Popcorn and Constructive Feedback

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Last fall, I heard Marty Seligman talk about future trends in positive psychology. He mentioned the negativity bias – how our brain tunes into potential threats and how negative emotions grab our attention. He went on to say that we need to teach positivity to overcome our default response.

The fun part was how Marty described the negativity bias – The negativity bias is like the tongue. Our tongue swirls around our mouth ever vigilant to find a popcorn husk stuck in our teeth. When it does, full attention will be focused on that popcorn until it is dislodged. The tongue never just cruises around the mouth saying, oh, what beautiful, smooth teeth. 

Feedback – the “husk”

We are wired to notice what isn’t working - potential threats. So, what happens when we get a “360” email asking our opinion about a colleague – their strengths and weaknesses? We instantly think of things that bug us about that person. We quickly hit a six on a scale of one to ten, drop in a comment, “stop micromanaging,” and hit submit so we can grab a lunch before the next meeting.

We can predict what happens next when our colleague opens the “confidential” results.

“Who said that?”

“If they knew how to do their job, I wouldn’t have to do it for them!”

Then, the colleague files the information under “C” for crappy co-worker and moves on with their day.

Overcoming the default response

Sharing effective feedback takes skill and effort. “Confidentiality” is a symptom of a broken system – when we don’t know how to say something constructively, we say it confidentially. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. Feedback doesn’t have to be a word that pings our amygdala (the emotion center of our brain). We can learn how to help others learn and grow by teaching positivity. Or, rather than positivity, teaching constructive feedback. 

How? Constructive feedback

As a coach who gathers feedback on leaders, here are a few elements that help create constructive feedback:

  • Time – while we can instantly think of things that bug us about someone else, it takes time to think more deeply. “What would success look like?” Creating space and thinking deeply about the desired behavior takes time. Constructive feedback doesn’t happen between emails, lunch, and meetings.

  • Reframing - “What would your colleague be doing if they weren’t micromanaging?” “What would be the first thing you’d notice if they were staying at the right level of detail?” It can be hard to really think of what to do rather than what to stop doing. However, until a person can clearly see the desired behavior in her/his minds-eye, they won’t see it even if it happens. We don’t often see what we aren’t looking for.

  • Openness – when feedback is constructive and well delivered it doesn’t need to be confidential. Confidentiality muddies context and actually makes feedback more difficult to understand and to accept. It also creates distance between the stakeholder and colleague.

  • Connectedness – constructive feedback should create connection between two people – asking for feedback and giving feedback. If the person providing feedback is willing to openly support their colleague and reinforce new behaviors, the likelihood of success rises markedly.

Whether it is 360 feedback or a performance review, we can move past the default response. We can notice the beautiful, smooth teeth not just focus on the popcorn husk. 

How about you?

What do you do that turns feedback into constructive feedback? What is one thing you do to help your client or employee say, “mmm, what beautiful, smooth teeth”?

See how the work we are doing with the Shift Positive method can help you create an environment of effective feedback in your organization, leadership, or coaching practice (www.shiftpositive360.com).

Build your people system of support

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change vs sustainable change

When it comes to change we can all admit - it's not easy! All too often we declare we're going to do something differently, yet in a few days or weeks, we're back to our old way. Why? 

When we're want to create positive sustainable change, it helps to understand our underlying belief system and motivation. There is even more we can do. We can build a system of support to help us stay the course. We call this the "people system."

Research shows we don't change by ourselves. We must have people around us noticing and reinforcing our progress. 

change does not happen alone

A study by Marshall Goldsmith[1] looked at leadership development across 8 companies in 8 different industries. A group of leaders at each company worked with a coach and set goals for change. The study found one factor was instrumental to sustaining change. The leaders who shared their goals with their colleagues and engaged them to become part of their development showed significant growth.  Those leaders who did not engage colleagues showed marginal to no sustained change.

While it can feel vulnerable to share what you're working on, it is worthwhile. With support and reinforcement from others, you will have greater motivation to keep working on new behaviors. It becomes a positive cycle of change - the more you share, the more others notice, the more you change. 

identifying your people system

When it comes to involving people to support your change, you first have to create the right people system. A few things to ask yourself as you consider your personal and professional network: 

  • with whom can you be vulnerable, open, and honest about your goals and struggles?
  • who wants to see you succeed? 
  • who serves as a positive role model to you?
  • who will have opportunity to notice your changes when they happen?

