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The Dangers Of Dishing Out Negative Feedback

Source | FastCompany : By GWEN MORAN

There’s a lot of advice out there when it comes to giving feedback. Many experts agree on some basics:

  • Be honest
  • Be specific
  • Don’t make it personal
  • Give feedback often

After all, regular direct feedback is a way of contributing to our teams and helping our employees and colleagues become better at their jobs, right?

But there’s an important difference between giving glowing reviews and negative feedback. And the reaction could be hurting your team.

A 2016 working paper from researchers at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina found that giving negative feedback can actually make people avoid you. In “Shopping for Confirmation: How Threatening Feedback Leads People to Reshape Their Social Network,” researchers Francesca Gino and Paul Green, Jr. from Harvard and Bradley Staats the University of North Carolina found that common theories about how to lessen the impact of negative feedback might not be as effective as we think they are.

“I am struck by how difficult it is to have a helpful conversation at work,” Gino says.


Even when we’re eager to share negative feedback in the spirit of helping to improve a person’s or team’s performance or improve an outcome, it could be making people avoid you. The researchers found that when people receive feedback that is threatening to their self-image—such as being told that they’re not doing a good job—they begin to actively avoid the person who delivered that feedback.

Gino says that’s problematic because the feedback that helps us develop most is often that which is tough to hear. “In my own career, when I think about the people who have been the most important in helping me grow into a better scholar or even a better person, the people who come to mind gave me that tough feedback that maybe I didn’t want to hear,” she says.


The findings have different implications for those receiving and delivering negative feedback. While it’s not clear whether varying personality types respond differently to negative feedback—that’s a point of study Gino is considering for the future—recipients need to be aware of this avoidance tendency in order to overcome it and get the information needed to improve performance.

The study found that people who ask for feedback typically don’t need it because they are performing well. Those people were eager to develop and didn’t typically have the weaknesses of those who shied away from hearing an assessment of themselves, she says.

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