Providing Positive Feedback

Giving negative feedback can be a sensitive subject because you never know how someone will react, even if you couch your criticism as gently as possible. Yet giving positive feedback can be a challenge, too, because people also vary in how they respond to or prefer to receive good things. Today I’ll offer a few suggestions with the caveat that these are offered from the perspective of an introvert who doesn’t like being in the spotlight much.

How Much is “Too Much?”

Some folks need constant (daily) reassurance that they’re doing a good job. I didn’t think I was like that, but on the other hand if all I hear from managers or customers is negative feedback, I’m going to think a) I’m doing a bad job and b) it will be a surprise if my annual review comes out positive at all.

However, some people prefer to be left alone and don’t want to hear from a manager unless there’s a problem.

When in doubt, ask.

How Do You Give Feedback or Recognition?

Make it specific

It’s a good practice not to make any compliments sound fake. Tone of voice will give that away more often than not. Another way you can come across as sounding false is if you say the exact same words every time you say something nice. If you’re always saying, “You’re doing a great job!” eventually that might lead the person hearing it to think that you’re just saying that because you feel you have to.

Instead, as with negative feedback, make the comments specific, so that the recipient sees that you are paying attention. Don’t just say, “You did a great job,” say, “I really liked the way you turned this around so quickly” or “You really improved the language/organization in that document,” or something concrete.

Make recognition appropriate and comfortable

If you do a great job on something and you know it, you appreciate being recognized for your efforts, regardless of your personality. However, the manner in which that is done can improve or diminish the experience.

Extroverted people enjoy the cake and the office party and the public recognition. Introverted people appreciate a gift card and something signed by the whole team placed on their desk without a lot of public fuss. There are variations among people, of course, but I can recall multiple circumstances where a recognition event caused the honoree a great deal of embarrassment because s/he didn’t enjoy being the center of attention. Likewise, I’m certain there are extroverts who, while they appreciate a gift card, would have liked a little more public hoopla.

Again, when in doubt, ask how your peers, employees, or managers prefer to be recognized. Offer choices or ask open-ended questions that allow the individual to choose how they’re recognized. People can be challenging, even when you wish them well. It’s worth the effort to make them feel good in a way that makes them feel appreciated in a way that matters to them.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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