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  • Writer's pictureLearn&Chill Team

The 4 facts you need to know to nail a great feedback session.

Updated: May 16

The 4 facts you need to know to nail a great feedback session.

Good job so far! The final step is completed:

  1. You collected and assessed your input data and came up with actionable feedback.

  2. You fine-tuned your information to make it crisp&clear and easy to understand.

  3. You carved your feedback considering the recipient’s culture.

  4. You made sure that it was the proper time for the recipient to receive feedback.


This was the conclusion of the first blog of this series dedicated to feedback, which was focused on the preparation phase.

Now, let's flip the page and dive deeper into the feedback session itself. In this next blog post, I am going to list and analyze what I consider to be the four critical facts to be aware of to nail a successful feedback session.

Fact 1. Naive realism bias.

Naive realism is a cognitive bias that affects us all. It is the tendency that makes us believe that we see the world around us objectively while what we really see is “only” our subjective version of it. As a consequence, we tend to assume that our perceptions, opinions, and beliefs about the world are the most accurate and truthful and that those who disagree with us are either biased or misinformed.

What does it have to do with feedback?

Sharing is a key element of the feedback session. Complementing our perspective with the feedback receiver’s perspective helps us build a complete and thorough picture of the situation, which is the starting point to generate insights and actionable feedback. We can achieve that only if we manage to overcome the naive realism bias and keep a mindset of openness, curiosity, and willingness to listen and consider other perspectives (this is what I call the "right attitude").

Objection: Handling a tough feedback session requires a lot of mental energy. I doubt I can fight my biases at the same time.

Reply: Overcoming the naive realism bias is not easy but there are a few possible countermeasures to implement before and during the session:

Before the session.

  1. Be aware of it. Just knowing about the existence of the bias can make you more vigilant and help you recognize when it's taking over.

  2. Question your assumptions. No matter how much data you have collected, always ask yourself if your assumptions are based on facts or opinions.

During the session.

  1. Be curious and ask powerful and meaningful questions to build a more nuanced picture of the situation.

  2. Actively listen to better understand the other person's perspective.

Objection: I invested a lot of time to get ready for the feedback session and I felt I could steer it in the “right” direction. If I start considering other perspectives and question my assumptions, I’m afraid I will lose control of the conversation.

Reply: The feedback session doesn’t follow a script and the goal of the preparation phase is not to stick to your “plan” no matter what. I like to think about the preparation phase as a sort of compass that helps us navigate the feedback session toward the main destination which is improvement and learning. The “right attitude” during the session is what helps us identify the best path to get to the destination.

Fact 2. Amygdala and "fight or flight" response.

The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure located in the brain. It is also known as the "core fear system" of the human body as it plays a vital role in processing emotions. It determines how we react in potentially dangerous situations and triggers the "fight or flight" response, leading to an increase in heart rate, elevation in blood pressure, and boost in energy levels.

The 4 facts you need to know to nail a great feedback session.

What does it have to do with feedback?

In certain circumstances, our body prepares us to fight or flee, even though there is no actual physical threat. Receiving constructive feedback can be one of these circumstances. It can, in fact, trigger a stress response resulting in feelings of anxiety, defensiveness, or even anger, as the brain perceives the feedback as a potential threat.

When giving feedback, we (as leaders) need to make sure that the receiver doesn’t feel stressed and is in the best possible state to receive the feedback.

Fact 2a. Prefrontal cortex and "fight or flight" response.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for cognitive functions like working memory, attention, and information processing. When activated, Amygdala redirects physiologic resources away from the prefrontal cortex determining an impairment of our learning capacity.

What does it have to do with feedback?

The feedback session is a central part of the continuous improvement cycle as it marks the transition from feedback to learning, initiating the improvement process. As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that the feedback receiver is not experiencing any stress during the session. Only in a stress-free environment can the receiver fully utilize her cognitive abilities, elaborate the feedback effectively, and turn it into meaningful learning.

Objection: I properly prepared for the session. My feedback is actionable and I carefully thought about how to formulate it. I have done everything possible to avoid the receiver feeling stressed.

