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Published 04 September 2012 05:10, Updated 04 September 2012 11:15
A little less conversation ... Providing feedback at the wrong moment may slow down high-performing workers who just want to get on with the job.
As if things aren’t confusing enough for managers. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to do the right thing, there’ll be someone there – probably with a Phd – to tell you you’re wrong.
Take feedback, for example. We have all been told, ad nauseum, that people need to be told how they are doing. We are instructed on how often to do it, how to do it empathetically, and how honest to be in our delivery.
Now, it appears, it doesn’t matter what we say, our feedback will impair the decision-making of people grappling with work.
According to psychology expert Magda Osman, if people are doing a difficult or demanding task, any kind of feedback overloads them with too much information and distracts them from making a good decision.
Published in the Frontiers in Neuroscience journal, Dr Osman’s study suggests busy people should just be left alone.
“We found that people’s performance got worse when they had to make sense of the feedback they were given while also performing the main task,” she says, in a report published in Science Daily last month.
“The role of feedback is overemphasised. People typically think that any form of feedback should improve performance in many tasks, and the more frequently it is given the better performance will be.
“However what needs to be considered is how complex the task is in the first place, because this will determine how much feedback will actually interfere with, rather than facilitate, performance.”
The key to feedback, then, is to get your timing right.
Dr Osman acknowledges her findings won’t be popular, but advises managers to back off: “People in management positions need to give their staff more time to analyse and evaluate things in detail when dealing with difficult situations, so they can come up with solutions without any distractions in order to get the best out of them”.
Distraction is now a perennial problem in the workplace and at home. Dr Osman says people are “bombarded” with high levels of complex information and new technology, while we are also increasingly reliant on information from apps.
“[These are] bound to take its toll on our ability to make good choices in difficult decision-making situations.”
To be able to make good decisions, we need to give ourselves time and space to think. An article in McKinsey QuarterlyRecovering from information overload, gives some hints on how to cope in an over-stimulated world.