Give Honest Feedback By Boosting Your Own Self-Esteem First

Nobody likes to give negative feedback to a friend or colleague. In fact, most people, especially if you have a lower self-esteem, don’t give negative feedback at all. The reason? A new study in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you withhold negative feedback to protect yourself, not the person being judged.

Photo by Cisco Australia-NewZealand.

The experiments had people give feedback on a writing assignment face-to-face, anonymously, or were told their feedback wouldn’t go back to the writer at all. The participants also had to answer questions about their own self-esteem. Theoretically none of these details should matter, but it turned out that participants with a lower self-esteem gave more positive feedback and left out the negative. Those who rated their self-esteem high gave the same feedback regardless of the delivery method.

The implications of this are summed up by the researchers:

The data … speak[s] to the importance of developing cultures that encourage frank and fearless feedback giving and non-defensive feedback receiving. Strong and positive feedback cultures might help overcome some of the fears of feedback-givers, and reduce the tendency for feedback to be adjusted as a function of who is watching.

Honest feedback is key to making a project turn out right. These findings suggest that if you want to give (or receive) honest feedback it’s best to boost your self-esteem first. We’ve also pointed out before that asking someone how “feel” as opposed to “what they think” is a good way to initiate truthful feedback. What do you think? Do you have a harder time giving honest feedback when you’re feeling a little down in the dumps?

Withholding negative feedback: Is it about protecting the self or protecting others? [British Journal of Social Psychology via BPS Research Digest]

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