…Research from Northwestern University suggests there may be an optimal time to give negative feedback. This timing has to do with our capacity for self-regulation, which plummets when we’re worn out.
In their 2016 study “The strength to face the facts: Self-regulation defends against defensive information processing,” published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers at the University of Toronto set out to understand who might be more receptive to negative feedback.
“Specifically, we thought that people high in self-control (i.e., high in the capacity to override their impulses, either at a trait-based, individual level, or as a temporary state) and those high in self-improvement motivation would be more able to withstand the short-term pains of accepting negative feedback in order to yield the long-term rewards,” study author Rachel Ruttan, an organizational behavior professor at the university, told Quartz via email.
Through five studies, Ruttan and her colleagues explored the impact of self-regulatory capacities on defensive information processing—the tendency to deny, distort, or avoid diagnostic self-threatening information.
People who are both low in self-regulatory capacities—both as a personality trait, and temporary state—were significantly more likely to deny the validity and importance of negative feedback, and were less willing to seek self-improvement based on this knowledge. The opposite was true for people high in self-regulatory capacities. The researchers ruled out explanations for these results based on self-esteem and competence-based deficits.