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Giving and Receiving Feedback


January is the time when many of us set out to change our behavior. An internet search on personal development yields 181,000,000 results. Topics range from positivity, to self-esteem, to leadership, to overcoming obstacles, to effective public speaking and many more topics. Personal development requires we fill the gap between real me and new me. Feedback provides the key to fill the gap. As the trainer, you must give feedback in a way that motivates the trainees to change to meet the new me. As a trainee, you need to learn to listen to feedback and use the information to your advantage.

Today’s topic on feedback follows the common phrase, “It depends”. In a 1996, researchers Kluger and DeNisi reviewed 131 research studies to see if providing feedback can improve a trainee’s performance. The feedback process is complex. Research found that sometimes feedback improves performance. Other studies found that feedback provides no difference to performance, and sadly, some research shows that feedback can make behavior worse.

Trainer Tips

Some feedback hinders progress and other feedback helps. One surprising finding was that praise is not as effective as predicted. Initially this finding seems counter-intuitive. However, the research suggests that the farther away from the task or behavior the feedback is, the less impact it has on change. Feedback occurs in a hierarchy from task feedback to self-esteem to thinking about how behaviors get changed. If I spend most of my time telling you how great you are doing, rather than tell you that effective speakers understand the audience and adapt the message to audiences, then I have moved away from the task (effective public speaking) to the self-esteem level (how great you are doing).  Praise can be helpful after a goal is complete.  We all like to hear that we are good people doing good things.

Another finding on reduced effectiveness of feedback was any feedback that threatens self-esteem. Of course, most of us know that negative attacks on how successful we are going to be at a task tend to move us toward helplessness. “You will never be a great speaker” is not helpful. Again, this feedback is away from how to do the task. Perhaps here a more physical task will help you see the impact of focusing on self-esteem (either positive or negative). If I am trying to teach you how to change a tire, and I spend my time telling you that I am sure you can do it, yet I do not tell you “how to change the tire”, then you are not likely to learn.

On the positive effects, feedback that directs attention to the task is effective, and feedback that suggests a “correct solution” are effective. The key in feedback appears to be giving specific feedback that is not personal (attack self-esteem). For example, if I give you feedback on how to find sources of information to add support to your speech, that will be more helpful than saying seems like your speech needs more depth.


Trainee Tips

Now the question remains, how does a person learn to receive feedback? Can you get better at learning new behaviors? Of course you can learn.  Two key elements appear to influence your ability to receive feedback and change your behavior, high self-esteem and high self-efficacy (ability to accomplish goals). The more comfortable you are with your talents and limitations, the easier it is to make improvements. We are now in a conundrum. What do you do if you have low self-esteem and low self-efficacy? One way to be ready for changing your behavior is to start with these two key elements.  By setting small goals and attaining those goals you can increase your belief in yourself.

Feedback, both giving and receiving, is key to personal development. The process is complex. However, if you are aware that not all ‘givers’ of feedback are the same, and that your self-esteem and self-efficacy will influence your ability to receive feedback, you are ahead as you develop personally and professionally.

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: a historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological bulletin, 119(2), 254.

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