Find 3-6 people to invite into your people system to help support you and your goals. Ask them if they are willing to hold your goals in the forefront of their mind and notice when you start showing progress. The goal may be losing weight, eating better or working out more. Or maybe it's a professional goal such as facilitating rather than dominating, or coaching your team members as they figure out answers rather than giving them solutions. Identify behaviors you'd like to adopt and ask your people system to support you by noticing and reinforcing your progress. See how this leads to sustained change for you. 

Social support makes challenges easier

Is it surprising that a hill seems less steep when we are rested, in shape, or younger?

Or, that a hill appears steeper and distances appear greater when we are tired and depleted? Research has shown that our physical resources such as fitness, age, and feeling refreshed influence our visual perception.[i], [ii]

How does social support affect visual perception?

Researchers, Schnall, Harber, Stefanucci & Profitt[iii] set out to answer that question and here is what they discovered:

  • Participants accompanied by a friend, when standing in front of a hill, estimated the hill to be 10 to 20% less steep than participants who were alone (even though that friend was standing three feet away, facing the other way, and not talking).
  • Having people simply think of a “supportive person” led participants to see a hill as 10 to 20% less steep. Further, the relationship quality is important. When the perceived closeness, warmth or positive regard for our support person increases, our perceived steepness of the hill decreases.

We know that the mere presence of another person can be beneficial, especially if the person provides non-evaluative and nondirective support. This “buffering hypothesis”[iv] finds that social support is protective against issues like the common cold[v], heart disease[vi], and even cancer[vii].

Why is this important? When executive coaches work with a leader, too often they are focused on just that one person. However, we think it is important for a coach to engage the client’s “people system;” to uncover and engage allies of support for the client and the changes they are trying to make. With someone by our client’s side, those changes and challenges will become less daunting.

We love the researchers’ note as they conclude their article,

“If social support, opportunities for emotional disclosure, and differences in hope, optimism, self-worth, and self-efficacy cause people to see challenges in a more moderate way, then people who enjoy these resources will live in a subjectivelyless demanding and less stressful world. Conversely, those deprived of such resources will live in a world where hills are steeper, distances greater, precipices deeper, and other kinds of physical challenges more daunting and demanding.”


How can you be seen as that person standing three feet away? Or, be thought of as a "supportive person" to your staff or to people important in your life? Think of one person who could use your social support. How might you show that support?



[i] Bhalla, M., & Proffitt, D. R. (1999). Visual-motor recalibration in geographical slant perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25, 1076–1096.

[ii] Proffitt, D. R., Stefanucci, J., Banton, T., & Epstein, W. (2003). The role of effort in perceived distance. Psychological Science, 14, 106–112.

[iii] Schnall, S., Harber, K. D., Stefanucci, J. K., & Proffitt, D. R. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1246-1255.

[iv] Thoits, P. A. (1986). Social support as coping assistance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 416–423.

[v] Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2003). Sociability and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychological Science, 14, 389–395.

[vi] Seeman, T. E., & Syme, S. L. (1987). Social networks and coronary artery disease: A comparison of the structure and function of social relations as predictors of disease. Psychosomatic Medicine, 49, 341–354.

[vii] Fawzy, F. I., Fawzy, N. W., Hyun, C. S., Elashoff, R., Guthrie, D., Fahley, J. L., et al. (1993). Malignant melanoma: Effects of an early structures psychiatric intervention, coping, and affective state on recurrence and survival 6 years later. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 681–689.


Do you raise people’s energy? Or, zap people’s energy?

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Imagine I ask your coworkers these questions about you [client]:

·      When you interact with [client], how does it affect your energy level?[i]

·      What does [client] do that raises your energy? Zaps your energy?

How do you think people will answer? Are you a “Raiser” or a“Zapper?” How do you affect the energy of those around you? The answer to the first question is highly predictive of job performance. Energy raisers do well and rise quickly in organizations.

Of course, this makes sense. We get more done with people who raise our energy; those with whom we enjoy engaging – who bring us up even if the problem we’re working on is a tough one. We like to be able to disagree with someone, yet walk away feeling respected and energized.

Results of energizing leaders

Research in this area is fascinating. In his book, Practicing Positive Leadership, author Kim Cameron states,

“This study revealed that when individuals are exposed to a positively energizing leader in their workplace, they have significantly higher personal well-being, higher satisfaction with their jobs, higher engagement in their organization, higher job performance, and higher levels of family well-being than those without exposure to positively energizing leaders. Moreover, the organizational unit in which these people work has significantly more cohesion among employees, more orientation toward learning, more expression of experimentation and creativity, and higher levels of performance than units without an energizing leader. [ii]“  

Energizing leaders positively affect people’s lives and organizational results.  

