Giving feedback is one of the most common things leaders do in support of their team members, yet it can be on of the quickest ways to put team members into threat mode.  According to Dr. David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute and author of several books on the topic, leaders unknowingly put their teams into a threat mode.   The latest information regarding neuroscience suggests the brain craves “rewards” and works to stay out of what it perceives as “threats”. 

Practically speaking, this means the brain does best in situations producing “reward” status.  Reward status is found in situations where individuals experience autonomy within their jobs, situations in which they are treated fairly and the development and sustainment of strong relationships with those in their life.  Conversely, brains work to avoid situations perceived as “threats”.  Threat status is experienced when individuals receive developmental feedback, conflict situations that threaten relationships between one or more individuals or individuals perceive other individuals are treating them unfairly and/or the situation is unfair.

When the brain goes into threat mode the pre-fontal cortex (where higher level thinking occurs) is overridden by the amygdala (where fear circuitry is located) and resources go toward restoring reward status thereby reducing the ability of individuals to be productive and creative.

As leaders how do we give feedback in a manner that supports the needs of team members and minimizes possible threat responses?  Here are a few guidelines:

  • DISCUSS vs LECTURE – How the request for the meeting is made is as important as the meeting itself.  Set the stage for a discussion, not a lecture, by inviting the individual to set down and discuss the topic, exchange ideas and perspectives and look for options to improve success/performance. 
  • ASK vs TELL – Ask the individual about their perspective and thoughts first then add your perspective.  This gives the individual receiving the feedback a sense of control and allows them to think proactively about their performance before the leader shares their feedback.  Oftentimes leaders will find many, some or all of their viewpoints have been addressed by the individual.
  • PARTNER vs LEAD – A partnership is two individuals working together to produce success.  In the partner role, leaders co-create, follow and/or lead depending on what is needed at the time.  Deep listening, powerful questions and working together to support the team member’s success is what the leader is hoping to achieve.

Feedback is a key tool in supporting and enhancing team member’s performance.  Leaders who do this well may need to reframe how they view the feedback process – shifting from “giving feedback” to “sharing feedback”.  Giving feedback suggests a one-way communication process whereby the leader provides their viewpoint to the team member.  Whereas sharing feedback suggesting a partnership discussion where both parties provide input.

Try out these three tips and see the difference in “sharing” feedback versus “giving” feedback.

Interested in learning more about how to develop your leadership presence contact Trigena to discuss workshop, speaking and/or coaching engagements.