However, providing positive feedback entails a lot more than just a pat on the back and saying, “good job.” In fact, positive feedback is woefully misunderstood and underused in today’s business culture.
Positive feedback is feedback designed to reinforce a desired behavior. How does this differ from negative feedback? Negative feedback, instead of reinforcing, is designed to redirect an unwanted behavior. Here are two very simple examples:
Negative feedback: “If you don’t start backing up your reports with more facts and analysis to support your opinion, we’ll get someone who can.”
Positive feedback: “Good job on that report, I liked how you backed up your ideas with facts and analysis that supported your conclusion.”
Now, both statements encourage the person to use more “facts and analysis” in their report, but one takes a “vinegar” approach and the other a “honey” approach. You can probably guess which approach catches more flies.
As stated earlier, positive feedback is associated with higher employee morale, a better work environment, and more productive employees. Additionally, a Gallup survey found that 67% of employees whose managers focused on their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared with only 31% of employees whose managers focused on their weaknesses. ((Gallup: Employees Want a Lot More From Their Managers))
Additionally, IBM’s WorkTrends survey of over 19,000 workers in 26 countries, across all major industries and thousands of organizations, revealed that:
The findings show that positive feedback has a clear, constructive impact on employees. What’s more, the report implies that technologies such as social media and mobile communication could be strong candidates for the effective delivery of recognition, as they offer interactive, frequent, and immediate communication via multiple channels.((IBM: How do I recognize thee, let me count the ways))
Positive feedback is also an effective team management strategy. Studies have shown that high-performing teams share more than six times the amount of positive feedback of average-performing teams. In addition, low-performing teams share nearly twice as much negative feedback as average-performing teams. Again, the evidence in favor of positive feedback is clear. ((SAGE Journals: The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model))
With all the benefits positive feedback produces in the workplace, why isn’t it used more? The answer to that lies in our own personality traits:
Another reason that positive feedback is underused today is the sandwich effect. For years, there was a school of thought that said that the best way to deliver negative feedback was to “sandwich” it in between two pieces of positive feedback. This was supposed to “lessen the blow” of the negative feedback. What it really did was to negate and devalue the benefits of positive feedback. So, let’s throw away that old, stale sandwich!
When it comes to positive feedback, saying “good job” or giving your coworkers a pat on the back just isn’t going to cut it. If you want to encourage workplace harmony, increase productivity, encourage creativity, or achieve any of the other benefits positive feedback can provide, then keep these tips in mind:
As humans, we learn best when the reward (positive feedback) is given as soon as possible after the act has occurred. Don’t save up praise to be given at a later date. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something.
Make sure to give your feedback directly to the person yourself. Also, you want to understand your colleague’s personality. Most people are okay with receiving positive feedback publicly, but not everyone, so it’s important to know your colleagues well and proceed accordingly. Also, as a side note, negative feedback should always be given in private.
Remember when we said that saying “good job” wasn’t enough? This is why: If you’re not specific in your feedback, then employees or coworkers can be unclear on what behaviors to continue. Saying, “Great job on your presentation to the client; you really nailed that sale” doesn’t give much information. Consider this feedback instead: “Great job on your presentation; I know that they aren’t the easiest clients. But you came in prepared and kept your cool in the negotiations. That’s what saved the sale.” This feedback highlights specific behaviors that you want to be reinforced.
Just like everyone else, your colleagues can smell insincerity a mile away. So, if you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
The goal of positive feedback should be to improve a person’s performance in the future. Praise those behaviors that you would like to see repeated.
“If you go into all your sales meetings as well prepared as you did this one, you’re going to be one of our top salespeople.” This statement acknowledges the benefit to both the company and the salesperson.
Focus on the specific behaviors that you want to encourage. Using overly generalized statements can cause more confusion and is generally not helpful. Identifying positive behaviors gives your colleague a clear road map of how to act moving forward.
Don’t try to mix in negative feedback; it will only serve to stymie any benefits from the positive feedback. Besides, everyone should have their “day in the sun.”
By focusing on a person’s behavior instead of on a trait or talent, you are encouraging your colleagues to develop a growth mindset. This is a critical component of both personal and organizational success.
Everyone likes to feel appreciated, especially if they are a part of a team. “The way you were able to talk to that client to calm them down was great. You not only got them to stick with us, but you just insured that the sales department will make its quota this quarter.” By framing your positive feedback in a larger context, you’ve given them a sense importance beyond that of being just a cog in the wheel.
So, we’ve talked about what exactly positive feedback is, as well as its benefits and how to give it. The next question is:
There are no hard and fast rules about when to give positive feedback, as there are many situations where it’s appropriate, and it will probably depend on your office environment, your colleagues’ personalities, and other factors. However, positive feedback is definitely a technique that needs to be used more frequently. So, let’s talk about eight situations when you should always give positive feedback.
Now, I can see the wheels turning in your head, saying “Okay, I can see praising someone who exceeds their goals, but someone meeting their goals is just doing their job.” True, but if that person didn’t meet their goals, they would certainly be subject to negative feedback. So, recognize a job well done.
This seems obvious, but I have seen too many managers with the attitude of “Working late is part of the job” or “I do twice as much as they do; no one tells me anything.” This is a sure way to build resentment and cause employee turnover. Acknowledge the extra effort. It doesn’t cost anything!
Now, everyone in an organization is supposed to help colleagues and customers. What we’re talking about here are special circumstances. We’ve all dealt with the “customer from hell” or the colleague who falls ill or has a family emergency. By praising those who step in and handle these situations, you’re nipping future problems in the bud.
Bringing in a project under-budget despite setbacks, coming up with a unique solution to a problem, or just continuing to do a good job despite personal issues are all obstacles that should be recognized with positive feedback.
Is there anything more frustrating than the person who says, “That’s not my job”? Praiseworthy is the person who takes the initiative to do what it takes to move the process forward, even if the action isn’t necessarily in that employee’s purview.
Recognize that everyone is human, and we all have off-days. Sometimes an encouraging word from a boss or coworker is all that’s needed to reassure someone.
This is one of the main goals of positive feedback. By praising good behavior, you are encouraging that behavior.
This is where positive feedback is under-used. Positive feedback is the key to making big behavioral changes. But the key to big behavioral changes is a lot of minor behavioral changes. Don’t be afraid to recognize positive incremental steps along the way.
Your co-workers have a major role to play in the quality of your work environment. Having a good relationship with them increases the likelihood of your success, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.