Want to give feedback? Try feedforward.

When I first became a manager I found myself having to report in writing on the staff who reported into me. A countersigning officer would then ‘countersign’ my report and give the member of staff their annual appraisal.

Eager for news after the appraisal of one of the stars in my department I enquired of the countersigning officer how it had gone.

“Fine” he said, “Apart from one small thing”.

“What was that?” I nervously enquired.

He replied “When I told him that the one problem he has is that he can’t take criticism. He jumped up and angrily exclaimed ‘that’s not true’”. He replied.

Perhaps apocryphal or at least dramatised this exchange has stayed with me over the years because it contains an important message. None of us like feedback.

Try feedforward instead. Give people suggestions for the future and help colleagues develop and learn to face the challenges ahead. Develop the conscious habit of looking for  what is going well for each individual and avoid the strong pull to look at negatives.

We are a socially bonding species and enjoy attention. Even negative feedback (attention) is better than none at all. However it has been discovered that when we receive negative feedback the sympathetic nervous system or ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’ system is activated muting other parts of the brain and allowing us to focus only on the information most necessary to survive.

Focussing on dreams or future challenges stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system generating a feeling of well being, better immune system functioning and cognitive, emotional and perceptual openness. Positive future-focussed attention gives your brain access to more regions of itself setting you up for greater learning and development.

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