Feedback: Don’t Follow This Old Leadership Advice

Have you heard about the old “three positives for every negative” adage?

The adage says that you’re allowed one criticism for every three compliments.

It couldn’t be further from the truth. It doesn’t work.

Below you’ll find 3 studies that disprove this erroneous leadership advice along with 7 best practices for positive and effective feedback as a leader – feedback that drives peak performance.

Use these best practices in work, in sports, in relationships, and with kids.

First – What is Feedback

Feedback is not merely praise or criticism. Feedback is information specifically given to improve performance.

And, effective feedback is information positively given and received about a person’s performance towards reaching a goal. Feedback can be provided in various formats, for example:

  • Regular (e.g., weekly) performance reports, such as sales reports
  • Written comments to a team or individual
  • In-person meetings with a team or individual
  • Surveys, assessments, and evaluations (e.g., peer reviews)

So, what are the right and the wrong ways to give and receive feedback? Here’s what the studies show.

Study One

A 2020 study in Education Psychology, found that students instinctively tune out feedback that makes them feel bad and tune into feedback that makes them feel good. Additionally, and more importantly, the study found that the more frequently students are praised and the less often they are criticized – what psychologists call the praise-to-reprimand ratio – the higher their on-task behavior.

So let’s dismiss the old 3:1 adage. A 4:1 ratio gets better results. A 5:1 ratio? Even better. In fact, there is no maximum threshold for the praise-to-reprimand ratio: The more praise received, the more on-task students become. This applies to people in general (coworkers, teams, individuals, kids, and all people).

Study Two

Studies in Journal of Sports Behavior found that verbal aggression (yelling at someone), threats, ridicule, and competence attacks negatively impacted motivation and productivity. There was not a single instance where these aggressions were related to a positive outcome. They found that these aggressions don’t improve performance in the workplace, sports, or our personal lives. Additionally, another study revealed that leaders who yell at others lose their credibility. There’s no science-backed benefit to these negative behaviors.

Study Three

A 2020 study in American Economic Review found “that 99 percent of people remember positive feedback a month later, but only 35 percent actually remember negative feedback.” So, positive feedback leads to long-term improvement. Negative feedback does not.

Key Takeaways

Effective leaders keep feedback positive. Effective leaders maximize the praise-to-reprimand ratio. And, effective leaders avoid aggression (they are calm, controlled, and disciplined — think guide, trainer, and coach versus disciplinarian).

7 Ways to Practice Positive, Effective Feedback

So, here are 7 best practices for positive feedback that you can implement today:

  • Clearly communicate goals, plans, and responsibility – people need to clearly know what’s expected of them before you give them feedback (a common point of failure)
  • Catch people in the act of doing something well towards the goal; recognize it and reward this behavior; this is the most impactful type of feedback
  • Understand how your people like to receive feedback (make it positive for them) and adjust it to fit their preferences
  • Systemize and gamify positive feedback (e.g., daily sales leader prizes, customer service “rep of the week,” top rookie, company point systems and rewards, etc.)
  • Tie corrective feedback to the event or behavior, not the person
  • Time the corrective feedback as closely as possible to the event or behavior (and do so in private, not in public)
  • When providing corrective feedback, practice listening and kindness, and constructively provide positive suggestions that motivate improvement and foster conversation. Coach, guide, demonstrate, and train.

Practice positive, constructive feedback, and minimize reprimands and negative feedback, and you’ll improve performance, morale, retention, and create a culture of growth. That’s becoming your best.

Article Source References

“Learning to receive feedback from each other is what leadership is all about.” – Sheila Heen

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