It’s no secret that performance review time brings angst to managers everywhere, not to mention those on the receiving end of those reviews.

But why is that?

Neuroscientists tells us our brains are wired to experience stress even at the thought of receiving – or giving – feedback. Our socially sensitive brain has evolved to pay close attention to, and ideally avoid, interactions where we feel judged.

When we anticipate this type of interaction, both the giver and the receiver of feedback are less able to think clearly and rationally. This is because our ancient, automatic fight or flight reactions take over, preparing us for potential battle. No wonder so many performance conversations don’t go the way we hoped or planned.

Create Assurance

So what can we do, knowing this about our brains? Tapping into the field of neuroleadership provides useful answers. Leaders who excel at performance conversations do six things really well, giving peoples’ brains what they need for honest and productive interactions. Creating assurance before, during and after the conversation, is one of those six things.

Giving people clarity about what to expect and even how to prepare ahead of time gives our certainty-hungry brain something to hold onto. It’s comforting, settles us down and lowers the threat response in our brains, allowing us to think better on our feet.

Simple ways to create assurance at performance review time include:

  • Share a clear and specific meeting agenda, even down to how long will be spent on each item/topic
  • Communicate clear expectations for the conversation, such as how best to prepare, what to bring and desired outcomes
  • Clarify role and responsibilities and ensure shared understanding
  • Be specific when giving any kind of feedback, including naming behaviour and impact
  • Clarify expectations and next steps at the end of the conversation
  • Do the thing you say you’ll do to model desired accountability and build trust

Building assurance in this way helps create a climate of psychological safety, the optimum climate for high performance.

Noesis delivers neuroleadership consulting and training to organizations handling everyday change and major transformation initiatives. We help our Fortune 500 clients scientifically improve leadership.