Constructive Feedback: Study Found 97.4% Refuse to Give It.

Positive Feedback. Negative Feedback. Destructive Feedback. Constructive Feedback. Criticism. All of these forms of feedback appeared in a single article entitled “A Comprehensive Guide to Constructive Feedback [2022].”

We all know that critical, destructive feedback doesn’t tend to yield great results. One explanation is that unadulterated fault finding feels threatening. So, the brain goes into defensive fight, flight, or freeze mode — significantly inhibiting our productivity and well-being in general.

Because rejection activates the same part of the brain as physical pain, it has even been recommended that people take Tylenol to help mitigate this kind of emotional pain.

Positive feedback, on the other hand, sounds good and, when it is true, it is good. But if and when it is masking an uncomfortable truth, it can be toxic positivity, and here is a recent post on that.

This leaves negative feedback and constructive feedback, and looks to me like the latter is just a nicer way of saying the former. That is, constructive feedback is giving negative feedback constructively.

And yet, studies show that giving negative feedback constructively is not something we humans are all that good at. So, mostly we don’t — only 2.6% of participants did — even when recipients would have really wanted them to. This held even when it was something as simple as ‘there is a typo on your slide’.

Here is a story from an earlier post:

Organizational Politics: Theory and Practice, Practice, Practice… is a training program I first designed and delivered at Harvard Medical School. One of the program’s exercises is the 5 Why’s, credited to Toyota, but dating back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The idea is that asking “why” after the answer to the first question, and then asking “why” after each subsequent answer, will lead us to a root cause understanding of who we are and why we do what we do — or not. Here below is a case example:

Case Illustration: 5 Why’s and the Sleepy, Grumpy CEO

Q1: Why does it bother me so much that my adversary is not on board?

A1: Because I am wasting so much energy trying to bring him on board.

Q2: Why do I need to stop wasting energy trying to bring him on board?

A2: Because I could use that energy to move the project along. (Now the very grumpy CEO is getting annoyed with what seem like stupid questions but persists.)

Q3: Why do I need to move the project along?

A3: To fulfill the organization’s mission.

Q4: Why do I need to fulfill the organization’s mission?

A4: To make everyone happy, even though I know that’s not possible.

Q5: Why do you need to make everyone happy?

A5: So, I can feel like a good person.

Time after time, person after person, regardless of age and gender, no matter how high up the organizational ladder — the answers were the same. Everyone wanted to be, to feel, and to be seen as a good person…. from an evolutionary perspective, reputation counts. We reap what we sow, and so on.

Bottom line IMHO: We want to look and feel like we are good, so we play it safe and hold our tongues. Surely there are many ways to understand why we shirk from constructive feedback, but I do think this one says a lot. And costs us a lot too.

Here, from “A Comprehensive Guide to Constructive Feedback [2022],” is some of what is lost when we fail to step up for each other:

  • Constructive feedback boosts professional development.If you receive actionable, specific, and timely feedback from your peers or leadership, this is impactful to your professional development. Since you’re able to implement the feedback right away, it’s easier to make that progression.
  • Constructive feedback deepens rapport.When feedback becomes a ritual among an organization and is constantly practiced, it encourages people to be honest and communicative. Over time, your team’s culture, trust, and transparency will strengthen.
  • Constructive feedback addresses expectations.Regular feedback eliminates the guesswork from what is expected, from the employee and the manager. It opens up a conversation to improve the overall employee-manager relationship and sets clear expectations on both sides.

Well, if the issue, or at least a big part of the issue, is that we don’t want to look or feel like we are bad — how about we do it nicely? There is tons of material on the internet on how to give constructive feedback, but I like this: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial.

These are the guidelines from the ancients that I mention often, and try to live by as much as I can. Making as sure as we can that our words and deeds are True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial. How can we go wrong when we meet that test? And all the many people the studies show really do want our help will love us for it.

Try this for yourself, see what you find, and let us know.

Warm wishes,


Photo by Pexels Markus Winkler



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Madelaine Weiss

Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC