According to a study led by the American Psychological Association, people underestimate others' desire for constructive feedback and therefore don't provide it, even when it could improve another person's performance on a task. The study was published in the journal, 'Journal of Personality and Social Psychology'.
Constructive feedback is instrumental for aiding learning and performance and people commonly want this type of feedback, according to the researchers. However, despite wanting constructive feedback themselves, people often avoid giving it to others.
In a pilot study conducted by the researchers, only 2.6 per cent of participants informed a tester of a visible smudge on his or her face (e.g., chocolate, lipstick or red marker) during a survey. Previous research suggested that people avoid giving feedback for fear of negative outcomes, such as the other person's becoming embarrassed or upset. Abi-Esber, the lead author, and her colleagues theorised there might be another reason people withhold feedback.
They simply did not fully recognise the potential of their input to improve others' outcomes, leading them to underestimate others' desire for such feedback. To test their theory, the researchers conducted a series of five experiments involving 1,984 participants to measure how much people underestimate others' desire for constructive feedback.
The researchers were surprised to find that the simple intervention of perspective-taking could increase the likelihood someone would recognise the need for and provide feedback. Simply asking people to quickly reflect, "If you were this person, would you want feedback?" helped participants recognise the value of feedback to the other person and helped close the giver-receiver gap.
"Even if you feel hesitant to give feedback, we recommend that you give it," said Abi-Esber. "Take a second and imagine you're in the other person's shoes and ask yourself if you would want feedback if you were them. Most likely you would, and this realisation can help empower you to give them feedback," he added.
"Feedback is a key to personal growth and improvement, and it can fix problems that are otherwise costly to the recipient," said co-author Francesca Gino, PhD, of Harvard Business School. "The next time you hear someone mispronounce a word, see a stain on their shirt or notice a typo on their slide, we urge you to point it out to them -- they probably want feedback more than you think," he concluded.