feedback culture

The foundations of a phenomenal feedback culture

Are you a quest to improve the feedback culture in your organisation? That’s a noble quest, and one that we’d like to join you on. We’ll be the Gandalf to your Frodo, the Yoda to your Luke… get the picture?

Join us for a journey into what it takes to build a phenomenal feedback culture from the ground up. In this article, we’re going to lay the foundations and explore the key areas you must focus on in order to create long-term change.

This isn’t all talk either – at Pragmatic Thinking, we use every one of these foundations to make our own workplace culture thrive.


The Pillars of a Phenomenal Feedback Culture


Clear is kind

Let’s cut to the chase – you’ve got to be clear in your feedback conversations, from the language you use to the topics you discuss.

The conversation you most need to have is usually the one that you’re avoiding because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

But, if you’re aiming to get your organisation to a place where communication flows and robust feedback conversations are second nature, you’ve got to start from a place of clarity.

In Brené Brown’s words, “Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind.”


Address the fiction

The human brain loves making assumptions. Sure, our assumptions might be wrong, but our brain continues to make them because it saves energy.

As explained by a Yale neurobiology professor, Dr David McCormick, “There are over one hundred billion cells in our brain and each of them makes over ten thousand connections with other brain cells. While a large number of possible combinations of cell connections allows for higher-ordered thinking, this is a big problem evolutionarily in terms of energy cost,”. Essentially, our brains make assumptions to conserve energy, how nice of it to do that for us.

As much as our brains are trying to help us, we need to move past assumptions. To strengthen your understanding of your colleagues, introduce the phrase “The story in my head is…” into your one-on-one conversations.

Rather than jumping to conclusions about why Jamie has headphones in at work (mustn’t like the team much, right?) sit down and have the convo while using this simple phrase to share your perspective.

This is a powerful tool for communicating assumptions because it allows you to share your reading of the situation while inviting them to address the fiction and bring clarity to the situation.


First person, first time

This simple rule can help you to tackle tough conversations head-on and avoid contributing to a toxic workplace culture where triangulated conversations and back-channelling are the norms.

If someone says something that rattles you in a meeting or something is done that you are confused about, speak to that person rather than going to another colleague to tell them about it.

Invite the person to come with you for a coffee, so that you’re outside of your normal working environment, and sit down to have an open conversation about the situation. Make use of the ‘story in my head’ phrase from above so that you can share your perspective without putting the blame on them.


Use a third point

While we were all told to look people in the eyes growing up, it actually isn’t the best advice when you’re going into a feedback conversation.

By focusing your attention on a third point you shift the focus of the conversation from the person to the task or issue at hand.

Here are some ideas for what you can use as a third point:

  • A print-out of the report you want to discuss
  • A laptop screen with an example you’d like to share
  • A piece of paper that you can brainstorm with / make a plan


Find your words

If you need to have a conversation about the approach that a team member is taking in any given situation, it’s important to communicate with behaviours rather than traits.

For example, if a team member is quiet during meetings and isn’t contributing any ideas or thoughts, focus your conversation on the behaviour of contributing to the meetings. Give examples of how you’d like them to contribute and what they can do to better prepare for meetings in the future.


So, there you have it, the key areas to focus on in order to create a phenomenal feedback culture within your organisation.

It’s important to note that feedback is something that everyone needs to get involved with – it isn’t something that only managers and executives need to work on. If you want to create large-scale, organisational culture change know that it requires everyone to step up and take ownership.

Want to go in-depth on this topic with your team members or frontline leaders? Take a look at our Dealing with the Tough Stuff program, it might just be the droid you’ve been looking for…