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Providing-and-Receiving Feedback:
Strategies to Increase Productivity


Ideas from a summary about Developing a Productive Community will be examined more thoroughly in this page.  Here are the basic ideas:

    A collaborative team should develop functional diversity by including people who:  have diverse abilities, experiences, and perspectives;  can effectively function together as a collaborative team, working cooperately to pursue the team's goals.
    A team can be more productive by getting more experiences (due to their diversity, and with attitudes that encourage a sharing of ideas) and learning more from their experiences (with attitudes that encourage productive responses to idea-sharing), so all members of a team should try to improve their skills in sharing and responding.


The summary concludes with optimism:  "Ideally, each member of a community... will develop, for themself and their community," ways to help their team be more effective in solving problems.

This page continues describing strategies-and-actions to convert "ideally" into “actually” in a productive culture — by Getting More Experiences & Learning More from Experiences — and also to reduce the effects of less-productive culture that can hinder a team's productivity.


a humble disclaimer:  In all areas of life, including collaborative teamwork, a wide variety of factors interact in complex ways.  These interactions are studied in the related social sciences of psychology & sociology, for individuals & groups.  Strategies for optimizing the interactions, to make them more productive for individuals & groups, are studied by experts in management.  With appropriate humility, I recognize that this page will barely skim the surface of these complexities.  Instead I'm just sharing ideas that, according to experts,* can lead to better productive thinking by improving the mutually supportive interactions of creative thinking and critical thinking with each other, and with ideas-knowledge.   /   Although experts disagree on some questions (as you can see in Pros & Cons of Brainstorming), most agree about most of what I'm describing.


Table of Contents - In this page, you'll find...

Getting More Experiences

    Human Diversity - Physical & Mental, Old & New - First-Hand & Second-Hand - Actions and Attitudes,

Learning More from Experiences

    A Strategy for Learning More - Productive Responses to Feedback (Beneficial Personal Effects of Feedback, Evaluative Discussion, Terms (critical vs evaluative) and Implications, Strategies for Leading-and-Managing),

plus Improving Less-Productive Attitudes and Actions - Causes (Mixed Motivations & Negative Feedback) and Effects.




If a community wants to get more experiences, some factors to consider are...

Functional Diversity:   This happens when a team includes people with a variety of abilities & experiences & perspectives, and they can function well as a collaborative team.     {more about Functional Diversity}

Physical and Mental:   People can learn from physical experiences (when someone does an action, and someone observes what is happening, or did happen) and mental experiences (when someone imagines an action, to predict what will occur).  Therefore I'm defining experience broadly, so it includes the mental experience of generating-and-sharing ideas that are...

Old and New:   We can remember old ideas, and creatively generate new ideas.     {more about Physical and Mental - Old and New}

First-Hand and Second-Hand:   Above, I generalize by saying "someone does... someone observes... someone imagines" because every person can learn from experience whether it's their own first-hand experience or is the second-hand experience of another person.     {more about First-Hand and Second-Hand}


Productive Attitudes:   One way to "function well as a collaborative team" is to develop attitudes that encourage a productive sharing of ideas.     {more about Productive Attitudes}



Below you'll find “more” about each topic-summary,  about Functional Diversity - Physical & Mental, Old & New - First-Hand & Second-Hand - Productive Attitudes.



Functional Diversity

This section builds on the summary.

Human Diversity:  A team that "includes people with a variety of abilities, experiences, and perspectives" can have diversity in life experiences (personal & professional) and culture (race, gender,...), educational backgrounds, disciplinary areas, responsibilities & actions within the team, potentially-relevant knowledge, useful skills (mental & physical, including a wide range of metacognitive thinking strategies), and in other ways.

Cooperative Functionality:

    Some kinds of diversity will contribute more to a team's effectiveness,* and this varies from one problem-solving project to another.
    Having diversity is intrinsically useful because "it isn't necessary for each person to do every part of the process well, if working together the team can do everything well."  This practical utility can occur when people independently use a wide range of skills, and have a wide range of perspectives.  But diversity is typically more useful when a productive sharing of ideas is encouraged by the attitudes of a community.
    One benefit of sharing ideas is to reduce restrictive assumptions by "viewing situations from new perspectives," from the perspectives of people who may not share your assumptions.
    An effective collaborative team works well together, cooperating to pursue common goals. 

