Shopping for Confirmation: How Disconfirming Feedback Shapes Social Networks

68 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017

See all articles by Paul Green

Paul Green

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business; Harvard Business School

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Date Written: September 15, 2017

Abstract

Many organizations employ interpersonal feedback processes as a structured means of informing and motivating employee improvement. Ample evidence suggests that these feedback processes are largely ineffective, and despite a wealth of prescriptive literature, these processes often fail to lead to employee motivation or improvement. We propose that these feedback processes are often ineffective because they represent threats to recipients’ positive self-concept. Because the self-concept is socially sustained, recipients will flee these threats, or otherwise reshape their network to attenuate the negative psychological effects of the threat. Analyzing four years of peer feedback and social network data from an agribusiness company in the Western U.S., we find that employees, in the face of feedback that is more negative than their own self-assessment in a given domain (i.e., disconfirming feedback), reshape their network in ways designed to attenuate the threat brought about by the feedback, and that this behavior is detrimental to their performance. In a laboratory study, we replicate these findings conceptually, showing that disconfirming feedback has such effects on one’s relationships and performance because it is perceived as threatening to one’s self-concept.

Keywords: Developmental feedback, Self-concept, Positive illusions, Social network, Threat

Suggested Citation

Green, Paul and Gino, Francesca and Staats, Bradley R., Shopping for Confirmation: How Disconfirming Feedback Shapes Social Networks (September 15, 2017). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 18-028. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3040066 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3040066

Paul Green

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Francesca Gino (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Bradley R. Staats

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building, CB#3490
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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