This is Part 3.3 of the Building the Foundation to Start a Personal Development Journey Mini-Series. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3.1, click here. For Part 3.2, click here.
Now in this article we’re going to look at advice itself and the act of giving advice. This article will discuss why you shouldn’t give advice, what to do instead, and a surprising reason why you should give advice. We’ll also look at advice in the workplace (feedback) and how it can be given effectively.
Types of Advice
There are four types of advice given, specifically for decision making. Advice for, advice against, information, and decision support. Advice for is traditional advice telling someone what to do or to do something. Advice against can also be considered traditional advice but is instead telling someone what not to do or to not do something. Information advice is—just like the name says—giving information and options on the specific topic of advice that the decision maker might not know about, without telling them what to and what not to do. Decision support is advice on the decision-making process to help someone make a decision.
When it comes to advice within the workplace, instead of being called advice it’s more likely called feedback and sometimes constructive criticism. This term is also used for business, educational, institutional, and professional settings. There are good types of feedback and bad types of feedback. The types of feedback are positive feedback, negative feedback, and constructive feedback. Positive feedback focuses on what someone is doing good at (praise) and reinforcing that behavior. Negative feedback focuses on criticism about the person or behavior which tends to be a judgment or opinion. Critical feedback is another term for negative feedback. Constructive feedback is information specific, issue-focused and based on observations.
We’re going to first look at advice among casual and social relationships and not work-related advice (feedback) which I briefly wrote about under types of advice. We’ll get to that—which can be a little different.
First of all, why do we give advice?
The Psychology of Those Who Give Advice
Giving advice is natural to us as human beings. It’s an instinct to want to give advice. It makes us feel better. We are social beings programmed to share our experiences, stories, and with that, having the ability to help and create change among others. Even when our friend, partner or family member comes to us with their problems and complaints, it can feel like the natural and right thing to do.
We also get to showcase our knowledge and skills by giving advice. And we want to feel like those things have a more significant purpose than just in our own lives.
Some of us give advice more often than others. There are the those of us who occasionally give advice to a friend, family member or partner. And then there are those of us who are more extreme about giving advice and give it a lot more often.
Most of the time giving advice is done with good intent. However, self-interest has just as big of a role as interest in the receiver’s needs.
But since we’re just trying to help, it can’t do any harm, right? No.
The problem with giving advice is that it can often do more harm than good. Not to mention if it even is good advice. I talk about 14 pieces of popular advice that are actually bad advice here.
Why You Should Stop Giving Advice
Oh, the irony. Someone who gives advice on a personal development blog giving the advice to not give advice and then giving some more advice. Well, it has to be said. And there are better ways to helping others solve their problems.
If anyone does take this advice, it might actually save a relationship/friendship or two.
Of course, there are different forms of advice and different situations. If your friend is asking for your advice, there’s nothing wrong with giving them advice. Even if they are coming to you with an issue in their life, sometimes, given the situation, it can be okay to give advice depending on how it’s delivered.
Here we’re talking about unsolicited advice. Giving advice when the receiver doesn’t want it or ask for it regardless whether they “need” it or not.
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’re lost.” — Dalai Lama
They don’t want your advice
This reason alone should be good enough reason to not give someone advice. We should at least respect that. If they didn’t ask, they probably don’t want it. If they genuinely wanted our advice, they would’ve asked. A lot of times people just want to vent and just want someone to listen. They either already know what to do or there is no decision to be made.
In that case, regardless of whether they “need to hear it” or not “you should’ve or shouldn’t have done this” might not always be helpful and can, in fact, be harmful.
An internet poll asked people if they liked receiving unsolicited advice. The three answers were 1) no 2) yes and 3) only if the right person gives it. Out of 847 people, 56% said no, 6% said yes, and 38% said only if the right person gives it. A similar poll shows similar results.
I don’t believe it’s really only about the right person, it’s also about the right way and the right context.
