Feedback and Emotional Support: Birds of a feather or Apples and Oranges

One of the best aspects of conferences is the fact that I have the opportunity to talk to other scholars and reflect on ideas and concepts and engage in conversations about current topics and trends. This morning over breakfast my advisor and I started talking about feedback. We discussed the fact that there may indeed by kinds of feedback and whether it is in fact a continuum. On one end of the continuum is emotional support, comments which would include something to the effect of, "Good job!" These types of comments boost the moral of the individual but may not necessarily move her forward. On the other end would be constructive comments, statements that move the person forward in her thinking. We wondered whether these types of comments would be received as criticism and felt that they most likely would be taken that way, but I wonder if a statement could be forward moving without being interpreted as critique. It may be that the framing of such a statement coupled with the disposition of the individual and the culture of the environment that determines how the statement will be received. So let me think of an example...

If I take the "good job" example of before and put it to the opposite end of the continuum...I'm struggling here, and I'm struggling because I'm not sure how to express praise in a manner that moves the person forward in her thinking.

Okay, so let's start with the other end of the continuum - a forward thinking statement and I'm going to use an example of feedback for teacher candidates. I first tried to think about feedback to a fellow scholar and struggled, so in order to be as concrete as I can, I'm going to put it in the context of teacher preparation. "You need to think about how this assessment demonstrates that your students have met your objectives." If you (meaning any audience out there) can offer other examples, I would greatly appreciate it. Your feedback (smile) is welcomed.  In this case, such a statement would recognize a gap and challenge the person to reflect upon her work. However, if I were the recipient of this type of statement, I might feel discouraged by it and see it as a critique. I'm wondering if it is the fact that the feedback is provided in a direct statement. If feedback were a question, would it be received in the same fashion? Instead of using the aforementioned statement, the feedback could be posed in a question, "How can you show the connection between the assessment of your students and the lesson's objectives?" Framed in this manner, the feedback feels less like an attack and more like a suggestion - something to which I could consider and most likely will. It challenges me to reflect upon my actions without being threatened.

This whole concept of being under attack also makes me consider morale. How does feedback in the sense that I am using it as an object of forward motion with regard to thinking impact a person's morale? If someone only ever received feedback and never heard emotional support, would it eventually affect the moral and be crippling rather than thought-provoking? But conversely, if a person only heard emotional support, her moral may be strong initially but eventually she could feel frustration in that she would be stagnating since her thinking is not being challenged not in a threatening sense but rather with regard to mental growth. Is the solution framing feedback in the form of a question? If so, then is there ever a need for feedback in the form of a statement? If so, it begs the question of at what expense. If I offer feedback in the form of a statement knowing that its effects could move the person's thinking forward even while hurting moral but not to a sense of crippling, is it worth it?

I guess then these questions are making the case for the case for two kinds of comments - emotional support and feedback. Expressing the two in this manner dispels the idea of a continuum and instead recognizes them as separate entities because emotional support would not move a person's thinking forward thereby disqualifying it as feedback.