My clients often ask me how to give constructive negative feedback to their employees, colleagues, or even their bosses. They look for proper and effective ways of passing criticism on a poor job or behaviour they want to eliminate. Interestingly, managers rarely ask me how to give positive feedback. If I ask them about it, usually they believe that positive feedback is more straightforward to offer than a negative one and, as only good things can come out from that, no need to worry about that. Right?
What do you consider positive feedback? If you believe that the occasional “good job” does the trick, think again.
Why should we pass positive feedback?
We give positive feedback for a few reasons –
· we want to pass acknowledgement and appreciation for the person and his/her work,
· we want to motivate them
· we want to encourage more efforts
· we want to boost the confidence of the recipient
· we want to keep a positive mood in the team
· we wish to express gratitude and satisfaction
· we know we sometimes have to say something positive for a change
Why do you give positive feedback? What for? Have you ever thought about it?
We want our employees or colleagues to know that we value their work; we want them to see that we admire and appreciate them and that we are thankful.
When we give positive feedback, it provides a sign that we wish certain behaviours to repeat. With negative feedback, we expect a change and elimination of certain practices or behaviours; positive feedback should strengthen those skills and behaviours we want to see more.
When we use positive feedback well, it can help our employees grow and develop skills and talents appreciated and needed in the organization and our team.
Is “good job” always doing a good job?
So, back to our “good job” – what’s wrong with that?
Imagine that you just gave a presentation in front of your boss and a few other managers. You were preparing a lot for it and collected tones of data; you were stressed in the morning as you are not exceptionally thrilled about public speaking. You spent some time on the colours of the slides, made them esthetic and clear. A lot of hard work!
The presentation is over; you leave the room with relief; you think it went well; however, there are a few points that, in your view, would need a slight improvement. At the door, you meet your boss who shouts “Great Job!” towards you, taps you on the shoulder and goes away.
Your boss thinks that he just gave you positive feedback but has he indeed?
Hearing the “great job” – the first feeling is good, yeah, you were appreciated… And yet, how do you know what was so great about your presentation? Was it the content? Colours of the slides? Speed of it, maybe you presented it well? How can you be sure and get any learning from it?
Or (you start thinking) your boss left so quickly and did not have any questions – maybe he just said that it was a great job, but in fact, it wasn’t? Was your boss just trying to be nice? Perhaps he did not like the slides, plus your voice was shaking when you were speaking. Ah, what a disaster!
Alternatively, when you leave the presentation with a feeling that it went less than perfect, a “great job” can even sound like a lie and give you a feeling that no matter how you do, you get the same feedback, so why bother?
Of course, none of this has to happen, and you can just go away with a feeling of success, yet, there is a chance that the “great job” will not do a great job and leave you with series of questions.
So how to make positive feedback valuable?
If you want your positive feedback to matter and serve its purpose – strengthen the desired behaviour, help your employee develop their strengths, and learn what works – make sure you pass it in a clear and constructive form.
In my previous article, I pointed out the importance of being specific when passing your team’s requests and tasks; the same rule applies here. Make sure your positive feedback is precise and detailed. It will make it much more impactful and meaningful.
Detailed feedback stays longer with those who receive it, makes them feel genuinely seen and listened to, increases their self-confidence and feeling of purpose. Instead of saying that your presentation was excellent, try saying what it meant for you, what did you find helpful, and what did you appreciate about it.
If you name and point out the specific things you found useful and worth repeating, at the same time explaining why you think it was so, you will give clear guidance and add meaning to the others work, encouraging them to keep doing a great job
Before giving feedback make sure you are clear about a few things. Ask yourself:
- why do I want to praise this person?
- what exactly did she do that makes me grateful?
- which of my needs were satisfied with this?
- how would l like to thank her?
And what if you don’t get the positive feedback you need?
We often hear about teams where positive feedback does not exist, where even the “good job” does not usually happen. It does not mean that the job is poorly done or that the teams don’t work well. Usually, the problem can be that there is no praising culture; the applied rule is that “if everything goes well, why would I say anything”? OR “if I don’t say anything, it means it is ok”, right?
So what if you are in a team like that, but you would really like to get some feedback on your work?
No magic trick here – ASK for what you need! Taking responsibility for your need for appreciation might seem difficult at first, but you don’t need to wait for another yearly assessment to learn what you do well and how you can do even better.
So if you want to learn how your presentation went in your boss’s eyes, or what exactly does “great job” mean, you might want to ask directly. “I am curious what’s your impression of my presentation, I would love to hear what you liked about it” – might do the trick and give you the appreciation you need.
Positive feedback can be a powerful tool in the development of your team and your employees.
What will you appreciate your team members for today?