It assumes the other person does not have the knowledge or ability themselves
In an article written Kristin Wong on The Cut, she shares a short story about when her credit card info was stolen. She knew to call her bank right away, cancel the card and request a new one. She later mentioned about her info being stolen to a co-worker only to be interrupted and told to do the three things she already did.
Without being asked what she should do about her card, the coworker assumes she doesn’t know what to do or can’t figure it out herself.
When we tell someone what to do or what they should do or should be doing, we’re unintentionally implying that we know better and that they’re emotionally or intellectually incapable of making that decision or knowing what to do in a particular situation.
It can be insulting to a lot of people if they feel as though their abilities are underestimated. And we can sometimes end up looking like a fool like the co-worker in the story.
It can be a form of seeking control
When someone is so-called concerned with their friend’s health, and the weight they assume has to do with it, that person may want to give advice to their friend on how they should be more concerned for their weight and health. They may also want to advise how to lose weight.
Even when the friend never mentioned anything about their weight to the person, they are imposing their desire to change their friend. It’s about what they want, not about what their friend wants. Not to mention that it’s incredibly unkind and impolite. It’s also not their place.
Since it’s unwanted, it becomes a subtle form of wanting to gain control and authority over that person. You want them to listen to you and do what you say. Giving advice in a sense is a way to tell others what to do. Wanting to change someone is wanting to control them.
A set of four studies ran by Michael Schaerer found that when people give advice, it increases their sense of power. One of these studies also showed that those who seek power are more likely to give advice than those who don’t.
This doesn’t mean that every time any person gives advice, they’re just power hungry. I don’t believe that people are entirely conscious about this, that there still can be well-meaning intentions behind the advice they give. People don’t give advice to harm although it can be unintentionally harmful.
And seeking control does not necessarily make someone a bad person. Think of it like the following example. If we are ever in a situation where we find out someone has hurt a loved one, even as minor as a breakup or hurtful remark, naturally we hurt too. And we want to take control of the situation. We may get angry and want to say something to that person or tell our loved one to retaliate or do something that they might not want to. We may do all this instead of supporting and comforting our hurt loved one. But we do this because we don’t want to feel helpless in our friend’s situation and not be able to change it, so we react this way.
There can be healthier ways to want to lead and influence someone. Giving advice is not the right way to do it. It shows a lack of communication, leadership, and people skills.
It comes from one’s often limited point of view
We may not have any knowledge or experience in dealing with depression or a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one or a traumatic experience or losing weight. Just as we have our own unique set of experiences in life, other people do as well beyond our comprehension. The advice we give only comes from our own perspective. And ours alone. We do not have the ability to walk in the shoes of others.
What we’re being told may sometimes be just the tip of the iceberg.
Oftentimes it’s really not our place to give advice. We do not fully understand the position the other person is in. Just one isolated situation is one thing, but their entire life and past experiences and other present circumstances have to be factored in.
Because we are unable to know how others experience the world, we assume everyone sees the world exactly how we do.
Experiences also do not happen in a vacuum. No two experiences are exactly the same given previous life experiences and reactions, character, and mindset.
Two similar experiences can be seen and reacted to completely different by different people. It’s why some people get PTSD from the same traumatic event, and others don’t. One person who experienced child abuse growing up may go on to continue the cycle with their own children while the other person who also suffered abuse as a child stops the cycle of violence as an adult.
What all of this also means is that what works for us will not necessarily work for others.
It bears the burden of others problems
This mostly goes for those of us who go out of our way to give advice even when there is no given dilemma. For example, giving advice to strangers at the gym for how to squat correctly or telling a quiet person you barely know at a party to loosen up and be more social.
This also applies for those us who want to fix and save those around us.
When we stress about others’ lives and problems and how they live, it bears an unnecessary burden. We already have our own day to day stresses and obstacles. Consider it liberating to not have to worry about fixing others’ problems on top of your own. Live and let live. Be and let be. Instead of imposing our rules and way of doing things because we think it’s best. Unless you are asked, there is nothing wrong with not giving any advice at all to someone.
Focus first on being the best you you can be.
