Remember This Before You Give Feedback.

Published January 30, 2023

I’ve trained leaders, teams, and departments on giving and getting feedback– over 150 sessions worth, but none of those sessions dove straight into delivering feedback without first taking a hike through the brain. It’s not as simple as delivering feedback, because you’re up against a literal human brain that is either working for you, or against you. 

Do you remember what a warhead tastes like? You’ve had one right? That sour, hard piece of candy that every 90s kid would challenge each other over? (Not sure what i’m talking about? Pause and say “hey, Alexa. What’s the warhead challenge?” then come back here when she’s done.)

If you know what warheads are, has your mouth started watering just reading the word warhead? Isn’t that crazy? Our body can remember so clearly what a warhead tastes like that it starts preparing our body for it, even when one isn’t in sight (no judgment if you have a bowl full on your desk. You do you.) It’s even crazier if you consider that the sour part of a warhead is just a powder coating on the outside of a sweet piece of candy.

I've eaten more than 90 warheads in a year (don’t ask…)

which probably makes me close to a warhead expert, and I can attest that the sour only lasts around 30 seconds to a minute. The hard sweet piece of candy? It would last upwards of five minutes in your mouth if you had self control (unlike me) and made it that long without chewing it (I’m a barbarian… I know). The sour is such a SMALL piece of the experience, but it's the piece that our body remembers most, and the same can be said for when we receive feedback. 

So let's say you sit down with your direct report and say “can I give you some feedback?”. Sounds harmless, right? Wrong. At least not to their brain. Because that little tiny piece of their brain called the amygdala kicks in and says “WARNING WARNING WARNING… You know that community you love and or need to be a part of, because it costs literal money to exist in this world, and this little community is the thing that gives you the money; remember that? Well… I don’t mean to alarm you, but that might be at jeopardy right now. Brace yourself. Cheers!”.  Welcome to the new warhead challenge. 

Consider this before you deliver feedback.

The brain remembers the sour before it remembers the sweet. In warheads, AND in feedback. Even if the feedback is designed to help them grow– our brain doesn’t always see that. That’s where you come in to make sure they can see it, and it starts with making sure you snap them out of the sour (the fear) and help them feel the sweet (the growth). Do it by reminding them you care, that you’re supporting them and their growth, and that you’re on their team. It may not completely rewrite the sour at first, but with repetitive reminders, you’ll start quieting that drama-queen of an amygdala. 

RECOMMEND: Read Radical Candor by Kim Scott to explore adding more care in your feedback. 

DON’T RECOMMEND: Eating 90 warheads