The art of giving positive feedback

During workshops on performance management people express most concern about how to give the bad news about others’ under-performance. How do you give negative feedback that lets people know that they need to behave differently?

What they are less interested in is how to give good news well. People tend to think that giving approval, recognising good results is an easier task. If this were so you’d think there’d be more of it. But there isn’t. Staff continue to complain about the lack of recognition.

Two aspects of giving approval need to be accepted and acted on.

The first is that there are various ways of giving positive feedback and people differ in how they like to receive it. Not everyone likes public recognition. Some prefer the private comment. Some like to see it in writing, others like it said verbally. Accepting this means you have to know your staff’s preferences and be skilled in a range of behaviours.

The second aspect is accepting that giving approval is also a form of judgment, just as disapproval is. In order to give credit, you have to know what is acceptable, preferable, rewardable. And this means making a judgment. This can be stressful for staff, just as negative judgments are stressful. Do they know what is expected and therefore what is likely to be rewarded? What if I don’t agree that what is deemed acceptable behaviour is acceptable? Am I being deemed acceptable on an ongoing basis or only when I do something right that gets noticed?

Understanding that approval is also a form of judgment means that we need to be clear about what is acceptable, make these expectations known along with how we’ll know that they are being met, and behave consistently in recognising acceptable behaviour. It also means being clear on the distinction between publicly declared unacceptable behaviour and personal prejudices. The mildly eccentric person who has an irritating mannerism is a different prospect from the person who consistently fails to meet agreed targets.

Giving positive feedback is just as much an art, requiring skill, as is giving negative feedback.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.