The way managers deliver feedback may strongly affect whether workers then act competitively or cooperatively, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and IESE Business School determined in research released Feb. 12.
The study examined 112 students and 28 managers with at least seven years of professional experience, running them through multiple scenarios and giving them different feedback in between to see how it altered behavior. Participants received three kinds of feedback, either exclusively on their own performance, on the performance of the group or how they stacked up against other players.
The researchers found that the ranking and individualistic feedback motivated selfish behavior while the joint feedback promoted collaboration. Those who received ranking feedback presented the highest levels of competitive behavior.
"Feedback can distort people's perceptions of a situation and turn them into competitive situations for no objective reason," one of the study's authors, Jan K. Woike, told Science Daily.
That knowledge may have important implications for managers and the HR pros who train workplace leaders. After all, employees say they want feedback — preferably frequently and face-to-face. Such feedback can affect retention, too, other research has shown.
Similarly, manager types can affect employee satisfaction, Gartner research found — findings that may be quite significant given that 57% of workers in a recent survey said they’ve quit a job because of a bad boss. Feedback may be crucial in recruiting as well, with candidates reporting higher satisfaction with the hiring process if they receive feedback the day of their interview.