* One example of useful diversity is Developing a Creative Community for Lab Education.  Incoming graduate students can be a valuable source of ideas for innovative lab education, because they have "a wide variety of lab experiences... from undergraduate programs throughout the U.S. and in other countries."   This example also illustrates a useful principle for management.



Physical and Mental - Old and New

Physical and Mental:  People can learn from physical experiences and mental experiences.  These include a wide range of information in:

    knowledge about...  Problem-Situations;  Options (for a Problem-Solution) and Option-Properties (predicted & observed);  Theories/Models about "how the world works."
    experiences (first-hand & second-hand) from Experiments (done physically & mentally) that let you generate Observations & Predictions.

Old and New:  You can generate information that is old (already existing) — by remembering it in your personal memory or locating it in our collective memory — and is new.

How?  People have developed a variety of strategies to stimulate generating-and-sharing of ideas.  These include strategies to reduce the restrictions caused by criticality and assumptions and attitudes.



First-Hand and Second-Hand

Every person "can learn from experience whether it's their own first-hand experience or is the second-hand experience of another person."  Each person can supplement their own experiences with the experiences of others.

How?  This will happen more often when a community develops productive attitudes that encourage a sharing of experiences.

Why?  Sharing can be an effective way for members of a team to "view situations from new perspectives" so they can reduce restrictive assumptions that are limiting their creativity.

Why?  When critical evaluative feedback is shared, a team can improve the overall quality of its collective critical thinking and evaluation of options, so it can design a better problem-solution.

What?  There are many kinds of experience.  One kind of supplementing occurs when another person has experiences and they share what they have learned due to observations that were made by themself and/or by others.  Re: your own experiences, you can observe to produce internal feedback, or others can observe and provide external feedback;  you can use both as info-sources to help you learn, with internal metacognition & external empathy.





Productive Attitudes (and Actions)

The summary says "a team can be more productive by getting more experiences (...with attitudes that encourage a sharing of ideas) and learning more from experiences (with attitudes that encourage productive responses to idea-sharing)."  Also, "the usefulness of a team's Evaluative Feedback depends on how well its members Provide Feedback [share ideas] and Receive Feedback [respond to idea-sharing],... so everyone should try to improve their skills [including their attitudes] in doing both," and should understand the interactions between providing & receiving and attitudes.  For example,...

Imagine that when you receive feedback, you welcome it with gracious responses.  Maybe you even try to get more feedback — so you can learn more — by asking your colleagues “what do you see-and-hear?” and “what do you suggest?”  You take time to ask questions and listen to responses.  Your gracious responses (to them) may inspire them to improve their own responses (to you) so they welcome your feedback and use it more productively.  If they “pass it on” in their other relationships, eventually your whole community/team will improve.  The members of your team will develop better feelings about providing & receiving feedback, and (due to a generalizing of attitudes) about other aspects of cooperative collaboration, thus improving the overall learning-performing-enjoying of the whole community.  In these ways, your productive responses-to-feedback will improve relationships and teamwork.


When candid evaluative feedback is appreciated, is welcomed and rewarded, this will lead to expectations that explaining “how it seems from my perspective” will be viewed as helpful productive communication, not a harsh criticism of other perspectives.  In this atmosphere of mutual trust and friendly cooperation, colleagues will be more likely to share ideas that stimulate each other's thinking, that help improve their creative generative thinking and the critical evaluative thinking that is used for their evaluative argumentation.


Beneficial Personal Effects of Feedback

For feedback about performance, both positive feedback (by saying “you did it well”) and negative feedback (saying “you could have done it better”) can be beneficial for individuals and for the community.

