The Psychology of Feedback

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on October 13, 2011 12:29 pm

The challenge of providing feedback is knowing exactly what to say and how to say it. Constructive feedback can be either positive or negative.  Either way, constructive feedback should always be positively influential even if the message is critical. 

When a parent or teacher offers feedback, it should always offer a message of hope, inspiration, and positive motivation.   A majority of society has probably experienced negative criticism without a positive conclusion. 

Why offer something positive? When an individual receives a negative critique it is frequently received from a judgmental perspective.  Youth especially receive constructive feedback as a putdown, rather than as a motivational source.  Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers reassure the child of their goodness, potential, favorability, and capability. 

Parents and teachers should aim to provide feedback that is straightforward, direct, to the point, and constructive in nature.  Feedback should not be destructive.  It should not have a tone of superiority or  condemnation. 

Avoid offering mixed messages such as: 

             Amanda, you have an ability to be a good student, but…

            Tyler, you have done so well in class, but…

When parents and teachers use words such as but, they are essentially saying that the positive feedback has little meaning. If you are going to offer positive feedback, do not offer a but. Likewise, if you are going to offer negative feedback be certain to clarify how the individual can improve or make positive changes.  As always, complete all conversations with positive feedback.

Be straightforward with your messages.  Get to the point!  Do not blame, judge, condemn, or chastise. The benefit to rebuking or reprimanding has no value.  Moreover, judgmental spirits push people away, rather than pulling them towards you.  If you want to positively influence another, you most choose words that are positively influential.

Everyone deserves positive feedback, including parents, teachers, staff, and students. Sadly, it is seldom that an individual will receive positive feedback, because we are less impressed by one’s achievements than we are alerted to their failures. 

Praise should not be reserved for younger children. Even the eldest of persons have a right and need to receive praise.  We frequently assume that a young child should receive a smiley-face, but rarely consider offering an older youth the same sort of encouragement. 

When offering feedback, think upon the following: 

             Will the feedback being offered provide words of encouragement and direction?

             Can the feedback improve a child’s abilities?

             What are the overall benefits of the feedback being offered?

Always follow-up constructive criticism, with positive feedback. We have all known someone who offers constructive feedback that is negative, but ceases with this form of feedback. 

We all need an opportunity to respond to feedback, without interruption or being told that we are back-talking.  Allow the receiver of the feedback a time to reflect, to respond, and digest the feedback.  Do not expect that everyone will have an immediate response.  Do not expect that the feedback will cause an epiphany or prove a life-changing experience.

Feedback should be about illuminating a positive or negative action, deed, performance, or accomplishment.  It should not be a reflection of someone’s internal goodness.  Feedback should always focus upon an event, a situation, circumstance, but should never be a decree of a person’s value or self-worth.  When correcting children and youth, be certain that you are focusing upon a good or bad of an event, circumstance, accomplishment, performance, deed, or action such as:

            Jane, I am proud of you because… 

            Tom, your recent marks have been lowered than expected, let’s work towards improving them.

Parents and teachers who delay communication are merely prolonging the inevitable, which allows for the negative to fester, intensifying an already negative environment.  Moreover, parents and teachers who delay positive feedback are rejecting a child’s right to receiving positive reinforcement and encouragement. 

Lead by example, if you receive constructive feedback from another, whether it is negative or positive; learn from it, use it, and allow it to be source of internal revenue.  Do not allow yourself to identify with any feedback received. For if you do, the negative will surely shrink your perception of self, while the positive will swell your perception of self. For who we are has nothing to do with our accomplishments whether negative or positive.  For our identities, our personal being, has to do with the internal knowledge of our value and goodness.  It is not a summation of successes or our failures. 

When your child is doing well, tell them.  Encourage your child on a daily and frequent basis. Do not reserve positive praise for accomplishments or achievements.  Praise your child in a humble and encouraging way.  Do not use praise as a platform for boosting your own ego.  Effective praise should never be a covert operation to harm another.  Praise and encouragement should always be about an warm expression of approval and admiration.  Ultimately, it should be a blend of your respect and gratitude of another.

