Research Highlights

Encouraging More Feedback Seeking at Work

Elizabeth Morrison
By Elizabeth Morrison and Elad N. Sherf
Research supports the benefits of employees seeking feedback -- information on how they are doing and how they can improve. So why do employees often fail to ask for feedback? NYU Stern Professor Elizabeth W. Morrison concluded in recent research that one barrier to seeking feedback is having a high level of self-efficacy, or high confidence in one’s ability to succeed. However, her work showed that this barrier is mitigated if coupled with a proclivity to step outside of one’s own perspective and think about others’ points-of-view.

In “I Do Not Need Feedback! Or Do I? Self-Efficacy, Perspective Taking, And Feedback Seeking,” Professor Morrison and co-author, Elad N. Sherf, explored the personal and interpersonal dynamics of feedback seeking. They designed a series of five studies, utilizing different methodologies and samples of employees, to probe the extent to which people’s self-efficacy is related to their asking for feedback from managers, subordinates, or peers.

The authors’ core argument was that self-efficacy acts as a powerful internal source of information about one’s performance, which may cause people with high self-efficacy to discount the value of feedback from outside sources. Therefore, unless high self-efficacy is tempered by something that motivates people to consider external sources of information, it may curtail feedback seeking. The tempering factor that the authors examined was perspective taking, or the process of imagining the world from others’ viewpoints.

The results of the five studies supported these arguments. In the absence of perspective taking, high self-efficacy resulted in less feedback seeking. However, when individuals were asked to engage in perspective taking, or had strong perspective taking tendencies, this negative effect either disappeared or reversed.

These findings show that high level of self-efficacy in the absence of perspective taking can make one less likely to invest effort in trying to gather information that can be used to assess and improve one’s performance. The results apply to not just employees, but also leaders, who generally have high self-efficacy (which is good!) but could likely benefit from engaging in more feedback seeking.