The psychology of negative feedback in the workplace

Criticism at work can be difficult to give and harder to receive.

Is your team able to give and receive criticism constructively?

Giving negative feedback at work is hard, and accepting it is just as difficult. A recent article in Fast Company explores the issue from the perspectives of neuroscientists and psychologists, presenting some helpful, scientifically based insights into what’s happening inside our minds when we are offering or receiving criticism.

  • Negativity bias: For better or worse, people usually remember negative feedback more vividly than positive feedback. “Our brains have evolved separate, more sensitive brain circuits to handle negative information and events, and they process the bad stuff more thoroughly than positive things,” writes Fast Company contributor Courtney Seiter. “That means receiving criticism will always have a greater impact than receiving praise.”
  • Pack animals: According to scientists, humans have evolved as pack animals, intent on establishing and protecting our positions within the social order. Psychology Today contributor Steven Stosny reports that our brains interpret negative feedback as a call to submit to another member of the pack. Our “animal” brains may in turn view that as a threat to our safety and even our very survival.
  • Perception is everything: To make matters even more difficult, we sometimes remember critiques of our own performances inaccurately because of two reasons. Firstly, some experts believe that when we receive negative information about ourselves that doesn’t match our own self-perception, we reject it and therefore fail to learn from our mistakes. Our memories might even play tricks on us, reshaping the details of an interaction so we feel as though we were in the right, even when we were not. On the flip side of this coin, some people’s brains may remember criticism as being harsher and more dramatic it actually was, thanks to the aforementioned negativity bias.

Clearly, giving constructive criticism as a manager or receiving it as a worker is a complicated business, but it is also a crucial element of employee development. Browse Mastery Technologies many cost-effective online course offerings to help your team make both positive and negative feedback tools for professional success.

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