We all need some good feedback every now and then in order to learn and grow in our professional roles. The way in which feedback is relayed largely determines its effectiveness and success. This article zones in on the power of positive feedback.
What is feedback?
To give someone feedback is to reflect on their behavior, progress, performance or work. It is such a common English term that it has found its way into the Dutch language. Feedback is an important element of any learning process, especially when it comes to finding out what is going well and what isn’t. It is a way of gathering the information you need to optimize business processes and results in the near future.
You will find another article on our website with more on how to give feedback.
What is positive feedback?
We distinguish positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback emphasizes an employee’s strengths while negative feedback mostly focuses on changing or eliminating ineffective or undesirable behavior.
Positive feedback, also known as ‘feedforward’, expresses how an individual or team has been excelling. It stimulates improvement and creates a positive culture of open dialogue. Plus, positive feedback stimulates the production of the happiness hormone oxytocin in the brain.
Because our brain has a natural resistance against feedback (we tend to interpret it as criticism and don’t like the feeling we get when we find out that our self-image doesn’t quite align with how others perceive us), formulating it carefully is an important element of positive feedback.
- “You wrote a good piece. Could you just make it a little snappier and more commercial? That would really put the icing on the cake.”
- “Your message is on point. Could you boil it down to fewer words and articulate a bit more slowly?”
- An employee has been particularly productive working late at times of peak traffic. “Thank you for your effort during these busy times. I understand working till the wee hours isn’t ideal, but the team appreciates your diligence very much. You are a valuable team member. Your upbeat, can-do attitude motivates us all.”This is a good example of positive feedback.
This type of formulation communicates enthusiasm and converts feedback into concrete suggestions for improvement that serve the common goal.
The benefits of positive feedback
Positive feedback has a lot of pros. For example, organizational psychologist Marcial Losada found that the ratio between positive and negative feedback in high-performance teams averages 6 to 1. Each piece of negative feedback is countered by 6 pieces of positive feedback.
A long-term study by consulting and research firm Gallup revealed four important benefits of positive feedback.
1. Involved employees
A Gallup poll found that 67% of employees who received positive feedback from their managers were highly involved in their work. On the other hand, just 31% of employees who received primarily negative feedback (focused on their weaknesses), felt the same level of commitment.
2. Increased productivity
A Gallup study conducted among 530 teams found that positive feedback acts as a considerable productivity booster. Teams that received positive feedback from their manager were 12.5 percent more productive than teams that didn’t receive any feedback at all.
3. Reduced attrition
Positive feedback also has a beneficial effect on attrition rates. One study by Gallup found that positive feedback reduces the risk of an employee leaving the company prematurely by around 15 percent.
4. Increased profits
Another Gallup study found that companies working with positive feedback are 8.9% more profitable than companies where feedback isn’t considered as important.
Tips for giving positive feedback
It is useful to have a compact overview of best practices before working on your feedback. Below some tips to sink your teeth into
1. Go for a positive approach
Approach the feedback from a positive angle. You can do this by referring to a shared team objective or by emphasizing the positive qualities an employee has been demonstrating in practice.
2. Make it concrete
Make your compliments and suggestions for improvement as concrete as possible. Say an employee just aced a presentation. “Good work” is a nice compliment, but it would be more useful to go into greater detail and use examples to indicate what it was about the presentation that impressed you so much.
The same principle applies to presentations that still need work. “You can do better” is not enough. Be sure to point out positive aspects as well, and clarify what elements still need work. Only concrete feedback will lead to learning.
3. Use the word ‘and’
It may seem futile, but smart use of the word ‘and’ can make a considerable difference in terms of how your feedback is perceived. By placing ‘and’ in between the positive feedback and your suggestions for improvement, you indicate to have noticed their qualities. Rather than rejecting behavior or a presentation, you indicate how someone could utilize their qualities, talents, and capabilities even better in the future.
4. Choose the right moment
Do not wait too long before conveying your feedback. Otherwise, it may be too little too late. It is important that positive feedback is given right after the associated event or right after completion of a task. That is when everything is still fresh and the feedback is most likely to stick. A great way to maximize the learning potential.
5. Be authentic and honest
Be sure not to give any compliments for the sake of it. Employees will quickly see through it. Only give (positive) feedback when there is a concrete reason for it. Try to make your positive feedback as direct and honest as possible.
6. Focus on behavior and effort
In your feedback, emphasize behavior and effort rather than the personality traits and aptitude of the employee. This motivates and contributes to a positive mindset based on growth and continued development.
7. Place your positive feedback in a broader context
Place your positive feedback in a broader context. For example, you can emphasize the positive impact of someone’s work on colleagues or clients. In addition, you can refer to their contribution to the broader strategic goals of the organization.
8. Use body language and appreciative gestures
People do not communicate with words only. Body language plays an important part. The right hand gestures, facial expressions and a sincere smile give positive feedback an extra dimension. Another way of increasing the impact of positive feedback is by accompanying a compliment with a small present or in-person conversation.
9. Be a tailor
Each individual is unique. Keep that in mind when formulating your feedback. Some employees will enjoy receiving their positive feedback publicly. Have you got introverts in your team? Odds are they will prefer a private conversation. Make sure you know your employees and their preferences.
Although positive feedback is very valuable, there are still some pitfalls to keep in mind.
- Start gradually. Avoid flooding your employees with feedback all of a sudden; it will likely overwhelm them.
- Do not give positive feedback about trivial actions or everyday affairs.
- Convey your feedback tactfully and thoughtfully. A presumptuous or condescending tone won’t get you very far.
Positive feedback offers a lot of benefits as long as you choose the appropriate tone and the right moment. Employees feel appreciated and taken seriously, which leads to increased workforce loyalty, a more pleasant work atmosphere and increased productivity.
In addition to giving positive feedback, it is also recommended to make employees’ results and strengths transparent. The skills matrix is a perfect tool to do just that. This schematic overview helps visualize the competencies, skills and qualifications of your workforce in great detail. Read all about the why and how of the skills matrix here.