Workplace Wisdom

How to Emphasize Praise for Feedback Success

In last week’s post, The Truth About Workplace Feedback, we looked at the significance of having a generally positive relationship with an employee before asking the employee to take in and apply critical feedback.

A positive relationship isn’t necessary because it’s nicer. And it’s not because everyone should get a trophy. It’s just practical: All employees are human, and all humans make mistakes. And the vast majority of humans have trouble taking in criticism.

In fact, according to communication experts, if you want an employee to hear, understand, and respond effectively to negative feedback, you need to have as many as five positive communications for each negative one.

So, where can you find all those positive things to say? And why should you bother when it’s the negative points that really matter?

What to Praise

If you’re not finding enough to praise, acknowledge, compliment, or recognize, here are some positive behaviors to look for:

  • Participation
  • Planning
  • Analytical thinking
  • Collaborating
  • Raising the flag for something meaningful
  • Blowing the whistle on bad behavior
  • Thinking things through
  • Helping others
  • Preparation
  • Consistency
  • Leaving “the campsite” better than they find it
  • Reliability
  • Pleasantness
  • Tidiness

These are only a few of the options. If you can’t find something worth praising every single week — yes, that’s 52 positives a year, which would theoretically earn you an effectiveness ration of only five critical comments for the year — you should start wondering why the person is still on the job.

When to Praise

If you haven’t been giving positive feedback consistently or at all, start immediately. If you have trouble finding any big things to praise, and absolutely everything about this employee is ordinary, look for some positive small things. If the performance is so borderline that you can’t bear to praise anything (and if this is the case, then, seriously, what have you been doing as a manager?!?), try to find something to express gratitude for:

  • “I’m so glad you waited to take your break until the crunch was done. Thanks!”
  • “I appreciate that you’re always here on time and ready to go.”
  • “It’s nice to pass by your desk and see how tidy it is, and how organized you are.”

At the very least, you can help employees participate in their own acknowledgment: “It strikes me that I haven’t been giving you much good news and/or acknowledging you, so first let me say that I’m going to work on doing a better job of looking for things to call out.” Or more simply: “Please let me know whenever you’re happy with your work so I can be happy with it too.”

How to Praise

Proportionality of praise is important. There shouldn’t be overwhelming praise if things are just okay. Acknowledge the pains the employee took, the interest they showed, or the worthwhile attempts they made.

But don’t drop a “praise bomb” by being effusive unless there’s real reason. Disproportionate praise is actually confusing. It reduces your credibility as a manager, and makes it hard for the employee to understand what you value. And it’s not enough to just make a “praise deposit” as you’re walking past or away from an employee. Praise shouldn’t be a drive-by or hit-and-run kind of thing. Be concrete and specific, make eye contact, and gauge the employee’s reaction.

Onward and upward,

LK

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