Feedback would happen all the time if… we gave praise well

The great British reserve of politeness and not talking honestly with others is a true mystery. Keeping the stiff upper lip about your emotions, what you’re thinking and in not offending others. It’s an explicit and deeply cultural phenomena. I also wonder of the impact of our culture on how we are able to be better emotionally intelligent?

Day by day we’re becoming more and more comfortable with the lexicon that sits with being emotional intelligence. The concept itself challenges the way we seek to understand ourselves and others so that we can have better relationships.

And I also see that feedback is regularly such a thing where people find it difficult at work to talk with each other in a way which invites inquiry, promotes development and is supportive of the individual.

It’d be easy to blame not giving feedback well on culture. And the truth is that all cultures have rules which get in the way of giving feedback well. I also wonder if there is an overlooked piece on how we appreciate others?

In the workplace, it’s not unusual that people don’t praise one another. It’s often seen as a motivational tool which I find rather disturbing and completely misses the point.

We know, both because of psychological and neuroscience processes that receiving good and positive feedback is healthy for people. When people at work experience more positive comments to negative by a ratio of 3:1, they feel like they can thrive at work.

Yet, most managers shy away from doing this. The reasons tend to be:
– but I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable about doing a good job
– if I say something good I have to give them something developmental to work on too
– who am I to say they’re doing a good job?
– they’re not comfortable with receiving compliments so I don’t
– I have such a lack of belief in the benefit of doing this that I don’t want to, don’t know how to nor even how to articulate it without it seeming disingenuous and forced

So, we L&Ders, we go away and develop tools to help people do this. We develop frameworks and we develop learning interventions to support people in doing this well.

Giving feedback is a challenging skill. Giving critical or developmental feedback is hard. Giving praise, I would argue, is just as hard. There’s just as much discomfort we experience in praising well as we do in criticising.

Recently, Sarah Lewis gave me this set of positive organisational development cards on how to appreciate others using positive language. I’ve used them in team development events and found them really useful in giving people a way to talk with one another about their strengths and what they do well. Please do check them out as a way of helping focus on what’s going well.

I am a fan of finding ways for people to talk well at work. We allow too many things to get in the way, and can often feel the need to qualify or quantify feedback with too many variables. It’s worse when it’s about appreciating someone as suddenly we stutter things like “but don’t go getting a big head about it”, or “I’m not great at saying when things go well but…”, or following up with a criticism of the person.

I wonder how bad it would be to praise something someone has done, praise it well, and say nothing more?

What’s next for L&D?

The learning solutions landscape has changed significantly in the last 15 years. When I started out as an L&D Officer, we were delivering learning through only face to face solutions. Some coaching was happening, and the odd bit of e-learning was present. In a lot of workshops we used video based resources showing “live” situations. We had Computer Based Training solutions often delivered via a CD-ROM. The internet wasn’t really a thing then for anything other than online shopping sites and news feeds. YouTube was in its real infancy.

Move forward a few years, and not a lot more new was happening. Video content became DVD content. E-learning was really quite niche still and there was still a lot of face to face learning. Websites were catching up and suddenly you could stream video content on news sites. Facebook became a thing. Twitter had just started.

Move forward a few years more and suddenly there was an explosion of social networking sites both enterprise and public. Webinars were becoming more popular and blogging was becoming a strong force. WordPress was coming into its own. Not only that but people were playing and messing with formats of conferences creating events like unconferences and barcamps and hackathons. What nobody expected was the impact of the new web on brands and immediateness (totally I word I just made up) of customer service via these new channels.

Fast forward to today and mobile technology is in a place no one could have conceived 15 years ago. Back then it was a simple device no more complicated than a PDA with phone and message capabilites. Look at the ubiquity of mobile use in today’s world with then and it’s the single biggest technological shift we’ve seen in consumer use of the shortest period of time. Online learning, wikis, online collaboration sites, digital universities, and many other forms of digital learning are abundantly available.

That’s a short space of time for a step change to have happened in the learning landscape. There’s a lot of talk and rhetoric from many in the learning writing and consultancy sphere who make all sorts of claims about the redundancy of face to face learning, about the need for modern learning solutions, about the new skills L&Ders require in developing effective learning holistic solutions. But in truth it’s not really a wonder most of the profession hasn’t caught up.

Who knows what lies in store tomorrow. A lot of what happened over the last 15 years many of us couldn’t have been predicted, certainly not most of us in the L&D space. Let’s cut each other some slack on this front. Sure there are modern learning solutions which are available, but this doesn’t equate to all L&Ders knowing these. The sharing of learning we have as practitioners is probably the most valued thing we can do in the L&D profession. Be that through curation, blogging, vlogging, writing or speaking, there are a good many options for sharing our learning to raise what we all do.

