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Why people crave feedback - &
why we’re afraid to give it
05th
August 2022 by Michael Blanding
How am I doing? Research by Francesca Gino &
colleagues shows just how badly employees want to
know. Is it time for managers to get over their
discomfort, & get the conversation going at work?
If you were talking with a woman & noticed a splotch of red marker on her
nose, would you tell her?
You’re not alone if you would prefer to remain silent. A recent study looking at
whether & why people give constructive feedback found that only four out of
212 people surveyed told their survey provider that they had an unsightly
smudge on their face.
The field study points to an uncomfortable truth: Even in cases where people
have little to lose, they withhold needed feedback from others who could use
it. Part of the reason why is that they underestimate how much other people
crave feedback.
"WE ALL LIKE TO THINK OF OURSELVES AS
SOMEONE WHO WOULD GIVE SOMEONE
CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK, BUT THE STUDY
SUGGESTS THAT ... MOST PEOPLE DON'T."
“We all like to think of ourselves as someone who would give someone
constructive feedback, but the study suggests that even in a low-cost
situation, most people don’t,” says Francesca Gino, the Tandon Family
Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. “People
overestimate the negative consequences giving feedback for themselves, as
well as underestimate the benefits for the other person. This
misunderstanding persists even when the feedback giver & receiver know
each other well.”
The results highlight a potential disconnect in the workplace: While many
workers are eager for feedback, especially constructive feedback, in many
cases managers may be reluctant to provide it. Gino conducted five
experiments with HBS doctoral students Nicole Abi-Esber & Jennifer Abel, &
Juliana Schroeder, an Associate Professor at the University of California,
Berkeley Haas School of Business. The results are included in a recent
paper published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.
Employees want more feedback.
Workplace surveys consistently show that employees crave better information
about how they could improve their performance. But most say they don’t get
it.
A recent Gallup poll, for example, found only 26% of employees strongly
believe that the feedback they receive helps them do their work better. A
McKinsey survey of 12,000 managers indicated they consider “candid,
insightful feedback” critical to career development.
Another international employee survey found that 72% of respondents rated
“managers providing critical feedback” as important for them in career
development, & another survey found only 5 percent believe managers
provide such feedback.
What gets in the way of providing constructive
feedback?
In an attempt to understand this gap, the researchers presented a series of
situations in which feedback could help, to survey participants. These
scenarios ranged from having a stain on a shirt during a business meeting to
bigger problems, like a tendency to interrupt colleagues or write rude emails.
They asked participants to rate, on a one-to-10 scale, how much they would
want feedback in a particular situation, versus how much they thought another
person would want feedback. They found that in every case, people rated their
desire for feedback higher when they were imagining themselves as the
receiver than when they were imagining themselves as the giver. In fact, the
more consequential the situation, the larger that gap seemed to be.
“People tend to focus on the discomfort of delivering feedback &
underestimate the value of the feedback to the other person, including how
much they would appreciate the feedback, & how impactful it would be,” says
Abi-Esber.
"EVEN THOUGH IT COULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE,
PEOPLE REPORTED THAT THEY REALLY WANTED
TO HEAR THE FEEDBACK & APPRECIATED IT
WHEN THEY GOT IT."
In another experiment, the team ratcheted up the stakes by inviting two people
who knew each other well—such as romantic partners & close friends—into
the laboratory, & then randomly assigning one of them to provide constructive
feedback to the other about a real-life issue. The feedback givers routinely
expressed nervousness, predicting the conversation would go poorly. Yet
afterward, they typically said the conversation wasn’t as bad as they thought it
would be.
“The interactions went better than expected,” says Abel. “Even though it could
be uncomfortable, people reported that they really wanted to hear the
feedback & appreciated it when they got it.”
Another experiment looked at how to get feedback givers to be more likely to
provide input for receivers. Researchers tested two interventions—in one, they
asked the feedback giver to imagine that someone else was giving the
feedback, so they didn’t personally feel the discomfort; in the other, they
asked the giver to imagine how they would feel if they were in the situation (&
whether they would want the feedback). After both interventions, the giver was
more likely to recognize how much more the receiver wanted the feedback—
but asking the feedback giver to put themselves in the other person’s shoes
was more effective overall. This suggests that one potential way to increase
the likelihood that someone will give feedback is to encourage them to
try to take the perspective of the potential feedback-receiver.
Providing feedback in the office
That kind of intervention, the researchers say, is an easy one to implement in
the workplace to encourage more open conversations about employees’
performance. As managers consider whether to give constructive feedback to
their employees, they might pause for a moment to recall when they were in a
similar situation.
“To try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you could remember when
feedback would have been very helpful for you, like when you were in your
first job, or giving your first client presentation” Abi-Esber says.
After all, there are few greater gifts a person can give someone than showing
them that you are paying attention to what they are doing, & helping them to
do it more successfully, Gino says.
