Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Feedback and career development

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Feedback and career development:
What role does feedback play in career development?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Feedback in the workplace is vital to career development.

When the moment comes to receive feedback on work activities, why do we feel the way we do? This chapter will explore factors which impact on the way people respond to events, with a focus on feedback. It will include a brief explanation of motivation, that is, the role of feedback biologically, cognitively, and, consider external and social contexts as a way of directing behaviour. This chapter will also explore what career development is and how to use research to provide feedback appropriately or deal with feedback.

Effective feedback is worth exploring as it informs and helps with improvement thus is a guiding tool for career development. The benefits in a business of providing good effective feedback can include, and are not limited to, increasing motivation, increased self-esteem, helps gain insight about self and others, clarifies organisation goals and job roles, develops competency, misconduct can be minimized and there is better protection against legal issues (Aguinis, 2013). The Australian Public Service Commission (2017), which is a governing body overseeing the policies and practices regarding the Australian Public Service employees, provide a comprehensive guide on how to manage employees throughout their career suggesting that managers need to provide their employees with good quality work and career advancement opportunities. This involves several things to consider such as: matching employee capability with the demand of role; learning and development; managing workplace risks to health; encourage performance by having regular feedback discussions; and, provide opportunities where staff can learn new skills with challenging tasks enabling them progress in their careers (Australian Public Service Commission, 2017).

The process of feedback should be a good career development opportunity however unfortunately that is not always the case (Aguinis, 2013). A survey conducted by the Gallup organization reported 20 percent of Australian employees did not find feedback beneficial in improving their performance, suggesting it was due to the level of feedback and frequency in which it occurred (Moullakis, 2005). In a sense this indicates that people may be keen to receive regular effective feedback.

Case law examples provide good insight into processes which have gone wrong that employers have imposed on employees, providing key information to take note of.  In a case, Somjee v. United Kingdom Ms Somjee won a case based on unfair dismissal claiming racial discrimination and victimisation. This was bought about by an adverse feedback performance appraisal (National Workplace Bullying Advice Line, n.d.).  This suggests that more education needs to be had about raising awareness about how to conduct performance management feedback discussions appropriately with impartiality and without bias. 

Focus questions
  • What is feedback?
  • Why explore it?
  • What role does it play in career development?
  • What should career development look like?
  • How can research help with understanding how feedback can be used to motivate ourselves and others in the workplace?

Defining feedback and career development[edit | edit source]

In order to understand the role feedback plays on career development, it is first essential to have a clear understanding what feedback and career development are.

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Feedback is an essential process for an organism to function. The process involves the environment reacting to the output or an effect of an action which is fed-back (returned to the organism) to adjust the next action. In all interactions feedback exists so desired results can be achieved.  For example, in an organisational workplace context, feedback is information sent to an individual or group regarding performance completed so the individual or group may modify current behaviour to fulfill future desired business goals. Feedback is in its truest form when it brings about change (improvement) in the individual or group. Feedback is likened to homeostasis which employs feedback mechanisms so an organism can keep on functioning at optimal level regardless of changes in the environment, for example, the way the human body regulates temperature by the way it responds to its environment to adjust the chemical balance so the organism can function at it’s optimum (within its environment) (WebFinance, 2017).

Career development[edit | edit source]

Career development is a lifelong process (WebFinance, 2017). It involves learning and improving skills in a current workplace role to enable progression in to better workplace roles (Cambridge University Press, 2017), which an individual may desire.  

The psychology of feedback regarding motivation[edit | edit source]

The study of motivation helps us to understand factors which affect our motivation which make us act certain ways. Feedback is an important component in our development serving to alert, guide, learn from and adjust behaviour. As an organism our biological mechanisms, cognitions and social contexts, that is, external events or social/cultural influences, affect on our internal motives (Reeve, 2015).

Biological mechanisms[edit | edit source]

Our biological mechanisms can influence the way we interpret information, creating emotions, which provide motive for the way we behave. Specifically, the limbic system is considered a critical area of the brain affecting our emotions as its function involves processing received information from the environment and determining whether the received information is associated with a threat or reward (Kalat, 2013). The amygdala detects information from our environment, learns from received information and responds by motivating us to behave a certain way (Reeve, 2015). This also involves distributing information of the response to other areas of the brain to act more appropriately (IEDP, 2017). 

