Performative Feedback

Home » Feedback Tips Weekly » Performative Feedback

Summary. Performative feedback occurs when the feedback giver, receiver, or seeker “performs” their role based on role expectations or ulterior motives rather than authenticity and a genuine desire to help or improve. This article examines where performative feedback communication arises and strategies for moving towards more authentic feedback communication.

Where performative feedback occurs

Feedback givers can slip into performance for various reasons, including:

  1. They weren’t ready to provide feedback but gave it anyway for fear of being judged.
  2. They are people managers who feel their role is to provide feedback, so they create opportunities to do so (even if it’s bad feedback).

Feedback receivers can slip into performance when:

  1. They appease the feedback giver either because they think it is expected of them or because doing so is their defense mechanism against feeling vulnerable.
  2. They defend themselves by going on the offensive against the feedback giver, not because there’s a reason to but because it’s a role they’ve learned to play.

Lastly, feedback seekers can slip into performance when:

  1. They want to be perceived as a humble feedback-seeker.
  2. They want to tick a box to say they’ve sought feedback.

Towards more authentic feedback relationships

In my experience, more authentic feedback arises only when three conditions are met:

(1) More senior leaders model it.

Note: Leaders play an especially vital role. Academic research describes authentic leaders as:

“those who are deeply aware of how they think and behave and are perceived by others as being aware of their own and others’ values/moral perspectives, knowledge, and strengths; aware of the context in which they operate; and who are confident, hopeful, optimistic, resilient, and of high moral character.”

Because many of those qualities can be performed, I’d add this:

Authentic leaders dare to be vulnerable by dropping the role-playing and showing up as they are. In my experience, this type of leadership is felt and noticed, and colleagues are more willing to drop their performative roles when, having let go of yours, you stand bravely in front of them.

(2) Individuals are working on their feedback literacy

(3) Teams/cohorts receive feedback training

If you recall, the Feedback Model from our Constructive Feedback course was porous, signifying both how the feedback literacy of individuals can expand out into the culture and how elements of the feedback culture can impact and influence the individuals:

Feedback relationship model shows feedback literacy in the center, then Receiving, Giving, Processing and Culture in the outer rings.

Because it’s more within our control, an area we as individuals can directly work on, we explored what feedback literacy is and ways we can begin developing in each of its parts:

The Feedback Literacy Venn Diagram includes 4 sections, with Feedback Literacy in the center. Intrapersonal: The skills within our own mind, including those involving self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, serve as the foundation for giving, receiving, and processing feedback. Interpersonal: Relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback.

On the intrapersonal, development might look like this:

Online course on constructive Feedback shows the importance of intrapersonal development: These are the skills within our own mind, including those involves self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, and they serve as the foundation for giving, receiving and processing feedback. Developing these capacities brings awareness to: 1. Emotional States 2. Inner Chatter 3. Reactive Tendencies We can build these capacities by: 1. Mindfulness practice (including an 8-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR) 2. Journaling 3. Working with a licensed therapist 4. Working with a certified coach

On the interpersonal, like this:

In the Constructive Feedback Course, there's a section on interpersonal development. These account for the relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, and they enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. You can build these by: 1. Setting intentions and goals (including consciously observing others). 2. Asking for feedback 3. Studying recordings of yourself 4. Being a lifelong communications students (recommended books include: Nonviolent Communications and Mindful Communications).

And on the experiential, it could be like this:

Constructive Feedback Course, part 3 of Building a Feedback Culture focuses on Experiential (Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback). 4 ways to develop experientially: 1. Post-feedback reflecting 2. 24-hour feedback inventory 3. Request training 4. Take on a stretch assignment

However, these areas of development demand practice and being in relationship with others.

This is why feedback training—which should expose groups to the fundamentals of giving, receiving, seeking, processing, and using feedback—plays a major role in guiding individuals and the culture toward building more authentic relationships. Without this baseline understanding, particularly in cultures where healthy feedback relationships are not currently being modeled, assumptions are acted on and roles are performed.

Two questions for you.

  1. Have you felt someone was giving you feedback not because they genuinely had something to share but because they were more senior than you? I’ll raise my hand on that one.
  2. Have you ever performed as a feedback receiver, perhaps agreeing that feedback was good even before you thought about it? Again, raising my hand.


Ready for more authentic feedback relationships? Start by working through this course with your team: