Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Feedback
What is working and what is not?
Are you hot or cold?
"You are cold! Oh you are reaching warm! And now you are hot!" Performance, in the context of this chapter, refers to achievement of a specified task in regards to accuracy and entirety (Schechner, 2002). From an early age, one can learn from the simple “Hot or Cold” game that it is beneficial to be informed about performance, namely given feedback, in order to obtain goals.
Motivation refers to one’s desire and energy to be persistently immersed in achieving a task (Kettle & Haubl, 2010). Feedback has the potential to motivate one to approximate their actions in moving toward their goals. However, effective feedback skills are rarely explicitly taught (Schechner, 2002). Going around a classroom/workplace setting and asking, “Are you doing a good job?” the predominant responses would likely be either “I don’t know” or “I think so”? These low-spirited replies put in the picture that many people receive little feedback on their performance.
Without feedback, one, in a sense, walks blindly – goals may be attained accidently, or alternatively, never accessed due to aimless searches (Folkman, 2006). Furthermore, people tend to like to hear what is consistent with their own viewpoints and oppose ideas divergent to their beliefs (Hathaway, 2006). Defensiveness may escalate when one receives constructive feedback, guarding the reasons behind their actions (Folkman, 2006). Those providing the feedback may consequently be put off to give feedback in the future. This negative cycle distorts the potential for individuals to achieve to their full potential. Learning the skills to give and receive effective feedback enhance realisation of the quality of individual actions, turning strengths into long-term advantages (Negru, 2009).
If you answered most of the questions with 'true', your skills for giving and receiving feedback effectively may be well developed. If you predominantly answered 'false', you are one of many and your feedback skills could benefit from further development - you have come to the right place!
- What exactly is feedback?
- How is beneficial feedback constructed?
- How can you give better feedback to others?
- How can you utilise feedback provided to you?
People may resist feedback because their self-image may be threatened if others view them negatively (Vancouver, More, & Yoder, 2008). However, if we knew that we were doing something ineffectively, would we not try to improve performance? This chapter will discuss the effectiveness of feedback for enhancing motivation and performance. The construction of feedback, its different forms (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), and expected elements for its usefulness (Norcini, 2010) will be considered in commonplace applications. Tips on best giving and receiving effective feedback are also provided.
Characteristics of the term 'feedback'
Feedback is conceptualised as information concerning one’s actions/performance (Cianci, Schaubroeck, & McGill, 2010). It highlights status between present level of performance and desired/expected level of achievement (Negru, 2009). Feedback is usually provided by an agent, examples including teachers providing corrective information, peers suggesting alternative approaches, and parents offering support (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current performance and a goal (Negru, 2009).
The feedback loop
Albert Bandura (1982) contended that giving individuals a specific goal and a means to evaluate their progress greatly increases the likelihood that they will achieve it. Fitting this outline, a feedback loop is a system of continuous monitoring of progress in the direction of a goal (Howie, Sy, Ford, & Vicente, 2007). Information provided by agents initiates thought about options for improving performance in the future, consequent actions advancing one closer and closer to their goal. However, individuals need to keep in mind that the past is unchangeable. Rather than causing regret of actions, feedback aims to enhance learning to improve future choices for optimal performance (Howie et al., 2007).
Three key questions to be answered by feedback
Stop and think: Does the feedback in this scenario seem beneficial?
A supervisor becomes upset at an employee who consistently makes typing errors. “Don’t you know anything about the English language?” he yells. The manager slams a recently typed document on the employee’s desk and storms off; the specific typing errors are never discussed.
Consider whether the manager is attacking the employee's personal qualities or critiquing their typing errors.
Does the employee understand desired performance? Is the employee guided with utilisable strategies for future use?
For feedback to be effective, Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that three questions should be answered.
Where am I going?
As feedback aims to inform individuals about the quality of their actions, goals should specifically outline success criteria. Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that effective feedback answers the question, ‘Where am I going?’ Precise goals are expected to inform individuals about the nature of appropriate performance, also allowing evaluation of actions. This ‘feed up’ process optimally guides one to make modifications in effort, focus, and technique as appropriate (Brunit, Huguet, & Monteil, 2000). Feedback further allows individuals to set additional goals as the preceding ones are achieved. Conversely, if goals are not well-defined, feedback cannot decrease the discrepancy between recent performance and desired achievement because it is doubtful the gap will be adequately obvious for one to perceive a need to decrease it (Erez, 1977).
