You may be thinking: "Telling people they're doing a good job is easy! What instructions could I possibly need?"
Sure, that sounds reasonable. But in reality, most people don't know how to give helpful, authentic, positive feedback in the workplace. Instead, they simply offer generic compliments and bland gestures of praise.
"Hey, good work today, Joe!"
"Wendy, you're a star!"
Joe and Wendy might feel good after hearing these things, but they're no better off than they were. They have little information to build on. They don't know what specific behavior earned the praise, so they have no way of knowing how to replicate it in the future.
A far better – and more productive – way to provide positive feedback is outlined below.
1. Identify the specific behavior you want to praise. First, tell the person exactly what he or she did that warrants this recognition. Offer unambiguous details. Use the person's name and describe the specific actions you observed (or learned about through the observations of others).
"Joe, I really appreciate your willingness to step up and take responsibility for the Baker Street project last week. I know you gave it a lot of time and effort, and it showed during the presentation."
2. Identify results (if possible) but don't dwell on them. If you can link a positive outcome directly to the actions of the person, you can certainly articulate it. But don't dwell too much on the results. Remember that you're recognizing the effort and the behavior, the results of which are often out of the person's control. As long as the person has performed well, the final outcome is almost irrelevant to the praise.
"I think your presentation impressed the buyers. We might have a shot at winning the contract."
Note that, even if Joe's presentation doesn't result in winning the contract, he's still done a great job that is worthy of recognition. He's set the company up for the best possible outcome, regardless of what happens.
Too often we get trapped in the habit of recognizing results, even when the person did little to actually obtain them. This is counterproductive for those who work hard and deserve recognition, but experience outcomes that don't reflect that due to circumstances outside their control.
3. Identify how the behavior positively impacted you, the team and/or the organization. The more important outcome to focus on is the personal impact. How has this person made your life better or easier? Or your work more effective? How has this person helped the team or the organization as a whole? In short, what made you take note of this contribution?
"I sure am glad to know our team can rely on you like this. It gives me real peace of mind knowing you're here."
4. Offer gratitude and encourage more of the behavior in the future. Finally, wrap up with a sincere "thank you" and remind the person that you'd like to continue seeing this kind of thing moving forward.
"Thank you so much, Joe. Keep up the great work."
A few more tips:
- Provide positive feedback promptly: Don't wait to provide recognition for a job well done. As time passes, you'll forget the specifics and, in the meantime, the person will assume his or her efforts have been overlooked.
- Do it often – but not TOO often: An overabundance of praise can feel insincere. When done too often, it loses its impact. Choose the most noteworthy contributions to recognize.
- Spread it around: Don't play favorites. Look for opportunities to praise each person individually. A little positive feedback is far more motivating than negative criticism.
- Don't worry about your title: Positive feedback can come from anyone. It doesn't have to go from the top down. You can offer praise to your co-workers, subordinates or even superiors. As long as your feedback is authentic and professional, it's appropriate to share and (typically) very appreciated.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.