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Your Boss Doesn't Want to Give You Negative Feedback (But You Probably Want to Hear It)

According to a recent study, most of us are more comfortable receiving negative feedback than delivering it -- and that's unfortunate, because constructive criticism is essential to improving performance, and thus being more successful at work.

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(Photo Credit: Victor1558/Flickr)

Leadership development researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman surveyed 899 people from the US and abroad, asking them to assess how they feel about giving and receiving negative feedback in a professional context, and also their level of self-confidence. What they found will surprise most managers who dread giving constructive criticism during performance reviews: in short, people want negative feedback, often more than they want praise.

A few facts from their research, as summarized in Harvard Business Review's Blog Network:

  • 92 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement, "Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance."
  • When asked if they preferred to receive praise or corrective feedback, 57 percent said they preferred corrective feedback, while 43 percent said they preferred praise.
  • People who found it stressful to give negative feedback also preferred not to receive it.
  • Self-confident people were more likely to prefer receiving negative feedback.
  • Age made a difference to how eager people were to both give and receive feedback. Baby Boomers wanted the most feedback, both positive and negative, while Gen Y didn't feel comfortable giving even positive feedback. All age groups disliked giving negative feedback, but Gen X was slightly more comfortable with it than other age groups.

The bottom line?

"People believe constructive criticism is essential to their career development," write Zenger and Folkman. "They want it from their leaders. But their leaders often don't feel comfortable offering it up."

The ability to give negative feedback in a constructive way might be the difference between an ineffective leader and one who gets things done.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you comfortable giving negative feedback? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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