Negative Feedback -- How To Give & Take It Properly,,,,, - CiteHR
Rajeev Velur
Policy Making, Budgeting, Mis, Employee Relations,

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Negative feedback feeds part of a system's output, inverted, into the system's input; generally with the result that fluctuations are attenuated. Many real-world systems have one or several points around which the system gravitates. In response to a perturbation, a negative feedback system with such point(s) will tend to re-establish equilibrium.

In many physical and biological systems, qualitatively different influences can oppose each other. For example, in biochemistry, one set of chemicals drives the system in a given direction, whereas another set of chemicals drives it in an opposing direction. If one, or both of these opposing influences are non-linear, an equilibrium point(s) results.

In Biology, this process (generally biochemical) is often referred to as Homeostasis; whereas in Mechanics, the more common term is equilibrium.

In Engineering, Mathematics and the Physical and Biological Sciences, common terms for the points around which the system gravitates include: attractors, stable states, eigenstates/eigenfunctions, equilibrium points, and setpoints.

'Negative' refers to the sign of the multiplier in mathematical models for feedback. In delta notation, -output is added to or mixed into the input. In multivariate systems, vectors help to illustrate how several influences can both partially compliment and partially oppose each other.

In contrast, positive feedback is a feedback in which the system responds in the same direction as the perturbation, resulting in amplification of the original signal instead of stabilizing the signal. Both positive and negative feedback require a feedback loop to operate, as opposed to feedforward, which does not rely on a feedback loop for its control of the system.

Jane, you ignorant slut. No one who heard Dan Ackroyd make that statement on the early Saturday Night Live shows had any doubt that he was about to strongly disagree with whatever Jane Curtin had just said. The problem was he was going to disagree not with what was said, but with who said it. Thats not the way to give negative feedback.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: varies

Here's How:

Get your emotions under control. You don't want to critique someone else's actions when you are angry or upset. You are likely to say something you don't really mean or to react poorly to something that is said to you.

Find a private place. No one wants to receive negative feedback in front of others. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but that should be a last resort. Take a meeting in your office, call the person into a vacant conference room, step into the lunch room if it is vacant.

Focus on their actions, not on the person. You create an immediate barrier when you criticize the person. Focus instead on what you want to change. Focus on their performance.

Be specific. It does no good to tell someone 'you have a bad attitude'. You need to identify specific actions the person took or specific things they said if you want them to understand.

Be timely. Negative feedback should be given as soon as possible after the event. If you see an employee being rude to a customer, don't wait until their annual performance review to tell them. How many other customers will they have angered in the meantime? Call them into your office right away.

Good feedback is rare. It can take a long time to find people who know how to provide useful criticism, instead of simply telling you all the things they think are wrong with you or whatever youve made. A good critic spends as much energy describing what something is, as well as what it isnt. Good criticism serves one purpose: to give the creator of the work more perspective and help them make their next set of choices. Bad criticism uses the opportunity provided by someone elses work to make the critic feel smart, superior or better about themselves: things that have nothing to do with helping the recipient of the critique (Or in the case of movie reviews, the reader of the critique). Given the difficultly of creative work, it would seem that giving and receiving useful feedback should be an important part of what designers, writers, programmers and others are taught to do. This essay attempts to serve that purpose.

Assumptions bad critics make

There are four fundamental assumptions bad critics make:

There is one universal and objective measure of how good and bad anything is.

That the critic is in sole possession of the skill for making these measurements.

Anyone that doesnt possess this skill (including the creator of the work) is an idiot and should be ridiculed.

That valid criticisms can and should always be resolved.

Benefiting from negative feedback

Pino G. Audiaa,*, Edwin A. Lockeb,1

aHaas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1900, USA

bDepartment of Management and Organization, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA


This article discusses why it is so hard for people to benefit from negative feedback. We examine

factors involved in the effective use of negative feedback. Our analysis suggests that the main

obstacles to the effective use of negative feedback stem from the failure to obtain it and the failure to

conduct an accurate appraisal of it. This is in contrast to research indicating that the main obstacle to

the effective use of positive feedback lies more in avoiding its detrimental consequences after repeated

exposure to it than in obtaining it or appraising it.

1. Introduction

Feedback research is a mature field of inquiry that offers excellent literature reviews of

specific stages of the feedback process. However, although the feedback literature considers

sign to be one of the most important characteristics of the feedback message, theoretical

models give little attention to the specific issues raised by positive versus negative feedback

(Fedor, 1991; Ilgen, Fisher, & Taylor, 1979; Larson, 1989; Morrison & Bies, 1991). Yet,

empirical evidence suggests that positive and negative feedback affect people quite differently.

For example, research shows that the sign of the message affects the availability of

feedback in that negative feedback is less sought after and less readily provided than positive

feedback (Fisher, 1978). Other work indicates that individuals are generally receptive to

positive feedback but tend to discredit negative feedback concerning their performance

(Baron, 1993).