Always end every conversation with positively influential communication.  Positive feedback reinforces our worth, value, and self-esteem.  It encourages personal growth and self-reflection.  It reinforces our knowledge of being or striving towards health and happiness.  It denies the human condition of focusing upon the negative, while reinforcing the positive.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

36 comments on “The Psychology of Feedback”

  1. Elena says:

    Dr. Asa,

    If you are so kind to answer this question for me. I’m doing some research into feedback and I belive that not everyone in an organization should give feedback. The person giving the feedback must have some prior traing. Do you agree or not? Who should give feedback and who should’t?

  2. Linda Lees says:

    The article “The phychology of Feedback” is very insightful and it makes one want to continually think before offering feedback, not only in the classroom, but in every day life, to anyone asking for advice or comments. Enjoyed the article Asa, and look forward to reading further articles.

    1. Dear Linda Lees,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. I agree that we should “…think before offering feedback…” because with the careful review of our words, we are less likely to offer potentially harmful feedback. One grain of wisdom that I have learned, is to think before we speak and to speak in a manner that we would like others to speak unto us.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to review and offer your feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Dear Deepesh Faucheux,

    Thank you for taking the time to offer feedback. I wholeheartedly agree that a “…person’s response is important; (and) it needs to be acknowledged and honored.” (And that) “… feedback process should be a two-way communication, and it should encourage a dialog, a dynamic exchange of energy, one that will continue toward an active resolution: either a rejection of the feedback as missing the point, or a gradual making room for the insight that has been offered as an hypothesis, a gift, not a final pronouncement.”

    Finally, I think that the heart of the matter is positive communication and influence. How we speak unto another and how we receive communication is vitally important.

    Deepesh Faucheux, thank you for taking the time to offer feedback.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Claudia Wolf-Davey says:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could have the self awareness in order to be able to see ourselves in action! Unfortunately we see our behavior and its ramifications in hindsight! How to teach the art of love !? As therapist and human beings doing our own homework and hence learning from our own mistakes gives us a learning tool. We can’t give what we don’t have so finding your secret garden within and loving yourself will allow you to be an example to your clients and all you encounter in life!
    Yes it is a challenge to point out these subtle nuisances to unloving behavior such as” but”! It is likened to being a mother teaching a child to walk! You aid your child but allow them to fall in order to truly learn to walk! Patience and love are necessary and the key ingredients to being a Therapist! Thank you Dr Brown for reminding us to give tools which are good indicators that mirror to the other their behavior and help them to help themselves to grow !

    1. Dear Claudia Wolf-Davey

      I thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. You are correct, as a therapist we ought to be working on ourselves daily, purposefully, and with the intent to discover health. If we want to model good and healthy behaviors, then we need to be consistent and diligent in that walk.

      Claudia Wolf-Davey, I thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my latest article.

      May this and future articles prove an encouragement.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. Deepesh Faucheux says:

    Although it has been mentioned (and good thing!), I would like to second the comment that encourages evoking a response to the feedback and responding to the response. A simple statement like, “What happens inside of you when you hear this feedback?” is priceless. It makes the feedback a real communication, a relationship, not just a top down observation and pronouncement, as if the person receiving the feedback is hearing it from God or the Guru. The person’s response is important; it needs to be acknowledged and honored. The feedback process should be a two-way communication, and it should encourage a dialog, a dynamic exchange of energy, one that will continue toward an active resolution: either a rejection of the feedback as missing the point, or a gradual making room for the insight that has been offered as an hypothesis, a gift, not a final pronouncement.

    1. Dear Deepesh Faucheux,

      Thank you for taking the time to offer feedback. I wholeheartedly agree that a “…person’s response is important; (and) it needs to be acknowledged and honored.” (And that) “… feedback process should be a two-way communication, and it should encourage a dialog, a dynamic exchange of energy, one that will continue toward an active resolution: either a rejection of the feedback as missing the point, or a gradual making room for the insight that has been offered as an hypothesis, a gift, not a final pronouncement.”

      Finally, I think that the heart of the matter is positive communication and influence. How we speak unto another and how we receive communication is vitally important.

      Deepesh Faucheux, thank you for taking the time to offer feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  6. Tracy says:

    Dear Dr Brown, this is a most difficult topic for me. Personally I have a difficult time receiving criticism, especially constructive, without taking offence. I try very hard to give supportive and informative feedback that others can grow on, I need to learn to focus on the information and how I can improve myself and not allow the message be lost in feelings of defence.

    Thank you again for your thought provoking article.