Also, if you’re a serial advice giver, know that you’re giving advice for free. People earn a living from giving advice from therapists to life coaches or any kind of coach to teachers to tutors to mentors to consultants to bloggers 😉 to YouTubers or creators to advice columnists to anyone selling a how-to or informational or self-help course, ebook, or regular book. If everyone in the office comes to you for advice with their problems, consider charging for your advice. Maybe even consider starting a blog.
A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that we’re more likely to use the advice that we’ve paid for than advice that’s given for free, regardless of if there’s no difference in quality.
If you feel as though the advice you have should be followed, consider charging for it or finding a way to make money from it. Make it your job. It then becomes a win-win. It no longer becomes unsolicited. People are seeking your advice, therefore, are more likely to use your advice. And you get paid! 💰
You do not have to deal with the results
You are not responsible for someone’s actions from taking your advice. Therefore, you are not responsible for the consequences of their actions. There are exceptions legally, of course. Speaking of, this also means that you risk being sued for giving someone advice. That’s one of the reasons why I have a disclaimer page—to protect myself legally since I do share advice on my blog.
Because you are not responsible for their actions, you are not the one taking the risks that you are advising them to make. You don’t have to live with the consequences. Neither are you the one that has to deal with the effort and possible sacrifices put into taking certain advice. Neither do you have to deal with the potential financial costs of taking your advice. Like, say, advising someone to buy a costly product.
It leads to contempt and resentment
“To meet complaint with unrequested council earns for the advisor a fortune of hidden contempt.” – Greek Proverb
Too much unsolicited advice can be a subtle form of contempt. I’ve talked about the dangers of contempt in relationships here. Unsolicited advice is not so extreme or obvious though.
Although most of us have good intentions when it comes to giving advice, giving advice can sometimes be used to passive-aggressively express our anger or hurt the other person.
Unsolicited advice is usually considered intrusive and can overstep boundaries. It can be patronizing and condescending. Giving advice can also be insensitive given certain situations. Just like the above quote stated, giving unsolicited advice often does more harm than good.
We, as humans, thirst for approval. When we are criticized, we take it as rejection. This can be painful for us—some more than others.
People don’t like being told what to do. That’s partially what is so attractive about entrepreneurship—being your own boss. Besides that, being told what to do automatically triggers defensiveness. Giving advice makes assumptions about the other person.
Depending on the advice, we can also be implying that the person needs to be saved or fixed. They may also feel judged because their decisions that were advised against were wrong. Judging the actions and decisions that person made. No one likes to be told they’re wrong either. It’s also telling them that you know better than they do. In other words, it shows contempt.
There are four types of social support—emotional support, esteem support, informational support, and tangible support. Informational support is just a fancy term for advice giving (not to be confused with information advice). Which types of support are more effective and least effective in supporting someone have been studied.
Regarding relationships and marriage, research on marital satisfaction and support conducted by Erika Lawrence at the University of Iowa found that too much advice (informational support) is worse than no support at all. Informational support was also the most detrimental form of support. Romantic partners want empathy, validation, and appreciation first and foremost. They want a lover, not a coach.
Many people can see advice as an attack. You’re not only challenging their competency and self-efficacy but their personal freedom as well.
It also weakens communication. It can often end the conversation because the person feels judged and defensive.
Bearing and taking responsibility for one’s own life also leads to tremendous growth.
Unsolicited advice can damage your relationships.
You may receive backlash
Because of the above reason, you may provoke even more unintended negative consequences. People may act rebelliously and go against exactly what you said to do or not do.
This was the case for me when adults continuously gave me the unsolicited advice to go to college back in high school. It made me feel like I was being forced to and made me not want to go. And frankly, it made me annoyed and mad. I wanted to go because I wanted to go. I wanted to make my own decision. And that led to me not going to college right after high school. Even though I initially did want to go.
Some people unsurprisingly may get defensive and angry because of the reasons listed above.
Even those that ask for advice may give you countless reasons why your suggestions won’t work.
If you want to see for yourself what people want to tell those who give unsolicited advice, look up unsolicited advice meme, and check out the images.
