The Power Of Positive Feedback

In my profession, I’m asked to deliver leadership training on many different topics. One topic I always approach with bittersweet anticipation is delivering positive feedback. My “sweetness” comes from happiness in knowing there is another company who cares about their people and strives to encourage their development. My “bitterness” comes from my realization that many of us have become so caught up in our hectic, fast-paced adult lives that we must learn how to stop and say something kind to those we lead. Wouldn’t it be great if kind-spirited words of feedback naturally rolled off of our tongues regardless of how busy we were in that moment, or if we felt we had the time?

For those who might by skeptical about this topic, let me clear two common misconceptions up for you which I have been challenged with time and time again.

The first is that you don’t “have time” to coddle your people and sugarcoat your message. Before I get into what positive feedback is, allow me to clarify what it isn’t. Positive feedback is not about giving superficial compliments meant to appease the recipient. In fact, if it isn’t sincere and specific, it is a complete waste of time. Positive feedback is not about avoiding difficult performance conversations. It is based on one simple principle: to focus less on what’s wrong and more on what’s expected by pointing out what they did right. This will enable you to give difficult feedback constructively because it reduces their defensiveness and they actually hear what you are trying to say. If you are a leader who is serious about decreasing performance issues and increasing productivity, you are wasting time by not mastering positive feedback.

The second misconception is that it won’t work. This simply isn’t true. I have countless examples I could share with you about longtime performance issues turning around when a leader stops focusing entirely on what’s going wrong. Unfortunately, many leaders incorrectly assume their employees know what they’ve done well and don’t need anyone to step in until they’ve done something wrong. Really? Let me invite you to think about your current situation and imagine how you might do your job differently if your boss focused on your strengths. How would it affect your relationship with them? How would it affect your belief in your own competencies? What impact would these positive beliefs have on your performance? I think you get my point.

As a leader in your organization, you are influential. In one way or another, the words you use and the messages you send directly affect those around you and their motivation to perform. Many leaders are oblivious to this fact. Once you truly understand and acknowledge this, you can choose to act in ways that positively affect high level performance.

Giving positive feedback effectively is simple to do if you incorporate these four elements into your message:

1. I saw what you did; describe specifically what you observed.

2. I appreciate it; tell them exactly what part of it you appreciated.

3. Here is why it is important; explain the positive impact the behavior has and why.

4. Here is how it made me feel; share the feelings you had inside when you observed the positive behavior you are giving feedback about.

By following this simple model, you won’t fall into the common poor feedback trap of making generalized statements such as “good job,” that don’t help your employee whatsoever. Providing feedback in this way will also ensure you maintain an attitude of helpfulness rather than power or domination which will only cause your employee to react defensively.

When giving feedback, don’t underestimate the power of an internal “meter” each of your employees has. This “meter” enables them to cut through nonsense and quickly assess what is real. I like to affectionately call this their “BS meter.” In other words, if your feedback isn’t genuine and honest, you might as well save your breath. Regardless of whether or not you follow the right steps or craft the perfect wording, there is no substitute for truly caring about those you lead. If you don’t care, neither will they.

My challenge for you is to ignite a renewed a spirit of success in your organization by positively recognizing those you lead. Are you up for it?

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at www.jlnick.com.