Reply. The preparation phase is important but there is a lot more you can do during the feedback session to avoid the receiver feeling under stress.

The book “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle, beautifully describes how behavioral cues can be used to create a positive and safe environment where feedback can be received and processed without stress and fear of judgment.

Examples of behavioral cues are:

  1. Proximity. It refers to the physical distance between people. Sitting too far away or too close can create discomfort. Therefore, it is important to maintain an appropriate distance during feedback sessions.

  2. Eye contact. It signals attentiveness and engagement. Making eye contact with the feedback receiver can help create a sense of connection and trust.

  3. Body language (posture and gestures). It communicates our level of openness and receptiveness.

  4. Vocal pitch. It conveys a lot of information, such as enthusiasm, empathy, and support. Speaking in a calm and supportive tone can help create a sense of safety and trust, while an overly critical or aggressive tone can create defensiveness and resistance.

Fact 3. Rest and digest

While the “fight and flight” response helps us react quickly to potential threats, the “rest and digest” one helps us recover, relax and calm down. Triggered by the parasympathetic nervous system, it downregulates breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure taking them back to normal values after a stressful event.

Deep breathing is one of the possible ways to activate the “rest and digest” response.

The 4 facts you need to know to nail a great feedback session.

What does it have to do with feedback?

Providing feedback can occasionally put us in emotionally challenging situations.

Conflicts, disagreements, and a confrontational attitude of the feedback receiver can activate our own fight or flight response.

In these cases, we need to take a deep breath to calm down and relax (“rest and digest” response) to restore the right mental state to properly lead the feedback session.

Objection: Taking deep breaths in the middle of a tough discussion? I’m not gonna do it!

Reply. If you realize that you are losing control over your emotions and that the “fight and flight” response is taking over, you need to act quickly to avoid the conversation entering a dangerous spiral. Taking a small break and pausing the conversation for a short while can be the right move. It can give you enough time to take a deep breath, activate the “rest and digest” response and get ready to restart the session with the right mindset.

Fact 4. Fixed vs Growth mindset

Fixed and growth mindsets are two different ways of approaching challenges and learning.

A fixed mindset is the belief that our abilities, talents, and intelligence are predetermined and fixed. They cannot be changed or developed. People with a fixed mindset may be less willing to take on challenges or risks, as they fear failure or making mistakes.

A growth mindset is the belief that our abilities, talents, and intelligence can be developed and improved through hard work and practice. People with a growth mindset are more willing to take on challenges and view failure as an opportunity for learning and growth.

The 4 facts you need to know to nail a great feedback session.

What does it have to do with feedback?

As leaders, we can play a crucial role in nurturing a growth mindset, and feedback is a powerful tool to achieve this objective. However, it is crucial to provide feedback directed toward the right aspects.

Feedback that highlights efforts instead of outcomes, creates a supportive and motivating environment that encourages individuals to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and embrace a culture of continuous improvement.

On the other hand, feedback that focuses solely on outcomes can discourage and demotivate individuals. The fear of being perceived as incompetent or inadequate can make them less willing to take risks, explore new ideas, and challenge themselves.

Objection: As a result-driven person, I find it difficult to praise someone for poor outcomes.

Reply: I totally get it but you need to be mindful about what you praise and why. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) context, which is where most of us operate, the relationship between effort and outcome is not always straightforward. Effort is just one of many factors that can influence outcomes. It is not always true that high effort leads to positive outcomes nor is it always true that low effort results in negative outcomes.


By now, you may have realized that providing feedback is a challenging task. Regardless of how well you prepare and how hard you try to create the right environment, it is impossible to perfectly handle all possible situations.

However, navigating a feedback session is a skill that can be developed through practice, and making mistakes and learning from them is a vital part of this process. The good news is that we are not alone in this journey and there is an easy way to get help. Asking for feedback at the end of the session is not only the most effective way to speed up our learning process but also shows that we (as leaders) care about our personal development.

Moreover, this simple act of asking for feedback can inspire others to do the same and foster a feedback culture.

There are more ways to foster a feedback culture but this is what I will explore in the next blog post.


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