Traditional advice (do this, do that) helps to persuade someone to agree with you, but it barely helps them learn and grow. As shown above, unsolicited advice that does more harm than good is ineffective. Someone becoming angry and upset with you is not going to help them. It can actually create more problems.
Unsolicited advice can be seen as criticism in disguise especially when it pertains to their person or behavior. Criticism is perceived as an attack. People’s gut reaction to receiving criticism is to defend themselves. Because people react to criticism with defensiveness, people will automatically try to justify themselves and their behavior instead of changing. It doesn’t matter how true or well-intended the advice is.
Also, very few people will follow through and act out unsolicited advice. Even if it is excellent advice. Because of reactance theory, people will react with defensive defiance. Their personal freedom is being threatened, and they’ll want to make the best of their independent decision making. It stops the creative brainstorming that may lead to learning something new.
It’s kind of like what people sometimes like to call “reverse psychology.” People will do the opposite of what they’re told to do. Just like I did when in the example above when people told me to go to college. Whether someone rebels against what they’re told or not highly depends on how they’re told and it makes them feel.
Research also found that receiving advice makes people feel less confident in ourselves and our abilities.
People are also more likely to fail depending on how the advice is given. First of all, the decreased confidence can be destabilizing for those struggling with reaching their goal. Weight loss studies done at University College London showed that those struggling with weight who had negative support (people who were critical and judgmental of their weight) around them were not only less likely to achieve their weight loss goals but were also more likely to gain more weight instead.
More research conducted at the University of Minnesota Medical School has found that teens and children advised and encouraged to diet and given diet advice by their parents were more likely to be obese and to have eating disorders. The study found that even those who managed to lose weight hate their bodies.
With that, keep in mind that unsolicited advice is seen as a form of criticism.
We also need to consider this:
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself, and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”
Keep in mind I’m someone who enjoys giving advice.
But I’m conscious of it. I make sure to listen. I am aware of my approach and how I give advice. I’m a teacher personality type (ENFJ) so giving advice and wanting to help people feels very natural and good to me. I’m also the eldest of three sisters, and I like to read a lot of articles and books on psychology and relationships and self-improvement. I get eye-rolls jokingly from family members and my partner every time mid-conversation I bring up a study I read about concerning the topic at hand. I do it somewhat often.
During my research on advice, I asked my sisters and a close friend of mine about my advice giving, whether it’s unsolicited and whether it’s helpful, not helpful, or annoying. Both said I don’t give advice very often but when I do it’s “good” and helpful. They either said I don’t give unsolicited advice or they have no collection of me giving it.
My friend told me that she thinks I do give advice a lot. But she never feels as though it is unsolicited because I am a good listener when she comes to me with her complaints and problems. In her words, I am very intuitive; I read people very well. She says I show that I sincerely care, that I make her feel comfortable like she can talk to me about anything and I do not judge her, and I give her a feeling of acceptance the way I speak to her and give my advice. She also said that she thinks my advice is helpful.
I consider myself to be very empathetic and I often hear what some people like to call an “empath.” So, although I think I do somewhat give advice to those around me (probably unsolicited), nobody complains because of my approach. I stick to giving advice in the manner I advise below.
What to Do Instead of Giving Advice
Just be present and really hear the person out. Listening doesn’t just involve not saying anything. It requires actively listening. If we’re in our own head waiting to say something, we’re not listening. If we have internal dialogue going on, we’re not listening.
Fully try to understand the situation and place yourself in that person’s position. You don’t know everything. You can’t read their mind either. Ask them how they feel about it, why they feel or think that way, what they want to happen, what they’re going to do, etc. Obviously, context matters in exactly what questions to ask.
Also, ask if there’s anything you can do.
Come from a place of non-judgment and give unconditional positive regard. Show empathy.
If it came down to just one thing to do instead of giving advice, it would be this. Even for those who wish to give advice. Empathy is essential. I can’t stress the importance of empathy enough.