Typically, positive feedback about performances will help build shared enthusiasm, in a community, for working together to achieve common goals.  Many benefits are produced when positive reinforcements are common in a community.*  One creativity-stimulating benefit is to persuade everyone that a creative generation of potentially-useful ideas is important (so it's highly valued and is rewarded) even when it's accompanied by a creative generation of ideas that eventually turn out to be non-useful.  This attitude — of encouraging a creative generation of potentially-useful ideas, not discouraging a creative generation of non-useful ideas — is the sociological/psychological foundation of strategies for brainstorming.    /    And positive feedback is almost always possible.  Even when it's tough to find things to praise in a colleague's proposal (and this rarely occurs), usually it should be easy to appreciate the effort invested, and find a way to sincerely praise the person.

IF negative feedback about performance is accurate — and IF the providing-and-receiving is done well — it should be beneficial.  But the quality of providing-and-receiving is important, because if negative feedback is not "done well" the effects can be detrimental.     {positive feedback also can have detrimental effects, but this is less common}


Evaluative Discussion

In education, a process of constructing logical evaluation-based arguments is often called argumentation.  Or, instead of evaluative argumentation it might be useful to call it evaluative discussion, as I'm doing here, for reasons explained below in Terms and Implications.


Evaluation and Argumentation:  During collaborative teamwork, a team evaluates the quality of different Options (for a Problem-Solution) so they can make a wise decision, so they can choose the best possible Solution.  How?  Here are the main ideas from an outline of how Evaluation is used for Argumentation.

    "Evaluations... are the central activity in Design Process.  Your evaluation is the logical foundation for a process of argumentation... [that] can occur inside your own mind, or (when the social skills of communication are used) in a group" when you "use Evaluative Thinking... combined with a Persuasion Strategy and Communication Skills."
    "Attitudes while Arguing:  In a group, usually the main goal of arguers is to influence the process of evaluation-and-decision in wisely productive ways with cooperative teamwork, to help the group choose the best possible problem-solution.  But often unproductive personal motives (re: egos or power) also are part of the process.  When two or more “influencers” argue, attitudes of antagonism (or even angry confrontation) should be minimized in a classroom, and in most other contexts."     {more about personal motives and productive attitudes}

Two Related Skills:  The summary says "The usefulness of a team's Evaluative Discussion depends on how well its members Provide Feedback and Receive Feedback.  Each member of a team will be sometimes a provider and sometimes a receiver [who perhaps becomes a provider with their response], so everyone should try to improve their skills in doing both."  How?  As a provider, they can try to develop accurate understanding and use wise filtering.  As a receiver, a productive response includes learning from the feedback and maybe responding with useful counter-feedback.


Context and Process:  An evaluative process of argumentation (i.e. discussion) can occur within one person, between two people, or in a group.  Interactions can occur in person, by phone, or using email, with response-timings that are quick or delayed.  A time-extended process of Evaluative Discussion might include all of these possibilities, at different times.Responding to Feedback with Counter-Feedback:  A person receiving feedback responds internally by deciding what they will learn from the feedback.  Maybe they also will respond externally, with a non-verbal visible response and/or by providing their own counter-feedback about the original feedback.  Viewed in this way, an argument/discussion is a process with feedback, counter-feedback, counter-counter-feedback, and so on.Dynamic Intensity:  Events in the process can happen quickly or slowly – in person, by phone, or in writing.  Especially when it's quick and in person, roles can change quickly, shifting back & forth between providing & receiving.  In this dynamic context, exchanges can become intense-and-personal, so it's important to maintain good interpersonal relationships with wise filtering (and sometimes “counting to 10”) before counter-responding.  For example,...

One kind of filtering is useful because some people are less able-and-willing to learn from feedback.  Therefore, each person should use a Golden Rule with Empathy by treating others in ways the others want to be treated.  This requires sensitively aware empathetic thinking to decide if another person will view feedback as helpful, instead of just assuming they should view it this way, so they will.  This empathetic understanding can be used as the basis for wise filtering to decide whether it's wise to share feedback, and (if yes) how to share ideas in a way that will be perceived as helpful.



