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“Can I Give You Some Feedback?”

With all the wonderful new data we have surrounding “brain science,” we’re learning that, for most people, when someone says: “Can I give you some feedback?” the brain often goes into fight or flight mode. Physiologically speaking, your pulse starts to race and the blood flow increases to your arms and legs so that you can run! It becomes highly unlikely that the individual receiving feedback is able to remain calm and focused on what you’re saying.

So what should you do?  Years ago, Patricia McLagen identified a way to provide feedback that “produces results and enhances the relationship.” She calls it “On-the-Level” feedback and it’s based on four principles:

Purpose

Identify what needs to be accomplished in a discussion; adjust words and actions as needed to reach the desired outcomes.

Respect

Treat others with dignity and consider their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

Directness

State honestly and openly what you know, think, feel or need.

Shared Responsibility

Ensure that two-way conversations focus on achieving positive, mutually satisfying results.

When you’re clear on the purpose of your discussion—whether it’s to support the individual’s growth,  make a process work more efficiently or some other goal—you can, with respect and directness, discuss with the individual which changes are possible. What’s key for me is the discussion. I know I’m much more receptive to feedback when I have the chance to discuss the best way for me to work with a manager, colleague or peer in order to achieve a goal. If my manager delivers a monologue about how I need to “do or fix” something, I can feel myself getting defensive and will most likely reject the feedback. 

Brain science also shows us that the more you can keep people engaged in a discussion, the more the fight or flight response lessens, allowing a real dialogue to develop that produces results and enhances the relationship. 

Ultimately, it’s a manager’s responsibility to provide observations and insights to team members in order to help develop their skills and thereby produce results for the business. I invite you to give this approach a try. You only have everything to gain.  

Kristen Ward is a Director and Senior Consultant in the Center for Family Business Excellence within the Private Business Services Practice.

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