    1. Dear Tracy

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time, feedback, and openness. It is difficult to receive messages that obtain negative (positively directed and influenced) criticisms. Honestly, we can all continue to learn and develop our skills for listening, hearing, and offering feedback. We are not taught to see all negative and positive feedback as constructive, rather we learn that positive feedback should inspire us, while negative should deflate us. I offer this message, do not see yourself as the message. You are neither the negative or the positive message. You are more than such messages, because if you think of yourself as a positive or negative message, then you are continuously living in the past. You are more than your past. You are a person of worth and value that goes way beyond our historical triumphs and failures.

      Furthermore, failures and successes are mere milestones in the game we call life. They are historical reminders and should never replace your true identity. You are greater than your successes and your failures. They should always remain indicators of how we performed in one glimpse of our life, but should never be identifiers of our true identity.

      Again, I am appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  7. Peter Manders says:

    I agree, it would be a more efficient and nicer way in developing your skills if you’ll get (and give) positive feedback. And it will benefit in peoples general happiness. It’s a pity that in todays high business goals there’s so little time (money and education) in getting everyone convinced of the great effects of positive feedback. These ‘soft’ skills are the first ones to deny in companies when the financial goals are under pressure. (This from a point of view now within the Netherlands and therefor also within Europe). Let’s hope times will change soon.

    1. Dear Peter Manders,

      Thank you for taking the time to review and offer feedback on my latest article. I agree that we often sacrifice well need areas of education when finances come into the picture. It is a real shame. I really appreciate your feedback.

      Again, I am appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  8. Helen says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that providing feedback is an art form requiring skill and practice. Some individuals are skilled and others much less so. Through the ongoing delivery of feedback, I have learned many lessons about what is successful and what is less than helpful. As the recipient of feedback, I also try to own my part of this two-way discussion. I try to reflect on the intent of the message being delivered, I ask questions and I seek to understand—this is my role as receiver. I do believe that this type of communication is a two way “dance of understanding”. This dance is difficult for many adults let alone for children, who can barely manage the first few steps. Children require the utmost care to be able to learn how to successfully deliver feedback themselves.

    1. Dear Helen,

      I sure appreciate your willingness to take time to review my article. I couldn’t agree with you more, it is important “…to own my…(our) part of this two-way discussion.” Likewise, it is vitally important to recognize the “…intent of the message being delivered…”

      Again, I am appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  9. Dear Theresa

    Thank you for taking the time to review and respond to my latest article. I agree that “…what is most important… (is) allowing and waiting for a response to your feedback. Processing feedback together after has occurred…. is often forgotten and I (too) think it is where the real growth occurs for people.” Theresa it is vitally important that we allow others to ponder the thoughts and feedback so that they respond in an effective way.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to respond to this article.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  10. Deborah Pickering says:

    Hi Dr. Brown,
    I like this article, it sums up what would be the ultimate solution to many of societies problems (behaviorally). People often talk about bullying and harrassment and say “We’ve got to teach our children not to behave this way!” I agree, but more importantly, it is we adults who must learn this method of behavior. We are the examples for the children, we are the ones who must learn. How to behave, how to speak to one another respectfully, and to listen to one another.
    I know I am not very good at these skills, I have not been exposed to this kind of behavior very much. Most of the people around me have not been taught this way of behavior either. So, maybe “Constructive Critisizm 101” should become a mandatory course provided by educators, and employers. I think the government should pay for this education since when you said “,allow it to be a source of internal revenue.” made me think of the IRA and Revenue Canada, lol. But seriously, a wonderful topic which would do well to be written about more often.
    Thanks, Deb P.

    1. Dear Deb P.,

      I appreciate your willingness to take time to reply to my latest article. I really like your idea of establishing a “Constructive Criticism 101” course. What an awesome idea to teach educators, employers, and all others. Also, thank you for the very comical relief with the humor about the internal revenue statement. Much appreciated!

      I am certainly appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  11. Richard Conner says:

    Asa,

    Very good article. You have given some good points regarding how feedback should be given, and also some tips on how the receipent should receive it. It makes a person really take time to think how they will deliver their message.

    1. Dear Richard Conner,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. It is important to take time to think upon our messages, both those we send outward, as well as, those we receive.