Terms and Implications - Critical versus Evaluative

Maybe attitudes-and-responses would improve if we used a different adjective to describe feedback.  Why?  Because critical can mean "inclined to find fault or to judge with severity," so critical feedback can have negative implications.  Therefore, maybe we should call it evaluative feedback (because evaluative is more emotionally neutral, and more accurate) or formative feedback (when it's intended to help you form yourself into a better person).  Or, constructive feedback (= productive feedback?) might be a useful term;  or, for negative feedback, constructive criticism combines an adjective (constructive) that has positive feeling, and a noun (criticism) with generally-negative feeling.}

Our choice of terms is important because different terms, each with its own connotations, may lead to different perceptions by some people in some situations.

Also, consider argumentation vs discussion, or argue vs discuss.  Here the connotations are clear, and are strong for some people.  Although some terms (a logical argument and argumentation activity) have special meanings that are understood by people in the fields of philosophy & education, more generally it probably will be useful to use terms that are more emotionally neutral, like discussion.



Strategies for Leading-and-Managing

How can a community increase its more-productive attitudes & actions, and decrease its less-productive attitudes & actions?

As explained in my disclaimer, strategies for doing this "are studied by experts in management" that do not include me.  But I do know a lot about strategies to "improve the mutually supportive interactions of creative thinking and critical thinking with each other, and with ideas-knowledge."  And, re: management in a community, I think one useful strategy is to...


Make a Distinction between Advising and Deciding:   My page about Developing a Productive Community to improve Lab Education describes how a university's science department can define advisory feedback by "distinguishing between making policy decisions and providing advisory feedback:  major policy decisions for labs (about instruction, grading, safety,...) should be made by instructors, lab director(s), and the department as a whole;  they delegate the responsibility for some teaching decisions to the TAs [Teaching Assistants] who teach labs;  and these TAs [who are graduate students] are encouraged to provide advisory feedback about how to improve the labs."  Basically, the TAs are encouraged to provide feedback, but they don't make major policy decisions.


But "experts in management... do not include me," so to learn more about leading a community — about helping improve its attitudes & actions so it can be more productive — I recommend learning from the experts.  Read their web-pages & books, hear their podcasts, watch their videos.  For example,

• We can use character-based principles, as in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to improve the interpersonal dynamics of a community.  When this happens the community's independent people (a result of Habits 1-3) and their interdependent relationships (a result of Habits 4-6) will help it be more effective when (quoting from a summary of Habit 6 which builds on 1-2-3 and 4-5, plus 7) a productive community is actively engaged in "the adventure of finding new solutions," which occurs when "the habit of creative cooperation... lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves" because "when people begin to interact together genuinely, and they're open to each other's influence, they begin to gain new insight."   A careful empathy-based cultivation of Emotional Bank Accounts will help members of a community build the mutual trust that encourages open-and-honest communication in a productive community.     {for more - summaries & reviews, etc - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People}

• In The 360 Degree Leader, John Maxwell explains how a person "can lead effectively" so they will have beneficial influence on their community, "regardless of their position in an organization."  He explains how you can have good leadership interactions with people who – in the community's official hierarchy – are “below” or “above” you, or are same-level peers, by using "principles for Leading Down, Leading Up, and Leading Across."  By doing this well, "you will expand your influence and ultimately be a more valuable team member."     {videos - abstract and, by the author, a summary with intro + middle & middle + end & more plus 5 Levels of Leadership}   {book reviews by Luke Johnson (for LeaderNetwork) & Steve Swanson & Reginald Adkins (LifeHack) & Rhonda Jaipaul (Cronkite School) & Xavier Chia}

Dan Bauer - through BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com - offers a lot, including 200 Tips for Effective School Leaders & Podcasts (his Top 10) & book report (on Essentialism by Greg McKeown) and much more.

• And there are many other excellent resources about leading-and-managing in business, education, and other areas of life.  Eventually (iou) I want to provide additional resources-with-links, like those above.



The members of a community, and the community as a whole, can learn more by getting more experiences (how?) and by...



Now you can skip ahead to Productive Responses or continue with this section, which summarizes a strategy for Learning More from Your Experiences:


People use a similar process of problem solving for almost everything we do in life because in a wide variety of contexts (for mental & physical skills) the basic process is just...

