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“Hey! Want some feedback about your presentation?”

Unsolicited feedback is about as welcome as the malodorous aromas our Border terrier Homer emits after his dinner some evenings.

What’s the problem with feedback?

The problem is feedback is often perceived in a negative light, something that is painful, a criticism, or an indication that we are not “enough”.  Yet the whole purpose of feedback is to provide some personal reflection on performance and an opportunity for improvement.

Back in 1996 Kluger and DeNisi found that when it came to performance reviews:

  • 30% were impactful
  • 30% made no difference
  • 40% made things worse

No wonder feedback got itself a bad name.

Have things improved over the last 10 years?

It would be nice to think so, and certainly the findings from the brain science have revealed much about how we can use our social intelligence to bring about a more useful outcome.

It’s time to change the culture of negative expectation associated with feedback.

How can you remove the negative stigma – “Whatever the news is, I’m expecting it to be bad” to develop a more positive expectation of what feedback can provide, making it a regular and useful conversation that continues over time, and helps to elevate performance?

1.     We take more notice of feedback from people we know, whether a colleague, peer or boss.

The quality of our interpersonal relationships at work is key. We are social and like to form connections with those we see as “like” us. It helps maintain a feeling of relatedness and safety. While being best buddies with a manager is not imperative, it is the mutual respect that counts. Feedback from someone perceived by the brain as being ‘friend” rather than “foe” is a pill that is easier to swallow, whether the feedback is positive or negative.

2.     Make the focus of the feedback about the process, not the person.

For members of any tribe, what is feared more than anything is the risk of being ostracised or excluded. A person with a fixed mindset sees feedback as a personal attack and will react in a more emotional way, manifested as defensive behaviour, anger or denial. Social pain hurts as much as physical pain and can be felt more deeply and last longer. Social pain associated with a feeling of unfairness leads to a loss of trust and the potential for the development of a grudge or simmering resentment against the person they blame for causing the pain in the first place. This is hardly a useful strategy for promoting future contribution and collaboration at work. This is why fostering a positive or growth-orientated mindset in the workplace is essential; it provides all individuals greater resilience and coping skills for when things go pear-shaped.

3.     An empathetic approach by the person giving the feedback takes note of the other person’s mood and general demeanour.

If we are worried about our work performance, family illness, or facing financial strain, our ability to cope with any additional stress is diminished. Being told your performance isn’t as good as it could be when you are feeling low may contribute to a further downward spiral in mood, capability and confidence. That’s another reason why it’s so important for businesses and employers to create a brain safe workplace where everyone has access to the resources needed to manage their emotions effectively. Knowing that your boss really does care goes a long way to motivating a person’s inclination to lift their game.

4.     Add a future focus.

Feedback tends to focus on what has happened in the past. Envisioning how things could be different in the future can provide the momentum for positive change. Checking in on progress and celebrating improvement, is highly rewarding and reinforces the desired behavioural change.

5.     Mind your language.

Call things out when they go right. It’s easy to pick someone up for not performing well, but how often do they get the feedback they are doing a great job? Creating stronger ties in the workplace comes from acknowledging and giving credit when it’s due. Asking how further improvements could be made help stimulate further insight as to what they as an individual can do to do better. Nothing beats being given the opportunity to rise and shine. It makes everyone feel good.

  • How well is feedback handled at your place of work?
  • Are performance reviews something to be relegated to the rubbish bin all together?
  • What have you found helpful when either delivering or being on the receiving end of feedback?

Meanwhile, I guess we’ll just have to keep using those charcoal tablets to assist Homer with his digestive ailment.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.


  • Great article Jenny, I love the make your workplace brain safe and the feedback should always be about the process rather than the person.

    • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

      Thanks Jacque. Wouldn’t be good if everyone looked forward to the feedback process. There are already some really great leaders out there making this happen, it’s all about caring for the person and helping them to do their best, because isn’t that what most of us want to be able to do?

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