Studies using brain imaging while participants were either displayed emotional pictures or listened to music, showed activations in different parts of the cortical, outer area of the brain, which represented happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, or anger (Phan, Wager, Taylor, & Liberzon, 2002). The emotions produced illicit a motivational behavioural response such as, fear directs us to escape, anger to attack or disgust to avoid (Kalat, 2015). This demonstrates that events in the physical and external environment - our social world - can activate the brain determining the motivation to behave in a certain way (Reeve, 2015). 

For example, consider a performance feedback session, if the individual is stressed or fearful about the process or by a comment the limbic system is activated to respond and draws metabolic energy away from the pre-frontal cortex. As a consequence, our brains struggle as the amygdala prepares the body for a critical situation, thus affecting the individual's focus, work with others, and ability to produce new ideas. On the other hand, when the limbic system produces positive emotions the processes involving thinking and behaviour is opposite (IEDP, 2017).  

Cognitions[edit | edit source]

Our emotions (feelings) are mostly governed by our cognitions (Edelman, 2002).  Our cognitions refer to mental events which can include: thoughts, beliefs, expectations, goals, and self-concept (Reeve, 2015). Our thoughts and beliefs about a situation can make us feel the way we do and affect behaviour, and our motivation to perform a certain action (Edelman, 2002). 

External and social contexts[edit | edit source]

Messages received from society are external influences which impact on our emotions motivating us to behave the way we do (Edelman, 2002).  Our social contexts are the places we engage in such as, homes, schools or workplaces (Reeve, 2015).

Managing the feedback process in career development[edit | edit source]

To gain an understanding as to why some types of feedback help to motivate and help manage the feedback process in career development it is necessary to discuss the types of motives that drive us in some way or another.

Motives represent internal experiences which include three categories; needs, cognitions, and emotions, which are causal factors of motivated action.  External events and social contexts also influence motives. They act as antecedent conditions. Therefore, a motive is an internal process which give individuals behaviour its energy, direction, and persistence (Reeve, 2015).

Internal motives drive behaviour and cause individuals to pursue action. There are two different forces where people get their motivation from (1) intrinsic motivation and (2) extrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is a force which comes from within the individual associated with those feelings of pleasure for things they love to do.  Extrinsic motivation is generated by external events such as praise, money or recognition, acting to reinforce behaviour (McLaughlin, 2013-2017).  

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

According to Self-determination theory, there are three inherit and universal psychological needs that must be met in an individual to experience psychological well-being.  They are:

  1. Autonomy – People have a need to feel in charge of their own actions and dislike being controlled, and must feel that they have freedom in choosing how they do things.
  2. Competence – People must feel capable to do a task appropriately and feel in control of the outcome.
  3. Relatedness – People feel the need to be included in and a part of a group.

This theory helps to explain why people do things and is relevant in a workplace situation.  For example, if a manager can create an environment where employees' psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met, then motivation will come from an intrinsic motive.  Therefore, they will be self-determined to perform jobs well, have more interest, excitement and creativity (McLaughlin, 2013-2017).

Cognitive evaluation theory[edit | edit source]

Cognitive evaluation theory is a sub-theory of the Self-determination theory which explains the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  This theory applies to external events relating to incentives and rewards, that is, how extrinsic motivators presented to an individual attempting to engage them to perform an activity affect them in achieving the desired result, and how it can impact on their intrinsic motivation (McLaughlin, 2013-2017).  .

Cognitive evaluation theory claims that external events are influenced by two aspects which may impact on our motivation (Reeve, 2015).  The controlling aspect affects our sense of autonomy whereas the informational aspect affects our sense of competence.  Consequently, one purpose of an external motivator is about control - to increase a desired behaviour or decrease an undesirable one.  Another purpose in relation to incentives and rewards, is that it provides feedback to the individual about their level of competency on a task (Reeve, 2015).  If a person feels like external control over a task is strong this will decrease their sense of autonomy.  For example, if your favourite thing is to bake, and deciding what to bake and when, then baking feels rewarding, it is intrinsic and comes from a force within. However, if you are offered a job (money) to bake and your control about what you bake and where you bake changes, your intrinsic motivation decreases, which means that the extrinsic motivator (external force - money) is in play and your interest, excitement and creativity in baking decreases (McLaughlin, 2013-2017).

