“What she really needs is some good old-fashioned, tough love!” This common phrase is banded around our workplaces time and time again. What does ‘tough love’ really mean & who is it tough for?

The implication of course, is that the person needs to hear some straight-shooting, constructive feedback, which might be hard for them to hear, but they will be all the better for it.

What we do know is that the brain does not like negative feedback. In many instances, it creates a strong threat response. This explains why some peeps, upon hearing perceived bad news or criticism, get really angry or defensive, whilst others put their head in the sand, or some people simply run away to avoid altogether.

Ironically, what can be tougher is the thought of being the bearer of bad news. It can actually be terrifying for some people! Yes, that’s right. The thought of having a conversation with someone about their poor behaviour or results can put the bearer of the news, straight into terror mode. You know, where your adrenaline starts pumping, heart rate elevates, your breathing gets shallow and you can’t think straight;

“what if they get really really angry at me…”
“what if they turn around and blame me…”
“what if they just lose the plot & go postal!”

Little wonder it often paralyses people into doing nothing. 

It’s so much easier to shut up, avoid the tough conversation altogether and slip right back into the cushy feeling of our comfort zone in the hope that things will simply sort themselves out (which of course, ain’t going to happen).

So granted, tough love, can be tough for both the deliverer and the receiver.

Surely love should not be so tough!

What if it didn’t have to be this way?
What if we focused not on the ‘tough’ bit of the conversation but the ‘love’ bit?
What if we dropped the word ‘tough’ altogether?

Feedback, especially constructive, is meant to serve the person we are sharing it with, to allow them to reflect, to learn and to improve. Surely if we truly cared for the other person and wanted to show them love, we would speak the truth (our truth as we see it)? 

When we choose the safer option and shut up or shut down, who is this serving?

How can we influence any change in behaviour or outcome if we are not prepared to speak the truth?

So next time you shy away from showing someone some ‘tough love’, instead try and practice Courage, Generosity & Curiosity (three of the pillars of the i4 Neuroleader Model).

Firstly, you need to be courageous to have the conversation, then do these three simple things:

1. Get clear on your intention - what’s the purpose of your feedback?

When we practice ‘generosity’, we adopt a win/win approach, thinking of others and a willingness to help. Get clear on the purpose of your feedback. 


  • My intention is to help the person understand how others are perceiving their behaviour.
  • My intention is to open up about how I am feeling about a situation.
  • My intention is  to explore some solutions together to resolve the issue.

2. Reframe ‘tough’ love to ‘truth & transparency’

The next step is to reframe ‘tough love’ into showing ‘love’ by being transparent and sharing your truth (feedback) with the other person. Let’s face it, unless we are willing to share feedback, we can’t expect anything to change. The motto I like to live by is: “love ‘em enough to tell it like it is!”


  • “In the spirit of love and straight shooting, I’d like to share with you how I feel about …..”

3. Shift the focus from 'perceived problems’ to 'searching for solutions’

The final tip is to practise a curiosity mindset and encourage the other person to get curious too. When we focus on an ideal outcome instead of a perceived problem it impacts our brain functioning in several ways. Focusing on solutions can significantly increase the likelihood of having insights, and even make us feel happier. 


  • “What do you think we could do to improve or resolve this situation?

Whilst constructive feedback may trigger the brain to default to a threat response, when done well, when we operate out of curiosity (vs judgement) and generosity (to serve the other person) it can actually be a rewarding experience for everyone involved (even our brain).

You might even be surprised how grateful people are when we are brave enough to show them some love! 

Until next time, keep smiling! 


BLYTHE ROWE & Her Life on Heels.

The founder and director of Human Incite, is widely recognised for her passion, energy and her ability to shake things up. Blythe is brilliant at revving-up productivity and performance in organisations. She is on a mission to rid our workplaces of toxic behaviours, build meaningful relationships, personally and professionally and create workplaces worth belonging. Her enthusiasm simply is infectious!

Brain-based leadership program with 360˚ Assessment!

As a Global Partner, Blythe designs unique leadership programs for leaders using the i4 Neuroleader Assessment which is a brain-based leadership and wellbeing tool that helps you identify and measure the competencies of PerformanceCollaborationInnovation and Agility. These competencies are essential to create the workplace environments of the 21st Century.

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