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“Mum effect”: principals' reluctance to submit negative feedback

Eliezer Yariv (Gordon College for Education, Haifa, Israel)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 1 August 2006




Submitting negative feedback is a stressful experience which both superiors and subordinates try to avoid. Do principals adapt to the mum effect and hide their (negative) thoughts and feelings, or do they confirm Weening et al. hypothesis about the existence of facilitating conditions.


About 40 elementary school principals described in semi‐structured interviews cases of poor performing teachers whom they had to inform about their shortcomings.


Four consecutive stages, which escalated in directedness and criticism were found. Each stage depended on the outcomes of the previous one. Initially, half of the principals preferred first to ignore, but later 88 percent held a soft negative feedback and problem‐solving oriented discussions. When these discussions did not bring the expected results, about 80 percent criticized the worker orally. Only 30 percent criticized in writing. That process was accompanied with mixed feelings, mainly those of anger and compassion.

Research limitations/implications

The results emphasize the need for individual guidance as how to overcome their hesitattions and give effective feedback to their poor‐performing teachers. As an exploraty study, its major weakness was the reliance on one side of the equation – the principals.


Most earlier studies on mum effect were conducted in experimental setting. This study provides a uniquely realistic evidence of the interpersonal processes within the workplace. The worker appraisal and the transmission of (negative) feedback are explored through emotional lens.



Yariv, E. (2006), "“Mum effect”: principals' reluctance to submit negative feedback", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 533-546.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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