Each individual does their best in their environment, within their logic realm, to achieve what they need. In environments with other stakeholders, one individual’s actions affect others. So, how can we reconcile different motivations and behaviours in a shared environment to create harmony?

Human behaviour, like other species, derives from reward and punishment. The reward can be monetary (e.g. bonus), status (e.g. promotion), or social acceptance (e.g. likes on social media). The punishment can be losing a job or a privilege. Of course, different people respond to different types of rewards and punishments.

In modern and civil society, it is rare to see an emphasis on punishments. So how to make sure we incentivize good behaviours while reducing bad ones? Simply focusing on rewards. The reward is a powerful behaviour driver. The hard part is shaping the reward in a way to be effective.

Feedback is an effective way to encourage positive and prevent negative behaviours. There are two categories of feedback:

  1. Feedback on existing positive behaviour can encourage the performer to continue doing it. This feedback can be monetary or just a simple recognition, depending on the scale. 
  2. Feedback to create a habit of positive behaviour. This type is more challenging because it requires the creation of a new habit. 

The first one is simple. Observe, then recognize. While this can be seen as common sense, I’ve seen failures to recognize them can lead to mistrust and, in extreme cases, burnout. This type of feedback should be given close to when the good behaviour is observed, and the reward should be proportional to the impact.

The second type of feedback, constructive feedback, is more challenging to give. 

  • It is hard to observe something that is not there unless there is a clear value system and by comparing the expected and current behaviours. 
  • Feedback is subjective. A behaviour can be interpreted differently by different people. While one person sees it as positive, the other may see it as unfavourable.
  • The communication part is challenging. People can respond differently to constructive feedback depending on self-awareness, psychological mindset, and the relationship between the receiver and the giver.

The relationship between the feedback receiver and the giver plays a significant role in the outcome. If the giver has authority, like a manager or a parent, the feedback has more weight in nudging the individual. This is because the person in a position of power is in charge of the reward (or punishment) system. On the other hand, feedback between peers can be less effective.

Each person has motivations that drive their behaviour. Maslow’s pyramid of needs abstractly illustrates these motivations.

Regardless of how many assets someone has or whether they have a family, there is always a motivation for them in their daily activities. The difference is in the activities and target. One aims to have a roof over their head for the night, while the other tries to find meaning in life. Each person is different, their life experiences are different, and their motivations are different. Hence, the response to the feedback is different.

There are some ways that individuals can boost the effectiveness of their feedback, regardless of the relationship:

  • Make sure the other person wants to receive feedback. If the other person is not psychologically positioned to hear the feedback, it won’t be effective.
  • Create an emotional connection. There is a more chance for feedback to be received when the receiver thinks of the giver as someone who genuinely cares versus being judgemental or seen as an adversary.
  • Prepare beforehand. Feedback should be well thought out and backed with concrete examples. 
  • Understand the motivations. People respond to feedback differently, depending on their motivation in life.
  • Understand the feasibility to change. Some characteristics take time to change. They are part of what defines the person. For example, it is infeasible to ask someone with little physical activity to run a marathon in the near future. The feedback, in the eye of the receiver, should make sense.

While there is usually more emphasis on the feedback giver to tune the message to be more effective, the feedback receiver plays an important role too. Some ways that the receiver can improve the effectiveness:

  • Be open to receiving feedback. People will likely share feedback if they know it will be received well.
  • Ask for specific examples. Concrete examples help to identify in which situations things can be improved.
  • Show appreciation. Whether or not someone agrees with the feedback, showing appreciation demonstrates humility and openness to hear more.
  • Assume good intentions. Unless proven otherwise, the feedback giver has good intentions to share feedback.
  • Be self-aware. Knowing oneself, insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses are important to respond better to feedback.


Feedback aligned with the right motivation can make a significant impact. It can show blind spots. It may lead to more straightforward ways to achieve a goal. It can lead to life-changing improvements that wouldn’t be possible by just learning one the personal view of situations. Both feedback giver and receiver should work on their part to create an effective feedback-sharing ecosystem.