Research shows trying to help people with their emotional, psychological and social problems is nearly impossible with a lack of empathy. In numerous studies on therapists and the success of their patients, psychologist Arthur Bohart and his colleagues found that there was a correlation between high levels of empathy in therapists and successful outcomes in their patients.
In several other studies, psychiatrist David Burns found, using advanced statistical techniques for distinguishing cause and effect, that a therapist’s ability to empathize is not only positively correlated with a patient’s progress but contributes to it as well. In other words, therapists’ empathy is a causation to the success of patients, not just a correlation.
Another study found that support is more likely to be effective when the person giving the support has higher empathic accuracy which is how accurate someone can understand another person’s thoughts and feelings.
Unconditional positive regard is showing acceptance for someone, what they say, and they’re behavior, no matter what it is. It’s coming from a place of non-judgment.
Be emotional supportive
This type of support can also include physical support like a hug or pat on back.
Another study on support by psychologists Lorenzo, Barry, and Khalifian at the Universities of Maryland and Wyoming analyzed the differences between emotional support and informational support. They found that people who receive emotional support feel better and have higher relationship satisfaction. For most people, emotional support is their preferred support to receive. Overall, emotional support over offering and giving solutions makes couples happier. Researchers suggest to default to emotional support rather than informational support unless they know the other’s preference.
If choosing not to give advice, don’t be cold and unresponsive either. Just because you have no advice to offer doesn’t mean you should just sit there saying nothing, acting distant and awkward when someone wants to talk about something. Although most of us have heard, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all,” instead of saying nothing, it’s better to actually say something that shows you care. People want to be acknowledged. The least you could do is show them acknowledgment.
Help guide them through it. Instead of taking the authoritative and dominant position of telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, help them be the ones to solve their own problems. That way when they encounter future similar issues they are better able to tackle it. I would assume that this would be useful in parenting as well.
It gives them a sense of independence and responsibility as well. It gives them the freedom to make their own decisions.
Someone being able to work through a situation and make a decision on their own, especially a tough one, can really help them grow and learn. We can’t learn and grow if someone is always making decisions for us.
Show confidence in them and their judgment that they are able to do what’s best for them.
People are the expert of their own lives. Expressing confidence in them will help give them confidence in themselves. Sometimes that’s all a person needs, and they will appreciate you for that. This can also be considered esteem support. This type of support is common among life coaches and therapists and often leads clients to start believing in themselves more.
Consider your situation and past life experiences
If we don’t completely understand or have any experience or actual researched knowledge in their situation, it’s better to just be there for comfort, validation, and emotional support. Know that you can be a really great friend without having to give any advice whatsoever. A lot of times someone just needs someone to talk to. That’s it.
What works for you or is right for you might not work or be right for another.
Consider other options and viewpoints than the one you have in mind.
Know that there is not one thing we know 100% of. We all have blind spots. There might be things that you’re overlooking or haven’t considered or thought of.
Consider that they are the ones that have to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Do this before mindlessly giving potentially risky advice. They are the ones that have to live with the results of applying your advice into their life. Not you. You don’t.
Consider that they’re not going to want your advice.
Sometimes they might not want advice or even be looking for a particular solution. They don’t necessarily want to be told they’re right or that everyone should agree with you. Or want you to make excuses for them. They just want to be acknowledged, accepted and understood. Doing this instead of giving advice can deepen your connection with this person.
Learn to accept someone as they are.
If you genuinely loved them and were a friend to them, you would let them be and live their life. Let them make mistakes. Let them figure things out on their own. That’s not being a bad friend. It’s being a good friend. Sometimes they have to see and learn for themselves what we see now.
If we really do have what we deem necessary advice to give…
When it comes to giving advice effectively, it’s really just a matter of how it’s done, the approach, the circumstances (right time, right place, whether it’s appropriate) and who it’s coming from.
Have empathy. Show unconditional positive regard, non-judgment, and compassion
Again, this is first and foremost before anything else, required to give effective advice or to even be a good friend, lover, family member, fellow human being, etc. Be sure to not be condescending and force it by showing pity for someone.
