How do people learn from feedback in the workplace? – Review – CRADLE seminar series 3 August 2021

So what have we learned about feedback seeking and sharing in the workplace? Honorary Professor Gordon Joughin reviews our latest seminar.

Dr Gordon Joughin joined CRADLE as an Honorary Professor in June 2016. He is a higher education consultant working with CRADLE on decision making in assessment. In this post, Gordon provides his insights on Professor Fredrik Anseel’s presentation of 3 August 2021 How do people learn from feedback in the workplace? From feedback seeking to feedback sharing.’

Professor Frederik Anseel’s seminar has clearly shown how complex and contentious the giving, receiving, and acting on feedback is. His 2015 summary of over 30 years of research into what is termed ‘feedback seeking behaviour’ – employees seeking appraisals of their work quite apart from formal evaluations – has much to offer higher education practitioners and researchers.

My CRADLE colleagues, David Boud, Phillip Dawson, and Joanna Tai, drew on this work in our recent article, ‘What can higher education learn from feedback seeking behaviour in organisations? Implications for feedback literacy.’ There we noted several of the points raised by Professor Anseel, including the reasons people have for seeking feedback (learning/improvement versus demonstrating competence), checking the likely value of feedback against the costs (principally to their ego) of seeking it, and the qualities looked for in potential feedback providers.

The frameworks for understanding feedback seeking in organisations are now quite sophisticated, comprehensive and complex and provide an excellent basis for extending our understanding of feedback in higher education.

But where does this all lead us? Does feedback work?

The answer from organisational studies is somewhat shocking. The review of research by Anseel and his colleagues concluded that there was no strong relationship between feedback seeking behaviour and performance – a pill that cannot be sugar-coated.

For a more positive spin, my thoughts turn to Stone and Heen’s popular work, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback WellThis provides extensive advice on how to make the most of feedback even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood’!!

Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process in performing arts provides a model of a structured group feedback process that facilitates feedback seeking in an ongoing supportive group environment, creating the kind of context for a deep level of processing advocated by Professor Anseel.

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