Impact of being energizing

Not only do positive leaders engender better results from others, they are better performers themselves.[iii]  Positive leaders have better relationships, are physically healthier, and are more creative and adaptable than others.[iv]

From research to application

Here’s the insight. We all have behaviors that bring others up and behaviors that bring others down. However, it’s not often that we talk about those behaviors. If we did, we could constructively identify what to do more frequently to raise the energy of others. We could engage those around us to help us be our better, more energizing selves, more often.

So, do you know how you affect the energy of others? How can you be more energizing more often? Or, if you are a coach or HRBP, how can you use this information for the benefit of your client?

Shift Positive 360

Find out how we explore “energy” as part of the Shift Positive 360 to help leaders and coaches create more powerful change together (www.shiftpositive360.com).

[i] Baker, W., Cross, R. & Wooten, M. (2003). Positive organizational network analysis and energizing relationships. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton and R. Quinn’s Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 328 – 342). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

[ii] B. Owens, W. Baker, and K. S. Cameron, “Relational Energy at Work: Establishing Construct, Nomological, and Predictive Validity,” working paper, Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, 2013, University of Michigan

[iii] For example, see W. Baker, Achieving Success Through Social Capital (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2001).

[iv] G. M. Spreitzer, C. F. Lam, and R. W Quinn, “Human Energy in Organizations,” in K. S. Cameron and G. M. Spreitzer, eds., Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, 155-67 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).


Changing the way people experience “feedback”

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Recently, I’ve been talking with associates of mine who work in Human Resources and Organizational Development. The hot topic in organizations and at HR conferences is “changing the way organizations provide feedback.” Articles pose, “Is the Annual Performance Review Dead?” and point out that GE, Accenture, Microsoft, Adobe, Gap, Medtronic, and some 10% of Fortune 500 companies have eliminated performance reviews or ranking systems altogether. [i]  

Why is this? Because they don’t achieve what they are intended to achieve. As an HR leader, I remember crafting performance review systems, compensation programs, promotional guidelines, talent planning “nine-box” systems, and many others. As a coach, I’ve used many online and narrative stakeholder 360 tools. The intention was always admirable – to help employees/clients develop, grow and flourish at work and home; to increase engagement. Unfortunately, the systems often had the opposite effect. They are time consuming, biased (unconsciously), create stress, do not correlate with actual results, and are too infrequent to impact behavior. [i]

We need to change the way people experience feedback. Feedback can be useful when:

  1. You trust the intention of the person sharing it with you – truly for your benefit.
  2. There is context to the feedback – you understand the circumstances.
  3. You understand what to do rather than what not to do (weaknesses).
  4. It is timely.
  5. You have social support going forward to help reinforce improvement.

For example, imagine I sit down with you right after a meeting and say, “I love how you facilitated that meeting. You were concise, engaging, made eye contact, paused when you noticed questions on peoples’ faces, and summarized at the conclusion. I’d love to see you do one more thing. Ask if people have any reservations about moving ahead or find some way to uncover resistance before we leave the meeting. What do you think? Can you try that next time? I’d be happy to watch and have a debrief again after our meeting next week.”

Unfortunately, feedback that comes from a performance review or 360-feedback system can fail in these respects. Not intentionally, but often the barriers to good feedback are design flaws. The feedback may be tied to compensation or promotion decisions (compromising intention), confidential (muddling context), focus on what didn’t work (rather than clearly identifying what to do), be delayed, or lack ongoing reinforcement (social support).

So, I encourage you to challenge your approach to feedback. Consider the design of your feedback systems and search for ways to create greater trust, context, clarity, timeliness, and social support. See how the work we are doing with the Shift Positive 360 can help you create an environment of effective feedback in your organization or coaching practice (www.shiftpositive360.com).


[i] Wilkie, D., (2015, August 19), Is the Annual Performance Review Dead? https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/performance-reviews-are-dead.aspx

Should a coach “nudge?”

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Coaches are accustomed to “gathering information” on their clients through assessments (MBTI, TKI, strengths, online 360’s, Hogan, EQ, etc.) to help clients gain insight. Often coaches gather stakeholder perspectives as part of this process by conducting narrative 360’s. However, should the coach go further? Is it okay to “nudge” this “people system” of interviewees on behalf of the client? Actually, we believe a coach can go further than “nudge.” We believe the coach can shift the system.

Find out how by watching the Shift Positive 360 quick video.

Also, find out how you, as coach or HR practitioner, can create an environment that is conducive to the client’s progress – create deeper, lasting change, faster and with more dialogue, disclosure and depth. Become certified in the Shift Positive 360

As coach, have you been “In Between?”

