Communicating negative feedback in performance appraisal interviews: an experimental study

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Tumlin, Geoffrey Roger

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This study examined the communicative transmission of negative feedback in a performance appraisal context and experimentally tested how subordinate account making, specifically an external excuse and a concession account with an internal excuse, influenced a supervisor’s ability to deliver negative feedback and how those same accounts and the corresponding amount of positive feedback interacted with subordinate evaluation ratings. This experiment also charted the implications of feedback specificity on the subordinate’s satisfaction with the supervisor’s communication during the performance appraisal interview. Results from this study indicated that: (1) supervisors did not mention positive observations about the subordinate significantly more than negative observations, (2) 81.10% of supervisors self-reported that they delivered all of the negative feedback they felt obligated to deliver to the subordinate, (3) 83.00% of supervisors positively distorted their feedback during the appraisal interview when the subordinate offered an internal excuse account for performance failure; 79.20% of the supervisors positively distorted their feedback when a concession account with external excuse was offered, (4) subordinate evaluation scores were more positive after the appraisal than before the appraisal, regardless of the type of account given, (5) the subordinate was evaluated more positively when an external excuse was given as compared to when a concession account with an internal excuse was offered, (6) supervisors who received the external excuse first in the experimental sequence gave significantly higher evaluation scores across both conditions of the study, and (7) the subordinate’s satisfaction with a supervisor’s communication during the appraisal interview consistently increased as the supervisor’s feedback become more specific.