Improve Your Coaching Skills by Understanding the Psychology of Feedback

Do you ever wonder why it’s so difficult to give and receive feedback in the workplace? Many owners and managers struggle with pointing out areas of improvement for their employees. Employees, in turn, often have a hard time hearing they aren’t performing up to standards or that some areas of their work could be better.

While feedback can be a complicated subject, it’s also a necessary one. Why? Because effective and honest feedback is key to an engaged workplace. In a survey, 77% of the workplaces with the highest employee engagement were those that employed a consistent method of feedback.

Leaders scoring in the top 10% on giving honest feedback correlate to more than triple the level of employee engagement than we can equate to the bottom 10%.

Zenger Folkman report

But how do you give feedback in a way that its recipient responds to it positively? As an HR professional or manager, having a basic grasp of the psychology of feedback can help you develop a more effective feedback strategy.

Here are some things to consider concerning the psychology of feedback:

Most employees equate feedback with criticism

Feedback, in its best form, combines positive reinforcement with tips on how to improve certain areas of one’s performance. However, most of your employees probably equate “feedback” with “criticism.” Whether this is due to past situations or a simple human bias, most of your employees fear feedback. Why? Because criticism is processed as a threat to our survival in the human brain. It’s important to educate your team on all the benefits of feedback and temper all negative comments with plenty of affirmation on jobs well done.

Realize the connection between feedback and trust

Did you know that feedback is next to useless when it comes from someone your employee doesn’t trust? Human beings want to connect with others and it’s only through this connection that they can feel vulnerable enough to process feedback. When you task someone to give feedback who does not work closely with your team, you impede the process before it even starts. When you allow peers, trusted managers, and respected leaders to give feedback, you play on the bonds that have already been formed, and feedback is better processed and acted upon.

Your confident employees will welcome critical feedback

Most business owners know that their team is made up of some incredibly self-confident individuals as well as those who need a lot of affirmation. Confident team members can take more negative, constructive feedback better because they don’t view it as a threat to their employment or self-image. However, insecure employees may feel they are in danger of getting fired. Once you realize this, you can tailor feedback to the individual. Understanding the psychology of feedback will help you to realize your confident workers may require a more unvarnished truth, while you may need to sugarcoat comments for others.

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Praise should focus on effort, not ability

You may think that praising your superstar salesperson for their stellar skills that landed a big deal is a perfect example of motivating feedback, but you could be wrong. According to the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, when we praise ability or results instead of effort, we send the wrong message. We are, in a sense, telling our employees that praise is dependent on their outcomes or their innate talents, and not on hard work or perseverance. Because they cannot control outcomes nor their personality characteristics, they can easily get demoralized when things don’t go their way. Effort, on the other hand, can always be controlled.

When you praise effort regardless of results, you motivate employees to give 100%.

When you understand why your team may fear feedback and how to get around their psychological blocks, you can better incorporate a system of growth. Effective feedback is crucial for a strong team, and the above tips can help you improve morale and provide a dynamic workplace.