We recently heard David Rock, neuroscientist, talk about the latest findings in brain research. He caught our attention when he pointed out that a seemingly innocuous statement, like “Can I give you some feedback?” can trigger the same threat response as ominous footsteps behind you on a dark night. But this makes sense when we consider how much well intentioned feedback falls by the wayside—and perhaps why so many performance appraisals do more harm than good.
David Rock and other brain scientists have documented, using sophtisticate electronics such as MRIs and electroencelphalograhs (EEGs) to measure brain activity. They found that threat responses are often triggered in social situations such as a conversations to deliver feedback. Surprisingly these threat responses tend to be more intense and long-lasting than reward responses. The implications for how managers handle social situations, including casual conversation is huge. The risk of them going wrong is higher than them going right.
What we found when we examined the behaviors of exceptional development managers is that they avoided the “pain in the brain” response. How? They worked hard to develop the trust of people. In so doing they reduced the threat level enabling clear feedback to be received and acted upon and on a routine basis. Maybe they have developed a capacity like those seemingly magical “horse whisperers”? In any event, they have found a way to approach people without causing them to fight or flee!