Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA
Brett DiNovi & Associates
Open up any issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and you are bound to find performance feedback to be among the most frequently studied topics in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM). Feedback is a critical technique to ensure that your employees, and managers, are operating under contingencies that matter most to your organization. If done right, giving and receiving feedback in all directions can help keep communication flowing, and help your organization adapt to unforeseen logistical challenges that naturally arise in the course of doing business. But if feedback is not delivered correctly, it could spell disaster for your company.
In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, Brett talks about his personal experiences applying this heavily-researched concept in his role as the CEO of the largest ABA agency on the East Coast of the United States. In his experience, one of the most important parts of delivering feedback is to do so in a way that engages the recipient, such that they listen to what you are saying and use it to improve at their job. As a leader, what you don’t want is for feedback to become a punishment tool that elicits defensive responses and risks creating a toxic work environment that increases turnover and decreases productivity.
One of Brett’s central suggestions is to frame feedback as a “perception” rather than as an immutable quality of the person. In his experience, doing so will make the recipient more likely to listen to your feedback and use it to improve in their work. In behavioral terms, stating feedback in a perceptual frame presents the information in a defused manner. As we have mentioned elsewhere, defusion refers to the ability to see your own language as Skinner himself saw it – as behavior; as an act-in-context devoid of any inherent “truth.” From an Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) perspective, defusion can help undercut aversive functions of stimuli and improve psychological functioning.
In a clinical context, defusion is the difference between saying “I am anxious” vs “I am having feelings of anxiety” or even more-so “I have the feeling of a quickened heartbeat.” In the former case, you are seeing the world through your language and making verbally constructed attributions about your own state. In the latter cases, you are seeing your language as part of the world and simply observing what is present.
In the context of performance feedback in an ABA agency, defusion is the difference between saying “You aren’t being friendly to the parents of your clients” vs “There is a perception that you aren’t being talkative to the parents of your clients.” The former comes across as accusatory, and more likely to evoke a defensive reaction. The latter comes across as more objective, and less directed at the recipient as a person.
Ultimately, the more defused your feedback can be, the more behavioral it is.
Be sure to check out the full video for more of Brett’s thoughts on feedback and to subscribe to his YouTube channel. Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21.org via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at email@example.com
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