Share your stories and experiences without telling them what they should or shouldn’t do
Instead of telling them what to do, we can offer our personal stories and experiences of what we did when in a similar situation or what we would do. By doing this, they can relate and also learn from our experiences and mistakes. We can do this without telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.
Give information advice
If appropriate and helpful, give information. Studies among college students conducted by Reeshad Dalal and Silvia Bonaccio found that informational based advice was preferred and considered the most helpful out of all the four types of advice listed above. Keep in mind that informational advice is different than informational support. People prefer information advice because it makes them feel as though they are independent and making their own decisions. They are not being told what to do. They are just given information. Getting information also makes people feel more confident in the decision they end up making. It also helps them in their future decision making.
Ask first if you can offer suggestions.
It doesn’t hurt to ask and if they say no, it’s best to respect that.
Keep in mind that your advice may not be taken and be okay with it.
Just because you decide to give someone advice doesn’t they are obligated to take it. They don’t owe you. Advice is a gift. Don’t take it personally. Regardless of whether they do or not, show confidence in their judgment.
Be honest about what you know.
If someone asks a question and you’re not entirely sure, be honest and do the research, then get back to the person. Don’t be afraid of not knowing.
If We Want to Influence a Change in Behavior or Belief
Be an example.
This is helpful if the advice we want to give does not pertain to our friend’s, family member’s or partner’s situations. It’s more effective to influence someone by being a living example of the change or belief we want to encourage. This is called modeling which is a part of observational learning. Research on observational learning combined with reactance theory suggests that people are more likely to follow other’s behaviors than obey instruction and unsolicited advice. This type of method is more useful for those close to us, our children, and those who we spend more time with. Let people see how you live by example.
On The Other Hand – Why You Should Give Advice
Typically when we want to get motivated or get help on reaching a goal, we think it might be helpful to seek out advice. But what if flipping the roles is actually more effective in increasing motivation and confidence in the specific task, goal, or subject? According to studies, the key to motivation is not getting advice but giving it.
An interesting series of studies conducted by Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach suggests that giving advice is a better motivator than receiving advice. These studies sampled different types of populations which included unemployed adults struggling to find a job, adults struggling with anger management, adults struggling with saving money, adults struggling with losing weight, and children struggling with their grades in school.
The middle school students struggling in school spent more time on their homework after giving advice than receiving it from school teachers in collaboration with researchers.
Of the population struggling to save money, 72% of people were more motivated to save money by giving advice than receiving it from experts at America Saves. 68% of the unemployed adults were more motivated to search for jobs from giving advice than receiving it from The Muse, a career advice site. 72% of individuals struggling to lose weight were more motivated and confident about losing weight than receiving it from an established nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic. 77% of people struggling with anger management were more motivated to control their temper by giving advice than receiving it from professional psychologists at the American Psychological Association.
What giving advice does is it gives someone more self-control on the topic of the advice. Lack of self-control is linked to lack of motivation. When people became the giver of advice, they took control into their own hands. It gave the giver of advice more confidence. And confidence plays a major role in motivation that’s often underestimated.
Giving advice also led people to lay out solid goals and plans of action which not only increases motivation but increases chances of achievement.
Surprisingly, the participants were unaware of the effects prior to participating in the studies. They expected to be more motivated by receiving advice than giving it. The results showed otherwise.
Now you may be wondering, “But how can I give advice to help myself if it’s potentially harmful and annoying to others?”
Well, you could either let some friends, coworkers or family in on your method for gaining confidence and motivation in whatever you’re trying to achieve. In other words, simply ask.
Or, if you really want to delve into and tackle an issue or become great at something, you could start a blog on it and document your journey, like me. There’s mentorship or tutoring, but that’s not always an option and not an easy option either.
Teaching or wanting and attempting to teach something can aid in learning about a specific skill or topic or become better at it. Teaching can be very similar to giving advice.
If you want to get better and more knowledgeable about something, it’s a good idea to start a blog about it. I talk about my experiences and lessons learned in my first month blogging here along with resources to help you get started.