How am I going?
As a key purpose of feedback is to provide information about one’s progress toward goals, Hattie and Timperley (2007) advise that effective feedback should also answer the question, "How am I going?" Agents may provide information comparative to an expected standard, to past performance, and/or to success/failure on an aspect of a task (Brunit et al., 2000). When this "feed back" component is clear, detailed and unambiguous, it can be utilised to brainstorm most advantageous adaptations (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
Where to next?
Hattie and Timperley (2007) finally contend one should recognise "here to next?" This "feed forward" aspect potentially allows one to integrate their own point of view with another’s to consider an exhaustive list of advantageous options for future application (Cianci et al., 2010). The power of feedback in enhancing motivation and performance depends on a combination of answers to all three questions, as they typically do not work in isolation (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The very aim, and consequent power, of feedback is to close the gap between where an individual is and where they are aiming to be. Effective feedback thus needs to outline one’s specific goal, present progress toward this goal, and subsequently suggests beneficial action in furthering progress.
Four prominent levels of feedback
Hattie and Timperley (2007) assert that there are four major levels of feedback.
Feedback about the task
Feedback can be about task accomplishment, and more specifically, how accurately a task is carried out (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). For example, a teacher may inform a student whether their work is correct/incorrect, incorporating ‘corrective’ guidelines to obtain further information (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). However, one limitation of feedback at this level is that it seldom generalises to other tasks (Black & Wiliam, 1998). It could promote concentration on the immediate components of the task, taking away from the overall strategies to accomplish a goal (Black & Wiliam, 1998).
A classic example is the difference of usefulness between providing written notes and grades to students (Erez, 1997). A grade is specific to the completed task whereas comments potentially lead to learning gains, furthering performance in future assessment items. The first study to support this found short written comments rather than grades significantly improved test performance of students in 74 classrooms (Page, 1958). Furthermore, task feedback can be delivered and received in both individual and group situations. Effectiveness, when delivered in groups, may be limited if individuals view the feedback as irrelevant to their own separate performance (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Greater commitment and involvement in the group task may logically increase the amount one relates to the feedback, potentially improving their performance, and thus furthering the group also.
Feedback about the processing of the task
Feedback can be aimed at the process used to complete a task (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). It potentially gives an individual insight into what they have done to reach an outcome, highlighting strengths as well as areas for improvement thus providing motivation for change (Norcini, 2010). For example, an employer may say to an employee, “This article may be clearer if you use the tactics we discussed earlier.” However, feedback needs to be kept in perspective; individuals should avoid dwelling on negative aspects. They should instead acknowledge the opportunity to restrategise (Norcini, 2010), striving to attain goals with additional effort. Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that feedback at process level may be more effective than at the task level due to deeper learning and personal contemplation.
Feedback about self-regulation
Feedback can focus on self-regulation, that is, the way one monitors, focuses, and adjusts their actions toward a goal (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Feedback at this level is expected to initiate self-generated thoughts (Zimmerman, 2000), mapping how to better persist on a task for the achievement of goals. In saying this, when feedback is unclear in specifying direction of improvement, benefits are understandably minimal (Kulhavy & Stock, 1989). Moreover, unwarranted success feedback leads to reinforcement of flawed behaviour (Zimmerman, 2000). Feedback givers should clarify expectations, giving recipients a chance to acknowledge such viewpoints. Although many avoid seeking feedback to sidestep possible embarrassment, it has its greatest effect when one predicts a response to be correct yet it unfolds as incorrect, simply due to greater efforts in understanding the error (Kulhavy & Stock, 1989).
Feedback about the self as a person
Feedback can be directed to the self (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), characteristically expressing positive evaluations of performance. For example, “You did a great job because you completed the task by applying the correct concept”. Such appraisals support self-efficacy, potentially enhancing performance. Praise may act as a reinforcer, motivating one to repeat and develop acknowledged actions (Tanaka, 2001). However, approvals such as “Good effort” seldom have effectiveness in enhancing performance. Praise directed away from the task rarely provides answers to any of the three fundamental questions of effective feedback, so is unsuccessful in furthering one's skills (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
Elements necessary for effective feedback
Feedback can result in a desire to make corrective adjustments. However, it could also be disregarded or not accepted as valid. To ensure effectiveness, agents must make appropriate judgments about when, how, and at what level to provide feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The precise elements expected to be necessary for its usefulness include specificity, timeliness, and manner (Norcini, 2010).
