Many organizations employ interpersonal feedback processes as a structured means of informing and motivating employee improvement. Ample evidence suggests that these feedback processes are largely ineffective, and despite a wealth of prescriptive literature, these processes often fail to lead to employee motivation or improvement. We propose that these feedback processes are often ineffective because they represent threats to recipients’ positive self-concept. Because the self-concept is socially sustained, recipients will flee these threats, or otherwise reshape their network to attenuate the negative psychological effects of the threat. Analyzing four years of peer feedback and social network data from an agribusiness company in the Western U.S., we find that employees, in the face of feedback that is more negative than their own self-assessment in a given domain (i.e., disconfirming feedback), reshape their network in ways designed to attenuate the threat brought about by the feedback, and that this behavior is detrimental to their performance. In a laboratory study, we replicate these findings conceptually, showing that disconfirming feedback has such effects on one’s relationships and performance because it is perceived as threatening to one’s self-concept.
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