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You receive feedback from HR, your client’s supervisor, and peers that your client has some “growth areas.” What do you do with the information? Now, you’re in the “In Between Zone.”

What contributes to this situation? Here are a few of the underlying beliefs or accepted practices regarding feedback and coaching?

  • Confidentiality - for some reason it is an accepted practice that feedback and 360’s are to be confidential. “Gather the feedback but just don’t let them know it came from me.”
  • Growth areas - everyone has growth areas. We expect a discussion of strengths to be followed by weaknesses. “Let’s get on with it. We’re all adults here.”
  • It’s the coach’s job to help fix what is broken. “I’ll support my employee by investing in coaching. Now, it’s your job to help them grow.”

As a result, the coach gets caught “in-between.” Let’s challenge these practices. View the 7-minute Shift Positive talk to get a taste of how coaches can change this dynamic. See how the shift positive 360 can transform the way narrative 360’s are conducted and turn them into one of the most positive and powerful experiences for your clients. 

Would you like to receive a gift?

What feeling just went through you? Excitement? Curiosity? Now, what if I told you the “gift” was feedback? Perhaps that feeling changed? That’s what we tell our coaching clients – “Feedback is a gift – you only get it a few times in your career, so receive it openly and constructively!” Yet, what do they actually feel? I think that feeling should change…

Have you ever been in that place of giving feedback – giving the “gift?” How did it feel? Even more, have you felt the discomfort, as coach, getting ready to share feedback from colleagues with your client – that in-between place? Or, can you recall a time when you received “feedback”?  What was it like for you?

The shift positive 360 has at its core, two main themes:

o   Positive Psychology – the scientific study of what is right with people, communities and organizations – or wellbeing. Second,

o   social systems. Relationships are critical to our coaching client’s ability to change & thrive. Marshall Goldsmith’s organization found that one variable is key to positive long-term change – the participation and ongoing interactions with colleagues.

What positive psychology teaches us…

Unfortunately, we too often fail when conducting 360’s. First, we customarily follow our questions about the client’s strengths with questions about weaknesses. This only seems natural. However, it also triggers the negativity bias and that’s where the client’s attention goes. There’s a better way to do it. Rather than trying to dissect weaknesses, dig for what to do instead. This takes work on our part. We need to clearly identify what success looks like for our client to the level of behavioral detail.

Engage the human system

With respect to social systems, too often the 360’s fail there too. Under the guise of confidentiality and brevity, participants are asked to complete a quick survey and then are on to their next email. But remember, clients don’t change by themselves. They’re part of social systems. If the people in our client’s human system don’t know what the client is working on and aren’t looking for specific changes in behavior, they won’t see the changes even when they happen. Moreover, for the new behaviors to stick, it takes recognition and reinforcement by the people around our client.

Making deeper change

As coaches, a 360 process is not just about the individual client. It is about creating an environment conducive to deeper, lasting change, which occurs faster, with more dialogue, disclosure and depth. All are stakeholders in each other’s success.

Join the discussion

Unfortunately, most people look forward to a 360 like they do a performance review and it doesn’t have to be that way. Join a free webinar discussion on how you can challenge these notions of confidentiality, get people involved in the success of your client, and use positive psychology to create better client outcomes. We’ll share what we’ve learned over the last 5 years of using this approach and hope to learn from you as well. Also, see how this approach actually leads to more clients as interviewees seek to get their own 360.

Check out this approach by joining a FREE 45 minute webinar to learn about a new way to give feedback: the shift positive 360 (see video below). Mark your calendar for one of the webinars listed and learn more before the next coach certification training on June 10-11 in Minneapolis! 

WEBINAR #1: To join on Thursday May 12 @ 2pm CT click here: https://lnkd.in/b-afAVd 

WEBINAR #2: To join on Friday May 20 @ 1pm CT click here: https://lnkd.in/bG2_dAX

Video Link: shift positive 360 Powtoon  

Also, check out the website where you can learn more or to register for certification: www.shiftpositive360.com 

Evolution of Employee Engagement - the Positive Engagement Survey

Companies have been tinkering with ways to increase employee morale, engagement, and productivity for years. In the 1920’s the Hawthorne studies demonstrated that simply showing interest in workers resulted in increased performance - the “Hawthorne effect.”[1] Maslow’s[2] theory in 1954 offered the hierarchy of needs to describe worker motivation, including: physiological, safety, social esteem, and self-actualization. About the same time, Herzberg[3] offered that workers need both “hygiene factors,” e.g., supervision, salary and working conditions, and “motivators” which include advancement, achievement and recognition. From today’s vantage point, we may look at these ideas and say “duh.” Was that really such a unique perspective at the time? Yes. 