Feedback works best when it relates to a specific goal (Norcini, 2010). “Doing better” is not a plan for improvement. If recent actions have been unsatisfactory in attaining a goal, one not only needs to do better, but one should approach the task differently (Idosn & Higgins, 2000). Keeping feedback objective and unambiguous increases its power (de Luque & Sommer, 2000). If a manager tells an employee “You acted unprofessionally”, they are not providing direction for improvement, rather commenting on attitude. Instead, they could indicate the employee spoke rudely. With informative feedback the employee is empowered to focus on correcting the behaviour that showed the lack of professionalism (Idosn & Higgins, 2000). In saying this, it is commonsense that different individuals benefit from different feedback approaches. For example, de Luque and Sommer (2000) found students from collectivist cultures preferred indirect feedback, at group focus. Students from individualist cultures preferred more direct feedback particularly related to effort, at individual focus.
If improvement needs to be made in one’s performance, the sooner they become aware of it the sooner they can work on correcting it (Forster, Grant, Idson, & Higgins, 2001). Furthermore, if one has reached or exceeded a goal, the quicker they receive positive feedback, the more rewarding it can be (Forster et al., 2001). However, Clariana, Wagner, and Roher Murphy (2000) found that the effectiveness of delayed compared with immediate feedback varied depending on the difficulty of a task. They suggested that difficult items may entail greater contemplation, where delayed feedback offers a beneficial break to do this, while easy items do not require this processing and so delay is both pointless and unfavourable.
Furthermore, Kettle and Haubl (2010) hypothesised that the mere anticipation of proximate feedback would enhance performance. Recruited students were required to give a four-minute oral presentation rated on a scale from 0 (poor) to 10 (excellent). Participating students were informed of a specific amount of anticipated feedback delay, which ranged from 0 (same day) to 17 days, and consequently asked to predict their grades. Students expecting to receive feedback quickly predicted that their grades would be worse than students who were to receive feedback later (Kettle & Haubl, 2010). This may be because when expected feedback is more immediate, so is the threat of disappointment. The desire to avoid disappointment is a powerful motivator (Kettle & Haubl, 2010). This study asserts that the mere anticipation of more rapid feedback improves performance (Kettle & Haubl, 2010).
Positive feedback gives emphasis to improvements thus acting as positive reinforcement (Van Houten, 1980), encouraging recurrence of that behaviour. Perceiving higher self-efficacy increases efforts and consequently improves performance (Vancouver et al., 2008). Negative feedback generally focuses on information about failure, tending to act as punishment that discourages the behaviour (Idson, & Higgins, 2000). Thorndike’s (1913) Law of Effect conceptualises that behaviours leading to a satisfying state of affairs are strengthened, while behaviours leading to an unsatisfying state of affairs are weakened (in Daniels, 2000). Based on this view, both positive and negative feedback should enhance performance as one reinforces “correct” behaviour and the other punishes “incorrect” behaviour. However, Cianci et al. (2010) discuss individuality. At failure, some people give up, while others try harder. Similarly, when receiving success feedback, some individuals tend to sit in their glory, while others pursue with greater efforts. Nonetheless, to enhance performance, feedback should both reinforce valuable actions to be repeated and constructively outline direction for the future (Tanaka, 2001).
Direction for future studies
One predominant limitation of considered studies is reliance on only one type of feedback. In real-life settings individuals confront a large amount of feedback messages which can be contradictory, positive or negative, and can come from various sources (Negru, 2009). Although it would be complex for experimental research to reconstruct the density of real-life contexts, future researchers may provide participants with more types of feedback messages during the pursuit of a task (Negru, 2009), assessing which components are most influential on performance.
Stop and think
Think of a situation in which you received feedback that focused on your actions toward a goal. How did the person approach you?
How did you respond to the feedback?
How could the feedback giver have changed their message so that you could have better redirected your efforts?
Tips for giving feedback
- Be specific: It would be more advantageous to say "The report you turned in was well-written as your points about the budget were clear" than "Good report." The first statement describes exactly what is seen as positive. Feedback should reflect observable behaviour (Idosn & Higgins, 2000).
- Use descriptive language: Judgemental language, such as saying an action was ‘terrible’, tends to evoke anger and disregard of the feedback message. Focus should be on detailed descriptions (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
- Be direct: Feedback provided in general terms may create misunderstandings. Agents need to be objective in order for communication to be clear (Idosn & Higgins, 2000).
