Feedback Fatigue: How to Know When Enough Is Enough

By Nicole Lipkin August 9, 2022
Feedback Fatigue: How to Know When Enough Is Enough

​Too much evaluation, positive or negative, can make anyone feel overwhelmed and judged. 

Your spouse tells you their coffee would be better with more cream, three people tell you that your shoes don't match your belt on the way to work, and your boss emails you after every meeting with a bulleted list of pros and cons of your behavior. 

Welcome to feedback fatigue: 

People need time to assimilate feedback into their behavior and self-concept. Feedback typically requires change, and humans aren't great with change. Even those who are open to feedback get worn down from an overabundance of constructive criticism. 

Watch out for feedback fatigue when you need to develop an employee and there is a large gap between where they currently are and where they need to be. 

Everyone's Threshold for Negative Feedback Is Different 

If you are in a position that requires you to give performance feedback, it's a good idea to know with whom you're dealing. 

Does your employee crave challenges and bounce back quickly or do they have a hard time building back their confidence after getting negative or constructive feedback? 

Each of us has a "swing:" 

Understanding the swing of the people you work with is important. 

There are those who are very emotional and sensitive to any kind of feedback. They feel very happy in response to positive feedback and very sad in response to negative feedback. 

Others might have a larger swing for positive feedback and get really excited, but negative feedback doesn't really bother them. 

While others are the opposite: positive feedback doesn't make them feel very good but negative feedback makes them feel very bad. 

Each of us has a different threshold for how much negative feedback we can receive and bounce back thereafter. Thus, feedback fatigue is going to kick in at different points, depending on the individual. 

The most challenging types are the people who get a short boost from positive feedback and have a long recovery from negative feedback, but anyone is susceptible to feedback fatigue if there's too much feedback frequency. 

Remember that we have the basic human need to be accepted as we are. Too much evaluation, positive or negative, can make anyone feel overwhelmed and judged. 

Signs of Feedback Fatigue 

You're going to know it when you see it. And you'll probably be anticipating it because you'll feel fatigued from giving the same person so much negative feedback and evaluation. 

The first sign of feedback fatigue is for the giver: do you feel like you are continually giving feedback? 

If so, it's a safe bet that the receiver is feeling it too. Even the most positive and self-assured individual can burn out if too much feedback comes at them.  

  1. Paralysis. Someone experiencing feedback fatigue will feel paralyzed; they will second-guess everything they're doing. They will start looking over their shoulder for their boss' approval. 
  2. Emotional Depletion. A feeling of learned helplessness will settle in after a series of negative feedback sessions; the receiver will not have the required resilience to care enough to change. They will feel like nothing they do will be good enough. 
  3. Immunity To Positive Feedback. Remember the 5-to-1 rule: we need five positive interactions to offset one negative interaction in an interpersonal relationship, so even a dose or two of positive feedback will be ineffectual at offsetting feedback fatigue and maintaining a positive, friendly dynamic. 
  4. Disengagement. If we're made to feel hopelessly incompetent, then the aforementioned feedback fatigue signs will be the final nails in the coffin. The receiver will either start to look elsewhere for employment or live in a bubble of apathy.  

    Reverse the Course 

    Feedback fatigue is easily reversible but it does have to be acknowledged by both parties, the giver and the receiver. Acknowledging the reality of the situation normalizes the condition for the receiver and halts the sense of isolation that might be creeping in. 

    The receiver needs to know they are not being oversensitive or have the inability to hear feedback. Let them know that too much feedback in too short a time was thrown at them. 

    Let them know that while the feedback might be valid, it doesn't mean they are incompetent or incapable of getting to where they need to be. 

    As the manager who gave too much negative feedback, you must realize that your employee is going to be incredibly disengaged if they feel you consistently view them in a negative light. So it is vital that you acknowledge positive actions and successful work and appreciate the effort your employee is putting in. 

    Change is hard, so it's important to prioritize the feedback. Give your people the highest priority feedback first, and keep your expectations reasonable. Pinpoint the most important aspects the person needs to work on and have that be the focus for the foreseeable future. Once those changes are made, move onto less pressing changes. 

    Moving forward after feedback fatigue will look differently for everyone, but acknowledging the fatigue is the first step. Have an open discussion with the person to determine the next steps: how drastic – or not – those steps need to be, and how they might receive feedback going forward. 
     

    This article was written by Nicole Lipkin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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