Feedback Cuts Down on Choking

In the past, I’ve talked a lot about feedback, and how important it is in helping bring out the best performance in others. And here I go again. Why? Because it is one of, if not the most important factor in managing, coaching, parenting or just about any other area where you can help another person perform well.

Have you ever choked? I’m not talking about the type of choking where you get something stuck in your throat. No, I’m talking about the Greg Norman at the Masters golf tournament type of choking. The choking that happens when someone stands in front of a group of people and cannot speak. You know – when you’re quite capable of doing something, but for some reason you under-performed.

Most people think they choke because of the pressure, and there is some truth to that. But, from a what’s-going-on-in-your-brain perspective, that’s not the complete story. The pressure you’re under may be a factor, but it’s not the cause.

When an experienced and capable performer over-thinks, that’s when they choke. It’s when a person has a skill or technique down to the level where she no longer has to think about what she’s doing… but she does. It’s when she consciously thinks about the details of the activity, rather than just letting it happen subconsciously. In other words, rather than relying on the automatic response of the subconscious, she starts thinking through each and every minute detail of the activity, resulting in a slow and inefficient performance.

Performers often over-think and over-analyze when they don’t know how they’re doing. They actually try to give themselves feedback. Instead, if you give the feedback, the performer can stay in the automatic or implicit mode, rather than an over-thinking or explicit mode.

So, not only will providing feedback to employees, teammates, children, or whoever help them identify and then repeat good performance, it will guard against the possibility of the person choking. By giving feedback, the performer does not have to think about giving themselves the feedback.

Recall that there are two types of feedback: confirming and corrective. Confirming is the feedback you give when a person has done things well, and you want to reinforce what they did, which increases the chances that they’ll do a good job again. After all, you will tend to repeat what you’re praised or rewarded for, and simple confirming feedback will do that.

Corrective feedback is what it sounds like: correcting the performance. If someone does something wrong, then telling the person what needs to be done the next time is corrective feedback. Note that focusing the feedback, whether confirming or corrective, on the behavior, the act, the performance, and not the person, is critical. If the feedback is aimed personally, it often backfires. So, instead of telling the person that they are great, tell them what they did that was great.

As a general rule, provide the people you want to perform better at least four times as much confirming feedback as you do corrective feedback. For some reason, most people find it is easier to tell people what they’re doing wrong – providing corrective feedback – than it is to give confirming feedback. What’s odd is that most people do not have that same problem when training a dog – they have no problem rewarding the dog for good behavior – and yet they have a tough time doing the same for another human.

Think about the type of feedback you give others, and whether you could help someone who is under pressure to lessen the chances of them choking, and ultimately increase the chances that they’ll perform even better.

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2 Responses to “Feedback Cuts Down on Choking”

  1. Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

  2. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it