What not to say when giving feedback—and 3 things to say instead

About 37% of managers avoid giving positive feedback—and there's a good chance that those who do give positive feedback aren't doing it the right way, writes psychologist Shawn Achor in TED Ideas.

In reality, many of us praise people the wrong way, writes Achor, a workplace researcher who serves on the World Happiness Council. Too often, leaders praise using comparisons that build someone up by tearing others down, he adds.

When you praise individuals for being the "best" or "smartest," you undercut their colleagues and link individual success to the failure of others, he writes. Poor praise shifts feedback away from the quality of the work, which can demotivate employees, he argues.

Also see: What most leaders get wrong about managing high performers

Praising individuals as "better" than others can also limit their potential. When individuals feel they need to outperform their colleagues to get noticed, they may be less likely to challenge their own potential or collaborate with others, he writes.

Ultimately, recognizing your employees for a job well done is free and motivating for them to hear—if you do it correctly.

Achor outlines two steps to stop praising through comparisons:

  • Eliminate superlatives like "best" and "smartest" from your vocabulary; and
  • Ground praise in concrete examples of how the individual's actions helped you or the organization.

Instead, good feedback includes three elements: specificity, impact, and gratitude.

When delivering praise, first identify a specific action and its resultant impact on the wider team, Leah Fessler wrote in Quartz last year. Generic feedback such as "awesome job" does not make the cut.

The third and final element of good praise is genuine gratitude for the behavior that merited the positive feedback, which Fessler argues is best done face-to-face, where you can exhibit a smile and other encouraging body language indicators (Achor, TED Ideas, 3/7).

Learn to deliver positive—and negative—feedback

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