      I am certainly appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  12. Fr Andrew says:

    I think it is a insightful article about how to correct others so that they may truely benifit and not so we will merely feel better about ourselves. I wonder what kind of suggestion that you would give for when you have to correct someone deviate behavior that you see a destructive. Like for example some public figure holds a public view that contradicts that what is taught in his Church community. Maybe this off topic because it is about feed back. Is there a distinction between feed back and correction?

    1. Dear Father Andrew,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time, feedback, and candidness. Honestly, I would like to ponder upon your question before offering feedback. Thank you for the thought-provoking query as well.

      Again, I am appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

      1. Dear Father Andrew,

        Having given considerable thought to your questions, I have the following comments. As a spiritual thinker and believer, I recognize that there are common ideological topics and beliefs within many systems of faith. If someone is not following a particular ideological perspective either of my own, or of my spiritual system of faith, then I owe it to myself to decide whether or not it is worth discussing with my fellow believer. What I offer is this, if someone sways from my spiritual or my faith’s spiritual position on an issue, then I owe it to myself to decide whether it is worth speaking with my fellow believer or to come to terms with the area of disagreement. Ultimately, it is my dichotomy of choice, and if I find that the issue is causing me personal turmoil, then I owe it to myself to figure out why.

        If it is a moral or ethical issue, then I need to decide whether or not it is also a legal issue. If so, then I owe it to my society to report such issues. If it is a faith issue, then I owe it to my faith, to either pray or to help my fellow believer by discussing my disagreement with this person’s stance on a particular issue.

        I look at life from this perspective. In all things, offer up an unconditional stance of love, peace, and forgiveness. For if “I” have difficulty forgiving another, then I carry the harm continuously in my life. However, if “I” can forgive, then even if the issue remains in the life of another, I no longer have ownership of that particular issue.

        I look at life and spirituality from this perspective. I may not always agree with my fellow human or believer. In some cases, the disagreement is healthy, in other cases, the issue of disagreement may be causing detrimental harm. If so, then I owe it to help my fellow human and spiritual believer to discuss my perception on this topic of disagreement. If the issue is not causing detrimental harm, then I have to come to terms with the issue that has caused disagreement, understanding that in life we often have varying degrees of belief about life and spirituality.

        Finally, just look at the world: there are many varying spiritual faiths (religions) and spectrums within those faiths. The world will only experience true harmony, peace, and love once we begin to cast off our need to be right. As a society, we need to begin to appreciate our diversity, offering respect and value for each other’s opinions as uniquely their own.

        I am sincerely appreciative of your time, feedback, and query.

        Warm Regards,

        Dr. Asa Don Brown

  13. Theresa says:

    I think what is most important in this article is the brief comment about allowing and waiting for a response to your feedback. Processing feedback together after it has occurred (especially when is it meant to help change behavior) is often forgotten and I think it is where the real grow occurs for people. Encouraging open communication about how the feedback felt, what was meant by it, and other information it brings to mind in the person receiving feedback will only help to make the interaction collaborative rather than combative. Furthermore, humility and a sense of caring for the other are essential qualities needed for the person giving feedback not only while giving it, but also while processing it together with the receiver.

    1. Dear Theresa

      Thank you for taking the time to review and respond to my latest article. I agree that “…what is most important… (is) allowing and waiting for a response to your feedback. Processing feedback together after has occurred…. is often forgotten and I (too) think it is where the real growth occurs for people.” Theresa it is vitally important that we allow others to ponder the thoughts and feedback so that they respond in an effective way.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to respond to this article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  14. Ian Klepsch says:

    I agree. Self esteem is built over the growing yrs, little bits at a time.

    If by the time we are young adults we don’t have this foundation it can be unlikely that we are able to cultivate a solid self esteem on our own in the “real world”. By the adult yrs there are less people have the time to care.

    My advise it to revel in your kid’s accomplishments and then constructively correct them when they are wrong. Give them positive options to favourable results.

    1. Dear Ian Klepsch,

      Thank you for your reply and feedback. It is important that we revel in our children’s accomplishments. If we don’t then they may see no need in pursuing them. Likewise, when give feedback of any type, it should be from a positively constructive vantage point. We should try seeing and offering even bad or constructive news from a positive manner.

      Ian, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to review my article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  15. Sheila Boehm says:

    As a parent reading this article I can unfortunately relate to times when I have defeated my children with negative criticism and immediately wanted to change my words, because they do hurt. This article is a great reminder on how to treat others as we would want to be treated, especially when it comes to our children. This article reminds me to try tp pull my kids up and not to put them down, I will try to think twice or even three times before trying to influence them with negative talk and do my best to give a positive spin when trying to parent responsibly.

