People Are Fascinated by What Others Think of Them
By Liisa Labno
A brain-based approach to peer feedback
Try this. Find someone who has received 360 feedback, and ask them what they remember from the experience. Often, negativity bias comes into play and they remember a single stinging criticism from an anonymous co-worker. If the process was handled well, they may even have incorporated the feedback into their personal development goals, but likely don’t recall specific details.
In the workplace, 360 feedback (sometimes called multi-rater feedback) is often used to gather that information from our peers, direct reports, and manager. One of the benefits of 360 feedback is learning things about ourselves that we might not have otherwise discovered. 360s can be a powerful development tool, if the process is constructive and if we actually do something with any insights that we glean.
The traditional approach to 360 peer feedback isn’t a great fit with how our brain works.
With traditional 360s, feedback is given on your skills, performance, or competency — there is good, bad, and in-between. Feedback is typically anonymous, so you don’t know exactly who rated you high or low on each scale. While intended to help us better understand our strengths and weaknesses, this traditional peer feedback approach isn’t a great fit with how our brain works.
Our brain’s response to typical peer feedback tools
When our brain perceives a threat, our amygdala — part of our brain’s limbic system — kicks in to protect us and our prefrontal cortex (sometimes called our “thinking” brain) temporarily shuts down. We react before we think! Our brain’s number one job is to keep us safe, and the limbic system helps to do that. Stress hormones — cortisol and adrenaline — increase, and our brain’s fight-flight-or-freeze response is triggered.
Saber tooth tigers, burning buildings, and…Bob?
This ancient biological reaction still helps us today when we need to escape danger. However, in the workplace, our brain can also perceive typical 360 peer feedback — from Bob — as a threat. Does this create the ideal state of mind for absorbing the feedback and learning from it? Does it create an environment that is conducive to working better with Bob? Not usually.
Yet, most of us are curious about what others think of us. And feedback can be useful without being threatening. We are the best people on the planet to know exactly what we think and feel, but we don’t always know how our approach comes across to others.
That’s why we just launched ,NeuroColor ViewPointTM a new type of 360-degree feedback inventory. And what we’ve seen is fascinating.
Feedback should enhance relationships, not tear them down
ViewPoint takes a different approach to 360 feedback. It does not rate or assess skills, performance, or competency. Participants are not anonymous, and have no reason to be as no one is rating you or making value judgments. Your ViewPoint report only reflects how others view your work style and which personality traits they see most strongly in your approach.
Because each person’s interpretation of our approach is based in part on their own approach and work style, it’s helpful to know who is providing what feedback. This adds insight and context — and makes the feedback more useful. The ViewPoint process is intentionally designed to create a transparent, positive learning environment — with no opportunity for caustic personal comments or one-line zingers.
ViewPoint is based on neurobiology, which allows us to understand, appreciate and work with differences at a deeper level. While feedback from your team is often eye-opening, it should enhance relationships, not tear them down.
How do people see you?
Well, as it turns out, that has as much to do with them as it does with you. It makes sense that the things that are particularly important to others stand out to them when they evaluate us. If I prefer to jump straight to metrics and action steps, I’m likely to notice those colleagues who spend – at least from my perspective – an excruciating amount of time on small talk at the beginning of a workplace discussion. In contrast, someone else may be less interested in sharing their ideas with me if I haven’t invested enough time getting to know them. Before speaking up, they want to have a sense that I am sincerely interested in hearing their opinions. How others see us depends partly on what they value, and on what they are looking for from us.
Feedback can be situational
One of our clients, Maria, joined her current team as COO from a different company at the height of the pandemic. For the past year (!), she has only interacted with her new colleagues via video calls. When Maria came onboard, she was given specific guidance that Vijay tended to run people over. He was a go-getter and always in motion, often without stopping to think how his actions and comments affected those around him. Part of Maria’s role was to mentor Vijay and leverage his strengths, but to help him soften his approach slightly so that the team didn’t encounter unnecessary internal roadblocks.
Most other team members saw Maria as an innovative leader who jumped at the chance to try something new. But, when Vijay was asked for his feedback on Maria’s style, he said that she was overwhelmingly cautious. His view had little to do with Maria’s preferred approach at work — what she looks at first when making a decision or how she manages time and processes. Rather, Vijay’s perception was primarily based on the specific role that was required of Maria as Vijay’s manager.
Your virtual personality
Another client, Andy, was the event coordinator on his team. He was responsible for selecting event sites, making travel arrangements, and planning all the logistics for large company functions. His description of himself as curious, energetic, and caring was echoed by others on the team. But Laila was new to the team, and had only interacted with Andy over Zoom.
Laila had a different impression of Andy. The traits that stood out to her were Andy’s organized approach and his attention to detail. Not surprising, of course, based on her interactions with Andy – which was all she had to go on. After reviewing Andy’s ViewPoint results with him, Andy’s coach suggested that Andy share his NeuroColor results with Laila in a 1:1 conversation, explain more about his preferred approach, and learn about what helps Laila operate at her best. Getting to know each other better can shortcut misunderstandings and increase communication effectiveness.
Feedback is a tool, not the end game
Feedback is a valuable tool, but it isn’t the end game. NeuroColor ViewPointTM results are always presented as part of a coaching conversation. Our coaches hear rich stories about the interpersonal dynamics on the team even more so than they hear in regular team effectiveness workshops. This, in turn, allows the coach to provide deeper, more practical insights to each client. Almost always, additional 1:1 discussions are part of the client’s homework. This is particularly helpful if your team has been working virtually.
It’s not about changing; it’s about connecting
At NeuroColor, we tell clients that the goal isn’t to please everyone or to change who we are – it’s to finetune our approach in order to connect. Feedback inventories and 1:1 conversations can help your team regroup as we emerge from the pandemic. Even small changes in behavior or communication style can have a profound impact. By having a 1:1 conversation and sharing our NeuroColor results, we can help others understand what information we want in advance of a meeting, what sparks our creativity, what we look for when making a decision, etc. Together, we can create a roadmap for increasing both individual and team effectiveness.
Once we know how someone sees us, and learn more about what’s important to them – and why, we can figure out how to make that connection and interact most effectively.
So…do you have a minute, Bob? I’d like to know more about how you see me!