Emily Marsh February 5 2019

How a feedback-rich culture helps overcome inattentional blindness

The concept of inattentional blindness is a psychological lack of attention on something that is in plain sight. Here, we liken this to how in the workplace, we often miss when things are going well because we are so focused on looking out for what's going wrong so we can fix it.

Inattentional blindness is the psychological phenomenon that people see what they expect to see, and miss things that are right in front of their eyes.

The most famous demonstration of inattentional blindness is the “invisible gorilla test”. In this experiment, participants are asked to watch a video of teams playing basketball and count the number of passes made. Afterwards, participants are asked what they had noticed. Almost 50% of people report seeing nothing out of the ordinary. But actually, something unusual had happened. At one point in the video, a 6ft man dressed in a gorilla suit casually enters the scene, turns to the camera, thumps his chest, and walks away.

This is the concept of inattentional blindness. Participants were so focused on the task at hand - counting the number of passes - that the gorilla essentially became invisible to them.

But what has this got to do with feedback at work?

We’re only taught to spot what’s wrong

Most people’s professional training teaches them to look for what’s going wrong and fix it. This skill is particularly evident among engineers, accountants, and lawyers, where the focus of the job is on managing risk. But it applies to almost every role to some extent.

Combined with this, most of us aren’t taught to recognise the good things. People don't spot when you’ve done a good job, because that’s not what they're looking for. And therefore, no one tells you when you’ve done a good job.

Why it’s important to point out the good stuff

If no one is pointing out our strengths, how do we know we’re performing as well as we should be? If people are left wondering whether or not they’re on the right track, they can become demotivated, bored, or frustrated in their roles.

As we talked about in a previous post, it’s important that we do what Ken Blanchard called "spot them doing something right" and give people positive feedback. It helps motivate them, boosts their confidence, and shows them they are valued. And all this makes for happier, as well as more productive individuals and teams.

Why regular feedback is the answer

One of the biggest issues in many companies is that feedback is restricted to formal reviews and appraisals, which only happen at set intervals, perhaps once or twice a year. For some people, this may be the only time they hear positive praise or recognition for their performance.

But positive feedback doesn’t need to be tied to structure and formalities. It can be given at any moment. We’re not talking about showering people with praise to the point where it no longer has an impact. But it’s important to ensure that individuals know they are meeting expectations and are valued. It can have huge benefits, not least in the following ways;

  • Builds confidence and self-esteem
  • Increases motivation and drive
  • Helps people feel fulfilled
  • Increases employee engagement
  • Builds loyalty and increases staff retention.

There are many ways organisations can help recognise and praise staff. Some of the most popular and simple things you could introduce are;

  • Ensuring positive feedback is part of managers’ everyday practice
  • Awards such as employee of the month/quarter
  • Systems where people can recognise others publicly, e.g. as part of your company’s online HR system, or introducing a ‘people news’ section in company-wide meetings
  • Introducing more regular meetings with managers/peers, with more opportunities to give and receive feedback
  • Review meetings and projects by asking "what went well?" and "what could go better?"

With these simple methods, you can create a culture where everyone is encouraged to spot when someone does a good job on something or goes above and beyond, so that they can be recognised for it. 

Power of Feedback

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