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Sometimes Negative Feedback is Best- Heidi Grant Halvorson

Avoiding negative feedback is both wrong-headed and dangerous –  when delivered the right way, at the right time, criticism is highly motivating, and gives awareness of the mistakes a person  is making, leading to  improvement. New research by S Finkelstein and A Fishbach makes it clear why, when, and for whom negative feedback is appropriate.

Positive feedback increases commitment to the work you do, by enhancing  your experience and confidence. Negative feedback  tells you where you need to spend your effort, and offers insight into how you can improve. Given these two different functions, positive and negative feedback should be more effective (and more motivating) for different people at different times.

When you don’t really know what you are doing, positive feedback helps you to stay optimistic and feel more at ease with challenges. As an expert, and you already know what you are doing,  therefore negative feedback can help you get to the top of your game.

Finkelstein and Fishbach show that novices and experts are  motivated by, different kinds of information.

In one study, they asked American students taking either beginner or advanced-level French classes whether they would prefer an instructor who emphasized what they were doing right (focusing on their strengths) or wrong (focusing on their mistakes and how to correct them). Beginners overwhelmingly preferred  the former were as advanced students the later.

In study 2, the researchers looked at individuals engaging in environmentally friendly actions.  “Experts” were members of environmental organizations; their “novices” were non-members. Each participant made a list of the actions they regularly took that helped the environment — they were offered feedback from an environmental consultant on the effectiveness of these, and then given a choice: Would you prefer to know more about the actions you take that are effective, or about the actions you take that are not?

Experts were much more likely to choose the negative feedback — about ineffective actions — than novices.

Taken together, these studies show that people who are already have developed some knowledge and skills — don’t  live in fear of negative feedback.

Remember negative feedback should always be accompanied by good advice, and given with tact. For the full article please visit