Learning from Experience by using Cycles of Plan-and-Do/Observe:

    you make a Plan for what to do;
    you Do it and Observe what happens;*
    using the observations from this experience, you adjust (if you think it will help) when you re-Plan for “what to do” the next time,
    when you Do-and-Observe
    so you can re-Plan and do it better the next-next time;
    you continue using these cycles of problem solving, of Plan and Do/Observe, to Learn from Experience.

* Who observes?  Either you can observe (in ways that include metacognitive reflection) for internal feedback, or another person can observe and provide external feedback.  You can learn from both kinds of Observations, made by yourself and by others.



Productive Responses to Evaluative Feedback

A valuable “master skill” is improving your ability (and willingness) to learn from others.  How?


In a productive response,

    you genuinely want to learn from all experiences (both first-hand & second-hand) so you view the critical feedback (= evaluative feedback) as potentially-formative feedback that can help you learn-and-improve, so...
    you begin by assuming that all aspects of the critical feedback (both positive & negative) are intended to be helpful, and...

Then, with minimal “defensiveness” because you are not emotionally involved, you can use non-emotional logical evaluative thinking (= the main meaning of critical thinking) to ask “is this feedback accurate?”

    If your answer is “yes” or “partially”, then you ask yourself (or the external observer) “how can I use this feedback to improve?” and you do it.
    Or you may conclude “no” because you think the external observations are not accurate, or the suggestions will not help you improve.  Maybe, if it's appropriate and will be useful,* you respectfully communicate with the feedback-provider, to explain why you disagree (or agree) with the observations or suggestions, by sharing your counter-feedback about their feedback.   {* it's useful in productive Evaluative Discussion that is useful for your team and its problem-solving project}

Either way, yes or no, you graciously thank the person(s) who shared the observations and suggestions, because you sincerely appreciate their efforts to help.


By contrast, in the usual type of unproductive response you under-use the feedback, so you learn less from the experience than you could with a productive response.   /   But a response that is hostile, that is not just under-using feedback, can be more-unproductive.

A semi-productive response combines aspects of productive and unproductive.

Each person's response will depend on context, so a person may respond very productively in some situations, but less productively in other situations.


The Many Benefits of a Productive Response

When you respond productively this is better in many ways, for you and for others.

    • You can improve yourself when you're willing-and-able to learn from others by effectively using their formative feedback, when you are teachable.
    • You can help improve your community when productive responding (and providing) by you encourages productive responding (and providing) by others.





The introduction for this page describes a goal:  "ideally, each member of a community will... help their team be more effective in solving problems."

The earlier parts of this page describe strategies for "converting 'ideally' into ‘actually’ in a productive culture."

This section examines strategies for "reducing the effects of less-productive culture."  First we'll look at causes of unproductivity, and then effects.



Causes of Less-Productive Attitudes & Actions

Decreases in collaborative productivity can occur for a variety of reasons.  Two common causes of unproductivity are Mixed Motivations & Negative Feedback.

Mixed Motivations:  When people are working together as a collaborative team, trying to solve problems, they should share the same team goals because all want to be productive by helping the team design better problem-solutions, and develop a better community.  But people also have personal personal goals that vary, because each person is motivated in a variety of ways.  Generally, team motives are productive (for a project and for the community), while personal motives can be unproductive.

Negative Feedback:  As explained in the summary, usually "the result of productive critical evaluation — and the critical evaluative feedback that is shared with colleagues — is a mixture with some positives (because some properties of an Option closely match the desired properties that are your goals) and some negatives (for other properties). ... Due to this mixture of positive-and-negative it's possible, especially during the interpersonal interactions of a collaborative process, for critical thinking to hinder creative thinking, because... the negative aspects of evaluation are sometimes personally significant for the person(s) who proposed an Option or strongly supports it."



Effects of Less-Productive Attitudes & Actions

Now we'll examine some effects of less-productive culture — caused by Mixed Motivations & Negative Feedback — and strategies for reducing these effects.



Effects of Mixed Motivations

In a collaborative community the teamwork is made more complex, and usually less effective, when attitudes-and-actions are affected by personal motives.


