Leadership of teams requires feedback why do we focus on the negative?

Leadership of teams – Summary – Must have 9

  • We know positive feedback yields improved performance
  • Statistical regression to the mean governs the behaviour we observe
  • I provide positive feedback I am being paid with a worse outcome.
  • I provide negative feedback, the performance improves
  • Always opt for constructive, building feedback, since it provides better results in the long term and paves the way for a long lasting high performance team

Positive feedback counters our observed experience

I am reviewing my presentation on building highly effective teams, preparing tomorrow’s keynote in Charleston, thanks Ron. The ninth and probably elusive Must Have of building and leading a highly effective team is: Provide development opportunities and recognition.

We know that constructive feedback is the cornerstone for individual and team growth yet many times we find ourselves focusing on the negative.


Let’s start by observing the possible feedback options we have: (see full pitcure below)

Positive Negative
Addition Positive Reinforcement

Pleasurable and increases probability of repeat behaviour


Unpleasant leading to a decrease in repeat behaviour

Subtraction Extinction

Avoidance of an unpleasant stimulus increases the likelihood of repeat behaviour

Negative Reinforcement

Removal of a pleasant stimulus decreases the likelihood of repeat behaviour

We can add and subtract a positive and a negative – four options.

For example: my son returns from school with an A+ in math, I am very happy and let him watch TV until late. That is an example of a Positive Addition.

Compare that with my son returning from school with a D in math, so I make him visit my mother in law, that is supposedly a Negative Addition…(don’t fret Nitza you’re a lovely mother in law J )

So these are our options, question is, why do we find it so easy to focus more on the negative.

To our help comes a break-through research by Nobel Prize Laureate Daniel Kahneman. In his bestseller book: Thinking Fast and Slow Professor Kahneman discusses many irrationalities in our thinking.

He tells a story of, as a young psychologist, observing the behavior of feedback at a military flight training school.

Before that though let’s discuss the concept of statistical regression to the mean which in everyday life translates to something like: No matter how bad things get or how good, things always come back to the middle.

So when we are at our lowest and all traditional medicine fails, and we seek the help of an alternative healer, there’s a good chance that probability wise we will get better and wrongly attribute it to a Lay-of-Hands. And if we don’t make it, than we won’t be able to debunk it….

Jerry Seinfeld episode depicts the concept succinctly.

Back to Kahneman, he noticed that:

When an instructor provides praise for good performance the next landing is worse; when an instructor provides criticism for bad performance the next landing is better. Though the instructor might have learnt that positive feedback is better, it doesn’t coincide with the actual experience.

Actually we are witnessing a vicious cycle. When my son returns with an A+ ; I am thrilled and we go to eat out at MacDonald’s ; next time he has a D- we eat at Legal Seafood (cold soup and overpriced mains), next time he evens-out and gets a B+.

So my thinking is something like: bad sea food is nourishing.

Seriously though, what I am experiencing is that when I provide positive feedback I am being paid with a worse outcome. When I provide negative feedback, the performance improves.

Of course, the performance in this case has nothing to do with the feedback given, rather it revolves around an unseen statistical mean.

However: if we wish to improve the MEAN we get much better results by pulling upward from a constructive positive feedback approach.

We know it, yet because of the feedback cycle described, we fail to Experience it!

Does it happen to us? Normally people refute these findings…however many of our interactions our governed by the described process.

Actually on average when we are nice to others we might be paid with a lesser than expected response and when we are rude we might be paid we a nicer than expected response – quite confusing.

However in the long term being nice yields better results no matter the local occurrences.

If we want our teams to improve – always opt for constructive, building feedback, since it provides better results in the long term and paves the way for a long lasting high performance team!

Read more on the nine must haves – Building Highly Effective Teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *