Your manager stops you and says she needs to have a word about your performance in the recent project. You worry about it all weekend, wondering what you might have done wrong. When you step into her office on Monday morning she begins by praising you for the good work you've done on the project, and you wonder if this is the obligatory praise that starts off the typical 'feedback sandwich'. You know how the feedback sandwich goes: say something nice, say what you really want to say, say something nice again.
In an attempt to inject some positivity into their feedback, many managers rely on sandwiching negative feedback between two positive comments. However, when feedback becomes such a routine, employees can start to perceive positive feedback as simply a form of sugarcoating the negatives, thus diminishing its value. Instead, positive feedback should not simply be seen as something to cushion the negative, but should be delivered so as to reinforce and encourage good performance. Below are three tips to help you make positive feedback count.
1. Don't always follow positive feedback with negative feedback
When positive and negative feedback always appear to go hand in hand, the positives can become devalued and ignored. Ensure there are times when positive feedback is given for its own sake and resist the temptation to offer constructive criticism.
2. Cultivate a 'growth mindset'
Psychologist and 'growth mindset' proponent Carol Dweck spoke of the plasticity of the brain and our ability to develop skills and talents that we might not have been good at to start with. Many of us tend to focus our praise on the end result and seemingly innate talents, e.g. 'You really have an eye for details' or 'You have a real talent for organising events'. However, research suggests that by focusing on the process of how things are done – praising effort, experimentation and problem-solving strategies – we can encourage the development of new skills and the continued honing of talents.
3. Create a culture of offering positive feedback
Make giving positive feedback part of your team/department/company culture. Don't just wait for special moments like appraisals to give feedback. Offer informal positive feedback when making small talk or when walking down a corridor. Feedback doesn't have to only come from the higher ranks either. Encourage peer feedback among team members and colleagues and actively ask them for positive comments on each other's performances on tasks.
It might take time to counter the effects of an environment where there is a cynical view of positive feedback, but in the long run, by embracing positive feedback, you can not only enhance working performance but also enrich the quality of life in the workplace.