'Nice work' isn't enough: Here's how to do positive feedback right

Positive feedback should be more than 'empty pep talk,' Spahr says

Most leaders aren't giving positive feedback correctly, Felicia Spahr writes for Fast Company. Instead of specifying how an employee excelled, leaders often provide just a few syllables of praise: "Nice work," or "Good job." 

Instead of those vague, impersonal phrases, Spahr recommends three questions to ask that can acknowledge a job well done—and encourage employees to perform even better in the future.

'What inspired you to do that?'

"When we criticize someone, we get very specific about what they're doing wrong," Spahr says. But we aren't often as specific with praise.

A better approach is to ask a specific question about why the employee handled a situation in a certain way. "This allows you to gain insight into the thinking that went into the behavior so you can encourage more of it," Spahr says. 

Related: The new manager's secret weapon

'What do you need in order to do more of this?'

If you want your employee to continue working at his or her best, you need to provide the right support—which requires you to first uncover what that support is.

"The question is designed to get the other person thinking not just about what worked and why," Spahr writes, "but also how they can turn that into a regular process that happens more often."

'How is this different from what you were doing before?'

When you notice an employee performing at a higher level, you need to do more than just acknowledge the change. You need to connect the new result with the behavior change that made it possible.

To "help your employee internalize the lesson, ask them about the change that brought it about the new outcome," Spahr writes. "That way, if they find themselves in a similar situation in the future where they're stuck, they can refer back to this moment and recall exactly what they did."

Positive feedback should be more than an empty pep talk, Spahr concludes. "It's about paying attention and noticing what the people around you truly do well, and helping them do more of it" (Spahr, Fast Company, 7/8). 

It's important to send your students the right messages at the right time too


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