Brittle smiles and questionable feedback


We enjoyed this article on the stresses of giving and receiving feedback, from strategy+business

We all know it's important to get good quality feedback, but this article points out how challenging this can be for us humans. According to the article, neuroscientists looked at what happen insides the brains of people who are giving feedback. It turns out that giving it can be more stressful than receiving it. So people often water down their criticisms and fake a pleasant manner to cover their discomfort. Scientist Tessa West is quoted:

Psychologists have come to label this phenomenon “brittle smiles.” It happens when people try to adhere to a “culture of niceness,” as West calls it, even though they really want to speak or act more candidly and critically. So they overcompensate. They smile too much and become overly positive in their speech.

The article explores lots of the reasons why giving and getting feedback can be counterproductive, and offers a few clues for improving. A lot of these relate to the idea of getting practice, building our muscles, if you will, for giving and hearing feedback. These include establishing permission, practicing with less challenging topics, and being more specific and less sweeping in what we talk about.

The most important part of this, we think, is the practice. Many of us understand the theory, but actually getting experience at difficult conversations is the key. We have to pay attention to how small details of our behaviour can heighten or reduce the emotional stakes. 

(Thanks to reader Iain Hildyard for pointing us to this article. Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash)