How to use negative feedback to correct dysfunctional behavior

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Kevin Mangelschots

Most of us have heard the term positive feedback being thrown around many times before. But at times, The use of negative feedback is vital to correct dysfunctional behavior and to create a positive impact.

Sometimes we need to hear the very things we don’t want to hear in order to become a better person and more proficient at something.

Let me show you how negative feedback influences dysfunctional behavior and why it can have a positive influence.

How negative feedback influences dysfunctional behavior

Image of a circle of arrows with the word “feedback” in the middle.

It’s dangerous to disregard critics lightly

One of the main uses of negative feedback is to correct dysfunctional behavior.

Disregarding anybody who criticizes your actions and behavior is dangerous since that criticism might be valid.

That’s why you should always question yourself, and the truthfulness of what others are saying. Chances are that there is some merit to it, no matter how painful it is, and how much we want to disregard that critique as lies.

Our environment, the people around us regulate our behavior

The way we act in the world is in part regulated by other people. We change our behavior accordingly to what feedback other people give us. They quite literally give us information about ourselves and how we interact with the world.

People tell us lots of things not just with their words, but with their body language as well. It is the judgment of others that regulate how we act.

Being aware of our position in the social hierarchy is an evolutionary advantage

We’ve established by now that people have a regulating function. We modulate other’s behavior with every single interaction with one another.

Not only that, but we are keenly aware of our current position in the social hierarchy of the circles we currently reside in. Be it at work, our social circle, or our in our family. Historically, this awareness of our position had an extremely important survival function.

Chances were namely large that we wouldn’t survive if other group members didn’t like us. When other tribes or animals attacked, we had to be sure that others will come to our aid to defend and save us. And we can almost be sure that others weren’t eager to help us if they didn’t like and trust us.

Fast-forward to many million years later, and our genes are still mostly the same, even though our lives have changed drastically. This awareness of our social position is an evolutionary trait that is still present because it allowed us to survive in more ancient times.

Question yourself if the negative feedback is valid or not

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.

Of course, we can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. And just because someone doesn’t like how we act or think doesn’t automatically mean we should change our behavior. But, it does mean that we have to apply our critical thinking skills in order to figure out if there’s any objective bearing to that negative feedback.

Questions such as, “is it only one person who criticizes us or many?” And “do the people who criticize me love me, or are they simply attempting to drag me down?” can be valid to figure out if we should change our actions and cognitions or not in the future.

A large part of our brain function is committed to inhibiting our behavior. Thus, it makes sense that we attempt to figure out if we should inhibit certain actions or not.

Consider the source of the feedback

The quote, “in the age of information, ignorance is a choice” written on a black background.

But one should always be careful what the source of this negative feedback is. Social media for instance has many wonderful benefits, but also some large and important drawbacks as well.

Some people are looking to bully other people and satisfy themselves by making fun of other people in order to make them feel less terrible about themselves. This negative feedback should not be taken to heart, as these people handing out the negative feedback are simply out to make others feel as bad as possible in order to feel less miserable about themselves and their existence.

A better example would be if some of your best friends or family members say something negative about how you’ve been acting lately. Because you know they care about you, and they want to see you succeed in life without attempting to drag you down. This way, you know that what they’re saying is what they truly mean. And that they’re speaking up to improve your life.
 
This is the kind of negative feedback that you should probably take to heart, and that you should take the time and energy for to explore if there’s any truth to it. The main reason being that those close to us want to improve our lives. And is life even worth living without those close to us who we create and have meaningful relationships with?
 

Negative feedback examples

Picture describing the process of a feedback loop.

Negative feedback example

Let’s say you’ve got one colleague who keeps interrupting you whenever you’re trying to explain something to one of your coworkers.

You could confront that one colleague afterwards one on one and say something along the line of, “you’ve interrupted me yesterday, and in many instances before as well. That’s annoying, and it prevents me from explaining things to my colleagues. Could you please take note of this in order to prevent it in the future?”

Another negative feedback example could be the following

You are playing soccer together with your teammates, and one of your teammates refuses to pass to one player. Even shouting at him and putting him down for every single little mistake he makes. Obviously, that’s bad for team morale and won’t make that person play any better.

You want to change that shouting player’s negative behavior for the better by talking to him separately. You could tell him something like, “Your behavior is not appropriate. Likewise, you make mistakes as well, and we shouldn’t blame others for every single insignificant mistake they make. Not to mention that shouting at others won’t make them play any better or boost team morale.”

You can tell that this message is an example of the use of negative feedback in order to change that negative teammate’s dysfunctional behavior into something positive. To improve his life, and that of his entire team as well. The intentions are to improve, not to use negative feedback as an excuse to bully others.

Conclusion

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

The use of negative feedback is to create a positive impact in someone’s life by correcting someone’s dysfunctional behavior.

Caution should be taken to use such strategies in order to help and improve someone, rather than using it as an excuse to put someone down. Like with anything we do, intentions matter a lot.

Feedback doesn’t always have to be fun or positive worded. But the message should be aimed to improve and make positive changes, even if it is worded negatively.