Now, let’s looks at advice in the workplace otherwise known as feedback.
Constructive Criticism & Feedback
A lot of jobs require performance reviews. Telling someone what they should do in the workplace is pretty inevitable. This is also often required for educating, coaching, mentorship, leadership, and the like. So how can we do it effectively?
Giving feedback, as a part of the job, is already stressful and difficult for people to give. In surveys conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Harvard Business Review, out of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% claimed that giving negative feedback is stressful or difficult. A fifth never gave any negative feedback whatsoever, completely avoiding it. Nearly 40% conceded to never giving positive feedback either.
The researchers suggested that more managers placed more emphasis on giving critical feedback, deeming it necessary to correct employees when they were making mistakes. Whereas, providing positive feedback was seen more as optional.
Under types of advice section, we talked about the different types of feedback and how some are more effective than others. After reading this article thus far, you can probably guess that critical feedback is the least effective form of feedback. That’s correct.
Critical feedback is found to be harmful because people react negatively to it, people’s performance worsens after receiving critical feedback, and it’s disproportionally given more to women and minorities, negatively affecting diversity in the workplace.
A study conducted by Clifford Nass with a Japanese car company in his book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop found that drivers who were given critical feedback from a car system began to drive worse the more critical feedback they received. The system would say things such as, “You are not driving very well. Please be more careful.” Although the feedback was accurate, it proved to be counterintuitive.
Unfortunately, women are given more criticism in performance reviews than men. A study by Kieran Snyder gathered and analyzed performance reviews from over 180 people. Out of the reviews, 87.9% of women received critical feedback in their performance reviews compared to 58.9% of men. 76% of criticism directed toward women included personal criticism in contrast to less than 2% of criticism directed at men including personal criticism. These differences are statistically significant.
Because critical feedback worsens performance, this could cause systematic differences in the performance of different groups diversity-wise. This type of behavior among groups can create an imbalance in the diversity among the workplace which can lead to resentment among other issues.
How to Give Effective Feedback in the Workplace
Employers should never avoid feedback. In fact, feedback should be given early and often. People need feedback to improve.
However, instead of focusing on what someone is doing wrong (critical feedback), feedback should focus on what someone should improve upon (constructive feedback) and what they’re doing right (positive feedback). People should be told more of what to do rather than what not to do, which points out their mistakes. Removing the words “no” and “don’t” help. It’s better to be direct instead.
It’s also highly important for people to be given positive feedback. In a 2015 Gallup study, 67% of employees who strongly agreed that their manager focused on their strengths are fully engaged at work. In comparison, only 31% of employees who strongly agreed that their manager focused on their weaknesses are fully engaged in their work. In another study, high performing teams receive almost six times more positive feedback than less performing teams. Meanwhile, low performing teams receive twice as much negative feedback than average performing teams.
A study done by APA (American Psychological Association) found that people who feel valued at work report better mental and physical health as well as higher levels of work engagement, satisfaction, and motivation.
A survey by IBM’s WorkTrends with over 19,000 workers found that employees who receive recognition have three times higher engagement that those who don’t receive recognition. The employees who received recognition were also far less likely to quit.
Feedback should also never be personal in nature. It should be information based. Critical feedback that’s personal is nothing more than sugar-coated insults.
How feedback is given is just as, if not more important than the feedback being given to be effective. The delivery of giving feedback is essential. Studies show that people who receive positive feedback with negative body language like a frown feel worse about their performance that people who receive negative feedback with positive body language like a smile. This is why it’s also recommended to give feedback in person.
Just like giving advice in a personal and social setting, the same goes for educational and professional settings. As Zenger says, “Effective leadership is all about making an emotional connection with people in order to have a greater amount of influence.”
Giving advice or feedback effectively all boils down to how we make a person feel. There are ways to help people, and be able to influence and lead. Successful relationships take effort and education, both personal relationships and professional relationships. Communication is a skill that is necessary for a living functioning being in today’s society. As indicated in the data above, how we communicate and how others communicate with us can be a leading factor in our overall health, happiness, and success.