This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

As a foundation of organizational success, employee creativity has been studied by organizational scholars for many years. Employee creativity fuels organizations’ innovation and contributes to organizations’ competitive edge. The authors of this study examined the influence of negative feedback on employee creativity in organizations. Negative feedback is ubiquitous in organizations, and it can address a gap in the demonstrated level of creativity versus what is expected. Negative feedback can flow in three different directions: top-down feedback flow (i.e., from supervisors to subordinates), bottom-up feedback flow (i.e., from subordinates to supervisors), and lateral feedback flow (i.e., from peer to peer).  Negative feedback propels recipients to engage in one of two responses: task processes whereby recipients produce better task strategies to improve their creativity, or meta-processes whereby recipients perceive a threat in their self-concept which deters their creative attempts.

The authors argued that the direction of negative feedback flow played a pivotal role in affecting employees’ creativity. Specifically, in the bottom-up feedback flow, negative feedback should increase supervisors’ creativity through task processes, whereas in top-down and lateral feedback flows, negative feedback will decrease recipient creativity through meta-processes. Their argumentation is based on the fact that power is asymmetrical between supervisors and subordinates. Thus, those in power care less about their social relationship with feedback providers (i.e., subordinates) and are less likely to be affected by negative feedback. In contrast, subordinates who received negative feedback from supervisors may form meta-processes and experience decreased creativity. Similarly, negative feedback from peers would also make the feedback recipients feel attacked and thus reduce creativity.

The authors conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first study recruited 225 employees who were working in creative jobs in a Korean company. The second study included 356 undergraduate students in a North American university to participate in a lab experiment. The average age for participants in study 1 and study 2 was 32 and 20 years old. The sample in study 1 consisted of 104 females and 121 males. In study 2, there were 136 females and 217 males.

 Key Findings

  • Bottom-up negative feedback from followers to supervisors induced supervisors’ task processes, which in turn, increased supervisors’ creativity.
  • Top-down negative feedback from supervisors to followers directed followers’ attention away from task processesand toward meta-processes, which harmed followers’ creativity.
  • Lateral negative feedback from peers to peers also stimulated employees’ meta-processes, which led to decreased creativity.

Implications for practice
Organizations are advised to 1) encourage followers to provide thoughtful and critical feedback to their supervisors, 2) ask supervisors to offer negative feedback after the completion of a creativity task, and 3) ask peers to provide temporal feedback (i.e., feedback that compares one’s past performance with current performance) instead of social comparison feedback (i.e., feedback that compares performance between employees) to each other.

Kim, Y. J., & Kim, J. (2020). Does negative feedback benefit (or harm) recipient creativity? The role of the direction of feedback flow. Academy of Management Journal, 63(2), 584-612.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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