When it comes to giving feedback, it’s important not only to balance kindness and candor, but to maintain that balance consistently – no matter who you’re talking to. However, the author’s recent research suggests that all things being equal, people prioritize kindness more when giving feedback to women than when giving the same feedback to men. Why is this? There is a common stereotype that women are hotter than men, which prompts people to naturally be nicer to women, and to think that better feedback is more helpful to women. And certainly, kindness is not a bad thing. But giving feedback differently based on the gender of the recipient creates problems for everyone. As such, the authors suggest that managers should make a conscious effort to provide feedback that is appropriate and good regardless of the recipient’s gender. Additionally, leaders can audit written feedback at the organizational level for gendered patterns in the tone and content of the feedback, which can help remove biases that may be harder for individuals to see. Finally, kindness and candor are essential ingredients of effective feedback. It is up to all of us to ensure that we create an equitable distribution system between the two.
Constructive feedback is essential for anyone’s growth. But as a manager, it can be challenging to strike a fair, consistent balance between candor and thoughtfulness in giving that feedback to different team members. In particular, ours recent researchwe found that even when their male and female employees perform at exactly the same level, managers tend to prioritize kindness more when giving feedback to women than when giving the same feedback to men.
In a series of studies, we asked more than 1,500 MBA students, full-time employees, and managers based in the US and UK to imagine giving developmental feedback to an employee who needed to improve their performance. The employee was described in exactly the same way to all participants, except that half were told that the employee’s name was Sarah, while the other half were told that the employee’s name was Andrew. We then asked the participants about their goals going into this conversation, and while they all said they wanted to give candid feedback, those who were told the employee was named Sarah were more likely than those who were told the employee was named and Andrew first. because it’s good. This was true regardless of the gender or political leanings of the person giving the feedback: Whether they self-identified as male or female, liberal or conservative, our participants consistently reported being more motivated to be kind when giving feedback. to a woman than to give. of a man.
We further confirmed this effect by analyzing real-world feedback given to a large group of international MBA students by more than 4,800 of their former supervisors, mentors, peers, and subordinates from jobs held prior to joining the MBA program. All things being equal, we found that feedback given by women was generally more positive in tone and content than that given by men. And when we asked evaluators about their motivations and goals for giving their feedback, we again found that they were more likely to say they prioritized kindness when they evaluated women than when evaluates men.
So what accounts for this difference? There is one common stereotype that women are more warm than men, and when we see someone who is so warm, naturally we are kinder and kinder to them. Our results show that this stereotype is what drives the kindness bias: We tend to see women as kinder, and that makes us want to be kinder when we give them critical feedback. Additionally, our participants reported that they viewed empathic feedback as more helpful for women than for men, suggesting that their goal in giving women better feedback was to communicate in a way that which they think will be most helpful to the recipient.
Importantly, we found no evidence to suggest that managers sought to prevent women. This bias is not motivated by a belief that women are less capable than men, a concern about appearing to be biased against women, or a fear that women are less able to handle negative feedback. . Participants in our studies simply thought it would be more helpful to prioritize kindness when talking to women.
Of course, being kind isn’t a bad thing – but giving feedback differently based on the gender of the recipient creates problems for everyone. Previous research has shown that women are more likely to receive inflated feedbackand receive less action feedback, than men. Inaccurate, unhelpful, or ambiguous feedback (even if motivated by the desire to be kind) can obscure critical growth opportunities and cause women to be less likely to get important work assignments, raises, or promotion. At the same time, a lack of empathy in the feedback given to men can stunt their growth, harm their well-being, and contribute to a workplace culture full of toxic gender norms.
To meet these challenges, managers must prioritize giving feedback that is accurate and kind, no matter who they are talking to. To be sure, it can be a tricky balance to strike – but a little planning goes a long way. Before a feedback conversation, write down specific, actionable points you need to reach, as well as opportunities to show kindness while offering constructive criticism. Be intentional about spreading kindness throughout the conversation equally whether you’re giving feedback to a man or a woman, and after sharing it, ask the recipient to repeat key takeaways to ensure that your kindness does not hide your insides. trying to explain. Auditing written feedback at the organizational level also makes it possible to identify gendered patterns in the tone and content of feedback, helping to remove biases that may be more difficult for individuals to see.
It is also important to note that empathy bias tends to transcend the context of the gender binary. The entire gender spectrum as well as the intersections between gender, race, class, and other identities all influence how we communicate and perceive each other. For example, previous research found that Black students were more likely to receive inflated feedback because evaluators were concerned about being seen as biased. Could this effect combine with kindness bias and result in Black women receiving less helpful feedback than their white female counterparts?
More research is needed to explore these complex interactions. But regardless of the recipient, it’s clear that kindness and candor are essential ingredients to effective feedback. It is up to the managers to ensure that they have a fair distribution method between the two.