I Don’t Want No Bad News – but I am Curious about This News: Our Polarized Reactions to Negative Feedback
This simple process of adjusting to negative feedback usually doesn’t operate so simply when the feedback comes for other people. Part of the reason that behavioral economics has generated considerable interest in recent years, is that it focuses in particular on the interactions among people (whether in the marketplace or in our families). When dealing with other people, we are particularly resistant to negative feedback. Ariely (2012) shows us how we do a little bit of cheating during our life – and even a little bit of cheating about ourselves. We might even pay to not receive negative feedback about ourselves from other people. All of this is done in order to avoid disconfirmation about our positive self.
One final point. This resistance to negative feedback in order to preserve our positive self-image, might be even more challenging, given the multiple images of self that are common in our contemporary world. As Kenneth Gergen (1991) has suggested, we are “saturated” with the many ways we are expected to envision our self. We are expected to be good parents, responsible citizens, diligent workers, one of the beautiful ones (with the shape of a model or movie star) or a health-conscious non-smoker (or handsome cowboy smoker riding on horseback).
It is hard in a postmodern world to hold on to a coherent image—and there are many ways in which we can receive negative feedback about ourselves. We can be told that we are a bad parent, irresponsible citizen (because we didn’t vote), or irresponsible worker (because we played “hooky” from work one day in May). We are told (subtly) that we still weigh too much or still have some bad habits. There are many ways to find out how we are not up to par – and so many ways in which to be resistant!
But I Am Curious . . .
With all of these good reasons to be resistant about negative feedback, we still, in some ways, want to know about what other people don’t like about us. I am now working on a set of essays (published in this digital library and eventually a book that provide a new version of the widely cited Johari Window. I am suggesting in these essays (Bergquist, 2019) that we aren’t really “blind” about how other people see us as Joe Luft originally proposed in presenting the Window (Luft, ). Rather this “blind” quadrant is actually “opaque”. We know at some level what other people think of us; therefore, we try to resist it. Much as Freud (1936) conceived of anxiety as a signaling device that alerts us to impending threat when we are touching on something that deep down has major negative implications for us, so we are aware at some level of the negative information that awaits us. We are signaling the threat of this negative feedback by becoming anxious and avoidant of the feedback.