Feedback is a Gift: How to Make Your Positive Feedback Stick

By Tom Davidson

It’s often said that “feedback is a gift,” but this is sometimes stated with a degree of sarcasm in its attempt to reframe what often feels like a negative into a positive. While much has been written about how to give feedback, it often focuses on providing negative or constructive feedback on someone’s performance. This blog is about how to give positive feedback.

  • “Great job!”
  • “Thanks for taking care of that!”
  • “You’re awesome!”

What’s so hard about giving positive feedback?

The problem is that if you don’t do it well, it doesn’t stick. By “stick,” I mean it can easily lack the impact you could otherwise achieve when acknowledging someone’s contribution or hard work.

Three ways to make it stick:

  1. Be sincere and timely. People have exceptional radar for when someone is “blowing sunshine,” so be sincere and timely in your praise without gushing. As with everything else in leadership, giving praise is situational. In other words, the appropriate amount and frequency of praise varies by individual. So you have to know your people to know how much to give.
  2. Say “because.”While the brief praise exemplified above is easy and natural, it’s the kind of praise that is given so often that it loses meaning. Much like the greeting, “How are you doing?” isn’t really a question most of the time, “Great job” isn’t really positive feedback. To make any compliment stick, add the word because and fill in the blank. For example:
    • “Great job on that presentation, because you made a complex message easy to understand and remember.”
    • “Thanks for taking care of that, because it saved the rest of us so much time and it could have turned into a much bigger problem.”
    • “You’re awesome, because I can always count on you to get your work done on time and that you’ll let me know when there’s a problem.”
  3. Praise in public. Criticize in private. There are exceptions to every rule like this, but most of the time you can multiply the impact of your praise by giving it when others around to hear it. You don’t have to make a scene, call everyone’s attention to it, or call a meeting. Just convey your praise in a natural way and at an appropriate time. Usually, the person you are praising will feel especially appreciated in this way.

What are your tips for making positive feedback stick?

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