Feedback can be a powerful motivator if delivered properly. In their book “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World,” authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall make a case for giving positive feedback far more often than negative. They state that most people want attention and are more productive and engaged when given regular positive feedback. While it’s important to course-correct and discuss the negative impact of bad behavior, most people respond better to, “you did that well; I’d like to see more of that!” Gallup researchers agree, for decades, they have studied human behavior and discovered that building upon employees’ strengths helps them develop faster and farther than trying to improve upon weaknesses. Giving positive feedback is directly correlated as it focuses on strengths.
What is positive feedback?
Positive feedback focuses on what a person does well; it should highlight strengths, talents, and a job well done. It should be a regular part of your management style and given more often than critical feedback. According to research, the optimal ratio of positive to negative feedback is about 6:1.
Why is giving positive feedback important?
According to Buckingham and Goodall, what people really want and what truly motives them is attention. Positive feedback fulfills the basic human need to feel worthy, accepted, included, and recognized for our unique talents and strengths. Giving positive feedback contributes to a positive workplace and helps all of us see the good in others. Giving regular praise promotes employee engagement and keeps people focused on doing more of their best work, especially when company goals align with the recognition.
How do I give positive feedback?
First, be genuine and show appreciation; being overly general or flippant is counterproductive and will diminish the feedback. As with critical feedback, positive feedback should be well thought out and specific. Praise the effort or behavior rather than personality traits and share why the effort or behavior was impactful, especially when tied to business results. Be timely; deliver it as close to the event as possible to avoid making your employees feel like their work went unnoticed. And lastly, consider how people want to receive praise. Some people thrive off public recognition, but others prefer to receive it privately. Tailor your feedback to each person’s specific style.
Can you share an example of helpful positive feedback?
Here are two examples for you to consider as you work to add more positive feedback in your management toolbox:
Nailing a presentation
“You did a great job presenting today. I know you were nervous about giving it, and I wanted you to know that I thought you nailed it. You were articulate, concise, and well-prepared. I particularly like the way you presented the data. It clearly explained the story and demonstrated how we are making a positive impact on the bottom line. Thank you!”
“I wanted to acknowledge the effort you put into resolving that customer issue yesterday. I appreciate you taking the initiative to find a solution that worked for both the customer and the company. On top of that, you were able to highlight a breakdown in our process…one that was diminishing the service we give. Fixing this broken process will allow us to put our customers’ needs first. Great job!”
Does this mean I shouldn’t give critical feedback?
No, there is a time and place for constructive criticism, and while most people struggle to hear it, negative feedback is needed to fuel growth and impact performance. Just take care to make it constructive. As with positive feedback, be specific, timely, focus on facts rather than interpretations, and tie it to its impact on the organization. Remember to come from a place of kindness and helpfulness and don’t cram too much into the conversation. Receiving negative feedback causes flight or flight hormones to kick in, and there’s only so much a person can effectively absorb.
Giving both kinds of feedback is critical to your organization and an essential aspect of helping others develop personally and professionally. Just remember the 6:1 positive to negative feedback ratio; following this rule of thumb will help you create more engaged and productive employees, improve company culture, and positively impact your bottom line.
Like this? Check out my blog on why you should focus on strengths to develop rock star employees.
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Wholeheartedly agree that praise when merited is the best validation someone can receive. Positive reinforcement also makes people more receptive to meaningful constructive criticism.