For example, all negative aspects of evaluative feedback — and all responses to it — should be purely technical,* motivated by team goals, not motivated by personal goals.  If any negative feedback is partly personal, this makes it less accurate — because the evaluation and/or evaluative feedback is biased by the personal motive — and thus less useful.  The personally motivated action, in providing the negative feedback, also may harm relationships between members of the team, and decrease the team's problem-solving productivity.

* negative feedback that is "purely technical" describes ways that the actual properties of an Option (proposed as a possible Solution for the Problem) fail to match the desired properties that the team has defined as goals for a satisfactory Solution;  and the only motivation for this feedback is to help the team design a better problem-Solution.   {feedback can be about an Option or Performance}


A Wide Range of Personal Motivations:  Most people are motivated in ways that (at least in moderation) we think are psychologically healthy, such as wanting to be viewed as a valuable member of the team, worthy of respect.  [[ But there also can be, we typically also see,But too often there also are unhealthy At the other end of the range are unhealthy motives — like being jealous, overly competitive, driven by ego, greedy for power — that can be triggered & intensified by conflicts of personality/style.The Complexity of Teamwork:  In a collaborative community, many factors (motives & more) interact in complex ways, with each person using a variety of strategies in their efforts to optimize the overall results for themself and/or the community.

Collaborative Culture:  These factors affect the collaborative culture of a community, and its productivity.  Many kinds of causes-and-effects are studied in the social sciences of psychology & sociology (for individuals & groups) and by people in all areas of life, including those who want to build better communities for business, who want to learn more about workplace politics (aka office politics) and how it can be improved.  Some of their insights for business — and for other situations because motives & interactions that are similar, although with variations, can occur in all groups — are in wikipedia - howstuffworks - Must you play? - OP Workshop - plus links (for avoiding OP - effects of WP - benefits of OP).   /  As you can see by clicking these OP-links, much more could be said, as in Strategies for Leading-and-Managing.


note - The sections above and below, despite their titles ("Effects of..."), are examining both Causes and Effects.


Effects of Negative Feedback

Usually the technical effects of negative feedback, IF it's accurate, are beneficial.  This occurs because accurate Evaluation of an Option* — which usually "is a mixture with some positives (because some properties of an Option closely match the desired properties that are your goals) and some negatives (for other properties)" — is essential for designing a better problem-Solution.     {for similar reasons, accurate Evaluation of a Performance also can be beneficial}

The personal effects of negative feedback, IF it's accurate, should be beneficial, because it should help the feedback-receiver learn and improve.  And positive feedback usually is beneficial for its receiver and for the community.

But some personal effects of negative feedback, whether or not it's accurate, can be detrimental.  This can occur if the negative feedback is "personally significant for the person(s) who proposed an Option or strongly supports it."     { Or detrimental personal effects can occur if positive feedback about an Option is "personally significant" for a person who strongly opposes this Option. }



Feedback and Counter-Feedback:  Our providing of feedback and responding to feedback are connected because feedback leads to responding, both internally (in their own thinking) and externally (in their communication with other people).  When a response is "external" because it's shared with others, it becomes counter-feedback, which occurs during Evaluative Discussions.

Technical and Personal:  Ideally, as I say earlier about Effects of Mixed Motivations, "all negative aspects of evaluative feedback — and all responses to it — should be purely technical," not personal.  But this ideal doesn't always occur.

Forgiving:  When some negative aspects of a colleague's critical feedback (or their response to feedback) seem to be partially personal instead of purely technical, forgiving is possible and is usually productive.

Counter-Responding:  After wise filtering and perhaps "counting to 10," you can decide whether or not to provide counter-feedback, to explain why you think your feedback seems accurate.  And if yes, how to do this.  As with all interpersonal interactions, a person who wants their actions to have "beneficial personal effects" will try to think with empathy — so they can better understand what other people are thinking-and-feeling, and can more accurately predict how others will respond to feedback — and use wise filtering.



If you want to discuss any of these ideas,
you can contact me, <crusbult@wisc.edu> ;
Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. - my life on a road less traveled
Page-URL is https://educationforproblemsolving.net/design-thinking/re-fb.htm
Copyright © 1978-2019 by Craig Rusbult.  All Rights Reserved.


This page is designed to be in the right frame, so put it there.