“Even if you are hesitant, take a second to ask yourself if you would want the
feedback if you were them,” she says. “Most likely you would, & this
realization can empower you to give better feedback. The other person likely
wants it more than you think.”
FRANCESCA GINO
Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

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Why people crave feedback - & why we're afraid to give it.pdf

  • 1. Why people crave feedback - & why we’re afraid to give it 05th August 2022 by Michael Blanding How am I doing? Research by Francesca Gino & colleagues shows just how badly employees want to know. Is it time for managers to get over their discomfort, & get the conversation going at work? If you were talking with a woman & noticed a splotch of red marker on her nose, would you tell her? You’re not alone if you would prefer to remain silent. A recent study looking at whether & why people give constructive feedback found that only four out of 212 people surveyed told their survey provider that they had an unsightly smudge on their face.
  • 2. The field study points to an uncomfortable truth: Even in cases where people have little to lose, they withhold needed feedback from others who could use it. Part of the reason why is that they underestimate how much other people crave feedback. "WE ALL LIKE TO THINK OF OURSELVES AS SOMEONE WHO WOULD GIVE SOMEONE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK, BUT THE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT ... MOST PEOPLE DON'T." “We all like to think of ourselves as someone who would give someone constructive feedback, but the study suggests that even in a low-cost situation, most people don’t,” says Francesca Gino, the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. “People overestimate the negative consequences giving feedback for themselves, as well as underestimate the benefits for the other person. This misunderstanding persists even when the feedback giver & receiver know each other well.” The results highlight a potential disconnect in the workplace: While many workers are eager for feedback, especially constructive feedback, in many cases managers may be reluctant to provide it. Gino conducted five experiments with HBS doctoral students Nicole Abi-Esber & Jennifer Abel, & Juliana Schroeder, an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business. The results are included in a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. Employees want more feedback. Workplace surveys consistently show that employees crave better information about how they could improve their performance. But most say they don’t get it. A recent Gallup poll, for example, found only 26% of employees strongly believe that the feedback they receive helps them do their work better. A McKinsey survey of 12,000 managers indicated they consider “candid, insightful feedback” critical to career development. Another international employee survey found that 72% of respondents rated “managers providing critical feedback” as important for them in career development, & another survey found only 5 percent believe managers provide such feedback.
  • 3. What gets in the way of providing constructive feedback? In an attempt to understand this gap, the researchers presented a series of situations in which feedback could help, to survey participants. These scenarios ranged from having a stain on a shirt during a business meeting to bigger problems, like a tendency to interrupt colleagues or write rude emails. They asked participants to rate, on a one-to-10 scale, how much they would want feedback in a particular situation, versus how much they thought another person would want feedback. They found that in every case, people rated their desire for feedback higher when they were imagining themselves as the receiver than when they were imagining themselves as the giver. In fact, the more consequential the situation, the larger that gap seemed to be. “People tend to focus on the discomfort of delivering feedback & underestimate the value of the feedback to the other person, including how much they would appreciate the feedback, & how impactful it would be,” says Abi-Esber. "EVEN THOUGH IT COULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE, PEOPLE REPORTED THAT THEY REALLY WANTED TO HEAR THE FEEDBACK & APPRECIATED IT WHEN THEY GOT IT." In another experiment, the team ratcheted up the stakes by inviting two people who knew each other well—such as romantic partners & close friends—into the laboratory, & then randomly assigning one of them to provide constructive feedback to the other about a real-life issue. The feedback givers routinely expressed nervousness, predicting the conversation would go poorly. Yet afterward, they typically said the conversation wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. “The interactions went better than expected,” says Abel. “Even though it could be uncomfortable, people reported that they really wanted to hear the feedback & appreciated it when they got it.” Another experiment looked at how to get feedback givers to be more likely to provide input for receivers. Researchers tested two interventions—in one, they asked the feedback giver to imagine that someone else was giving the feedback, so they didn’t personally feel the discomfort; in the other, they asked the giver to imagine how they would feel if they were in the situation (& whether they would want the feedback). After both interventions, the giver was
  • 4. more likely to recognize how much more the receiver wanted the feedback— but asking the feedback giver to put themselves in the other person’s shoes was more effective overall. This suggests that one potential way to increase the likelihood that someone will give feedback is to encourage them to try to take the perspective of the potential feedback-receiver. Providing feedback in the office That kind of intervention, the researchers say, is an easy one to implement in the workplace to encourage more open conversations about employees’ performance. As managers consider whether to give constructive feedback to their employees, they might pause for a moment to recall when they were in a similar situation. “To try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you could remember when feedback would have been very helpful for you, like when you were in your first job, or giving your first client presentation” Abi-Esber says. After all, there are few greater gifts a person can give someone than showing them that you are paying attention to what they are doing, & helping them to do it more successfully, Gino says. “Even if you are hesitant, take a second to ask yourself if you would want the feedback if you were them,” she says. “Most likely you would, & this realization can empower you to give better feedback. The other person likely wants it more than you think.” FRANCESCA GINO Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School