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The effectiveness of negative feedback from supervisors: cognitive and affective perspectives

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posted on 2022-11-23, 21:14 authored by Lu Xing

Negative feedback has been a conundrum for a long time. Despite the necessity of negative feedback to correct behavior and improve performance, accumulating research on the effectiveness of negative feedback demonstrates unclear and contradictory findings. To address this gap, this thesis primarily aims to investigate how negative feedback impacts on employees' work attitudes and behaviors. Guided by the framework of the cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS), three empirical studies examine the cognitive process, the affective process, and the two processes jointly. The studies explore the boundary conditions to elaborate when these processes are more likely or less likely to occur. As a whole, the thesis contributes to a more complete and nuanced understanding of the precise nature of negative feedback. The primary objective of Study 1 was to examine the role of employees' cognitive interpretations (i.e., feedback motive attributions) in transmitting the effects of negative feedback on their motivation to learn. We proposed that supervisor negative feedback and employee core self-evaluation (CSE) are interactively related to the attribution of feedback. We tested our hypotheses using three-wave, time-lagged survey data from a general sample of 370 employees in the United States and a contextual sample of 302 hospital nurses in China. The results suggest that supervisor negative feedback has a stronger relationship with external attribution when CSE is higher, and a stronger relationship with internal attribution when CSE is lower. External and internal attributions respectively enhance and impair employee motivation to learn. Study 2 drew upon affective events theory to further validate the affective process of negative feedback. We proposed a model where, at the within-person level, negative feedback from supervisors on a day-to-day basis leads to employees' feeling shame, which has further associations with emotional exhaustion and performance. We used twice-daily diary data from 119 full-time employees across five consecutive working days to test the hypotheses. The results suggest that shame increases an employee's emotional exhaustion at the end of that workday, while improving their next-day in-role and extra-role performance. Further, individual-level leader-member exchange (LMX) moderates the relationship between negative feedback and shame, with the relationship being stronger when there is high LMX. Finally, Study 3 developed a dual-pathway model combining cognitive and affective perspectives to examine the effects of supervisor negative feedback. We collected data from 220 employees of a Chinese manufacturing enterprise at two time points. The results suggest that organization-based self-esteem mediates the negative effects of supervisor negative feedback on employees' feedback-seeking behavior, while frustration mediates its positive effect on feedback-avoiding behavior. Leader-member exchange weakens the negative effects of supervisor negative feedback on employees' organization-based self-esteem, while strengthening the positive relationship between supervisor negative feedback and frustration. Considered as a whole, by focusing on cognitive and affective processes the thesis contributes to a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of negative feedback. The findings further disentangle the current limited and inconsistent understanding of negative feedback effectiveness. Theoretical and practical implications and directions for future research are provided.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 General Introduction -- Chapter 2 Supervisor Negative Feedback and Employee Motivation to Learn: a Motive Attribution Perspective -- Chapter 3 Feeling Shame: the Short-Term Effects of Supervisor Negative Feedback on Employee Well-being and Performance -- Chapter 4 "How I Think" versus "How I Feel": the Effects of Supervisor Negative Feedback on Employees' Feedback-Seeking and Feedback-Avoiding Behaviors -- Chapter 5 General Discussion of Key Findings and Conclusions -- Complete List of References


This thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Cotutelle thesis with Renmin University of China

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Department of Management, Macquarie Business School, Macquarie University

Department, Centre or School

Department of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Denise Jepsen

Additional Supervisor 1

Jian-Min (James) Sun


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