    1. Dear Sheila Boehm,

      I sure appreciate the candidness with which you reply. Unfortunately, we all make mistakes, therefore, it’s important to know that you are in good company. We must remember to “pull (our) kids up and not to put them down.” Think of it this way, do not do unto another, what you do not want done unto you.

      I sure appreciate your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  16. Stacy says:

    Very insightful article. We must all remember that words said in haste, with no thought to the way they might be received, can be very damaging. Children are especially vulnerable to this. Thank you for the reminder!

    1. Dear Stacy,

      Thank you for your very kind feedback. “We must * all * remember that words said in haste… can be very damaging.” I totally agree! We must take caution with how we speak, what we communicate, and why we communicate.

      Again, I am certainly appreciative of your very valuable time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  17. Jennifer Lubanski says:

    There is no pretending constructive criticism is an easy art. As a teacher, there are things that fall clearly under your jurisdiction and, you would be remiss not to address them. Still the student can only hear what is given with an attitude of care for their personal well being and success. It would be tragic to impede a students progress by not giving constructive feedback but inappropriate or harsh feedback can be devastating. There may even be time when criticism is given with the best of intents but with a lack of understand the others perspective or situation. These difficult moments are part of living. What is important is finding a way to resolve issues when they occur… because they will occur.

    1. Dear Jennifer Lubanski,

      I really like your take on constructive criticism being an art form, and you are correct in your view of it not being an easy approach to communicating.

      Students egos can prove resilient, if-and-only-if, we follow up the criticisms with positive remarks, while also delivering our negative messages with positivity as well. It is vitally important to always considering how we deliver a message.

      Thank you for your time and efforts.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  18. Louise says:

    In his article, Dr. Asa Don Brown makes excellent points pertaining to feedback, expanding beyond teachers/parents/students relationships. Giving feedback is an art that should be void of ego and judgement. It should be based in love for other people and on a strong desire to see them succeed. In this way, feedback is given in humility and not humiliation.

    I wish that more people could learn the art of giving feedback in the humanistic way described in the article. All too often I’ve experienced that people giving feedback are doing it to elevate themselves at the expense of the people they’re supposedly helping. This is particularly concerning when a person in authority is doing the deed and the person receiving the feedback has little recourse. for retaliation. I’ve seen this done in a very sophisticated way at the corporate level. How can leaders recognize these signs and prevent them before they reach bullying proportions?

    Louise

    1. Dear Louise,

      Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughtful feedback. You are correct, that “giving feedback is an art that should be void of ego and judgement.” I firmly believe that when ego is involved, we are feeling a lack of self and our esteem is in question. We should considering the strength of our own ego when questioning, offering suggestions, or questioning another.

      Great question, “How can leaders recognize these signs and prevent them before they reach bullying proportions?” I think it begins with these leaders as an individual. If they, whatever type of leader: teacher, religious leader, politician, etc. has angst that they seek to pull another down in order to lift their own ego. LIkewise, bullying is something that we should eliminate worldwide, but will not be eliminated until our society begins to accept its fellow human as an equal, a brethren of the human race, rather than the opposition we have created.

      Having lived in Canada for nearly 14 1/2 years, and as an American, I can assure you that the hostilities we offer others is often rooted in a harm that has been acquired in life (i.e. 9-11). Therefore, we must come to a place of forgiveness, acceptance, and an unconditional spirit of love.

      Louise, thank you for taking the time to offer a very thoughtful reply.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  19. This post really challenges us to use our internal self-editing mechanism. The old ‘ism’ is invoked: Think before you speak.
    Even therapists could find this a helpful read; I find it a reminder to speak with great care.

    1. Dear Paula Young, LMFT

      Thank you for your very thoughtful review. I agree we should be challenged “to use our internal self-editing mechanism.” We should learn to “think before (we)…speak.” I know from experience, that there have been times that if I had simply thought before I spoke the words would have proven positive rather than a negative experience. What’s the old saying, we learn from our mistakes? I think this should be our motto, to learn from our mistakes, and make less mistakes by monitoring the messages with which we speak.

      Again, thank you for your time and thoughtful reply.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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