Can I give you some feedback?

The neuroscience insights that will help you give better 360 degree feedback (or any kind of feedback for that matter).

Do you hear footsteps behind you and feel a shiver down your spine when you read the words “Can I give you some feedback”?  Dr David Rock, one of the world’s best known neuroscientists, says the feeling of dread and fear we might have if wecogs brain hear someone walking behind us on a dark night is similar to the feeling we have when a colleague offers us the opportunity of a word or two of feedback.  According to Dixon, Rock and Ochsner (2010) the possibility that our sense of “status” might be threatened by adverse feedback leads to an experience that they describe as “social pain”.  Social pain lights up brain regions that are largely the same as when we are feeling physical pain.  And what do we do about physical pain?  Well generally we try and avoid it don’t we?

When we sit down with a team member we can be as well planned and as well-meaning as we like.  But, if the team member feels that their sense of self and status is threatened, their ability to respond to the feedback is going to be severely threatened.  Behaviour is largely based upon habit and is guided mainly outside of our conscious awareness.  The habit system is resistant to change whereas the pre-frontal cortex which controls the conscious part of our mind is easily distracted – by stress, hunger, lack of sleep, fear….when feedback works it allows the conscious part of the mind to exert conscious control over the habit system.  The individual can then control and change their behaviour.  If the feedback recipient feels any level of fear or threat then the feedback given will have considerably less impact.

Dixon et al (2010) use the SCARF model to explain 5 key elements of the feedback process and conversation.
S Status
C Certainty
A Autonomy
R Relatedness
F Fairness
This is a great model which can be applied to a 360 feedback situation (or of course any feedback situation) to bring some useful practical aspects to the situation.

• Status:  The key is to be clear with the focus of the 360 that the feedback data they are about to receive will not affect their status.  The feedback data simply reflects how people currently view them and the fact that the focus is now aware of their views has not changed anything per se. It is also important to be clear with the focus that the feedback data belongs to them.  It is theirs to share with others or not.  Privacy and control can protect status.
• Certainty:  The key here is a thorough briefing and detailed communications about the process so there is certainty about what is going to happen.  This must be supported by a follow-through consistent with expectations.  It takes a supportive development programme, transparency, an experienced coach and good questioning to provide an environment where the individual has the experience that they are in the driving seat of their career, their role or their own development.
• Autonomy: This will be achieved by ensuring individuals have control of the process as much as possible.  In 360 feedback situations this can be done by allowing the focus to make choices – who to choose as their raters or reviewers, what is asked within the survey (e.g. Talent Innovations build in the opportunity for every individual to add their own questions to make the output personal to them or their team), who they have as coach and what to put into their action plan.  Following this approach the individual will feel more comfortable and open to gaining the real value.
• Relatedness: It is critical to unpick relationship issues that emerge when looking at the feedback data.  The individual can be helped to see how the views of one person could be very different from the views of someone else and to remove significance and meaning from these differing opinions.  Relatedness can be protected once the individual sees how their own role and responsibility have contributed to the generation of others’ opinions.
• Fairness: It is critical that the system and process has 100% reliability and integrity of data otherwise the value of the whole process can be destroyed.  In addition care needs to be taken in designing and executing the 360 process.  People will want to know how they compare to others and will want a fair comparison group and because of the status needs listed previously people will really want to do well. This needs to be managed very carefully and thoughtfully.

It’s a great model, easy to remember and clear to understand. If the subject of your feedback has been able to take on board what you had to say and is now ready to make changes, you may need to be ready to help them do it.  Planning for on-going development is the subject of our next blog on this topic.
If you just can’t wait then please download our whitepaper “Understanding how 360 feedback can be enhanced by neuroscience”. 

Dixon, P., Rock, D. and Ochsner, K. (2010). Turn the 360 around. NeuroLeadership Journal Issue 3

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