The enigma of the human condition

We know a lot about the human condition. It’s one of those areas of study, of philosophy and of life that we are constantly drawn to understand ourselves better. Psychology, economics, medicine, law, are complete fields of study that help us understand how people interact, why they interact, what makes us better, and the consequences for actions which are harmful to others.

We know so much that we’re able to understand the cognitive development of babies. We understand the process of language development. We understand the purpose of emotions and are able to categorise them. We understand about ethics and┬ámorality. We understand about love, affection and companionship.

And yet, there are some things we will never truly understand. Why does one person murder another? Why are some people born without the ability to be empathetic and therefore wilfully harm others? Why do some people develop addictions that are clearly harmful and yet they cannot help themselves? Why are some people just not in control of their eating habits and make themselves sick because of either under or over eating? Why do some people have less capacity for kindness to others? Why do some people wilfully hurt children?

Psychology (and other fields) tries to explain some of these things. But what about when your average police officer shoots a seemingly innocent person? Or what about when a stranger will seemingly give a deadly electric shock to another person for no other reason than they were instructed to? Or what about when a regular office worker commits fraudulent behaviour because they are under heavy personal financial pressures?

Sometimes, we can’t explain things. Sometimes we have to just accept that something awful has happened, and there won’t be an explanation.

The human condition is one of life’s biggest conundrums. We will continue to strive for answers in religion, in science, in philosophy or in medicine. We’ll come up short, because no matter how intelligent we may be, there will always be something that happens which we just can’t account for.

I am saddened by the shooting of Walter Scott in America. It’s a complete tragedy and there will be insightful commentary and analysis of why it happened. And not just of this incident, but also of the many others hat have occurred. Many will shout race, many will shout police right, many will not know how to react, many will be angry.

We have the right (imperfect) systems in place to deal with things like this. We can only have faith in those systems and in people that we can and must be better. But all the while, no matter how good we might be, we’ll never be able to account for that errant factor that is the human condition.

Things I learned about myself while on a mountain

We all love a break. A well earned rest is good for the soul and refreshes the mind. I’ve just had one of my best breaks by spending the last week skiing in the resort of Morzine in France. I highly recommend it as a resort.

While out there on the slopes, practising my turns and Just gliding on the snow, watching the family with their instructor and taking in the area, there was lots of natural thinking time. If I make it sound all romantic, it’s mostly because I am in love with skiing as a holiday.

I found that being mindful was kind of easy and I felt like it was cheating. You’re in an environment which is completely conducive to being relaxed and being in tune with your body. Your self awareness is already raised becauase you’re in these skis which aren’t natural at all. You’re listening to your body well because it’s reacting to the way you ski. In the evenings with a sauna, jacuzzi and massages at your disposal, you’re primed for being in tune with your body. It’s that much more of an effort to be connected to the digital world either because of data costs or wifi connections. 

It bought me to consider just how difficult it is to be mindful at work and in our cities. Efforts like Street Wisdom are fine, but they’re unique and discreet events. Regular time to just accept your surroundings, listen to your body and act accordingly aren’t easy to come by. It’s no wonder we need an app to help us cultivate mindfulness in a world where busy-ness is a very accepted way of life.

I love beach holidays, water parks, theme parks and all that jazz. I found that being on a mountain is where I’m deeply at peace. This was unexpected and enjoyable. I didn’t just enjoy skiing, I felt like it was where I belong in my soul. With that in mind, it’s not something I do regularly, so when I do, I really enjoy it.

I’ve written and spoken before about finding your third place. When your home and your work are your first and second places, where’s your third place where you can be your best, free of judgement, free of pressure, and at your pace? I’m no expert at skiing. I stuck to mostly blue runs which are the easier ones on the slopes. Years ago I had the confidence and skill to do reds (hard) and the occasional blacks (difficult). But I don’t care if I do those runs, that’s not why I’m out there doing the skiing. I’m out there because I can just be.

When that’s not available, I’ve had to work really hard to find an alternative. Blogging is often my third place these days. I don’t care how good or bad the writing is, I do care about sharing good stuff, I care about sharing my practise, and I focus on writings things of interest. It gets met in lots of different ways and I receive a range of feedback which is all useful. But blogging is my space. It’s my place to just be.

What I loved most about the holiday was watching my family progress with their skiing over the week. It’s not often we do an activity which can involve us all and we’re all at similar starting points and development paths. That just brought a very different dimension to connecting with each other, and having fun and laughs with each other. Later in the week I was out in the slopes with one of my twins, K, and told him to lead me on the slope. I told him to make sure I stayed safe while I followed, and he did amazingly. He went nice and easy, took turns with ease and was always looking back to check on me.

Mindfulness, happiness and existentialism

This is my last post on talks from the EQ Summit last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alan Wallace on this topic. What was meant to be a talk on mindfulness became talking about stress, challenging what we accept for ourselves, a challenge to the overload of information, and talking about our happiness. It was philosophical, existentialist and pretty expansive.

