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Is positive feedback always positive?

I have always encouraged my clients to give more positive feedback. Positive feedback makes people feel valued and recognized. It also is a great way to reinforce behaviour that is important.

This week, I had an epiphany about positive feedback. Let me explain. I asked my client Jeff (not his real name) to provide me with an example of positive feedback that he has recently provided to someone on his team. He hesitated for minute and then said, “Vanessa, I am embarrassed to share this example with you”. Jeff then continued to explain that in front of the whole company, he praised someone for staying at the office until 10:00pm to wrap up a critical project. A few days later, Jeff realized that there were two things about this feedback that he regretted:

  1. He was sending the wrong message about work-life balance. He does not want people to be at the office until 10:00pm when they should be with their families or resting after a long day at work.
  2. He was encouraging a procrastinator. His team member actually waited until the last minute to complete his project and subsequently stressed out many colleagues involved. While he was dedicated, stayed late and met his deadline, he procrastinated at the beginning, and hence created unnecessary stress for his colleagues.

I told Jeff that this was the best example that he could have shared! I love leadership moments that can be learned from in order for us to improve in the future.

Jeff and I both learned from this situation. In our debrief, we concluded that not all positive feedback is actually positive. We both had an epiphany that as leaders, we need to be very careful to ensure that our positive feedback reinforces the RIGHT behaviour.

I shared with Jeff a wonderful tool that he can use next time. This tool will really mitigate the risk of reinforcing the wrong behaviour. The tool is called “DE”. It stands for:

  • D – Describe the behaviour: What did the individual do well? How did this person go above and beyond?
  • E – Explain the impact: Tell the person how their behaviour really made a difference to you, the team or the business.

Most people do the “D” part well. Many leaders forget the “E” part which is actually the most critical.  By explaining the impact, your team member will really understand what worked and what they need to do next time.  It will help you to reinforce the RIGHT behaviours.

So, with this in mind, who on your team deserves some appropriate positive feedback today? What have they done that made you proud? Pop over to their desk or hop on to a video conference and provide them with some well deserved feedback using the “DE” format!

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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