What Makes Employees Embrace or Resist Feedback?

This study sought to understand why people are sometimes open to feedback, while at other times they resist it. The authors proposed that “psychological ownership” and the nature of the change attempt determines how people respond to suggestions for change. Psychological ownership means feeling a material or non-material object, such as an idea, is yours and is part of your extended self.

PSYCHOLOGICAL OWNERSHIP AND RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

While most research focuses on the benefits of psychological ownership (and encourages it), results across two studies in this article indicate that ownership can have both positive and negative implications for change. Specifically, participants who felt strong ownership of their ideas were more likely to adopt additive change (suggestions that build upon the ideas) and less likely to adopt subtractive change (suggestions that eliminate aspects of the ideas) compared to those who felt limited ownership of their ideas. 

The authors reasoned that additive change builds upon our ideas, so people with strong psychological ownership were willing to adopt these changes for personal growth. In contrast, individuals with limited ownership tend to be less invested in their ideas and would not view additive change as a way of enhancing themselves. 

As expected, since subtractive change takes away from what individuals have attached themselves to, people with strong ownership experienced a greater sense of personal loss compared to participants with limited ownership. Results also indicated that personal loss was positively related to negative affect (e.g., being upset or frustrated); when feelings of personal loss were high, negative affect was also high. This finding is compelling since participants with high negative affect were less likely to adopt suggestions for change.

In sum, when people with psychological ownership of their ideas were presented with feedback that diminished their ideas, they were more likely to experience a sense of personal loss, which then elicited elevated levels of negative emotions and reduced their adoption of subtractive changes. However, the reverse was true when participants with strong ownership were presented with feedback that enhanced their ideas.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

Results imply that individuals with strong psychological ownership may selectively adopt feedback so that they are blind to suggestions that diminish parts of their idea. They are also receptive to feedback that builds upon their idea regardless of the quality and usefulness of the feedback. To encourage collaboration and innovation the authors suggest organizations encourage collective ownership of ideas and train employees on how to use techniques that foster a culture of feedback, openness, and agreement.

Baer, M., & Brown, G. (2012).  Blind in one eye:  How psychological ownership of ideas affects the types of suggestions people adopt.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118, 60-71.