Negative Feedback and Performance: Can You Handle the Truth?

Underpinning the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, is the concept of Kaizen. It is embedded in the chat that we are invested in improving our own performance as well as the performance of our businesses and/or divisions (or departments) of organizations. I’ve asked this questions before,

Simply, how do you examine, discuss and implement processes that support each individual in the organization to be more effective?

When I saw the post, “Sometimes Negative Feedback is Best” on HBR, it seemed that adding nuances to feedback could help someone continuously improve their performance. But not everyone can take feedback in and put it to work for them and negative feedback…well, that brings its own dynamics.

Basically, negative feedback isn’t for everyone

The research cited in the post written by Heidi Grant Halvorson starts off with a truism.

“Feedback is essential to for individuals pursuing their goals. Without it, individuals would not know whether, what and how much to invest in their goals.”

Certainly in the context of kaizen, continuously striving to improve does need some kind of structure. However, the research noted that the types of feedback that are most effective depends on whether the receiver is a novice or an expert. According to Stacey Finkelstein of Columbia University and Ayelet Fishbach of University of Chicago, novices responded to feedback that pointed out their strengths and experts responded to feedback that pointed out where they failed.

But there are other things to keep in mind

As anyone who has given, or for that matter, received feedback, it isn’t always done well. And some of us just don’t handle critiques of our performance well either.Think about the high achiever who aims for excellence and expects it to occur in all aspects of his/her life. Anything that is expressed critically gets hyper-scrutiny and the below-par behavior is justified.

But this isn’t really just someone being oversensitive. According to recent research, we react to negative feedback as a threat so we trigger the parts of our brains that manage emotion.While many of us can manage our reactions most of the time, it isn’t that far fetched that we might also react defensively, angrily or resentfully.

So, if we don’t like to hear how our performance is not meeting standards…

There is a reaction to make negative feedback as “nice” as possible. We sandwich our criticism, use words that dilute the meaning of our message or focus on what the person did well and exclude everything else.. We find (or create) extenuating circumstances to excuse ourselves. This undermines our opportunity to learn and grow. Maybe one of our areas we continuously learn is how manage the disappointment and upset that comes from someone rating our performance negatively. How do we examine, discuss and implement processes that support each individual in the organization to be more effective?

How do non-US cultures offer negative feedback in the workplace?

What happens within role of beginner that makes negative feedback so counter-indicated?

What supports the belief that all feedback is useful and desirable?

What makes negative feedback more usable?

If not negative feedback, what alternatives exist to communicate to someone how they can perform more effectively?