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How to Deliver Feedback as a Gift

Constructive feedback is tricky. It’s challenging to dole out in a way that’s both productive and considerate, and even more challenging to accept gracefully. Since many of us resist both giving and getting it, we may convince ourselves that if anyone offers us feedback it’s guaranteed to be negative. In fact, many don’t consider supportive input to be “real feedback,” believing that criticism is more valuable than praise.

Huge mistake, friends. And a missed opportunity to fully support our employees.

Positive feedback isn’t just valuable, it’s crucial to professional growth. It’s rarely given with the level of detail, intention, and frequency that is needed, forcing our direct reports to dwell on the negatives instead. As leaders, many of us fail to hone our positive feedback skills, which translates to doing our team members a huge disservice.

With that in mind, I want to share some tips that will enable anyone to incorporate positive feedback for immediate use.

Benefits of incorporating intentional positive feedback

First however, a few more reasons why praise and supportive observations are beneficial in the workplace. It’s not just that your employees deserve to know what they’re doing right! Providing detailed praise is helpful in more concrete ways, too.

  • Positive feedback encourages the repetition of valuable actions. The message it imparts is “do more of that behavior,” reinforced with specifics that can be replicated.
  • Positive feedback is a form of recognition that helps people to feel heard and seen.
  • Positive feedback creates visibility opportunities within the organization, which is especially rewarding if advancement is a goal for the individual receiving it.
  • Positive feedback connects the concept of “why I’m here and why my role matters” to the purpose of the organization. It builds loyalty and job satisfaction.

Convinced? Great! Let’s talk about how to deliver this good news.

Tips on how to give helpful, timely positive feedback

A hearty, “Great job!” and thump on the back may prompt a polite smile, but neither provides the recipient with context or details. Truly valuable praise outlines the behavior, explains why it’s helpful, and encourages more of it. Here are ways to ensure the positive feedback you give is constructive and productive.

  • Take notes during meetings or times when you’ve observed the behavior you want to recognize. Make sure to describe it and note its impact.
  • Write down multiple praiseworthy behaviors you’ve observed, with enough detail to make your feedback meaningful. Positive input doesn’t need to be siphoned. Many of us cling to the belief that too much praise can give someone a big head. In this context, however, heaping on “do more of that”-style specific positive feedback should serve both the company and employee well.
  • Pass along third-party accolades. While it’s always important for constructive feedback to come from the individual who observed it directly, positive feedback can be expressed by many. For example, if a colleague observed great behavior in a client meeting and described it to a leader who wasn’t present, that leader should definitely pass along the praise to the employee.
  • Connect the feedback to company mission, goals, or outcomes. Show the recipient that what they’ve done has positive ripples across the organization.
  • Don’t delay. All feedback is important and timely. None of it should wait beyond 48 hours. Delivering positive feedback soon after the event gives clear “do more of that” direction, and demonstrates you’re paying attention and taking action.

On the flip side, avoid combining constructive feedback with positive feedback. There are many techniques that encourage this combination, or suggest sandwiching negative feedback between positive input. However, merging them muddies the message and almost guarantees misunderstanding. Especially if the constructive feedback is something that needs to be heard loud and clear, pairing it with positive input may diminish its impact. So keep them separate. And if, for some reason, you’re in a situation where you have to deliver both simultaneously, create clear delineation between the two.

And although you should feel free to be openly enthusiastic about giving positive feedback, don’t sugar-coat the negative. Being candid and constructive can feel uncomfortable, but trying to soften the blow for the recipient isn’t productive. Most people say that they want clear, detailed feedback—both positive and constructive—so they’ll know what to do more of and less of. And we should take them at their word.

Who should be delivering positive feedback?

Anyone! I mean it! Certainly, leaders should give accolades to their direct reports, but positive feedback can and should flow from other sources. People want to be seen at many different levels, so hearing from virtually anyone in their workplace can help them feel valued. Encourage everyone in your company to relay positive feedback in the following ways:

  • Leader to employee (not direct report): When an employee is recognized by someone in leadership who doesn’t supervise them, it confirms that their performance is being noticed across the organization.
  • Leader to leader: Want to build bonds among your leadership team? Train them to praise each other.
  • Peer to peer: Many employees don’t realize that giving each other positive feedback is allowed or welcome. When they’re given express permission to praise each other, morale soars.
  • Employee to leader: Leaders don’t often receive feedback from those in the lower ranks, or if they do it becomes filtered. Hearing supportive words from an employee can be incredibly gratifying.

Ready for an anecdote that illustrates how to deliver positive feedback? I have a model and great example that I know will resonate. Stay tuned for my next post!

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