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Strengths-Based Feedback

Why is it that when we hear feedback, we already feel our bodies reacting? cringing? Or worse, shrinking?


It’s because feedback has a negative association in our nervous system.


Most if not all of our experiences with feedback are negative. It focuses mainly on “what’s wrong with you?” rather than “what’s strong with you?”.


Our society is steeped in feedback mechanisms geared towards deficits and problems. We need to move away from this pathogenic lens in which we see the world, engage with each other, and give feedback on, to a more salutogenic perspective. 


The salutogenic approach or salutogenesis is a term applied in health sciences, and more recently in other fields, to refer to an approach to wellness focusing on health and not on disease (pathogenesis). Salutogenesis is a term that originates from the Latin salus, meaning health, and the Greek genesis, meaning origin. It's a concept introduced by Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist, in the 1970s. Unlike traditional medical models that focus on the factors causing diseases (pathogenesis), salutogenesis is concerned with the origins of health. It seeks to understand what keeps people healthy in the face of stressors and how resilience and well-being can be fostered. At its core, salutogenesis looks at health as a continuum, where the goal is not merely the absence of disease but the presence of vibrant health and well-being.


In “What’s Strong With You?” a toolkit I co-wrote for Neurdiversity Education Academy, we cited the work of McCaskey (2008) on how the deficit/pathogenic cycle holds the view that once we identify a problem, all we need to do is:

  • find an expert to analyze it

  • then find a prescription that will fix it


This starts with a “needs assessment” to a) determine what is not going well b) discover what the needs are and c) choose the actions required in response to those needs.


The strengths-based cycle begins with a more holistic focus. It puts an emphasis on a person’s strengths and resources (internal and external) in the process of change.


It involves:

  • acknowledging and validating challenges

  • strengths are identified and highlighted.


According to McCaskey, strengths exploration flips the narrative around the problems as it creates positive expectations that things can be different. It also opens the way for the development of competencies that build on positive experiences.



When we look at our work from a salutogenic lens, we engage with the people we serve from the lens of “fullness”. In the medical or psychological field, bringing in the salutogenic lens is seeing the person as a whole being with parts that may be challenged and parts that are strong and capable.




Let’s make feedback salutogenic and regenerative!

When we approach feedback from a salutogenic lens, we get into the feedback loop coming in from a place of strengths rather than problems. Which in turn emphasizes different skills and assets. Hence the conversations are about possibilities, growth, and integration.


When we also view feedback from a regenerative lens, we look at how we might restore vitality, connection and care in the relationship. We also look at what needs tending, what needs restoring, what connects us to our essence, and what needs to be healed.


Strengths-based feedback creates a more positive and productive environment for feedback exchange. It fosters a sense of growth and empowers individuals to develop their abilities. Here are some benefits of strengths-based feedback:


Increased Receptiveness: People are naturally defensive when they feel their weaknesses are being highlighted. Focusing on strengths first creates a more positive and receptive atmosphere. This makes the recipient more open to hearing and considering any constructive criticism that follows.


Boosts Motivation and Confidence: Focusing solely on weaknesses can be discouraging and lead to feelings of inadequacy. Recognizing someone's strengths validates their efforts and contributions. This fosters a sense of self-worth and motivates them to continue performing well. Positive reinforcement through strengths-based feedback fuels a desire for further growth.


Focus on Building: Strengths-based feedback builds on existing strengths. When someone understands their strong points, they can leverage them as a foundation for acquiring new skills or tackling challenges. This approach focuses on potential rather than limitations. By highlighting what someone does well, it emphasizes that skills can be developed and improved upon. 


Here are some examples of Strengths-Based Questions you can try with your team:


1.Appreciate:

  • "When you [specific strength], it helps the team by [positive impact]. Can you tell me more about a time you used this strength to achieve a great result?"

2. Amplify:

  • "I've noticed your [strength] is shining through in [specific situation]. How do you think you could leverage this strength even further in [future situation]?"

3. Adjust:

  • "You consistently [strength]. Building on this, what specific goals do you have for developing your [related skill]?"


Additional Tips

  • Focus on future development: While acknowledging past achievements, use strengths as a springboard for discussing future goals.

  • Maintain a balance: While highlighting strengths is key, don't shy away from addressing areas for improvement. Frame it within the context of their strengths for a more constructive approach.

  • Be specific and actionable: Provide specific examples of how they can leverage their strengths further and offer suggestions for growth.

  • End on a positive note: Reaffirm your confidence in their abilities and express your support for their development.



 

If you want to improve your feedback skills & learn how to build a healthy communication culture in your team, check out our online-course Building a Feedback Culture.


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