Why badly given feedback is worse than no feedback

Posted on by Nancy Slessenger This entry was posted in Feedback, Grapevine, Objectives, Performance Management, SMART Objectives and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


When you give feedback in the right way, you improve intelligence. When you do it badly, you do the reverse.


(Of course, it is much easier to give feedback if there were smart objectives or smart targets in the first place.)



Specific feedback


Specific feedback is the most effective:


‘This is excellent because you found a much quicker way of doing it that cut down the route by 50%’


‘I am really pleased with the outcome of this project. It’s come in below budget because you checked all the quotes carefully and questioned the ones you thought were high.’


‘This report was very well received by the directors because the summary was clear and concise. I know you checked it with Rick before completing it and that proved to be well worthwhile.’


This kind of feedback has been found to improve the IQ score of students (see work by Carol Dwek to find out more.)



The most effective feedback


Being specific makes it clear what the person did that was so effective so that they can do it again. It also makes it clear that they are in control of their achievements. They know that what they do makes a difference.


What to avoid when giving feedback


Statements that imply a person’s abilities are fixed:

Badly given feedback can be damaging

Badly given feedback can be damaging

  • You are no good at this
  • You are useless
  • You are stupid
  • You are really good at this
  • You are brilliant


Initially you would think that the last two statements would be really motivating and helpful. They are for a very short time. The trouble is that when a person who is ‘brilliant’ at something runs into a problem and doesn’t know what to do about it, this shatters the image of being brilliant. They are left with no strategy for resolving the problem.


This was the surprising finding of Carol Dwek and her research colleagues. Telling students that they were brilliant was actually damaging.



Without feedback there is no learning


Feedback is the only way we ever improve our skills. So feedback is vital, just make sure it’s accurate and you will see huge benefits.


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One Response to “Why badly given feedback is worse than no feedback”

  1. February 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Nancy,

    It is true that feedback is very vital but many people don’t know how to give it. one important true is, many place you will not find it at all. They don’t believe on it. They want a number(money) from an employee.

    Kasim Ansari

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