Seven ways to give positive feedback that cuts through

By August 16, 2016September 7th, 2018Performance, Staff


It seems it’s human nature to hear criticism far more loudly than praise – and for that criticism to linger in the memory much longer than a compliment on a job well done.

This presents an ongoing problem for managers, who feel that they frequently provide their staff with positive feedback, only for it to go unnoticed. And finding ways of getting that positive feedback to hit home is vital for a growing business. It’s part of developing a healthy workplace culture and can help retain staff who are doing a good job.

If you’re wondering how you can tell your staff you value their work – and have them actually take it to heart – here are a few tactics to try.

  1. Change your mode of communication. You might feel like you’ve told your hero staff how great they are a thousand times and they’ve always brushed it off. So stop telling them. Hand write them a note. Send them a text. Post something on your intranet and back it up with a photo. If we say things the same way all the time, no wonder people stop listening.
  2. Be specific about what they did and the impact it had. ‘You did a great job,’ is fine. ‘You came up with an inspiring concept for that pitch, which the clients loved and we won the job,’ is better. They are more likely to repeat the behaviour you’re praising if they know what it is.
  3. Avoid overused words and phrases. ‘Your attention to detail is ah-maz-ing,’ is fine. ‘Your attention to detail would make Sherlock Holmes hang up his cape and go crying back to his momma’, is more likely to be remembered. Be, y’know, creative.
  4. Favour improvements in areas of weakness. Usain Bolt doesn’t need to be told he’s a brilliant runner. He already knows. But he might be desperately trying to improve his flower arranging skills (and I’m sure he is), so focus on that. Praising even small advancements in the skills they are working on is going to have a much greater impact than praising the skills they’ve mastered.
  5. Back it up. You can punctuate your positive feedback with small, inexpensive gestures which mean a lot. A nice bottle of wine. An afternoon off. A gift certificate. The aim is not so much to provide a reward or an incentive (although it may be both), but to reinforce and emphasise your message.
  6. Disallow self deprecation. Often people will underplay their achievements or jokingly disparage their skills in certain areas. Sure, modesty’s a virtue, but constant repetition of personal shortcomings, even in jest, can reinforce them over time. If you’ve got someone who constantly dismisses what they’ve done well, choose a moment to gently call them out and ask them to stop downplaying their own skills. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
  7. Finally, here’s one tactic to try which can have the greatest impact of all. But there’s an important prerequisite before you give it a go. For this to be helpful and not harmful, you need to have a team of people where respect is high for all members and where a supportive work environment exists. If you’ve got that as a starting point, you can try peer review sessions. This is where you ask one person to share their work with the rest of the team and you ask the team to critique and review it. It takes courage for the person whose work is under review and it takes sensitivity and precision from the staff offering the critique.

But this can be a most potent tool for boosting confidence and improving performance, because it comes from peers rather than supervisors. Done well, it can be an empowering experience which truly validates the work undertaken, and can have a far more lasting effect than another pat on the back from the boss.

If you’ve got issues in your business you don’t seem to be able to get on top of, why not get in touch? Not only do we provide a full suite of bookkeeping and tax services here at Generate, but we’re also able to help with business coaching, strategy workshops, business plans and much more. You name the problem and I’m sure we can help.