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By Helen Powers

It has been scientifically proven that IMG_0417humans are hard-wired for feedback and that our brains constantly scan for threats. These survival instincts might not seem relevant in a work environment but in fact they are. In a recent presentation to IABC members and guests in Hamilton, Janet Hueglin Hartwick of Conversations@Work provided insights about how the brain works and ways that communicators can use this knowledge to help managers strengthen employee engagement.

Our emotions play a significant role in making decisions about our behaviours. During interactions, our emotions act as gate keepers and filter possible responses while our thinking is catching up to the situation. During that emotional scanning there are four common ‘sparks of success’ that we look for to decide whether we are succeeding or failing.

By getting to know an individual’s sparks, Janet says that managers can ‘speaIMG_0420k to the gate keeper’ and give employees the feedback necessary to keep them engaged. The four sparks include feeling like part of the team, feeling personally valued, being supported to take risks, and having efforts recognized.

For example, when looking for help with a difficult team member, an employee needs more than an opportunity to discuss the facts. They need to be asked how they’re doing and be reminded of their value. By not connecting with the employee’s emotive side, managers risk having employees lose their commitment. “When you feel like a failure it is hard to perform better,” Janet says. A lack of feedback can erode the social trust we need to feel secure. To the brain, social pain – from exclusion of connections and activities – feels the same as physical pain.

IMG_0428Annual reviews can be helpful but it leaves a lot of time to wonder whether you’re on the right track. If managers don’t offer feedback regularly, Janet suggests asking them.  “How do you think I did?” is a simple way to start a conversation after a presentation or meeting. “Real time, all the time,” is best she says. “Feedback from colleagues can be powerful but not as much as from a manager.”

As communication advisors, we can emphasize to managers that organizations also benefit from giving employees meaningful feedback. When they feel recognized and appreciated, staff will respond with increased cooperation, performance, motivation and passion for their jobs. It is an important part of providing a work environment that supports strong mental health and resilience.

Helen Powers

Helen Powers is a writer and communications specialist from Hamilton and also the Vice President of Administration with IABC Golden Horseshoe. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @HelenEPowers.

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