Giving feedback is one of several paradoxes in management. It is undeniably true, yet seemingly contradictory, to realize that we must provide both criticism and praise in order for people on our teams to work effectively. And it is especially important to strike the right balance between the two.
An important data point to remember is that negative feedback sticks out in our minds much more strongly than positive feedback; hearing about a potential area for improvement acts as more of an emotional threat than a commendation on a job well done. That stronger emotional attachment cements the memory, and we are likely to remember the negative feedback more clearly and easily in the future.
Think back to all the different managers and supervisors who you have worked for. What type of feedback did you receive? What you’ll likely realize is that we all have an individual preference on how to evaluate and report someone’s performance. For example, there’s the guy who only speaks up when something is wrong; there’s the people-pleaser who will only ever say you have done a good job; and there’s the manager who will give positive feedback throughout the project only to save the areas for development until the end. Of course the varieties are endless. Which are you – how do you tend to deliver feedback?
I have heard people say, “I love to hear what I can do better. If you ever have any criticism, lay it on me. This is the way I learn and improve.” This could be true of some people, but most of us aren’t like that. Some of us feel easily threatened by negative feedback, even if we know that in the long-run it is valuable information. Pay attention to the reactions people have when you give feedback. Make a note of the medium, the message, and their reaction. Experiment with different methods of delivery or various phrases until you find something that works well.
Regardless of individual preferences, also take the situation into account. No matter if you only want to provide praise and your people only want to hear good things, sometimes facing the areas where there is room for improvement is a wise choice.