About Politeness, Face, and Feedback: Exploring Resident and Faculty Perceptions of How Institutional Feedback Culture Influences Feedback Practices

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Abstract

Purpose

To explore resident and faculty perspectives on what constitutes feedback culture, their perceptions of how institutional feedback culture (including politeness concepts) might influence the quality and impact of feedback, feedback seeking, receptivity, and readiness to engage in bidirectional feedback.

Method

Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, five focus group discussions with internal medicine residents, three focus group discussions with general medicine faculty, and eight individual interviews with subspecialist faculty were conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital between April and December 2016. Discussions and interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim; concurrent data collection and analysis were performed using the constant comparative approach. Analysis was considered through the lens of politeness theory and organizational culture.

Results

Twenty-nine residents and twenty-two general medicine faculty participated in focus group discussions, and eight subspecialty faculty participated in interviews. The institutional feedback culture was described by participants as (1) a culture of politeness, in which language potentially damaging to residents’ self-esteem was discouraged; and (2) a culture of excellence, in which the institution’s outstanding reputation and pedigree of trainees inhibited constructive feedback. Three key themes situated within this broader cultural context were discovered: normalizing constructive feedback to promote a culture of growth, overcoming the mental block to feedback seeking, and hierarchical culture impeding bidirectional feedback.

Conclusions

An institutional feedback culture of excellence and politeness may impede honest, meaningful feedback and may impact feedback seeking, receptivity, and bidirectional feedback exchanges. It is essential to understand the institutional feedback culture before it can be successfully changed.

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