Acknowledging the importance of feedback sign in the feedback process, this paper

focuses on factors that prevent people from benefiting from negative feedback. We develop a

three-step model of the processes underlying the effective use of negative feedback and

identify some of the critical contingencies affecting such processes. Our theoretical analysis

revolves around the three following aspects: (1) the search for negative feedback; (2) the

appraisal of negative feedback; and (3) the action taken in response to negative feedback.

To anticipate our conclusion, our theoretical analysis suggests that the main obstacles to

the effective use of negative feedback stem from the first two factors, the failure to obtain it

and the failure to conduct an accurate appraisal of it. This is in contrast to the research which

indicates that the main problem in effectively using positive feedback lies primarily in

avoiding the detrimental consequences resulting from repeated exposure to it (for a review,

see Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). It must be noted that our review of previous work is selective

rather than exhaustive. We limit our task to identify some of the unique problems posed by

negative feedback.

We begin by reviewing previous work on the search for negative feedback. We then move

the analysis to the other two steps, appraisal of and the action response to negative feedback.

We conclude with a discussion of theoretical and practical implications and directions for

future research.

Giving negative feedback sucks. Period. Its uncomfortable for you and its uncomfortable for the person hearing it. But no matter how much you twist and turn to avoid it, giving negative feedback may be the kindest way to change behaviour. And believe it or not, there are ways of delivering it that make it less painful for all parties involved.

Tough Management Love

Your team is complaining - Tonys smelly feet are putting them off their work. What do you do? Ignore it? Open the window? Or do you talk to Tony?

So you decide to ignore it. What happens then? Your team thinks you dont listen to them and gradually your communication channels shut down. Ignoring the issue is not going to make it go away.

You decide to open the window, as you dont want to embarrass Tony. Problem is that most modern office windows dont open so that the air conditioning works. Even if you could open the window, youve avoided tackling the real problem.

So you pluck up the courage to have a chat with Tony. From this you discover he has recently split up from his partner and has been sleeping on a friends couch and living out of a ruck-sack. No-one in the team knew this, and Tony didnt know how to mention it. You chat about the situation and Tony feels better for it. Bet you didnt expect that to happen!

(This is a real example - names have been changed to protect identities.)

This conversation could have gone horribly wrong. But it didnt as its possible to give negative feedback well. <link updated to site home>


Mohamed Sardhar

91 93831 93832

Some more on Feedback ... it appeared in News paper.

Right feedback can boost employee morale

Learning curve drops as one climbs up the career ladder, challenging leaders to choose the right method of feedback for employee competency development at different levels. Successful leaders groom their successors on clear understanding of human levels of ego state and use appropriate methods suitable for individual development, says M R Chandramowly.

ONE nightfall a man traveling on a horseback towards the sea reached an inn by the roadside. He dismounted and, confident like all riders towards the sea, he tied his horse to a tree beside the door and entered the inn.

At midnight, when all were asleep, a thief came and stole the traveler's horse. In the morning the man awoke, and discovered that his horse was stolen. He grieved for his horse. Then his fellow lodgers came and stood around him and began to talk. The first man said, “How foolish of you to tie your horse outside the stable.” The second said, “Still more foolish, without even hobbling the horse!” Third man said, “It is stupid at best to travel to the sea on horseback.” And the fourth said, “Only the indolent and the slow of foot own horses.”

Then the traveler was much astonished. At last he cried, “My friends, because my horse was stolen, you have hastened one and all to tell me my faults and my shortcomings. But strange, not one word of reproach have you uttered about the man who stole my horse.” (The Forerunner -By Khalil Gibran)

People dislike direct correction: It is easy to provide suggestions but more difficult to implement the same when one is under distress. This awareness is important for leaders and managers, especially during performance feedback when they sit to decide development plans for their team members. What the co-travelers said in the Gibran's story might have truth in it, but direct correction hurts the ego. No one would accept impairing of ego. A doorman has his own self-respect and nurtures his ego. The same is true with a Chairman. Ego is a self-identity and is not based on level or grade. Shri Prakash Yogi (Pathanjali Yogashrama) proves it to participative members, about this truth authentically declaring “Do not directly correct anyone”. Direct correction challenges the ego. When the ego is touched on, all the rest is forgotten but the hurt.

In the corporate world and in many organisational work situations we have different types of people in varied levels of hierarchy and skill sets. Leaders follow a set of principles and methods to provide feedback to their team members. The managerial science of feedback at times may not be sufficient to get better results if one fails to understand and apply the individual specific human side. Just following the rules of HR without human understanding could be disastrous. Managers, before they embark on feed back sharing, conventional or the one like 360 degrees, must know and decide how to provide feedback, how not to make it direct but still ensure to provide it effectively.

