Study reveals workers prefer constructive criticism over praise

People often complain that their hard work goes unnoticed by their superiors. It seems that bosses can always find something more to be done or some way to improve, but they frequently fail to give praise or recognition for employees' efforts. In a recent study conducted by Zenger Folkman, however, a significantly larger number of employees (57%) preferred corrective feedback; only 43% preferred praise/recognition.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Joe Folkman, president of Zenger Folkman, explained, "Our assessment measures the extent to which you prefer to give and to receive both positive and corrective feedback. It also measures your level of self-confidence. For the purposes of this study, we grouped praise, reinforcement, and congratulatory comments together as positive feedback. And we've chosen to call suggestions for improvement, explorations of new and better ways to do things, or pointing out something that was done in a less-than-optimal way corrective feedback."

Why is it that more people prefer to hear the negative rather than be praised? When asked what was most helpful in their career, fully 72% said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.

With a sample of over 2,500 employees from various companies around the world, the study found some common trends. Most employees assume that bosses really don't mind pointing out what's wrong, but the data showed that is a false perception. Giving negative or corrective feedback is something that people often avoid. Some feel anxious about delivering bad news or knowing the appropriate way to correct someone.

"People believe constructive criticism is essential to their career development. They want it from their leaders," says Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger Folkman, "but their leaders often don't feel comfortable offering it up. From this we conclude that the ability to give corrective feedback constructively is one of the critical keys to leadership."