Studies regarding feedback methods[edit | edit source]

Feedback is a powerful tool influencing the way we learn, perform and achieve; however, the effect can be either positive or negative. Hattie & Timperley (2007) pooled data from numerous studies relating to feedback and its impact on learning and achievement among students.  They identified that feedback needs to be specific to the task, and contain a learning context. In their review they identified students in the high (large) effect sizes included students who received feedback about a task and how to perform that task more effectively, and students in the lower (small) effect sizes were those who received praise, rewards, and punishment as a form of feedback. Students in the high effect size performed well because they were informed about the requirements of the task and were provided with cues and reinforcements to learning, and/or it related to their goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).  And those students who were in the lower effect size did not perform as well (Hattie & Timperley, 2007) because this form of feedback (praise, rewards, and punishment) contains little task information, resulting in the extrinsic reward undermining intrinsic motivation, including undermine individuals in taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves. In fact, it is suggested that tangible rewards, such as stickers and awards should not be considered as feedback due to the possible controlling nature which undermines autonomy and its limited task information, and that it should be considered more as a contingency rather than feedback (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). However, financial incentives can improve the performance if linked to achievable performance standards which are not perceived as controlling, unfair or meaningless standards (Wegge et al., 2010).

Wegge et al. (2010) summarise findings from 26 meta-analyses relating to traditional forms of motivating strategies, such as goal setting, feedback, work design, financial incentives or training, stating that these practices certainly can promote performance and well-being.  Specifically, in relation to feedback, Wegge et al. (2010) identified that supervisors who show attention to employees, contingently reward appropriate behaviour and correct wrong behaviour, who inspire employees by role modelling transformational leadership behaviour, collaborate with subordinates on how to achieve difficult performance goals, and encourage the availability of continuous feedback are more likely to have healthier and better performing workplaces. Specifically, feedback interventions increased performance, productivity and commitment, and participation in performance appraisals increased motivation.

Select the correct answer and press "submit"

1 What are the three inherit and universal psychological needs that must be met in an individual to experience psychological well-being?

Happiness, Confidence, Relatedness
Autonomy, Confidence, Relatedness
Confidence, Competency, Autonomy
Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness
Autonomy, Happiness, Relatedness

2 Cognitive evaluation theory explains the relationship between ________ and ________ motivation.

External and Internal
Extrinsic and Intrinsic
Extrinsic and Internal
Biological and Intrinsic
Social and Internal

Positive and negative feedback[edit | edit source]

Positive feedback helps to establish, increase and strengthen natural strengths, and nurtures positive emotion.  People who experience positive emotion in relation to work, spend quality time on work, achieve higher levels of performance experiencing greater self-efficacy, and are goal orientated adjusting goals upward (Seo, & Remus, 2009). Therefore, positivity represents positive emotions, such as, joy, hope, inspiration and interest, which are subtle and broaden attention (Reeve, 2015). The benefits of positive emotions can help:

  • with the broadening of thought-action repertoires, which means more positive thoughts and variety of them (Boniwell, 2012).
  • serve to undo the lingering effects of negative emotions, for example, mild joy and the feeling of contentment can reduce psychological stress (Boniwell, 2012).
  • enhance resilience through the experience of positive emotions making it easier for an individual to cope even when faced with negative events, including bouncing back after an unpleasant event (Boniwell, 2012).
  • build resources (physical, intellectual, social, and psychological) that are enduring, even if emotions are temporary, the skills acquired are enduring (Boniwell, 2012).
  • in building an upward developmental spiral toward better emotional well-being and people becoming better versions of themselves (Boniwell, 2012).

Our brains are protective of us and view criticism as a threat to our survival, which can explain why it may be difficult for critical feedback to be given or received (Seiter, 2017). When a person experiences a high level of negative feedback, the experienced criticism may adjust their goals downward (Seo, & Remus, 2009).   

The feedback process can be underestimated in terms of its relation to mental health considering we experience it in our everyday lives in various social contexts such as work, schools, or home.  We have all experienced ineffective feedback, possibly even hurtful or even crippling feedback. The key to effective feedback is effective communication (Adolfsson, 2017).

People react in different ways to feedback which depends on various factors, such as, mood, past experiences, the way they were bought up, biology and genetics.  Self-perception and beliefs developed over time, influenced by the various factors mentioned, also influence the way we see ourselves and others, which can influence how we respond to feedback (Adolfsson, 2017).

