Questions about feedback

Answer to "What are strategies to address emotions during the conversation, i.e. if the recipient responds emotionally during the feedback conversation?"

Feedback conversations can evoke emotional reactions among learners, especially when the content of the feedback does not support the learner’s self-assesment and hence threatens their self-esteem.  The manner in which the feedback is given also can provoke an emotional response. .

The content of the feedback can also cause strong emotional reactions, especially when:

  • Feedback has negative content

  • Feedback conflicts with learners’ self-assessment


The following are causes of emotional reactions by the feedback receiver:: 

  • Feedback on the person rather than the performance

  • Feedback framed as a comparison with the peer group

  • Lack of concrete examples in data

  • Subjective data that is not supported by objective data

  • Feedback based on second-hand data, i.e not directly observed


Through planning and good preparation prior to a feedback conversation, these can largely be prevented.  Teachers can employ the following strategies:

  • Formulate their feedback on observed behaviour

  • Provide ample examples

  • Not generalise feedback to personality characteristic

  • Compare performances against an objective norm instead of peer performances.

  • Use facilitative phrases which acknowledge and defuse emotional responses, examples of such phrases are described below.


Disconfirming feedback can be difficult to accept. Confiming feedback on experienced struggles or failure can be confronting as well. Emotions, however, should not be considered as hindrances for learning nor is there a need to avoid these completely (although teachers might feel uncomfortable in case of emotional reactions). Emotions are a natural part of learning and they contribute to intrinsic motivation and self-confidence.


To acknowledge learner’s emotions it can help to discuss before the feedback conversation or at the start of the conversation what expectations the learner has about the dialogue, facilitate reflection on the content and the manner of feedback communication.
Furthermore, during the feedback conversation emotional reactions can be validated by phrases like:

  • It is difficult to hear feedback that disconfirms how we see ourselves.

  • We are all trying to do our best and it is tough to hear when we are not hitting the mark.

  • We are going to work together.

  • We are all disappointed when we hear we’re not doing as well as we thought”, “This sounds like it was a surprise for you, can you tell me more about that?”


Evaluating the feedback conversation at the end (‘feedback-on-the-feedback’) also help to ensure that emotions are dealt with appropriately and reflection has led to effective plans for performance improvement.

The second phase of the R2C2 feedback model explicitly pays attention to learner’s emotions (see question 12).



Bynum, W. E. (2015) ‘Filling the feedback gap: the unrecognised roles of shame and guilt in the feedback cycle’, Medical Education, 49(7), pp. 644–647.

van de Ridder, J. M. M., McGaghie, W. C., Stokking, K. M. and ten Cate, O. T. J. (2015) ‘Variables that affect the process and outcome of feedback, relevant for medical training: a meta-review’, Medical Education, 49(7), pp. 658–673.

Sargeant, J., Lockyer, J. M., Mann, K., Armson, H., et al. (2018) ‘The R2C2 Model in Residency Education:  How Does It Foster Coaching and Promote Feedback Use?’, Academic Medicine, 93(7), pp. 1055–1063.

Sargeant, J., Lockyer, J., Mann, K., Holmboe, E., et al. (2015) ‘Facilitated Reflective Performance Feedback: Developing an Evidence- and Theory-Based Model That Builds Relationship, Explores Reactions and Content, and Coaches for Performance Change (R2C2)’, Academic Medicine, 90(12), pp. 1698–1706.

Sargeant, J., Mann, K., Sinclair, D., van der Vleuten, C., et al. (2008) ‘Understanding the influence of emotions and reflection upon multi-source feedback acceptance and use’, Advances in Health Sciences Education, 13(3), pp. 275–288.

Sargeant, J., Mcnaughton, E., Mercer, S., Murphy, D., et al. (2011) ‘Providing feedback: Exploring a model (emotion, content, outcomes) for facilitating multisource feedback’, Medical Teacher, 33(9), pp. 744–749.

Värlander, S. (2008) ‘The role of students’ emotions in formal feedback situations’, Teaching in Higher Education, 13(2), pp. 145–156.