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How to Give Feedback That Doesn’t Backfire

Feedback can be painful and thoroughly unproductive for those on the receiving end, even when given with the best intentions.

In fact, people only apply the feedback they receive about 30% of the time, according to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, citing that research at the NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston.

Productive feedback seeks to value and make the recipient comfortable so he doesn’t go on fight-or-flight mode, shifting his focus to his wounded ego and shutting you off.

A piece in Entrepreneur magazine lays out five tips for giving productive feedback:

  1. Create safety.“Your feedback usually won’t be productive if it’s focused on making the other person feel bad or make them look foolish in front of peers… Instead, create opportunities to build confidence and skills.”
  2. Be positive“Give at least as much positive feedback as you do negative. Positive feedback stimulates the reward centers in the brain, leaving the recipient open to taking new direction.”
  3. Be specific.“People generally respond better to specific, positive direction. Say something specific and positive pointed at the task you want accomplished, such as, ‘You’re smart. I want to hear at least one opinion from you in every meeting we’re in together going forward.’”
  4. Be immediate. “If you wait three months to tell someone that his or her performance is average, he or she usually can’t grasp the changes needed in order to change direction. It’s far too ambiguous and relies on memory, which can be faulty. Productive feedback requires giving it frequently.”
  5. Be tough, not mean.“When someone drops the ball at work and you have to give him or her feedback, start by asking his or her perspective on the situation. Resist saying how stupid his or her actions were, even if they were.”

After giving feedback that’s objective and specific, ask if the person understands everything you expect, and reinforce that you’re on their side and invested in helping them succeed.

“As the saying goes,” the article concludes: “People have a habit of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.”

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