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Withholding negative feedback: Is it about protecting the self or protecting others?


Carla H. Jeffries, School of Psychology, The University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, QLD, 4350, Australia (e-mail:


The reluctance to deliver negative feedback to someone's face is widely documented. This research disentangles the extent to which this reluctance is motivated by a desire to protect the self as opposed to others. Participants assessed an essay written by someone with high, medium, or low self-esteem. Assessment of the essay was most positive when the feedback was to be provided face-to-face, less positive when delivered anonymously, and least positive when it was not required to be delivered at all. This effect only emerged among participants low in self-liking (but was unrelated to self-competency). The self-esteem of the essay writer had no effect on evaluations. The data lend support for a self-protection motive and modest support for an other-protection motive.