However, positive psychology brings some hope in relation to negative emotions recognising that they have a function (Boniwell, 2012).  Therefore, negative emotions are relevant and important, are a part of our development and can bring about positive effects, such as:

  • initiate changes in personality, as in a traumatic experience or religious experience (Boniwell, 2012).
  • through the lows put us in touch more deeply with ourselves (Boniwell, 2012).
  • can teach us lessons facilitating the learning, understanding of self and knowledge of the world (Boniwell, 2012). Wisdom is attained through experiencing events of suffering and loss, and are necessary aspects of life (Young-Eisendrath, 2003).
  • attribute to positive social consequences due to experiencing a particular negative event, for example, one may develop empathy if an apathetic situation has been experienced (Boniwell, 2012).

The point is, to recognise, rethink or re-frame how negative feedback and positive emotions are viewed. For example, pride can be seen in a positive or negative light depending on the context in which it occurs (Boniwell, 2012).

Self-reflection involves the awareness of our emotions and what triggers them so strategies can be put in place to deal with difficult scenarios. It is important for our self-care and an important process in becoming a professional (Barsky, 2014).  Therefore,this applies to all who are employed whether in a supervisory or a subordinate role. The awareness of self and others, in terms of recognising our emotions and the emotions of others, and managing them, is a concept of emotional intelligence. It has been claimed that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ for a successful career and achieving goals (Boniwell, 2012). Hence, this suggests it is important to develop these skills through the process of self-reflection for career development.

The importance of building the right environment to energise and direct an individual's behaviour and coping is important (Reeve, 2015) particularly in a feedback situation. As an example, the tone of voice in how the feedback is delivered matters. It has been demonstrated that when people received positive feedback delivered in a negative, cold tone of voice, they came out of their feedback session feeling down, even though the news was good.  Also, those who received negative feedback with a warm positive tone of voice actually left feeling positive and energised (Goleman, 2010).

Feedback in the work context should be delivered in a professional and depersonalised way (Adolfsson, 2017). Therefore, when entering into a discussion which requires some critiquing it is helpful to remember to:

  • ensure your feedback is coming from the right intent, refer to table 1, which contains the wrong and right reasons to give feedback.
  • reflect of the purpose.
  • focus on the behaviour and not the person.  This helps in separating the problematic scenario from the individual’s identity, allowing the person to focus on the issue being addressed and not personally on them (Seiter, 2017).
  • lead with questions asking how the individual thinks they are doing. This helps in providing joint ownership in the conversation (Seiter, 2017).
  • sandwich criticism in between layers of positive feedback (Seiter, 2017).

Strategies which can assist in receiving feedback include:

  • ask for feedback frequently from those you trust. This will prevent from feeling off-guard if an issues arises, and may help identify upcoming challenges and gaining experience in responding positively (Seiter, 2017).
  • request time to reflect on what is discussed one component at a time.  Listen deeply to what is said and then ask questions like. "If you had to make two suggestions for improving my work, what would they be?" or "How could I do a better job of following through on commitments?" (Seiter, 2017).
  • adopt a growth mindset, that is, view the feedback, if perceived negative, as an opportunity for growth (Seiter, 2017).
  • take credit for mistakes and see them as opportunities to improve and grow (Seiter, 2017).

Table 1.

The wrong and right reasons to give feedback.

The wrong reasons to give feedback The right reasons to give feedback
Defend/excuse your own behaviour Commitment/concern for another
To demoralise/condemn Sense of responsibility
You are in a bad mood To guide/mentor
To appease a third party To support/enhance
To make yourself seem superior/powerful

Select the correct answer and press "Submit"

1 Positive psychology recognises that negative emotions have ...

no valid function
are annoying
a function
an upward developmental spriral effect
no place in the workplace

2 when critiquing it is helpful to remember to focus on the ________ and not the ________.

bahaviour, thinking
emotions, behaviour
person, environment
behaviour, person
intention, person

Tips for managing stress

The final words of this chapter pertain to managing stress. Stress affects us all in one way or another and in particular the workplace can present many challenges. The Australian Psychological Society (2017) provide a Tip Sheet on how to recognise the signs of stress and and advice on how to manage it. It is recommended that you go to the site (refer link below box) to read it in full, however, briefly, the main tips for managing stress include:

  • Identifying the warning signs, for example, feeling tense or irritable.
  • Identifying the triggers so you can be prepared, for example, being hungry or overtired.
  • Establishing routines.
  • Spending time with people who care.
  • Looking after your health.
  • Noticing your self-talk.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.

