New Research on Negative and Targeted Methods for Increasing Feedback Effectiveness

A balanced Feedback approach uses both positive and negative comments to encourage change and growth. The trick to this balanced method is to assess whether the person you are giving feedback to is an experienced pro or novice just starting out. Don’t miss this article by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson–I am promoting and summarizing it below because I totally agree with Dr. Heidi.

Heidi begins by saying how frustrated she feels because of the new wave”strengths” psychology books and posts about how it is a to provide  “critical” or “negative” feedback to an employee or colleague (or, for that matter, your significant other).  It’s incredibly frustrating to hear coaches say “here is an area for improvement rather than directly saying here is a weakness you need to fix or your going to jeopardize your shot at being a partner…  Positive advice called the 3 to 1 ratio by Dr. Fredrickson or the 5 to1 relationship cure by Dr. Gottman are fine and yet missed the point that to change a behavior people need to clearly hear and understanding where they are messing-up and the impact it is having on others and how these choices are supporting their values and goals in life or making life more difficult than it needs to be. This kind of advice is surely well-meant, and it intuitively sounds like the right thing to do…  After all, you probably don’t want to tell someone else what they are doing wrong or need to make improvements on or face bad consequences.
She goes on to say, ” But avoiding negative feedback is both wrong-headed and dangerous.  Wrong-headed because, when delivered the right way, at the right time, criticism is in fact highly motivating and appreciated.  Dangerous because without awareness of the mistakes he or she is making, no one can possibly improve or might do things that unwittingly hurt themselves or others.  Staying “positive” when doling out feedback will only get you so far.”

“Hang on
, you say.  Can’t negative feedback be discouraging?  Demotivating?
That’s perfectly true.
And don’t people need encouragement to feel confident?  Doesn’t that help them stay motivated?
” …Confusing, isn’t it?  Thankfully, brilliant new research by Stacey Finkelstein (Columbia University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago) shed light on the seemingly complex nature of feedback, by making it clear why, when, and for whom negative feedback is appropriate.
It’s important to begin by understanding the function that positive and negative feedback serve. Positive feedback (e.g., Here’s what you did really well….) increases commitment to the work you do, by enhancing both your experience and your confidence.   Negative feedback (e.g., Here’s where you went wrong….), on the other hand, is informative – it tells you where you need to spend your effort, and offers insight into how you might improve”.
Given these two different functions, positive and negative feedback should be more effective (and more motivating) for different people at different times.  For instance, when you don’t really know what you are doing, positive feedback helps you to stay optimistic and feel more at ease with the challenges you are facing – something novices tend to need.  But when you are an expert, and you already more or less know what you are doing, its negative feedback that can help you do what it takes to get to the top of your game…As Finkelstein and Fishbach show, novices and experts are indeed looking for, and motivated by, different kinds of information.  In one of their studies, American students taking either beginner or advanced-level French classes were asked whether they would prefer an instructor who emphasized what they were doing right (focusing on their strengths) or what they were doing wrong (focusing on their mistakes and how to correct them).  Beginners overwhelmingly preferred a cheerleading, strength-focused instructor.  Advanced students, on the other hand, preferred a more critical instructor who would help them develop their weaker skills”.
“She sums up by letting the reader know that she is not suggesting that you never tell a beginner or  rookie about his mistakes, or that you never praise the seasoned professional for her outstanding work.  And of course negative feedback should always be accompanied by good advice, and given with tact.” ( Here is where most of us need more understanding and practice in what the so-called “good advice and tact” look like from an empathy, communication and skill point of view. Maybe Heidi will expand on those ideas in her new book named FOCUS which is soon to be released). See her trailer for the book at you tube 

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