What is Feedback Orientation?

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“Feedback orientation refers to an individual’s overall receptivity to feedback, including comfort with feedback, tendency to seek feedback and process it mindfully, and the likelihood of acting on the feedback to guide behavior change and performance improvement.”

—Manuel London & James W. Smither, Feedback orientation, feedback culture, and the longitudinal performance management process

As I see it, this paper ushered in a new era of feedback thinking and future feedback research due to the following:

  1. It centered the individual feedback receiver’s characteristics. Before this, even research that appeared to be receiver-centered was more about how the receiver did or should respond to the giver. In many of these papers, there’s an underlying assumption that the giver delivered great feedback in a psychologically safe setting.
  2. It integrated rather than separated an individual’s feedback orientation and the larger feedback culture. According to the authors, there’s a dynamic interplay here:

“An individual’s feedback orientation is likely to be stable in the medium-term (e.g., 6 to 12 months) but may shift over longer time frames as the individual acquires different experiences with feedback and is shaped by the organization’s feedback culture.”

Why is feedback orientation important?

Feedback orientation is important because it allows us to see ourselves as feedback receivers who may have particular initial leanings but who are, with practice and experience, capable of positively changing.

My adaptation of the term feedback literacy exists, in part, because of London & Smither’s work. In many ways, it’s an extension of feedback orientation to include our orientation as feedback givers and the overall baseline set of skills we need to improve.

Feedback Literacy venn diagram that shows Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Experiential 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. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback.

Beyond merely serving as concepts, these terms are important because they frame feedback not only as a static work event but as a capacity capable of and worthy of continuous development.

As you likely know if you are reading this, feedback can be challenging!

How can you use feedback orientation?

If you are a people manager, think about your direct reports. What would you say about their feedback orientation? What is their tendency, for example, to seek feedback from you or others? Once you think through this, you can take some responsibility for their development. After all, it was well over 20 years ago that this paper called out the importance of the feedback culture on an individual’s orientation. What culture are you creating?

If you are a human, what would you say is your feedback orientation? How do you know? How might improving in a particular area help you personally or professionally?

What’s next for feedback orientation?

Many papers covering feedback orientation have been published since London & Smither’s work, all in some way testing or expanding its application.

In 2010, Linderbaum & Levy turned the feedback orientation concepts into a multidimensional scale called the Feedback Orientation Scale. As they put it:

“To properly address the need for greater attention to individual differences, we must begin by operationally defining and measuring this construct to support its validity.”

One example: they took London & Smither’s concept of “liking feedback” and turned it into “Defensiveness,” a dimension to be measured.

Other research has and continues to explore feedback orientation from various angles. The title of this paper shows you one of them: Age differences in feedback reactions: The roles of employee feedback orientation on social awareness and utility.


Related Reads

  1. To Improve Your Learning Culture, Promote Feedback Literacy
  2. Developing Your Feedback Orientation as a Freelancer
  3. Feedback Literacy: A Framework for Educators