Link to Tip Sheet.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

It is hoped that the focus questions which were asked at the beginning of this chapter were answered, equipping you with tools to assist you with your journey on to your career development. It is hoped that you will continue to reflect on the importance of feedback as a vital process. Feedback helps with improvement for career development and benefits both individuals and the workplace, however, this is not always the case, hence a reason worth exploring.

Feedback is essential for an organism to function, and is in its truest form when improvement occurs. Career development is important and a life-long process.

The study of motivation can assist in explaining the psychology concerning feedback. Our biological mechanisms, cognitions, and external and social contexts, all respond to feedback in certain ways motivating us for action.  Self-determination theory helps to explain why people do things as people share three inherit and universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It promotes psychological well-being if these needs are met. Cognitive evaluation theory explains the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  There are two factors, controlling and informational, which affect our intrinsic motivation. 

Studies show the effectiveness of feedback occurs when it is specific to the task and contains a learning component, and that praise, rewards and punishment were not as affective due to missing the informational component. Feedback is also considered effective if a continuous process is encouraged.

Positive and negative feedback have their function. Positive feedback helps to nurture positive emotions, and benefits the individual, such as promotes resilience, wellbeing and resources to assist in development and advancement. Negative feedback can be difficult but it can produce more positive outcomes, such as, more self-awareness and assisting us to be more aware of other people’s emotions thus knowing how to manage them better.

The process of feedback should be conducted appropriately and tips on how to give and receive feedback help us to manage these processes. Some key factors to remember for managing these processes include having the right intent, remembering to separate the behaviour from the person, consider the environment and the way you verbally deliver the feedback. As a recipient, learning to manage feedback comes when you ask for it frequently, take time to reflect, look at it as an opportunity for growth, and learn from admitted mistakes.

Lastly, it is important for our overall health if we learn to manage stress by; identifying triggers putting strategies in place, remembering to take time out with friends and practice relaxation techniques. This helps build resilience to endure stressors in the workplace, particularly at moments when feedback is anticipated and received.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Adolfsson, D. (2017, n.d.). How to give and receive feedback in ways that helps us grow. Retrieved from

Aguinis, H. (2013). Performance management (3rd ed.). Retrieved from

Australian Public Service Commission. (2017). Managing employees throughout their career. Retrieved from

The Australian Psychological Society. (2012). Understanding and managing stress. Retrieved from

Barsky, A. E. (2014). Conflict resolution for the helping professions (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Boniwell, I. (2012). Positive psychology in a nutshell: The science of happiness (3rd ed.). New York, USA: Open University Press.

Cambridge University Press. (2017). Cambridge dictionary: career development. Retrieved 14 October 2017, from

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, M. R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.

Edelman, S. (2002). Change your thinking. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books.

Goleman, D. (2010, October 15). Emotional intelligence, leadership, workplace. Retrieved from

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112. doi: 10.3102.003465430298487

IEDP. (2014, January 29). How the brain responds to feedback. Retrieved

Kalat, J. W. (2013). Biological psychology (11th ed.). Wadsworth, USA: Cengage Learning.

McLaughlin, J. (2013-2017). Self-determination & Cognitive Evaluation Theories: Employee Motivation Retrieved from

Moullakis, J. (2005, March 30). One in five workers “actively disengaged.” The Australian Financial Review, p. 10.

Phan, K. L., Wager, T., Taylor, S. F., & Liberzon, I. (2002). Functional neuroanatomy of emotion: A meta-analysis of emotion activation studies in PET and fMRI. NeuroImage, 16, 331-348. (12)

What is self-determination theory. (2017, February 17). Retrieved from

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Seiter, C. (2017, August 23). How to give and receive feedback at work: the psychology of criticism [self-improvement]. Retrieved from

Seo, M. & Remus, I. (2009). The role of self-efficacy, goal, and affect in dynamic motivational self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109, 120–133.

UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line. (n.d.). Action to takle bullying at work. Retrieved from law – Bullying.

WebFinance Inc. (2017). Business dictionary: feedback. Retrieved 14 October 2017, from

Wegge, J., Jeppesen, H. J., Webber, W. G,. Pearce, C. L., Silva, S. A., Pundt, A.,…Piecha, A. (2010). Promoting work motivation in organizations: Should employee involvement in organizational leadership become a new tool kit in the organizational psychologist’s kit? Journal of personnel psychology, 9(4), 154-171. doi: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000025.

Young-Eisendrath, P. (2003). Response to Lazarus. Psychology Inquiry, 14, 170-173.

External links[edit | edit source]