How to keep everyone poised and present!

Why is it that even though we crave feedback, we still cringe in anticipation of the discussion?An afraid businessman running away isolated on white background

Because it is stressful to hear that some aspect of our performance is sub-par, and fight/flight/freeze is a stress response. Even if it’s only a little thing, when we hear the feedback we may still feel embarrassed, or disappointed in ourselves, or even ashamed if we let someone down. These are powerful emotions, and it’s difficult to manage strong emotions and still remain poised, confident and fully present.

How does the stress response show up at work? Although we often shorten it to “fight or flight” there are actually three responses:

The FIGHT response causes people to lash out or become defensive, especially if the feedback feels like an attack of some sort. Not a physical attack, obviously, but an attack on their work ethic, intelligence or experience.

The FLIGHT response causes people to want to run away. At work, they may exhibit a strong desire to leave the room, shut down the conversation or postpone the topic again and again.

The FREEZE response causes people to physically or mentally stiffen up. It may even cause people to lose their train of thought or have difficulty finding the right words because of the loss of cognitive functioning.

And managers, it’s not always easy to deliver feedback, is it? Your heartbeat probably picks up just before a feedback discussion, too.

No one is comfortable during fight, flight or freeze. In fact, physical discomfort is one of the telltale signs that our brain is telling our body to get the heck outta there! And again, it is often as uncomfortable to deliver the feedback as it is to receive it.

Here are three tips for managers to minimize the stress response and keep everyone focused and present:

  1. Tighten Your Timing: Don’t hoard your feedback for the formal performance review! Share your insights as close to the time of the causal event as possible. In-the-moment feedback is more understandable and more actionable, plus it feels more fair to the employee than hearing about something weeks or even months later. Plus employees sense when something is wrong. The longer managers wait to give feedback, the more the tension builds.
  2. Keep it Simple: Don’t overload the message with too many examples and overblown emotions just because you’re feeling nervous! Piling on will increase tension and trigger a stress response. Instead, use a well-known structure like SBI (Situation – Behavior – Impact) to be sure your message is concise but still complete, and deliver the message with professionalism, respect and emotional intelligence.
  3. Private not Public: Never correct an employee in front of others, no matter how benign you think the feedback is. Not only will it embarrass the receiver, but observers will feel stressed and nervous, and it will leave an undercurrent of continuing stress as they all wonder when it will be their turn to be publically humiliated. Yes, we want “in-the-moment” feedback, but take a few moments to find or create a private space where you and your employee can have a calm, quiet discussion.

With a little care and caution, managers can not only satisfy people’s desire for feedback, they can create an environment of continuous improvement and mutual respect. Watch for future articles and videos on this topic!