Feedback

by Paul Matthews

Positive or reinforcement feedback

Most people think that giving positive feedback is simple. It is true that it is easier to give positive feedback than the constructive kind. However, if positive feedback is to effectively reinforce the right aspects of what has been done well, so that the behaviour can be repeated next time, it still involves some thought and effort.

Positive feedback can just be as simple as saying ‘great job’ as a passing comment to someone who has done a great job, or it can be much more planned and comprehensive. It is important to give positive feedback just as carefully as constructive feedback, so that it is not considered lip service.

Here are a few simple types of positive feedback:

  • Positive strokes – these are comments, usually short, that recognise the effort that a person made. They might, for example, include, ‘well done, nice work,’ or ‘good to see the progress that has been made’.
  • Positive reactions – these are in many cases just one-word statements that let a person know that they are doing well. They include words such as ‘Fabulous!’ or ‘Excellent!’ These reactions are usually knee-jerk and we often use them without even thinking about it.
  • Emphasising favourites – this type of positive feedback shows that the detail of how someone did something was noticed. It includes statements such as, ‘I really like the way you...’ or ‘this part is really excellent’.

These quick and simple forms of positive feedback are best given right in the moment.

Things to consider

When thinking about giving someone more planned positive feedback, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • Why was the job done well?
  • What was good about the behaviour?
  • Were there particular aspects that you really liked?
  • How did the behaviour, or the way that the task was done impact others positively?
  • What were the benefits to the organisation?
  • What was it about the behaviour that you would like to see repeated?
  • Who else would benefit from knowing about this?
  • Was the good job done as a result of the person getting good constructive feedback at an earlier time?

Use the eight-step framework to structure the meeting, so that the feedback can be really effective in reinforcing the positive aspects of the behaviour or outcome.

The eight-step process may at first appear to be more immediately appropriate for constructive feedback, but even with positive feedback, people need to understand exactly what it was they did right and how they can continue to do that. They also need to be encouraged and their behaviour reinforced by being told about outcomes that they might not have realised happened. For example, they may not have been privy to the praise that your boss gave you about your team as a result of their actions. The person may also need support and advice on how they can repeat the behaviour and when it is and isn’t appropriate to do so.

Tip

Catch people doing something right, and tell them.

Be sure to remember to give positive feedback when something has been done well. It can be easy to get wrapped up in trying to resolve negative situations in the workplace and forget that those who are doing well need your attention too.

Then help them take credit for what they did well – as many people shrug it off.

Story

Little Johnny levers himself up the side of the sofa, clinging to the arm. He stares out over the room triumphantly from this new vantage point, and then with a determined look, launches himself across the room... and tumbles onto the carpet at his first step.

Ending 1

Johnny’s mother looks on impassively, wondering if he will get it right. He fails a few more times, and she gives up waiting for him to walk. She just puts him in a wheelchair and says ‘walking is obviously too hard for you so you may as well give up.’ This Johnny learns not to try.

Ending 2

Johnny’s mother smiles in encouragement and sits on the carpet to lend a hand for those first few steps. He soon gets it and toddles unsteadily on his own before falling and trying again to endless encouragement. Eventually this Johnny learns to walk and run in a way that looks so different to those first faltering steps.