It’s a common assumption that most people respond better to positive feedback compared to negative feedback. However, negative feedback can also work well in certain situations. Research by Stacey, Tal and Ayelet sheds light on the seemingly paradoxical nature of feedback.
Their study had three main findings.
First, that positive feedback (e.g. here’s what you did really well) increases commitment to the work people do by enhancing their experience and confidence. On the other hand, negative feedback (e.g. here’s where you went wrong) is informative: it informs people how they should direct their efforts, and offers insight into how they might improve.
Second, novices (people with less experience and knowledge) sought and responded well to positive feedback and experts (people with high level of experience and knowledge) sought and responded well to negative feedback.
And third, they found that both types of feedback were more effective when they used constructively. Positive information given should not be needlessly flattering, and negative information shared should not be unnecessarily detrimental.
This means that when you are working with new team members, it’s better to focus more on giving positive encouragement along the way to boost their motivation and confidence. And once people become great on the job and form a sense of confidence, we can empower them to see how they can improve their qualities and understanding. In both situations of giving positive and negative feedback, it is better to be more factual and constructive in our feedback and suggestions.
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