Different personalities, experiences, and histories can leave a leader feeling baffled as to how to effectively communicate, provide meaningful feedback, and inspire positive change in their followers. Neuroscience gives some great tips on assessment approaches that are effective and translate well to any individual’s brain.
Feedback is critical. Without it, people are left wondering and wandering. “Am I on track or not? Should I…can I move forward? Did they like my work or not? Did they notice?” Giving honest, direct observations is a must for effective leadership.
Healthy critique shows that the leader cares, notices, and takes interest in their followers and is committed to their advancement/improvement. It takes time and planning but reaps great rewards with their teams. Don’t give up, the more a leader practices the quicker and more natural it becomes.
Here are three principles for giving healthy feedback
Provide observations in a positive framework.
- Speak positively. The brain will more likely take in information and not be triggered when feedback is given positively. Positive feedback is more than a “complimentary” sentence. It spots and affirms potential and supports positive advancement. It aids growth, sees the best in people, and develops strengths and minimize weaknesses. When a leader has this mindset, they are able to give more constructive and positive feedback. The follower is better able to hear and digest the feedback because 1) you avoid triggering the social brain where a follower can feel rejected and inadequate, 2) they feel safe and socially accepted, and 3) they know their work matters to others.
- Build trust. Always have THEIR best interest in mind. First, share a strength, then communicate the growth opportunity and finish again with a strength. This helps the mind stay present and positive. Engage the follower in the dialogue. Ask questions like, “What are your goals? Where do you want to improve? How do you feel you could upgrade those skills?”
- Turn critiques into a positive opportunity. Example: Rather than the negative: “You talk too much,” try the positive: “You share a lot of really great points in our meetings. It would be helpful if others were encouraged to respond and share their ideas too. How can we create space for everyone on the team to contribute? Your confidence is a great example and can help others know it is ok to speak.
Use the SCARF model to minimize threat and provide certainty.
- First, the structure for feedback can SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness) or create the solid ground. For example, lack of feedback can create “uncertainty” in followers, which leaves them wondering about their performance and creates stress and anxiety. By contrast, keeping scheduled 1-1’s, sending an agenda for meetings, inviting them to bring their own feedback about the last project and how they thought it went and how they did, are all ways to affirm status, certainty, and autonomy before any feedback is given.
- Second, as followers receive feedback, the SCARF areas either create the safety desired or the “bad” reaction we all want to avoid. Use the SCARF attributes to plan how to give feedback. Be aware of how your words might activate or trigger. Pay attention to how you communicate. Make them feel important and equal (status). Co-create the outline for what you are talking about and give them a chance to share their thoughts (autonomy and certainty). Allow them to share first so they are not biased or distracted by your thoughts, say things to show you accept them and see them as part of the tribe (relatedness). Work to stay factual so they experience “fair” feedback when assessing their performance and behavior. These five themes can keep people calm and open versus activated and shut down.
Give tough feedback in private.
- Because the brain is socially wired and status is so important, it can be hijacked when a person feels shamed or embarrassed in front of peers Giving feedback, especially tough feedback, in private is respectful of the person’s status and causes them to be more open to receiving the information. A safe space allows the follower to always feel supported and cultivates a culture of learning and failing forward. Feedback becomes a chance to grow and learn versus making one feel bad or wrong.
So how does a leader know if they are getting better at feedback? Here’s an idea. Share with followers your goal to improve giving feedback in the next month. Each week have a survey for them to fill out prior to the week’s feedback session (i.e. 1-1, review, meeting, etc.). At the end of the week have them fill it out again and notice if the scores are going up or down. Have them make comments about what caused the scores to change. Reflect personally on the communication for the week. Did you give feedback in a positive fashion and create a SCARF friendly environment? How did it impair or improve your scores? Are you being positive? Do you have the relationship that allows someone to be most open to feedback? Are you creating a SCARF friendly environment?
Here is a sample feedback survey you may give.
Have participants rate each statement on a scale of 0 (low) – 5(high):
- Your trust for your leader. (Trust)
- I carry your best interest for growth and success. (Goodwill)
- You are important to me and the team. (Status)
- You know what to expect. (Certainty)
- You have a level of independence and a voice. (Autonomy)
- You feel part of the team and tribe. (Relatedness)
- Leadership handles matters fairly. (Fairness)
- You feel positive about relationships, leadership, and communication. (Positivity)
Feedback is a critical activity for growth. To set your followers up for the greatest growth, improvement, and success, lead the way by deepening your feedback skills, create a feedback-rich environment so they can feel loved and valued, and leave them with gratitude for feedback rather than anger and resentment.