Where awesome workplaces grow.

How Brain Science Can Prepare Employees for Performance Feedback

Have you ever felt attacked when receiving performance feedback? Have you ever given performance feedback and felt like the receiver was unresponsive? If you answered yes, congratulations! You most likely have a brain and work with people with brains.


It turns out our brains' natural response to fight or flight when we’re presented with something potentially dangerous also kicks in during social situations, like discussing performance feedback.11.9.16.jpeg


The good news? We’re in control. Leading research on the social nature of the brain has shown our perception

of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (SCARF) can activate either a threat or reward response. By being mindful of these five qualities, both the feedback giver and receiver can help shift from a threat response to a reward response.


The five qualities are explained below, along with tips from our Practical Guide to Employee Feedback on how to use this information when giving or receiving performance feedback. 

1. Status

Status is our perceived importance relative to others. In social interactions, such as receiving feedback, our brains assess whether our status is being threatened or rewarded. If we feel threatened, fight or flight kicks in.


How can it impact performance feedback?

When feedback on our performance is positive, our brains view it as a reward because our sense of status is improved. However, negative or corrective feedback can threaten our sense of status.


What can the feedback receiver do?

The best way to prepare for performance feedback is to go into it with a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets:

  • View corrective feedback as a positive opportunity to improve
  • Have a drive to learn and always get better
  • Believe the feedback giver’s intentions are to help

What can the feedback giver do?

The potential to threaten the receiver’s sense of status can be reduced by a trusting relationship where the receiver believes you have good intentions.

  • Communicate that you value and believe in the receiver
  • Make it clear that your intent is to help the receiver grow
  • Model the expectation that feedback is a reward and learning is highly valued
  • Balance corrective performance feedback with positive performance feedback

Want more on this topic? Download this ebook: A Practical Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback With a Growth Mindset


2. Certainty

Certainty is our ability to predict the future. Our brains crave what’s familiar. When we experience ambiguity, it can distract us, create panic, and lead us to make bad decisions.


How can it impact performance feedback?

When we don’t understand why we’re receiving performance feedback, what the feedback means, or how it might impact us, our brains elicit a threatened response.


What can the feedback receiver do?

If you find yourself confused or surprised by performance feedback, seek clarity and understanding.

  • Be curious and record what is being said
  • Summarize what you heard and ask questions
  • Focus less on whether the feedback is wrong
  • Seek clarity around your next steps

What can the feedback giver do?

Be as clear as possible when you’re giving performance feedback.

  • Address why you’re giving the feedback
  • Be specific about what you’ve observed and the impact it has
  • Set clear expectations
  • Give the receiver the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and be patient in your responses
  • Provide ideas on steps for improvement
3. Autonomy

Autonomy is the level of control we feel over our lives. It’s the degree to which we have options and the freedom to make decisions.


How can it impact performance feedback?

Being told how to do our work can make us feel like we don’t have control over what we’re doing.


What can the feedback receiver do?

If you receive performance feedback on how to do your work, seek to understand the “why” behind the “how.”

  • Ask why certain processes or guidelines are in place
  • Seek to understand how this feedback will impact your success
  • Focus on the opportunity for autonomy within the guidelines or processes you’re given

What can the feedback giver do?

When giving performance feedback, attempt to lead the receiver to self-evaluation and highlight areas the receiver has autonomy.

  • Ask questions to help the receiver self-evaluate
  • Give the receiver options and the freedom to choose
  • Focus on areas the receiver has greater autonomy
  • Be clear in explaining why processes or guidelines are a certain way and how they benefit the employee, team, or organization
4. Relatedness

Relatedness is our sense of safety with others. In social interactions, our brainevaluate whether a person is a friend or foe. We are more likely to trust those who we perceive to be part of the same social group.


How can it impact performance feedback?

Our receptiveness to performance feedback greatly depends on the level of trust and feeling of “sameness” that we have with the feedback giver.


What can the feedback receiver do?

When receiving performance feedback, remind yourself of the social connection you have with the feedback giver. Ask yourself these questions:

  • When has the feedback giver shown concern for me?
  • When has the feedback giver had my back?
  • What do we both have to gain from my improvement?
  • What similarities do we share?

What can the feedback giver do?

Before giving corrective feedback to someone, build a relationship of trust.

  • Communicate openly
  • Get to know each other personally
  • Manage your emotions
  • Lead by example and show trust in others
  • Accept failures and approach mistakes in a constructive way
5. Fairness

Fairness is the sense of being respected and treated equally.


How can it impact performance feedback?

When our brain perceives performance feedback as unfair or biased, it creates a threatened response leading to hostility and diminishing trust.


What can the feedback receiver do?

When receiving performance feedback, stay focused on you not others.

  • Avoid comparing yourself to others
  • Consider that other people exhibiting the same behavior are likely receiving the same feedback
  • Seek clarity around the expectations for your performance

What can the feedback giver do?

Before giving performance feedback, reflect on whether the feedback is fair.

  • Are your expectations realistic?
  • Have you communicated expectations clearly?
  • Have you collected enough information to provide this feedback?
  • Do you have the same expectations for others?


Looking for more tips to prepare for your next performance feedback session? Download our guide below for a detailed list of do’s and don’ts for the feedback giver and receiver.


Free ebook! A Practical Guide to Giving and Receiving Employee Feedback With a Growth Mindset! 



Post A Comment