Why Positive Feedback Is Essential

People crave connection, not being told how to improve


Performance reviews tend to be awkward. Not only for yourself, but also for your manager. Because after all, it would be very strange if you would hear something you did not hear during the year. Yet, these reviews are ingrained rituals in every organization.

The manager is expected to point out “areas of improvement”. You should nod politely and be a good sport by asking clarifying questions and promising that you will work on improving in those areas. It is also awkward for the manager, because she / he already told you how to improve during the year and is probably afraid saying something to upset you.

This ritual of providing (negative) feedback in organizations at the end of the year turns out to be highly ineffective. This is one of the “Nine Lies about Work” as described by Marcus Buckingham (“Nine Lies about Work” is a book I definitely recommend you to read).

Instead, positive feedback provided regularly is ten times more effective – if done properly. The logic behind this is simple. Here’s why.

Positive feedback versus negative feedback

Negative feedback is about someone telling someone how to improve. It can still be constructive feedback, but the core trait of this type of feedback is that we point out somebody else’s weakness.

The definition of positive feedback on the other hand is to point out someone else’s strengths and being specific about this. It is important to provide positive feedback on a regular basis, so the person you’re helping knows what he / she is good at and what strategies work.

After all, there are a lot of ways we can fail. But there are only a few ways to succeed. Moreover, everyone has different qualities so for each individual person; there are even fewer ways to succeed. Therefore, when we’re doing something so well that it impresses someone else, it is important that we also hear this. We then know that we’re on the right track and can focus even more on that skill.

People want connection

Research done in the previous century showed that if management simply gave workers more attention, productivity rose.

This research was done on factory workers. First they turned up the lights to see if this would improve productivity. And indeed, it did. The day after, they turned down the lights. Again, productivity increased. In this same manner, a lot of other changes to the working conditions were applied.

The end result was clear: the main reason why productivity increased was because management gave the workers attention. Both negative and positive attention would do the trick. People simply crave connection. It’s one of our primal needs. People who are lonely wither. People who are well connected and loved thrive.

However, positive attention increased the productivity and engagement more than negative attention. Unfortunately, only the fact that negative attention (read negative feedback) increased productivity had pervasive influence in how modern corporations manage performance of employees.

We need to embrace everybody’s quirkiness

Companies strive to review everybody’s performance based on standardized methods. Essentially, with these methods management treats everyone the same.

Yet, nobody is average. Different people will come to the same outcome with wildly varying methods. Methods they excel at. As nobody is average, why should companies reward for people who excel at “averageness”?

What companies should instead reward, is when employees excel and amaze you with specific skills. Teams then, should be diverse and home to people with different backgrounds and with different skills at which they excel. 

Everybody is a little quirky. And that’s the thing we should embrace. For instance, one team member might love being in the spotlight and giving presentations to large audiences. While another team member is a magician with Excel and data. Those two team members probably think of each other that they’re a little weird for loving what they do.

Why we need positive feedback

Our brains work in such a way that connections for skills we are good at grow faster than other connections. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on those skills. These connections also form when other people tell us what we do well, so we can repeat that strategy and further refine it. It helps us to do what we love.

We need positive feedback to be engaged and we can use it ourselves to engage others. It’s more difficult than you think, because you need to provide positive feedback on a regular basis and be specific about this. Therefore, you need to be activated by positive behavior, instead of negative behavior.

I hope I’ve inspired you to rethink how you give feedback. It doesn’t matter if you’re a manager or a team member; we all have to provide feedback sometimes.

Thank you for reading this post. Don’t forget hit the like button below and share it on social media and see you back here next week for another article!

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