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3 reasons why you should STOP using positive feedback. No, really.

cheesy positive feedback

It seems that over the past 20 years, positive feedback has fallen from grace.

Whether we call it constructive feedback, or Kudos it can be seen as ‘touchy feely’ or even placating.

Maybe we’ve received feedback ourselves that just didn’t land right or felt insincere. Or perhaps we’ve tried giving positive feedback and it didn’t improve performance.  So why bother.

 Well here are 3 reasons why you should stop giving positive feedback. 

  1. You don’t know what the person does well, so you’re just making it up.
  2. You’re setting them up so you can deliver the real negative feedback.
  3. There’s a behavior you want them to start doing and you hope they’ll just ‘figure it out’.

Let’s look at what can go wrong, if we don’t get it right.

We all know how to give feedback. We’ve all received and given feedback in some form our whole lives. But the most effective feedback providers incorporate important nuances that increase the effectiveness of the feedback so that the receiver feels more motivated and more likely to take action and get results.

Let’s look at what can go wrong, if we don’t get it right.

insincere Manager iStock


“Hey Diane….

Great to see you.

You’re doing great…just great.

Ya, well, uh….. I gotta go…”

What’s missing?

If you said ‘sincerity’ – you’re probably right, the character in this picture does look a little insincere…but what else makes it seem insincere or ineffective?

Right! It’s not specific enough.  When feedback is not specific, it can diminish the impact of the feedback.  Even if Diane trusts that the boss is being sincere, she may wonder; ‘of all the things I do, I wonder which part is making such a positive difference?’ If the boss has a specific behavior in mind, it’s now left up to Diane to ‘guess’.  So what?

1/ So be specific. The best performance coaches in the world, provide positive feedback on the specific behavior they want the performer to repeat! We provide positive feedback to reinforce a behavior a person has done, that we want them to keep doing.

Michele Patry of Innovative Facilitation calls this ‘being intentional’. If my intention is to reinforce a skill or behavior, then positive feedback is a good choice. However, if my intention is to point out a behavior that is not working, then:

2/ Provide negative feedback* –this will help the performer see what’s holding them back. If we try to disguise negative feedback by providing positive feedback first – the person can either be confused about which feedback to act on, or more typically, they’ll dismiss the positive feedback while they ‘wait for the other shoe to drop’. This is one reason why the ‘sandwich technique’ (positive feedback, constructive feedback, positive feedback) fell out of grace.

I’m not a huge fan of negative feedback – there is another tool – but if you do decide to use it:

be specific. ‘I noticed you used closed questions at the start of your call and it seemed to take longer to understand the customers issue…”.

*note – if you’re providing positive feedback first, because your intention is to build their confidence or trust, that’s a great reason.  Just be sure the positive feedback is specific and relevant to the situation. Saying ‘hey great shoes’ is not relevant. Saying, ‘I like the way you build rapport so quickly’ is relevant.

3/ If what I really want is for the person to do a new behavior, then just say it. Tell them what you’d like them to do more of. “Hey Diane, one idea is for you to use more open questions at the beginning of your call. This will help you draw out customers key concerns and resolve their issue more quickly.”

Feedback is really sharing our perception of their past behavior. So if I want them to do something new (change), then feedback is usually not the best tool. In summary:

  1. Be clear on your intention – to reinforce what’s working – use positive feedback.
  2. Be specific – point out the specific behavior that you want them to repeat (or not).
  3. Choose the right tool – if it’s not working – don’t hide it. Choose negative feedback.
  4. If it’s a new behavior you want – just say it ‘I’d like to see you do more of this…’.

By the way, I like that you took the time to read this article. My hope is that it refreshed your awareness of what you already know and that you picked up one nuance that will help make your communication or coaching even more powerful. 😉

Want to learn more about motivating performance in 10 minutes or less? Give me a call at 604 324-5900, or click here.

warm regards


Igniting the best in self and others


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