The power of insensitive feedback

I am grateful to The Week magazine for this short item which has got me thinking about the type of feedback I give and indeed am used to hearing in a “professional” environment.

The great Bill Shankly

It is  a possibly apocryphal story about the great Bill Shankly giving feedback to the Liverpool football team at half time.

The great man is reputed to have singled out nine of his players, saying “You, you, you, you, you, you, you, you and you….are sh**t.  They” he went on, pointing to Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness, “are good.  You,” he said, turning back to the original nine, “pass the ball to them.”

I love it.  Utterly politically incorrect, probably gross misconduct, reprehensible abuse and of course breaking all the rules of Constructive feedback.  And yet, and yet.  Imagine the impact.  The sheer emotional effect of those words and the utter simplicity and directiveness of the instruction.  In his time Liverpool were arguably the best football team in the UK.  To what extent was Shankly’s communication style and leadership responsible?  Hugely, according to most analysts.

Do we shy away from saying it straight, when this approach might be so much more effective?  How much time would it save if this type of feedback were regularly used in the workplace?  Is it time we all stopped dancing around and were just a bit more honest and direct with each other?  I believe some call it Authenticity, and I suspect as relationships get weaker and we all live in an increasingly Virtual world, we need a bit more of Bill Shankly in our lives.

Liverpool Manager Bill Shankly salutes the Anfield faithfull one last time

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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One Response to The power of insensitive feedback

  1. Dave Loewy says:

    Research suggests that when we experience positive appreciation or acknowledgement our limbic activity reduces allowing our higher brain functions to resume, and our thinking to improve. Shankly’s feedback would activate the “lower brain”, and thus impair thinking: The old fight, flight or freeze response. Which, to be provocative and politically incorrect, may not be an issue for footballers. (Only joking, honest!)

    For me, your thoughts point to how our attempts to be politically correct lead us to use euphemisms and de-personalised”digital” language, and have therefore taken all of the meaning, emotional content and impact out of feedback. Who are we really thinking about when we give feedback? Ourselves or the client?

    Is speaking plainly and positively the best route to changing behaviour?

    Dave Loewy
    Engaging Wisdom Ltd


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