Specific Positive Feedback - Harder Than It Sounds

"You did a great job. Everything was very good. Except this one thing…" Then you go into amazing in-depth detail describing the one mistake they made.

This translates to: "You didn't do anything good worth remembering."

You may actually mean that they did a great job, and the mistake you bring up may actually not be a big deal to you. But that's not what you're communicating. And that should be a big deal to you because:

  1. Their morale - When you aren't specific, especially with encouragements, people will dismiss what you're saying. They will, however, remember specifics for days (or years). If you're general with compliments and specific with criticisms, you're effectively only criticizing, ever.

  2. Their development - People dismiss general feedback for good reason. You can't do anything with it. "I did a great job. Ok, I guess I'll just try to do everything exactly the same next time". But, when you're specific about someone's qualities, they tend to emphasize those qualities next time they perform their job. Over time, they become experts / professionals at that little quality you keep mentioning. It become their "thing". I'd call that development.

  3. Your development - I put "give positive feedback to so-and-so" on my weekly recurring to-do list about a year back. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Until you try, you have no idea how much more natural it feels to give detailed criticism than it does to give detailed encouragement. You actually have to observe them. You have to take notes and think about what they're doing. It's easily 10x harder. But it's a crucial leadership skill, and the better you hone that skill the better leader you'll become and the more healthy your team will be.

I challenge you to try flopping it next time you're in a position to evaluate someone. Try giving them less or no criticism and give them extremely detailed encouragement. If you can't give them detailed encouragement, don't say anything. Instead, go back and watch them more carefully next time and try again. Do that for a few months and see what happens.


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