Do you avoid giving feedback? BrainWise tips to help you do what you know you need to do!

October 24, 2017 2:45 pm

If giving constructive feedback is in the ‘too hard’ bucket for you, you are not alone. Many leaders procrastinate or avoid these discussions because they believe it will be awkward, it will damage their relationship or it will not help. There are simple brain-based tools that you can use immediately to improve your motivation and competence to have ‘hard conversations’.

Read on to learn two BrainWise techniques for finessing your feedback conversations.


Caring leaders often stumble when they get stuck on thinking about ‘how will the recipient of the feedback feel?’ While this is a laudable concern, it is likely to keep you from being a good coach/leader.

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Shifting your focus to ‘how will they benefit?’ and ‘how should I structure my message to ensure they benefit?’ will help you get the job done and maintain your caring approach.

Neuroscience shows us that thinking about benefits taps into the altruistic part of our brain, which causes us to be more proactive versus staying stuck in the worry/anxiety part of the brain which causes us to avoid.

Focusing on benefits for the person also highlights the meaning of the task (why are you giving feedback/why does it matter for the person?). Scientists have found that working within the context of our own values and/or personally meaningful objective contributes to us working harder, longer and enduring more discomfort in order to get the job done. Creating benefits is more action-oriented.

This simple mindset shift will increase your motivation to do what you know you need to do.


Leaders, who are otherwise organised, sometimes just walk into a feedback meeting without a plan or process – not a good idea. Telling someone something they most likely don’t want to hear – or at best will be surprised by – deserves a few minutes of thought and effort.

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Neuroscience is clear that when we rehearse and reflect we refine our performance. In addition to making the uncomfortable more familiar, practicing enables you to ‘hear’ what it sounds like and thus better infer how it will likely impact the person on the receiving end. Practicing with a trusted coach/colleague will give the added benefit of getting input about how you are coming across.

Leaders in our workshops often ask us for a tried and true method to deliver constructive feedback. There is no one right way and your relationship with the person is an important determinate about how and when you share your perspective and/or expectations. Nevertheless, there are a few points that we know will help. Here is a simple model that we use ourselves and it has a good track record in getting the message across clearly without unduly increasing defensiveness or resistance.

There are 3 parts to a clear feedback message:

  • Facts –state what your saw the feedback recipient do or not do; what you heard them say or not say. This is where lots of caring leaders get tripped up – ‘to make it easier’ on the recipient of the feedback, they ramble on about their assumptions related to the recipient’s intentions, feelings, rationale etc. Just state the facts. For example: ‘you interrupted other team members 7 times in our last team meeting, when they expressed their concerns about the upcoming changes’.
  • Impact – Describe the impact of the behaviour/action the recipient displayed? This is the ‘why it matters’ piece. For example, knowing that constantly reiterating my enthusiasm for a new change by silencing and sideline others is limiting the creativity of the group is more likely to inspire me to change than just hearing ‘my approach is irritating’
  • Talk – sometimes people need help coming up with a different approach/behaviour. In this case, you can work together to identify a better way forward e.g. ‘lets come up with a way that you can express your views and also ensure that others are able to voice theirs – even when you disagree’. There are plenty of times we can just ask the person ‘what do you want to do about this?’ Once they know what they are doing and the negative impact, they will make the change. Of course, if there is something related to safety, ethics, legal or even just a required procedure – simply stating your expectation is the best approach e.g. ‘in the future, I expect you to refrain from yelling or insulting others with whom you disagree’.Taking the time to identify the critical parts of the message (Facts, Impact and Talk) and even practicing out loud will make a bigger difference than you might think. This is because when we do something new/challenging without planning or rehearsal we are essentially learning by trial and error – our brain has to randomly fire new neurons to ‘try out’ the right language, tone etc. It is a lot easier, on you and the other person, if you take the few minutes to do your learning (trial and error) before you are actually in front of them.


Just a few minutes of planning/practice will enable you to target your message for maximum impact. It will also build your confidence by knowing you are prepared to deliver a difficult message (possibly painful) with the care and respect the person deserves without losing the impact.

Want more practical BrainWise tools?

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Dr Connie Henson, author of BrainWise Leadership, designs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through her company Learning Quest. For information, email, call 0410 598 585 or visit Follow on twitter @LearningQuest

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