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Can you smile (genuinely) when you’re giving feedback?

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

When you’re really comfortable giving feedback, you smile and feel eager to help other people achieve things they care about. Managers who are able to stay calm, avoid feeling stressed, and believe in the value of giving frequent feedback are able to have productive feedback conversations without fear arising in their brains.

Which of these mindsets is more likely to elicit a smile?

Mindset #1 Good, I can go in this morning and talk to BJ about how he can improve the way she’s managing our new project. I can think of a couple of things that will be helpful and that she’s going to appreciate.

Mindset #2 BJ really needs to be a better project manager. I’ve held off mentioning these things to him, but now that I see that he’s not using the obvious methods, I really can’t wait any longer. This won’t be fun….

Getting into a better mindset about feedback

If you’re experiencing something similar to Mindset #2 and you’ve waited too long, you’re almost certain to be experiencing stress. Therefore, one way to ensure you can smile is to make sure you’re up-to-date with everyone by regularly giving and receiving feedback from them.

The other thing you can do is to think really hard about what would be the most helpful and beneficial to BJ. Is holding back your personal opinion that he is a weaker project manager or is it to sharing with him your specific observations and suggestions so that he can correct them as quickly as possible? Although BJ may at first be a little surprised by your feedback–if it’s been held back and if it includes several items that need to be attended to, he really really wants to know and be coached on the area you are concerned about. Trust me. This is what just about every employee I talk to says when I ask them how they feel most developed and supported by their boss—particularly younger workers and people who are motivated to get ahead on the job.

You and the feedback recipient both in the game—and on the same side 

You can probably stir up a smile, if you imagine playing a game with another person on your team. Say there are two people—you and BJ on one side, and two other people on the other side. If you can think of an improvement for how you and BJ can win, you might be very excited and happy to be able to share that with him. You’re likely to be smiling and very engaged while discussing a winning strategy. That is really the mindset to go for:  You’re on the same team and wanting to win—for the whole group, for BJ’s advancement, and for meeting your own goals through the people you lead.

If you’re worried about BJ’s reaction and reluctant to give the feedback BJ needs, you’re unlikely to be able to smile. BJ will accurately perceive that you are stressed. In brain science, the phenomenon of “mirror neurons” suggests that other people’s brain cells are mirroring the path of your nervous brain cells, as they speed their way into the emotional, amygdala portion of your brain.

If you are calm and even happy about the idea of helping people win at work through feedback, their brains will pick up on your enthusiasm, positive excitement, and affiliative feelings—which prompt your (and their) brain cells to stay in the “upper” parts of the brain, where resourceful solutions and greater feelings of connection and appreciation can be found.

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