Feedback is a critical individual resource for achieving a wide range of valued goals and needs in organizations. It enables individuals to be aware of the contingencies in their environment; know which behaviors are most appropriate for achieving important goals; and discern how these goals are being evaluated and perceived by others around them.
Feedback-seeking refers to individuals intentionally and proactively seeking feedback from their environment, on desired goals and objectives. There is an underlying assumption that when individuals proactively solicit critical feedback they will be less inclined to disregard it. There is also a greater chance that they will hear it less defensively and use it for improving performance.
Broadly speaking, monitoring and inquiry are the two ways people seek feedback. In monitoring, the individual discreetly scans the environment and individual behaviors for clues. Inquiry, on the other hand, involves direct, explicit conversation about feedback on some topic. Unsurprisingly, in many organization contexts, the inquiry model of seeking feedback can have potentially greater costs for the person seeking the feedback – risk appearing incompetent, exposing lack of knowing or hearing a disconfirming message about the self.
“… in many organization contexts, the inquiry model of seeking feedback can have potentially greater costs for the person seeking the feedback.”
The relational context between feedback-giver and receiver/seeker influences the frequency of feedback seeking. Supportive interpersonal relationships, a supervisor’s considerate leadership style can enhance or depress the fears of image costs, and thus the likelihood of seeking feedback. In the end, the larger organizational culture impacts seeking of feedback, in the meanings it gives to the act of seeking feedback – for example, does it signal learning and growth or insecurity and incompetence?
At the individual level, the individual’s goal orientation once again impacts feedback-seeking behavior. A learning goal orientation comes with the belief that ability is a malleable attribute that can be honed through effort and experience. A person with this orientation will tend to view feedback as diagnostic information about how to improve performance, rather than as a judgment of their competency and worth. They will perceive greater value and lower cost for feedback-seeking and will engage in more feedback seeking than individuals without this orientation. Moreover, when those with learning goal orientation face an unfavorable situation such as failing at some task or social rejection, they are more likely to adapt their response to maintain task interest, remain persistent and escalate effort. Thus, people with such orientation are likely to show greater resilience in face of a difficult feedback interaction (e.g. poorly framed and delivered feedback or critical feedback offered publicly).
When employees are young or new to the job or organization they are more likely to seek feedback because the information is particularly valuable to reduce uncertainty and to foster adaptation in their new role. There’s also less to lose as they are expected to know less. In contrast senior employees are less likely to seek feedback because there might be greater threat of not knowing at higher levels and they often attach less value to feedback from below.