How to Give Positive Feedback That Means Something And Avoid Being a Human “Like” Button

Do you worry that you’re giving praise so often that you risk diluting its impact and value? Is there such a thing as being too nice?

Recent critique of the current season of “American Idol” proposes that either America has suddenly become more talented or the new judges just like everything. “When human ‘Like’ buttons Steven, Jennifer and Randy give out too many gold stars the value of gold drops,” according to Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik inĀ \”Six Thumbs Up!\”

Managers in Loeb Group training often say that they sometimes withhold positive feedback until a team member does something truly extraordinary rather than praise everything and render their feedback meaningless. This concern is expressed most often by the Baby Boomer generation who worry that Generation X and Millenials have grown up receiving trophies for coming in first, second, third AND last place. If you get a prize for just showing up, does the prize still mean anything?

The reality is, however, that most managers are far from over-praising their team members. A more common mistake managers make is giving feedback that is so generic “Good job” or “Well done” that it feels good for the moment but doesn’t let a team member know exactly what they did that they should repeat in the future.

Smaller things that merit positive feedback: Most often when people leave a conference room, they leave behind their empty coffee cups and papers. It’s clear that they think someone else will come in after them to clean up. But you’ve noticed that one team member (and not the most junior person on the team) always stays behind to get the room ready for the next meeting. Acknowledge this person’s thoughtfulness, awareness of his surroundings and attention to detail. Every effort that helps us all work together is important.

Bigger effort pays off: Have you noticed that you are making fewer changes when you edit something written by your team member? While you might be thinking “It’s about time that this guy finally wrote something good, instead try saying, “Thank you for the hard work you’ve been doing on your writing. The last three documents you asked me to approve were well-organized with a great opening paragraph and strong close, written with our audience in mind, and proof-read so that there were no typos.”

Exceptional accomplishments: Maybe one team member in particular has demonstrated exceptional initiative, commitment and perseverance over the past few weeks of annual program planning for an important client. While other team members seemed exhausted by the added pressure, this team member remained upbeat and demonstrated a “can do” spirit whenever asked to do more. Say exactly that!

Specific and timely feedback is not mindless and not the equivalent of the “like” button on Facebook. Recognition of the big and little things will be appreciated and will result in accountability and the excellence that you want to encourage.

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