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Published on February 10, 2020

How to Provide Positive Feedback to Your Colleagues

How to Provide Positive Feedback to Your Colleagues

Most of us are familiar with the dreaded “yearly review.” It’s oftentimes viewed as little more than a paperwork requirement for the HR department, but that’s too bad, because when done properly, feedback is useful for the growth of both the worker and the organization. There are a lot of benefits to providing positive feedback, including increased employee morale, providing a pleasant work environment, and increased job satisfaction and performance.

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.

What is Positive Feedback?

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.

Why Focus on Positive Feedback?

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. [1]

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Additionally, IBM’s WorkTrends survey of over 19,000 workers in 26 countries, across all major industries and thousands of organizations, revealed that:

  • Employees who receive recognition are more likely to be engaged at work. In fact, the engagement level of employees who receive recognition is almost three times higher than the engagement level of those who do not.
  • Workers who receive recognition are less likely to quit. Without recognition, about half (51 percent) of surveyed employees said they intended to leave their current positions, while with recognition, just one quarter (25 percent) said they intended to leave their organizations.
  • Employees whose organizations use multiple communication channels for recognition are more likely to feel appreciated and show a higher level of employee engagement. The more channels used for recognition, the higher the employee engagement level.

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.[2]

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. [3]

Why is Giving Positive Feedback so Difficult?

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:

  • If, for example, a person didn’t get any positive feedback as they were “coming up,” then they may not understand its value for others.
  • Some people feel that negative feedback has more of an impact on business than positive feedback. However, studies show that this is not the case.
  • Managers may see positive feedback as wishy-washy and negative feedback as a sign that they are a strong leader.
  • Others may not think that positive feedback is warranted for employees “just doing their jobs.”
  • Some fear that positive feedback will have a demotivating effect on employees. In other words, telling someone that they are doing a “great job” will give them permission to not work as hard. Again, studies have shown this concern to be unfounded.
  • Finally, some people think that the only way for people to grow is through corrective feedback.

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!

Effective Techniques for Providing Positive Feedback

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:

1. Catch Them in the Act

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.

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2. Personalize It

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.

3. Be Specific

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.

4. Be Sincere

Just like everyone else, your colleagues can smell insincerity a mile away. So, if you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

5. Be Forward Looking

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.

6. Tie It to a Business or Professional Goal

“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.

7. Make Sure Your Feedback Is Actionable

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.

8. Forget the “But”

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.”

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9. Focus on Effort or Behavior

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.

10. Frame It in a Bigger Context

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:

When to Give Positive Feedback to Your Colleagues

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.

1. When Someone Meets or Exceeds Their (or Your) Goals

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.

2. When They Go the Extra Mile

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!

3. When They Help Colleagues or Customers

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.

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4. When They Overcome an Obstacle

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.

5. When They Take Initiative

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.

6. When They Need a Confidence Boost

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.

7. When They Model Good Behavior

This is one of the main goals of positive feedback. By praising good behavior, you are encouraging that behavior.

8. When They Do Something Minor, but Worth Recognizing

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.

The Bottom Line

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.

Knowing how to give positive feedback will help you show appreciation, develop leadership skills, and build a sense of community within your work environment.

More Tips for Giving Great Feedback

Featured photo credit: NESA by Makers via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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