The Neuroscience Of Feedback: A Coaching Approach For Development

12 Mar The Neuroscience Of Feedback: A Coaching Approach For Development

Andriana Eliadis

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Forbes Coaches Council

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Feb 8, 2024,07:00am EST

Dr. Andriana Eliadis, Executive Education Facilitator at Cornell University, NY, USA and Director at CorporateExecutiveCoach.

As a leadership expert and executive coach, I am often asked, “Andriana, how do I give my team members ‘negative’ feedback in a way that they understand it is genuine and I am not critiquing them?” This question occupies many leaders’ thoughts as they want to provide feedback to help their team members develop, learn, progress and be more efficient and effective in their work and projects.

Effective communication and feedback are indispensable for organizational success in the dynamic landscape of corporate leadership. Let me share a compelling story from the perspective of one of my executive coaching clients who, like many leaders, faced challenges in providing feedback during official performance reviews and in ongoing, ad hoc interactions.

My client, a seasoned executive in a thriving technology firm, approached me with concerns about the feedback culture within the leadership team. Despite well-structured performance reviews, the process felt rigid and lacked the personal touch needed for genuine development. Ad hoc feedback sessions were equally problematic, with team members often uncertain about navigating discussions that fluctuated between praise and constructive input.

This narrative mirrors the experiences of many leaders, where the subtleties of providing impactful feedback often get overshadowed by hectic schedules and hierarchical structures. This story serves as a testament to the need for a fresh perspective—one that combines the art of coaching with insights from neuroscience to make the feedback process not only effective but also enriching for both the giver and the receiver.

The Coaching-Like Approach To Feedback

Coaching, emphasizing dialogue and collaboration, became a transformative approach for my client. The journey did not conclude with the challenges; rather, it unfolded into a realm of solutions. The leadership team, guided by coaching techniques, adopted a more conversational and reflective approach to feedback. This shift created an environment where employees felt encouraged to actively participate in their own development.

Positive Feedback And The Brain

As the coaching-like approach was embraced, positive feedback became a catalyst for growth within the organization. My client observed how acknowledging achievements and strengths led to a surge in team morale. By asking questions like “What strengths do you think contributed to the success of this project?” the leadership team triggered a positive response in their employees’ brains, reinforcing a culture of celebration and recognition.

Developmental Feedback: Seeking Permission For Suggestions

However, the transformation did not stop with positive feedback. Acknowledging the need for improvement is crucial to effective leadership. Under my guidance, the leadership team sought permission before providing developmental feedback. This simple yet powerful step created a collaborative space for growth discussions where employees felt heard and valued.

In one memorable incident, instead of launching into critique during an impromptu feedback session, my client asked, “Would you be open to discussing some areas where we can work together to enhance your skills?” This approach resulted in a more receptive mindset and set the tone for a developmental conversation rather than a critical one.

Coaching-Like Techniques For Developmental Feedback

The shift in mindset toward developmental feedback brought about transformative changes within the organization. Techniques such as the pendulum technique and a collaborative approach allowed for a more balanced and constructive dialogue. Employees felt empowered to engage in the process, realizing that developmental feedback was not a judgment but an opportunity for mutual growth.

Preferred Terminology: Developmental Feedback

In embracing a coaching approach, my client recognized the impact of terminology. Referring to negative feedback as “developmental feedback” shifted the narrative from criticism to collaboration. This language change aligned with a coaching mindset and contributed to a culture where continuous improvement was celebrated.

My client’s journey illustrates the transformative power of combining coaching techniques with insights from neuroscience in the realm of feedback. By adopting a coaching-like approach, understanding the brain’s response to positive and developmental feedback and choosing language that fosters a growth mindset, organizations can create a feedback culture that addresses challenges and propels individuals and teams toward ongoing development and success.