Can Positive Feedback Be Dangerous?

Everyone likes positive feedback. It is known that it is helpful in building self-esteem and contributes to success. In fact, schools and parents have been doing a good job giving more positive feedback since the push in the seventies and eighties to build self-esteem. Scores have jumped significantly for children in the last 30 years. However, recent research indicates that positive feedback needs to be realistic to be effective.

In the last 5 years, experts have become concerned that the self-esteem movement has gone too far. This is based on the reaction tweens, teenagers, and adults with high self-esteem have when they get negative feedback. They think of it as criticism and do not know how to handle it. Some get angry and lash out; others get depressed and withdraw. The constant stream of positive feedback has not helped them learn to be resilient.

For instance, a comment that is sometimes given to children by parents, coaches, and teachers is “good job” when in fact it isn’t. This kind of feedback is not helpful even though it may be thought of as encouraging if the job is only okay or not done well. This creates a false sense of self-esteem.

I am recently hearing the comment “good job” a lot at softball games. The pitcher has not thrown a strike; the batter has missed the ball. Yet, the crowd says “good job.” I believe the pitcher and batter usually know when they are doing a good job. It confuses them if they are told “good job” or “you’re great” if it is not true. Wouldn’t it be better to say something like “Stay focused” or “Watch the ball.”

The same is true for adults at work. If your boss or supervisor tells you that you have done a good job on something and you have not, it can be confusing. It can set you up for problems later on when you need to do the same thing. If you choose to do what you did before because you were told you did a good job and now it does not work, you may feel betrayed.

An okay job is not going to get you the new position or promotion you want. It is not going to help you improve your important relationships or contacts with people. It is not going to help you be a better student or supervisor or leader. You need feedback that helps you do your best. Feedback is helpful when it is appropriately positive and when it points out things you need to improve.

Unrealistic self-esteem (too high or low) will not help you handle the tough situations in life. Begin today to start to ask for honest or accurate feedback so you learn from it. You cannot take steps to improve if you do not have the information you need to change your behavior. Also be sure to give others in your life accurate feedback in a positive way.

Comment below about what you think about overdoses of positive feedback.

To your success,



  1. says

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  2. Sue Mitchell says

    You’re right on with this. I think positive feedback should be infrequent and very specific.

    As a teacher and personal coach, I do all I can to avoid the dreaded “Good job!” and instead try to say exactly what was good, as well as giving small suggestions for improvement when appropriate.

    Being constantly reinforced with meaningless praise can prevent kids from developing their own standards for quality work.

    I think kids also recognize that it’s easy to say “Good job!” but taking the time to give the details of what they did well shows much more engagement on the part of the adult, which builds genuine self-esteem in the child.

    And, as you point out, this all applies to adults as well.

    • Maurine Patten says

      Hi Sue,
      I appreciate your comments on positive feedback’s dangers. As a teacher and coach you have learned from experience how important helpful feedback is. It also sounds like you apply appropriate feedback in a meaningful way.


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