He started by talking about conative intelligence which he defined as this…


His ask is that we get wise to our desires, listen to them and really understand what are they for. That he explicitly calls out the need to consider one’s own and others wellbeing is really interesting to me. I understand this as accepting we all have desires and intentions. When we consider the impact of fulfilling those desires, does it actually help us be better?

In the realm of human attraction and relationships this makes sense to me. In the realm of addictive behaviour this also makes sense to me. And in the realm of destructive and harmful behaviour this also makes sense to me.

In relation to addiction he identified three broad areas where behaviour can become addictive…


This was pretty excellent. I completely get it. Alan made an excellent insight here. He talked about the card game Solitaire and called it one of the most pointless games that has been created. Yet people would rather play a pointless game than sit with their own thoughts. This is hardly a modern phenomenon and you can replace Solitaire with previous pastimes. But it’s interesting isn’t it? Are we so addicted to action and being busy in various ways, that we would rather do an activity which is non-productive than just sit alone with our thoughts?

He then went on to talk about the enigma of human existence as he sees it…


Which was another highly pertinent thinking point. It’s a great question and challenge to us as a people. If we’re smarter than we have ever been, with modern medicine and technology at our disposal, with ease of communication and travel like never before, and with creative and innovative endeavours that push what it means to be human, why aren’t we all feeling happier as a global community? Why are rates of depression, divorce, suicide, obesity and terrorism so high? What’s happening with people that they aren’t availing themselves of the multitude options for being better and are instead being subjected to or succumbing to behaviours and actions which are clearly harmful?

One of his final points was that we should all be seeking to find happiness in our lives. Both Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama have expressed this in different ways…


He built on this by encouraging us to be mindful that happiness comes from both hedonic means and genuine means. He defined hedonic as by seeking stimuli for happiness. He defined genuine as that which we give others. Life isn’t about one more than the other. As described earlier, it’s about understanding your own desires better so that you’re more mindful and aware of how acting on these can affect your own and others wellbeing.

Myths and interesting facts about neuroscience and EQ

Myth no 1. If you’re right brained you’re more creative and if you’re left brained you’re more data led

There are well researched pieces into how the brain works. Essentially what it finds is that in patients where the brain was cut in the middle, they still had full capability for creative abilities and for tasks needing focus on data and information.

Myth no 2. We only use 10% of our brain

No. Just, no. The very make up of our brains means that it is made up of the sum of its parts. No one part works independently of another. Depending on the task or situation at hand, we use different parts of the brain.

Myth no 3. The female brain is different to the male brain

Although physically the size of brains will be different, the way they operate is no different.

I loved this session by Dr Geoff Bird at the EQ Summit. There was lots of good information and as above debunking of myths about neuroscience and the brain.

The human brain consumes about 60% of the body’s glucose and 30% of our calorie intake. When we are working hard on something, we need more glucose to help the brain function well. This doesn’t mean gorging on chocolate during the task, it just means ensure you’re well fed before embarking on a task of importance.

He went on to talk about empathy and how it starts in the brain. If you turn off pain receptors, you lose the ability to empathise with others because you lose the ability to know what you might be experiencing. I found this fascinating as I wonder how it relates to pain thresholds. If you have a lower pain threshold are you more likely to be empathetic than someone who doesn’t?
There is a condition called alexithymia which is the inability to know your own emotional state. This is common amongst 10% of people which raises interesting points to consider. Psychiatrists tend to see this when presented with patients who have experienced trauma in some way, but do not have the words to express how it’s affecting them. Is there a higher preponderance of people suffering alexithymia in those who have perceived levels of power? In those that don’t have these positions of power, how does this play out in the team? What’s the effect of their behaviour on those they interact with? Please be cautious in what I’ve written here on this condition, there’s clearly more to read on it and understand better.

When we talk about sleep deprivation, we often think that must mean a pattern of disrupted sleep. Actually, as little as 5 hours sleep for one night can be enough to leave you deprived. Geoff made an excellent point here and said if we wouldn’t drive long distances when tired, why would you make important decisions when tired? Of course there are all sorts of reasons why you would, and a plethora of justifications for the need for decisions to be made. The point is that when we’re tired we make poorer decisions.

This last point is probably the most interesting. When we are stressed, the hippocampus doesn’t work as effectively. The importance of this is that the hippocampus supports production of long term memories and in helping us to function well. When we are in a state of stress, and cortisol is produced, this prepares the body for the flight or fight response. The hippocampus cannot work effectively with cortisol present and has a direct impact on neurogenesis – the creation of new neurons. It is neurogenesis which supports the brain’s ability to learn new things. This insight presents a direct challenge to the old adage that a bit of stress can be the right condition for optimal performance.

My pre-frontal cortex has worked a fair amount in writing this post and I’m now in need of breakfast and feel like I’ve done my day’s work already.