Traditionally, it has been assumed that feedback plays a major role in professional and personal growth. By allowing us to identify our weaknesses and acknowledge our strengths, feedback is supposed to inspire us to improve. But recent studies and experiments suggest that feedback may have little or no impact on how we perform on many occasions. Not only that - under certain circumstances, it can even be harmful.
Nevertheless, we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged by this since we still need strategies to find guidance on getting better at our work. In this sense, studies have shown that receiving advice instead of feedback produces a much more significant impact on our performance.
Advice helps us focus on the future
One of the main differences between feedback and advice is where they turn their gaze: while feedback tends to focus on the past, advice offers leads into what can be done in the future. When asked to deliver feedback, we think of the process as a type of evaluation in which we are required to judge other people’s performance instead of imagining how it can be transformed. A most undesired consequence of this backward-looking approach is that the recipient will usually concentrate on those comments that underline poor performance. This is due to negativity bias - the fact that things of a negative nature typically have a greater psychological impact than positive or neutral ones, which tend to be dismissed.
On the contrary, when we receive advice, our attention is turned to the future actions that can be undertaken to improve our performance. This is why advice tends to enhance proactiveness and creativity instead of promoting frustration and demotivation by pushing us to dwell on our past mistakes.
Vague Feedback vs. Specific Advice
When delivering feedback to peers or employees, most people are prone to express vague comments that only address general aspects of their performance. Also, feedback usually involves unspecific praise that doesn’t really help the recipient. When giving advice, on the contrary, we must develop ideas about what strategies someone can adopt in the future to improve their performance. This forces us to be as specific and thorough as possible to convey our views clearly and effectively.
Vague feedback has also been signaled as a potential threat to equality at work. One study conducted by scholars of Stanford University revealed that women tend to receive more vague feedback than men. This type of feedback fails to offer them guidance on which of their actions are most valued and how their accomplishments have positively impacted the organization. This means that feedback, especially when poorly delivered, silently holds women back in the workplace.
How to Receive More Effective Advice
Once we recognize the advantages of receiving advice instead of feedback, we need to address the strategies that can help us increase its effectiveness. So whenever you reach out for advice, take into account these three helpful hints:
- Find the right person for you: when we seek advice, we tend to think that multiple views will broaden our perspective and better help us understand how to improve. But research shows this may not be the most effective strategy. While hearing different voices can cause us confusion, a single person with the proper knowledge on the subject and committed to delivering quality advice can serve us much better.
- Be specific about your needs: the whole sense of receiving advice is learning what can help you get better. So try to be as straightforward as possible about what aspects of your work you want to improve, and try to receive suggestions about new actions, behaviors, or initiatives that can lead you in the right direction.
- Never settle for vague comments: precisely because most of us are mainly trained at giving feedback, you may still receive vague remarks on your performance even when you specifically asked for advice. If this happens, never hesitate to probe further to get the answers you are looking for.
In most organizations, feedback is still the predominant strategy to enhance professional growth and performance improvement. Nonetheless, studies, experiments, and research on this matter are challenging us to consider embracing a whole new paradigm: one in which we are no longer passive recipients of general comments on our performance but rather become active seekers of practical advice to get better at what we do.