Many of us were raised on the practice of catching people doing something wrong. And we often carry this habit into our professional careers. But that focus on the negative, while seeming “normal,” is not at all inspiring. The decreased motivation in direct reports’ or colleagues’ morale and esteem makes no business sense and, happily, is avoidable.
The good news is that in general, our Millennial colleagues were raised in home environments where parents were much more apt to give positive messages often. Therefore, getting regular positive feedback is part of Millennials’ work-life expectation. For those of us not conditioned that way, their need may seem unrealistic. But we can either fight reality or work with it.
A practical benefit of positive feedback is that it reinforces similar and desired behavior in the future. Think about your own life. When someone has congratulated, celebrated, or appreciated you for something, aren’t you apt to want to get that recognition again?
There is even a wonderful biological happiness factor that is a personal reward for catching others doing something right. Epigenetics research shows that the person who receives positive feedback has his or her genes express positively, making him or her feel good. Happily, the same studies show that the person offering uplifting messages feels just as good in the giving. An unexpected side effect is that people who even just witness these “acts of kindness” feel great being around these positive exchanges. How good is that!
GENUINE, AUTHENTIC FEEDBACK
So those are the “whys” for catching people doing something right. But what about the “hows”? First, catching people doing something right needs to be genuine and authentic; pretending just doesn’t fly. If employees aren’t continuously doing right things, they shouldn’t be working there. You can ramp up finding good things to acknowledge by using what emotional intelligence (EQ) calls “social awareness.” It is, of course, wise not to overplay the praise hand, but each individual has his or her own thresholds and scale of what is too little and what is too much. You need to use your EQ wisdom for tuning in to each person to discover his or her right amount.
The coaching world shows us three levels of giving positive feedback depending on the personality, situation, and regularity of the practice: Praise, Acknowledgment, and Appreciation. Let’s use “running a meeting” as an example that invites catching the new facilitator doing some things right:
1. Praise is a general statement that is positive and feels good to receive. For example: “Thank you!” “Good job!” “Well done!” Using the “running a meeting” example, you simply could say, “Nice job running that meeting!”
2. Acknowledgement takes the feedback loop of communication to more specifics. You include observable behaviors in your messaging. I suggest noticing three such actions. The feedback for the well-run meeting could begin with “praise” and move into three specifics of what the person did to deserve the praise. “Hey, nice job running that meeting. You put together an organized agenda, actively engaged all attendees, and got the minutes out that same day.”
3. Appreciation is a way of telling someone his or her inner characteristics or traits were clearly in play in bringing success. Building on the meeting example, you might say, “Hey, nice job running that meeting. You put together an organized agenda, actively engaged all attendees, and got the minutes out that same day. To do that, I know you had to be thoughtful, caring about inclusion, and future oriented for success.”
However you go about catching people doing things right more often, your increased practice will produce that many more moments of positive influence for those around you. It’s a fine win-win habit to get into.
Manager-leader specialist Jim Hornickel is the director of Training & Development at Bold New Directions. Along with a B.A. in Management, Hornickel’s professional experience includes 25 years as a manager-leader in several industries; life, leadership, and relationship coaching; and authoring books “Negotiating Success” and “Managing From The Inside Out (16 Insights for Building Positive Relationships With Staff).” For more information, visit www.management-traininginstitute.com/home/ and www.boldnewdirections.com.