- Point feedback toward behaviour that can be controlled: Focus on a specific behaviour, not the person (London, 1995). Statements should focus on what or how the task was undertaken, not why (London, 1995). Start with a positive comment, consequently highlighting areas in which performance could improve.
- Consider timing: Feedback is generally most useful when communicated at the earliest opportunity as events are fresh within individuals’ minds (Venables & Fairclough, 2009).
- Plan feedback: Being clear about what one would like to say helps conversation flow in covering necessary issues (Daniels, 2000). Agents may check with the receiver to make sure they understood what was communicated (Daniels, 2000).
- Make it a positive experience: Recognition of effective performance is a powerful motivator. Most people want to obtain more recognition, so are stimulated to repeat acknowledged behaviours (Daniels, 2000). However, it is important not to slot in constructive feedback between too many positives as this could lead to a misunderstanding in the take-home message (Daniels, 2000).
- Use "I" statements: Agents should give feedback from their perspective to avoid labelling the receiver, focusing on behaviour only (Tanaka, 2001). Rather than saying, “You were rude”, it would be more effective to say, “I was upset when you put me down in front of the teacher this morning.”
- Follow up: Useful feedback uses past actions as a springboard to help the receiver develop effective plans for future actions. Set goals and monitor progress (Tanaka, 2001), making adjustments along the way.
Try it yourself
Go back to the scenario mentioned earlier: A supervisor becomes upset at an employee who consistently makes typing errors.
How may you increase the effectiveness of feedback provided to this employee?
HINT: Have you considered the above guidelines?
Tips for receiving feedback
- Seek feedback: Sometimes it is hard to perceive personal strengths and/or weaknesses, making it beneficial to ask for feedback (both positive and negative) from a variety of sources (Folkman, 2006). To attain aims, it is optimal to welcome suggestions for improvement.
- Listen actively: Ask clarifying questions in order enhance understanding (Folkman, 2006). Doing so helps the giver know the receiver is concentrating. It may be valuable to probe for details and ask for examples, making a clear distinction between current and desired status of behaviour (Tanaka, 2001). The better one understands any discrepancies, the easier it is to formulate a plan to change (Tanaka, 2001).
- Avoid debates: Reacting defensively/angrily are ways of deactivating the value of feedback (Tanaka, 2001). When conversations transfer into arguments, individuals are no longer open to hearing what the other person is saying. It is also tempting to make excuses when we receive redirection. However, you must instead focus on the details that will help you identify what you need to change (Hathaway, 2006).
- Do not ask for explanations: It is natural to want an explanation for the feedback one receives. However, focus should instead be given to understanding the behaviour and optimal actions to enhance future performance (Folkman, 2006).
- Show appreciation: Saying “Thank you” provides a message that the receiver appreciates the giver’s effort in providing feedback, whether or not complete agreement exists (Norcini, 2010). This encourages feedback in the future.
- Break feedback down: Do not automatically assume the giver is right or wrong (Hathaway, 2006). Paraphrase what has been said to ensure understanding. Break down any phrase that is causing problems to make sure value is accurate. One may then set realistic goals which may consequently improve performance (Hathaway, 2006).
- Do not obsess: Feedback is based on one person’s perceptions of another’s actions (Folkman, 2006). Some of it the receiver may agree with, yet some they may not. Individuals should select what they foresee as worthy of their attention, and begin addressing necessary issues. Receivers should best aim to recognise the positive intention of feedback, and embrace the chance to enhance future performance (Folkman, 2006).
- Be aware of nonverbal language: Make eye contact with the giver. Maintain a constant tone and volume of voice when responding (Hathaway, 2006). Note your body posture.
Feedback highlights where one’s current performance is in relation to a goal. The model proposed in this chapter discussed three major feedback questions: "Where am I going?", "How am I going?", and "Where to next?". Answers to these questions can increase effort and motivation at task persistence, decreasing discrepancy between current and desired outcomes, consequently enhancing performance. The model distinguishes between four levels of feedback: the task, the processing, the regulatory, and the self levels. To be effective, feedback ought to be specific, timely, and presented in a planned manner. When you make a conscious choice to give and receive feedback you make obvious that feedback is a powerful means of personal development.
Effective feedback can make all the difference between success and failure, emphasising what is working and what is not working.
- Achievement motivation
- Goal setting (Book chapter, 2011)
- Social support and achievement (Book chapter, 2011)
- Feedback (Wikipedia)
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