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Description: If you cannot say something nice say nothing at all! Did you ever get that advice? It is possibly good advice for young children who are learning how to “play nice” together but what about in adulthood and especially what about in work settings where you might be training or managing others or working on teams with fellow employees where effective team performance is what will move the organization (and its staff) forward? Certainly ‘being critical’ sounds a lot like ‘being negative’ or ‘being mean’ but when hedged as ‘constructive criticism’ it is more typically seen as positive, if maybe a bit hard to hear. How do you feel about providing criticism even if it is constructive? Do you avoid doing it? Sugar coat it with a positive comment or two? Happily, dish it out? Do you describe it to yourself in more positive ways, perhaps as giving advice and if you do does that make you feel better, and does it go better with the person you are providing it to? Industrial organizational psychologists study people and issues that arise in workplace settings. Think about what sorts of approaches have been taken to studying how people who provide feedback as part of their jobs do that and about what works and what does not and then read the article linked below that provides a general overview of some of this interesting work.

Source: The Case for Criticism, Melinda Wenner Moyer, The New York Times.

Date: April 14, 2022

Image by nastya_gepp from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, were there research finding relating to the intricacies of providing feedback that surprised you? The finding that people underestimate or fail to attend at all to the fact that people want feedback about their actions and that we even do this when the other people involved are people close to us. The idea that we have to push back against natural feeling of empathy to be able to offer advice to others is quite interesting. Given this, though, the fix is obvious – think about how good the other person will feel when they received valuable advice regarding their behavior. The coaching advice is quite good as well. Telling someone to try harder or play better is not helpful (of course they have thought of that already) but suggesting specific things they can try to improve their performance is much more often positively received. Just as we can benefit from reflecting upon and managing our own goals and behaviors we can, if it is delivered positively and in a focused manner (and if it is invited), benefit from feedback (criticism) from others.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Define criticism and explain if or how it is distinguished from feedback?
  2. Does saying criticism can be positive if provided in a coaching situation make the criticism positive (or at least less negative) and why or how?
  3. Given the research discussed in the article what are some suggestions or guidelines you can offer o someone who is about to start their first manager position within a company?

References (Read Further):

Abi-Esber, N., Abel, J. E., Schroeder, J., & Gino, F. (2022). “Just letting you know…” Underestimating others’ desire for constructive feedback. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Link

Henley, A. J., & DiGennaro Reed, F. D. (2015). Should you order the feedback sandwich? Efficacy of feedback sequence and timing. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 35(3-4), 321-335. Link

Simon, L. S., Rosen, C. C., Gajendran, R. S., Ozgen, S., & Corwin, E. S. (2022). Pain or gain? Understanding how trait empathy impacts leader effectiveness following the provision of negative feedback. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(2), 279. Link

Blunden, H., Yoon, J., Kristal, A., & Whillans, A. (2019). Soliciting advice rather than feedback yields more developmental, critical, and actionable input. Unpublished results. Link

Heen, S., & Stone, D. (2014). Find the coaching in criticism. Harv Bus Rev, 92, 108-111. Link

Taylor, J., Jenkins, J., & Barber, L. (2013). Breaking bad (news): Some constructive criticisms of performance feedback. Link

Steelman, L. A., & Wolfeld, L. (2018). The manager as coach: The role of feedback orientation. Journal of business and psychology, 33(1), 41-53. Link

Zhang, L., & Zheng, Y. (2018). Feedback as an assessment for learning tool: How useful can it be?. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(7), 1120-1132. Link