Last week I wrote about the paradox of feedback. Feedback is so necessary but most managers and employees try to avoid it like the plague. I described why it’s so difficult, why it’s important and why it doesn’t happen. Any reasonable manager knows that it needs to happen.
Are you a reasonable manager? Are you looking for a framework or approach to be successful with your feedback? I can provide the framework but it will be up to you to use it, try it out and find out what works best for you.
Start with Positive Feedback
You may be asking why you would start with positive feedback since most of your own experience has been with giving or receiving negative feedback. I am a bottom-line person, and the bottom line is that you will get much better results from your employees by focusing on positive feedback and a positive approach.
It’s Not Just a Theory!
The link between positive feedback and better results isn’t just a theory; we have a scientific explanation for the very different effects of positive and negative feedback on humans. Positive interactions including praise or positive feedback stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that improves our ability to communicate, work together and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex.
Negative feedback or fear causes our bodies to produce the hormone, cortisol, which is related to stress and actually shuts down our brain’s ability to think and heightens our conflict avoidance and protective behaviors. Studies have shown that cortisol stays in our system longer than oxytocin. As a result, negative interactions, including negative feedback, have a longer and stronger effect than positive feedback. (If you want more information about the impact of positive and negative interactions, check out a great Harvard Business Review article, The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations by Judith and Richard Glaser.)
It Makes Total Sense
Do you resonate with the above? Think about situations where you receive positive feedback or where the conversations are positive. Do you feel like you want to be more involved and contribute more fully? How is your energy level during those interactions, and even the next day? Are you more willing to put in extra effort and not hold back on your ideas and suggestions? I know I am.
Now, think about negative interactions, including negative feedback. Does the opposite happen? Does your mind cramp up? Are you focused on the negativity and less willing or able to share your ideas, or to even hear what others are saying? Are you trying to figure out how to protect yourself and your position or even exit the situation? How is your energy level during the interaction? How do you feel the next day?
What is the Right Ratio of Positive to Negative Feedback?
Based on different studies, we should be aiming for a ratio of 4 or 5 positive comments for every one negative comment. In his ManagementMeditations.com blog, “Six Suggestions Guaranteed to Improve Performance in Almost any Workplace,” Lawrence M. Miller discusses research his team conducted on the balance of positive to negative comments in the classroom. Miller’s team dubbed the ideal ratio for learning “Four-to-One” meaning for every four positive comments, the teachers offered one negative comment. Four to one may seem like a lot, especially if you aren’t sure how to do it.
A Formula for Positive Feedback
One formula that works well is what I call the BIF model or behavior, impact and feeling model. It’s just the following 3 steps:
- First, describe the employee’s specific behavior.
- Then, describe the impact it has on the team or the company.
- Last, describe how you feel about their behavior.
The following is an example of feedback for a responsive employee. “Mary, your quick response to the customer’s complaint was excellent. You turned an unhappy customer into a happy customer, which is our number one goal. I am proud of what you did.”
The following are steps you can take to improve your feedback ratio, your team’s ratio and ultimately your team’s results:
- Track feedback. This step is really important. Track your positive and negative comments or feedback for two weeks. What is your ratio? Don’t be dismayed if your ratio is 1 to 4 instead of 4 to 1. Studies show that the average ratio for most managers is 1 positive to 4 negative.
- Think about it daily. Consider your interactions with your staff on a daily basis. How can you insert positive comments and feedback? Remember to give feedback as soon as possible when you see good results or behaviors that move your team forward.
- Don’t forget the team. During your team meetings, make sure you acknowledge the team’s contributions overall and relate them to the positive impact on the business.
- Work on team positivity. Encourage your team to have positive conversations. You can open up and say that you are working to have more positive conversations with your team and your employees and describe the reasons why. Establish the expectation that you want your team and employees to take the same approach, and not just with their peers. Then, recognize positive interactions when you see them. Your whole team will benefit.
- Set a weekly review. Schedule just 15 to 20 minutes at the end of every week to consider your own work and the work of every one of your employees. What progress did you and your team make? Who contributed? At the beginning of the next week, take the time to talk to each of those employees and let them know how their contributions made a difference.
If you take the steps to increase the level of positive feedback in your team, you will see a shift in behavior. Your employees will feel better and more able to engage and you will feel better too.
I know that not all feedback can or should be positive There are times when you will need to address low results or inappropriate behavior. Next week, I will discuss negative or corrective feedback.