How to Give Positive Feedback

Businessman shaking hands with young man while young woman watches

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Performance feedback is one of a manager's power tools used to support behavioral change or reinforce positive behavior in the workplace. While constructive and negative feedback gets most of the attention in training programs and leadership materials, positive feedback at work is every bit as important. Not every manager in an organization knows instinctively how to give positive feedback, but a few simple tricks, such as providing useful detail when offering the feedback, can make all the difference.

'Great Job' Isn't Enough

Imagine that you have just wrapped up a presentation to the executives in your organization, and your manager approaches you in the hallway, shakes your hand, and says, "Great job!" You probably appreciate the accolade, but does it prepare you to repeat your performance in the future? No, not if your manager doesn't tell you specifically what you did well.

Feedback, whether positive or negative, must be specific to have an effect on future performance. A comment like, "You sure messed up that presentation," does not offer helpful guidance either, because it tells you nothing about your errors or what you need to change.

Add Some Detail 

Consider the positive feedback on a presentation as described above, but add in a few useful details: "Great job on that presentation today. Your competitive analysis was spot on, and your recommendations were backed with facts. I'm sure the executive team loved your enthusiasm for the initiative, too."

In the first example, you're left to wonder what, if anything, really impressed the executives. In the second, you know that your competitive analysis, the facts that backed up your recommendations, and your obvious passion for the topic all played a part in the presentation's success.

While you might want to drill down even more to the specifics of what worked best, you are already much better prepared to repeat in future presentations all of the factors that brought you the initial positive feedback. 

Keeping Feedback Positive

Giving positive feedback can be a little trickier than it sounds. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Always deliver feedback as close in time to the event as possible. 
  • Be specific in your comments. The more detailed you are, the better able the recipient will be to implement the feedback into future behaviors. 
  • Link the positive behavior to real business results if you can. 
  • Unlike negative feedback, positive feedback can be delivered in front of others, if you think they'll benefit as well.
  • As a rule of thumb, positive feedback should outweigh constructive or negative feedback by a ratio of at least three positive comments to one negative comment. 

Benefits of Positive Feedback

Once you start learning how to give positive feedback to your staff, you'll reap the rewards in more ways than you might imagine. Many people, not just in the workplace but also in life, want to feel appreciated. When you offer specific, positive feedback, your employees will feel valued and connected to the team, and will know that you have noticed their efforts.

When employees receive positive feedback and appreciation, they start to find more meaning in their jobs, which can increase their engagement at work and result in increased productivity.

When you give positive feedback, you're giving employees clarity about what you want and expect, which makes their jobs easier. Additionally, when employees feel appreciated and find meaning in their work, they tend to stay at their jobs, which reduces turnover and saves money for the organization.

Pitfalls to Avoid

The first and foremost pitfall to avoid is never giving positive feedback at all. If you don't commonly give positive feedback, start doing it now:

  • Start slowly and phase feedback in over a few weeks. Otherwise your employees will wonder what's gotten into you.
  • Avoid giving positive feedback for trivial actions. "Great job making the coffee today!" is the kind of comment that infuriates people and holds no positive guidance.
  • Take care to avoid using a condescending tone or manner when delivering positive feedback, and use tact when offering positive feedback to people who have seniority over you in the office.

Don't save up all of your praise for an employee's annual performance review. Constructive and positive feedback are best served warm. When you deliver feedback as close to the event as possible, you ensure that it's cemented in the recipient's mind.

The Bottom Line

Constructive feedback helps to change or eliminate behaviors that detract from performance, while positive feedback helps reinforce those that strengthen performance. Both are essential for success. Use them carefully and regularly to bring the best performance out of your staff.