Positive vs. Negative Feedback: Finding The Balance

In any business finding the balance between positive and negative feedback is a struggle for leadership. If you provide too much negative feedback, it can lead to low employee moral. Too much positive feedback can lead to lackadaisical attitudes. So how much is too much?

It’s a good idea to give negative feedback sparingly. Of course, when someone is repeatedly doing something wrong then it is imperative that you tell him or her. Let me emphasize the word repeatedly. If it happens once it may be a mistake. Mention it but don’t worry about having a sit-down chat about it. The conversation also does not necessarily need to be made public — that will only embarrass the employee and frighten everyone else. The one situation where it may make sense to “call the employee out” is if the feedback would be valuable to other employees. In that case you can call them out, but there’s no need to berate them. The purpose of negative feedback is to correct something that is wrong and help the employee improve. It is not to make them cry and start looking for a new job because they think they are terrible at what they do. It’s a fine line and sometimes it’s hard not to cross it.

As for positive feedback, there are some managers out there who never give positive feedback. They think that if it’s not constructive criticism it doesn’t matter. That’s not true — when an employee does something really well they should be recognized for it. It’s beneficial to provide positive feedback to the entire team or office; even the least-competitive person will see that and want to strive for it. Everyone wants recognition and wants to know that they are doing a good job. Sharing positive feedback will encourage others to be better. That said, don’t send out an “ata boy” for just anything — sending out a really well-written email, for example. Recognition should be saved for when an employee goes above and beyond their duties, or when he or she does an exceptionally good job on a particular project. If you throw a party every time someone does their job right, employees will be less motivated to try a bit harder.

Handling feedback can be tricky, the best thing you can do is be conscious of the feedback you’re giving and who you are giving it to. Before you say anything negative, take a step back. After the heat of the moment dies down, is it really a big deal? Is it worth saying something, or saying it publically? For employees, recognition from a manager (positive or negative) is a big deal, so make sure you think about whether or not it’s important.

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering
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