I received a lot of feedback, comments and direct messages about my recent blog on negativity bias. Mostly people were saying ‘yes! I can relate to this!’ and sharing stories of when their negativity bias kicked into action.
One person described it as ‘looking at a neon light display. If 99% of the bulbs are working you still notice the one that isn’t.’
I’ve been percolating about negativity bias and the role of feedback, because I think it’s an important element of making the hybrid, flexible remote world of work that we’re navigating a place where people can thrive and learn. (and most of my clients are asking me about my advice about how to make the hybrid, flexible and remote working mix a more successful culture where people can thrive and learn)
What is negativity bias?
Negativity bias is our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily AND also to dwell more on negative feedback. This bias toward the negative means you pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.
This means that when it comes to feedback, we naturally remember what we have labelled as ‘negative’ more than what we have labelled as positive. We’re also more likely to interpret feedback as negative, so if we’re the one giving feedback, we have to be really clear in our communication and check that the feedback has been understood in the way that it was intended.
Feedback is harder to give and receive when we’re working remotely
It’s harder to give feedback well when we’re all working remotely. We can’t pick up on the body language of the person receiving the feedback and it’s easier for them to hide their body language on a screen. For example, in a room if feedback lands badly, or not as it was intended, you’re more likely to pick up on it and be able to put it right immediately. On a screen its harder; for example, say if feedback wasn’t received well, then the allocated time is up and everyone logs out to go to their next meeting. Do you follow up and make it a bigger deal than it is (potentially increasing the negativity) or do you let it go where it might fester in the remote workers mind making it bigger and worse (as negativity bias tends to do)?
It’s also harder to give regular feedback when everyone is scattered across different locations. When everyone was in the same office it was easy to walk past someone’s desk and say ‘thank you, good work’. We have to be more deliberate about feedback now which feels different.
The ability to deliver feedback and receive it well is even more important now, and without over egging it – than ever before.
According to Gallup research, 80% of employees who say they have received meaningful feedback in the past week feel fully engaged at work – regardless of how many days they work in the office.
Some tips on feedback which will also help to build a working culture where people can thrive and learn.
- Be deliberate in giving more positive feedback (this is not the same as a sh*t sandwich where you sandwich a negative piece of feedback between two positive things).
- When giving positive feedback apply the same rules as giving negative feedback, so it doesn’t feel fluffy or just lip service (see the tips on giving feedback below).
- Don’t wait for a one-to-one, or worse, an annual appraisal to give feedback. Make giving positive and negative feedback just a regular thing you and everyone else does regularly.
- Do some work with the team and on yourself about fixed and growth mindset. Its’ a reframing that might help. When you take a growth mindset approach, negative feedback simply provides an opportunity to lean and grow. It’s helpful and I believe helps to reduce the impact of negative bias.
- Think about language. You might not even use the language ‘negative feedback’ I like ‘It would be even better if… ‘ as a way of framing how to improve.
- It’s everyone’s responsibility to give feedback regardless of job title or seniority and everyone must be equipped to do it.
- Consider a regular ‘what did we learn’, and ‘thank you’ as part of team meetings.
- Also consider some training on receiving thanks. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to brush praise away, reject it which feels bad for the person giving the praise and does not allow your brain to process the praise.
- Never say ‘Can I have a word?’ or schedule a meeting with someone you manage without telling them what it is about. You’ll send them into a tailspin.
Tips on giving feedback. I’m a fan of the Radical Candor model outlined below.
- Care personally
In order to provide candid feedback you have to care about the person you are giving feedback to. Build relationships and take time to get to know people.
- Have a clear objective for the conversation
Before you start a conversation that involves giving feedback, consider what success looks like, both for you and for the other person. Whether you’re delivering or receiving feedback, the goal is that the end result is a better outcome for you, and for the person you’re talking to so that you can get on with the important work.
Consider the best place to have your conversation, both for you and for the other person.
- Share your intention
For example, ‘I’m going to share an observation which I hope will help with your project. If I’m wrong, please feel free to tell me.’
- Challenge directly and be specific
Focus on the situation, not the person and confirm that you and the other person have the same understanding. If you talk in general terms, the receiver is unlikely to understand or agree. For example, don’t say: ‘I don’t think your performance is good enough’ It’s more useful to say, ‘I noticed a lot of spelling and grammatical errors in your last report that you submitted, and you missed the agreed deadline by two days’. This also applies to positive feedback ‘she explained the problem and solution clearly in 5 minutes’ is much more helpful than ‘she is brilliant.’
- Help people to move forward positively
The person receiving the feedback might just need to listen before they respond. That might be later that day or on a different day. Allow them some space.
- Be kind: we are all fragile human beings
Be clear and kind in your delivery.
I hope this blog has been helpful. Often it’s the small changes can deliver big impact. If you need some help get in touch.