Where has this led to recently? Today we see new and intriguing strides in the areas of positive organizational scholarship (POS), positive organizational behavior (POB), and positive psychological capital (PsyCap)[4]. Additionally, from Gallup’s[5] strengths-based approaches, Cooperrider’s[6] Appreciative Inquiry, and Losada & Heaphy’s[7] team performance we see that strength-based approaches enhance company, team, and individual outcomes.

We see organizations rush to implement the Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey. This is done with good reason – Gallup’s study of thousands of employee survey questions and their correlation to highly productive employees is impressive. What though, is the next evolution of employee engagement practices that will lead to even better outcomes and wellbeing? 

I believe we need to look at the process of gauging and influencing engagement – how do we ask questions and what do we do with the results? Currently, an organization may choose to ask the Gallup Q12 questions or a myriad of other employee survey questions looking to find where the “gaps” exist. Perhaps it is in unclear roles and goals, inadequate developmental opportunities, lack of recognition, or not having a best friend at work. So here’s the key question, why are we looking at the “gaps,” rather than what is working? 

Evolution - the next step of employee engagement will be a blend of appreciative inquiry and strengths-based surveys. Appreciative inquiry, a well-accepted change methodology, has much to offer employee engagement. Appreciative inquiry differs from traditional problem-focused approaches by seeking to identify what is working well, affirming our strengths, and through affirmative questions, exploring new possibilities.[8] How does this apply to our employee engagement survey process? First, in the questions we ask. Second, in how we use the results.

First, questions: According to appreciative inquiry, the moment we ask a question, we influence the audience. A favorite response that illustrates this point is, “I didn’t realize I was stressed until you asked me about it!” Today, there have been great advances in using questions to measure employee engagement constructs including: employee thriving[9], trust and connectivity,[10] work related flow,[11] mood and emotions[12] and positivity[13]. Moreover, each of these constructs has been scientifically correlated with improved individual and/or organizational wellbeing and performance. So how do we use these strengths-based questions and resulting answers?

I’ve found one approach to be very effective. Recently, a small community foundation wanted to look at employee engagement. I introduced them to mPloy-e (www.mploy-e.org). mPloy-e is an organization that believes every employee is entitled to a work environment where they can flourish and mPloy-e makes employee engagement surveys accessible and affordable to companies and workgroups of all sizes. Working together, we developed a short employee engagement survey using strengths-based questions from the sources above. However, what was different about the survey was how the questions were asked. If an employee answered a question with a high response (5 on a scale of 1 to 5), the survey would then automatically open a second question asking, “What made that success possible? Please provide a specific example.” By doing this, the survey results became, in essence, a book of internal best practices.

Second, results: They could then leverage those best practices in other parts of the company. For example, one department might be doing very well on “internal communication” and the survey responses show they got to that point by: doing daily standup meetings, visually posting progress toward goals, and following a specific format in their email communications to each other. Once widely known, these practices could then be replicated and built upon in other areas of the company. Using strengths-based questions, discovering what is already working and spreading the best practices throughout the company. Will we look back at this in the near future and say, “duh?”

[1] French, J. R. P. (1953). Experiments in field settings. In L. Festinger, & D. Katz (Eds.), Research methods in the behavioral sciences (pp. 98—135). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
[2] Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.
[3] Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1959). The motivation to work. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
[4] Luthans, F., & Youssef, C. M. (2009). Positive workplaces. In S. J. Lopez, & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd Edition ed., pp. 579-588). New York: Oxford University Press.
[5] Gallup. (2008). Employee Engagement What’s Your Engagement Ratio? Retrieved from www.gallup.com
[6] Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. and Stavros, J.M. (2008), Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change (2nd Edition). Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing, Inc.
[7] Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams: A nonlinear dynamics model. American Behavioral Scientist.Special Issue: Contributions to Positive Organizational Scholarship, 47(6), 740-765. doi:10.1177/0002764203260208
[8] Cooperrider, D. L., Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, MAPP, January 2011. 
[9] Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S. & Grant, A. M. (2005). A socially embedded model of thriving at work. Organization Sciences, 16(5), 537-562.
[10] Carmeli, A. & Spreitzer, G. M. (2009). Trust, connectivity, and thriving: Implications for innovative behaviors at work. Journal of Creative Behavior, 43(3), 169-191.
[11] Bakker, A. B. (2008a). The work-related flow inventory: Construction and initial validation of the WOLF. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(3), 400-414. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2007.11.007
[12] Fisher, C.D. (2000). Mood and emotions while working: missing pieces of job satisfaction? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21, pp. 185—202.
[13] Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown Publishers.