Feedback, a mechanism at the heart of feedback effectiveness

by | Feb 27, 2024 | All, Women in Entrepreneurship, Women in Leadership | 0 comments

Auteur: Marie Donzel dans Eve Magazine-8 janvier 2024

What makes feedback produce learning and change? Feedback! What is it, then? We put the concept under the microscope.

At the origins: the theory of mechanical logics

The idea of feedback is rooted in the study of cause-effect mechanisms.

When an agent A conducts an action that involves an agent B, agent B reacts to that action. A blue ball hits a red ball, so the red ball moves. First lesson, our actions have impacts on other agents and our environment.

But it happens that the action of A on B induces a return action of B on A. The blue ball touches the red ball. The red ball moves but it also changes the trajectory of the ball A. Second teaching: by impacting other agents, I impact myself.

Now imagine that we have more than two balls: the ball A touches the ball B which has effects on the ball C, the D and infinity. In other words, acting on the other is acting on the environment and acting on oneself. This is called systemic!

The causal loops

But let’s not multiply the number of players right away… Because we need to take a closer look at what happens when one agent interacts with another. Several scenarios are possible:

  • By acting on Agent B (for example by commenting on his participation in the collective work), Agent A observes in return an adaptation of B’s behaviour that goes in the direction desired by A. Agent A and Agent B progress in the same direction.
  • But it is possible that the action of A on B produces in the latter a different effect. B adapts its behavior to the action of A but not necessarily the way A imagined it. For example: A has alerted B to the presence of spelling mistakes in his writings, waiting for B to read himself more carefully; but B thinks that the best is to ask C to write under his dictation.
  • The action of A on B can also be inhibiting. The comments of A on the spelling of B discourage B to write the report, or even to participate in the collective work for fear of not being able to do a good job.
  • A’s action on B can still be counterproductive. Since A pointed out to B that he makes too many mistakes, B does even more than before

The strengthening effects

What is at work in this diversity of possible scenarios? Des effets de renforcement, nous disent les psys comportementalistes. C’est assez simple : .si un agent reçoit une récompense pour ses actions, il comprend et intègre que l’action est bonne et il est motivé pour la reproduire

Mais est-ce à dire que quand ce même agent est puni, il intègre que l’action est mauvaise et s’interdit de la reproduire ? If it were that simple, the penalties would be enough to prevent the reoffending of criminal acts. That is not what the studies on prison systems demonstrate so convincingly.

Self-esteem at the center of the motive

In humans, there is something at the center of feedback that makes all the difference: self-esteem. As one of the favorite objects of behaviorism, self-esteem affects the individual’s sense of value.

When this feeling is damaged, the individual is subjected to stress which leads to reactions of:

  • defence/aggressiveness (justification of his actions, including using bad faith; disqualification of the author of the feedback; resentment and possibly desire for revenge; jealousy…)
  • submission (excessive or even blind obedience, feeling of guilt, complex imposture, over-work and perfectionism in the hope of limiting the risk of being caught in default…)
  • leakage (self-censorship, avoidance, withdrawal, disengagement, etc.).

These are usually not the reactions expected from feedback.

Preserve the ego without flattering it too much?

It is therefore a good idea to maintain the other person’s self-esteem when you want to change their behaviour. Except that we are always a little suspicious when it comes to caressing the ego of others, especially if it comes to telling them that there are things that are not right. Is brushing your self-esteem in the direction of the hair, not a kind of counter-message when you want to tell him precisely that his way of being and acting is problematic?

The whole challenge is to manage to motivate the change of behavior without hurting the other in his identity and in his feeling of having value For this, we can distinguish self-esteem from self-satisfaction: the individual has value, he is entitled to recognition; but everything he produces is not necessarily equal to this value. Not “working well” over a period of time does not speak to the individual’s potential, abilities and skills. Above all, it speaks to the need to create the conditions for “better work”: time, resources, support, motivation, confidence… And of course feedback!

What about the feedback giver’s self-esteem?

But one cannot conclude an article on feedback without looking at strengthening the feedback giver.

Logically, when he gets behavioral changes that he considers «positive», he nourishes the feeling not only that he is right on the substance but also that he has good abilities to give feedback. Let us not discourage him, but also remind him of the importance of supporting opinions contrary to his own and the need to adapt to each individual with whom he interacts his ways of giving feedback. As finally, the first softskill to activate is whe we give feedback is empathy Yes, yes, the very one that allows us to work from the self-esteem of the other and its levers of motivation.

The points of view expressed by the authors of videos, academic or non-academic articles, blogs, academic books or essays (“the material”) are those of their author(s); they in no way bind the members of the Global Wo.Men Hub, who, amongst themselves, do not necessarily think the same thing. By sponsoring the publication of this material, Global Wo.Men Hub believes that it contributes to useful debates in society. The material could therefore be published in response to others.

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