful—you’re expressing views as an expert in your field. You need to understand, however, the limits of your perception. This consideration, plus practicing empathy, allows you to be mindful of the person on the other side of your feedback.

Receiving Feedback Isn’t Any Easier

Brains can freak out at the idea of receiving feedback. More specifically, the amygdala goes into overdrive. Enemy of spelling-bee students everywhere, the amygdala is the part of your brain responsible for your “flight-or-fight” reactions. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, coined the term “amygdala hijack” to describe when the amygdala “drives [the brain] in a way that it thinks is essential to survival” after it perceives a threat. Since the amygdala is only connected to the brain through one neuron, it can’t fully perceive a situation. Consequently, Goleman explains, the amygdala can jump to conclusions because “it would rather be safe than sorry.” It makes mistakes. You make mistakes.

There are two common ways your brain misunderstands communication. Cognitive psychologist LeeAnn Renniger notes that brains can struggle to distinguish “soft” constructive comments from more “direct” feedback. The former confuses the brain: are these comments something you need to action on or are they just observations? The latter, meanwhile, puts the brain on defense.

If you’re keeping track, we’ve established that brains have problems both delivering and receiving feedback. Things aren’t looking great for cerebrums. How can you overcome the limits of your observations and psychological responses?

The Solution: Partnership

You can’t lose sight of the people behind the feedback. A culture of partnership helps employees feel in charge of their career development. They can actively shape their culture, thereby encouraging higher retention rates and creativity in the workplace.

It can be difficult for a new employee to transition from a workplace that didn’t prioritize feedback to one that does. How do you get someone to trust that their feedback is valued?

Take Netflix for example. Their open-door feedback culture encourages employees to provide comments to colleagues at any level. In a series of roundtable discussions, some employees shared their hesitancy towards approaching senior leaders with feedback. The fear of constantly being “judged” by others was downright terrifying, too. Netflix overcame these worries by continuously emphasizing the value of feedback. Constructive conversations weren’t reserved for annual reviews. Instead, they were incorporated into everyday culture. One employee commented, “It’s not that scary when you realize that the feedback is really given to you to make you grow as a person, and as a professional, and to really make you go further into your work.” Employees agreed that feedback is ultimately about collaborating towards a better product.

The Takeaway:

Creating this culture doesn’t happen overnight, though. Here are five ways to jump start your workplace culture:

  • Regularly schedule 1:1 meetings between managers and their direct reports.
  • Encourage employees to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals.
  • Utilize behavioral goals, like improving collaboration amongst teams, to boost soft skills.
  • Create a rating system, like a behaviorally anchored rating scale, for performance evaluations.
  • Train employees how to give and receive feedback through personalized options like role-play scenarios.

Like you’ve seen, feedback is a skill. Interactive training programs allow managers and employees alike to understand the importance of feedback. Training employees on topics like unconscious bias, rating scales, and goal-setting can upskill your team in a matter of weeks.

How To Implement:

Our Spoke® Learning Management System (LMS) at Unboxed Training & Technology does more than house your company’s content and training materials. Industry Leaders, such as, have utilized “Coach” through Spoke to provide AI-driven feedback and practice opportunities to their learners & managers:

  • Train the Trainer: Our AI gives managers all the information they need, like where to focus and how to help their teams improve. And because coaches are held accountable for the improvement of their teams, it helps managers upskill into better coaches over time.
  • Track Skills & Competencies: Coaching through Spoke allows managers and employees to collaborate and create a shared accountability plan based on each employee’s area of opportunity. Plus, with a continuous feedback loop, the manager and the employee are on the same page, working toward skill growth and development.
  • Employee Learner Journeys: Create personalized learning paths that combine proven micro-learning methods with an engaging milestone map to track progress.

Spoke® integrates individual and collaborative learning with practice. As a result, our custom and turn-key content is engaging, impactful, and can be customized to meet the goals of your feedback initiatives.

Spoke® also allows you to identify learner strengths and opportunities for growth, allowing your organization to track your training progress, documenting feedback along the way.

Contact us today and see how our feedback training programs can truly make a difference for your employees and organization.

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