Skip to content

Here Is The Science Of Giving Feedback

“What really makes a great teacher great is the willingness to spend more time being a student than being a teacher.” – Veli Ndaba – ‘The Engineered Mind – to WIN’

Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford scholar and thinker, philosopher, sociologist, historian and writer asked a profound question, “When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we treat each other as we have made in technology?”

This to me is a fundamental question that is so overlooked by many. The advancement in technology over the years has moved from being linear to being exponential, that’s how fast it is moving. I must emphasize that this is the technology of things.

From a neuroscience perspective, one of the profound discoveries about the human brain is that pain and pleasure govern us in all we do, in all we say, and in all we think. This is a prime brain motivator and when we look around, we usually can make sense of other people’s actions in some way in terms of pain and pleasure. And if you take this to its extreme, it suggests that we have no other end in all our actions than our own private self-interest or at least rational self-interest. Over the millions of years, our brains have evolved to get larger and larger and the front of our brains, the prefrontal cortex, seems to give us a very special capacity to update our definition of who we are. So, we can be really strategic about the way we get things for ourselves that we selfishly desire and that’s kind of the economic or rational self-interest view of human nature.

Another important discovery about the human brain is that it’s highly social. As human beings, we are social creatures. This is something that has prompted the reviewing of the Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as we have always known it, it places social needs at a third level instead of as the first need to be satisfied.

As social beings, our social brain is more highly active than it was ever thought it is. Pain is divided into two, physical and social. Physical pain is caused by physical stimulus, e.g. somebody inflicting physical pain on you like beating you up or pinching you. Social pain on the other end is when somebody treats you in a bad way or saying something that is demeaning. Scientific research further found that the same regions of the brain that register the distress of physical pain, any variety of physical pain, will be registered in these two regions,

  1. Anterior insula, and
  2. Dorsal anterior cingulate.

These regions that register the distress of physical pain are two of the only regions that are more active when you feel left out or treated unfairly. There’s a metaphorical way that we talk about social pain. When we get dropped from a relationship we say, “She broke my heart; He hurt my feelings.” We use this language of physical pain. When you look at the brain however, it suggests that it’s more than a metaphor. This suggests that social pain is real pain, though it doesn’t suggest that a broken heart is the same as a broken leg. So, as humans, we need to understand that social pain warrants membership in the pain club. In my previous articles, I explained how the analytical/thinking brain works, the prefrontal cortex. And what we need to know is that social and analytical thinking are on the two ends of a seesaw. As activity in one goes up, the activity in the other goes down. They trade off of one another which means that if you are really engaging one, you are probably not engaging the other so much.

In my neuro-talks and neuro-training programs, I take audiences, especially leaders on this journey to empower them so they can understand themselves better and lead those they lead better.

Giving Feedback

 Feedback is not the art but a science. It can be learned and developed. Giving feedback as a leader is one of the most challenging things to do, so as receiving feedback as an employee. When working toward a certain goal, it’s important to know how fast or slow you are going or if you are still on track. To acquire this information, Three things have to happen, and these are:

  1. Feedback. This is about how you’ve done so far with regards to the set goal.
  2. Feed-forward. This is about the next step you need to take to close the gap between the actual and the desired goal.
  3. Feed-up. This is about getting clarity on what you need to do in terms of the achieving the bigger goal, not just one step or two as in feed-forward.

These three above processes are normally seen as one thing – feedback, but you now know the difference. You sometimes hear some managers who mostly lack compassion and how the brain works, boastfully saying, “I just tell it like it is.” Well this is so unfortunate. Giving feedback is about compassion and compassion is about showing concern for others. So, giving compassionate feedback is what every person, especially leaders, should aspire to and this is what I help organisations and leaders achieve.

Let me engineer your mind so you can unleash your brain and social power!

Veli Ndaba is a Neuro-Conscious Leadership Speaker and Trainer, Life & Business Coach, Motivational Speaker and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on, or +27 83 304 9773