The 'A B C' types and 'G B C' method: For people development purposes, employees can be grouped into three types based on learning ability and state of ego complex. Type “A” people are those who are blind of their shortcomings. They are unaware of their competency gaps. It is easy for others to reflect upon them. When they discover their gaps, they quickly learn. The “B” type members know their shortcomings, but they do not put forth effort to change themselves. They need some support, a friendly nudge or tickle to bring corrections to their actions or behaviours. The third, “C” type people are well aware of their weak areas and are struggling to come over it. They know how to come out but are unable to fill gaps effectively. They normally hesitate to take feedback and they generally do not seek any feedback. They know what comes out of it and are sure that it hurts their pride. Fourth possible type is where they know their problems and have settled down with those weaknesses believing that they cannot be changed. They have locked themselves in. They do not want all others to know about their dark spots.

For these A, B, C types, a feedback method, which I would like to call it as G-B-C, can be applied. GBC stands for grapes, banana and coconut. I derived this development differential from my studentship of poetics in central college. The grapes technique is suitable for category A. They have not tasted the sweet of knowledge. They do not know how to get in to that. The manager, like a dentist, asks his team member to say “A…h”. The mouth opens. Manager picks up a grape fruit, a seedless one, and throws it in. Without much of effort, the associate bites in to the fruit, breaking the small bag of juice feasting his taste buds. A quick and fruitful learning is accomplished. A smart manger by creating a “real situation” can demonstrate learning, making others to understand the objective, without much lecturing on it. His objective is to make his associate understand the developmental need. He does not feel it necessary to directly point out flaws and shortcomings.

Nehru’s magic way

I recall hearing this interesting anecdote from my father. Once in a dinner meeting with the viceroy, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru noticed his fellow member pocketing silver spoons. The member was an important person and nonetheless, the mistake has to be corrected to avoid any further embarrassment. Nehruji merrily called out the group for demonstrating magic. He took hold of a silver spoon and declared that he would put that spoon in his left coat pocket and the same spoon would come out from the right coat pocket of his friend. While silently dropping his own spoon, he took out the stolen spoon from the coat pocket of his friend. That saved the situation. Message was clear to his friend who was saved from disgrace.

For the type B, direct feedback is hazardous. They know the grape trick. They won't like you if you show them the right way. They would say, “Yes, I knew it; I can also do it, I had thought of that earlier, so on and so forth.”

Leaders give a little task filled feedback to this type. They do not provide the kernel directly but give it with a shield to uncover. When the banana is pealed, one would have the satisfaction of preparing his fruit for himself or discovering the solution with ease.

The hard coconuts

The C category people are highly knowledgeable. When knowledge becomes heavy the learning curve drops. It is difficult to influence and teach them. For them, listening is an activity of subordinate and lurid communication is mistakenly a winning leadership trait. The right feedback style for this type is “Coconut method”. The contents are furtive with hard opaque cover. They need to work on it to break the coconut.

Learning objective is mostly similar for all the three types. What is different is choosing the right training method suitable to their level. Learning objective in most of such cases could be one area of “self management” that requires change in attitude or behaviour. The “grapes way” is suitable for threshold level of employees, who are fresh, energetic and open for learning. They can learn it “on the job” or can be taught using in-house training or coaching. The “banana way” creates a task that needs little effort of removing the skin. The distractions are to be minimised. The participants are normally taken out for training without the day-to-day surroundings, tasks and interruptions. The coconut way, for the C type is little difficult. Experts prefer to take them out to a hill station or an Island.

Three principles of feedback

There are some fundamental principles for feedback. The first one, in reality, no one seriously considers your opinion about his or her self-development areas. They know it themselves. They look out for your analysis of how their deficiency hinders personal growth and how their competency gaps stall their progress. It does no good for them to hear that they are short tempered. If you help them to reflect on some real incidents and loss they have suffered, that would be sufficient. They peal out the layer of your hint. They discover the real cause, which is their emotional behaviour that created the havoc. Analysis is lot harder than opinion. Though it is scary to contribute your analysis to a colleague's proposal, it's still absolutely necessary.

The second principle of feed back is to choose the right timing. To say the right thing at the right time. When a new software engineer is struggling to create a data code, he is falling out at times. The process gets delayed. What does he require at that time? A gentle nudge or some guidance. Pointing him out in front of other team members; if his supervisor says “You are really slow. In this rate, you will never be able to complete this project on schedule.” The damage is hardly repairable.

The third principle? If you have something good to say, please say it. We rarely hear a manager prefacing his feedback with “That was a really good piece of work” or “This is one of the best ideas I heard in these days”. By saying nice things, first a manager puts himself alongside of his associate. This empowers him to provide constructive criticism which mostly will be accepted. It also makes an associate to volunteer for feedback.

Which water is suitable to cook which pulse?

Boil it to a degree or put it on grills?

Why accuse the object without knowing this?

That's the nature's secret we often miss !

(Dr D.V.G's Kagga -160)

The author is former Corporate Vice President - HR and currently HRD and leadership competency building consultant. E-mail:

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