Why is Affirming Feedback so Hard?

Thank You Sign

Photo by Miles Storey

I met up with some more Progressive Managers recently.

Good reports about success with 121s – which is very pleasing. But more mixed reports on success with Feedback. There are no problems reported with giving adjusting feedback; the model I teach keeps the emotional temperature low and makes this a relatively painless experience. However managers continue to find it hard to see behaviours around which they can give affirming feedback (designed to recognise and encourage more of the good stuff).

As I recommend that affirming feedback should be used almost exclusively in the first instance to strengthen relationships and then should continue to outnumber adjusting feedback in a ratio of something like 4 or 5:1 this is a pretty big problem!

If adjusting feedback dominates then you will be seen as negative, picky and demanding by their team. It will also promote a culture where failure is recognised and picked on as opposed to success. Nasty!

I have already given some guidance on ‘How to see the good stuff’ in a recent post.

  1. Force yourself to recognise, value and feedback on good work – reject the philosophy of management by exception.
  2. Recognise and celebrate employee success with affirming feedback. You may not feel that this is helping with the task at hand – but it will help to build a better relationship. And this will have a direct impact on achievement and culture in the longer term – so get comfortable with it!
  3. Look out for behaviours that bring mission, vision or values to life and provide affirming feedback – whenever you see them.

I would like to add a couple of further suggestions:

  1. Tell your team that you have been trained to give more feedback. (They might groan a bit – but deep down we we all want to know more about how we are doing) Tell them that you want to use feedback to recognise and encourage good work. Ask them to help you by telling you when they see a colleague do something well.
  2. At the end of every day this week, ask yourself:
  • Have I caught someone doing something right today?
  • How do I want to acknowledge this action?
  • When will I acknowledge that person?

And after you have acknowledged them:

  • What was their response?

You may also want to re-think the role of gratitude in building a stronger culture. This from Carmine Coyote’s Slow Leadership blog.

Gratitude isn’t just a pleasant trait, it’s also a very powerful one.
Thanking others and recognizing how much we all depend on support and co-operation makes it far more likely that help will be there when you need it. Those who help others most freely are most likely to be helped in their turn—provided that gratitude is recognized for what it is: a major constituent in the glue that holds together groups of all sizes, from a few friends to society as a whole.
A grateful customer is more likely to overlook future mistakes and stay loyal despite the temptations offered by competitors. A grateful employee is less likely to leave when times get tough. Grateful colleagues pull together. Grateful bosses trust their people more and are trusted more in return.
You cannot buy goodwill of that kind, no matter what incentives you offer. Today’s bonus may become tomorrow’s expectation, but genuine gratitude can last for a lifetime.

Perhaps appreciative management is harder to learn that I recognise?

For more tips on doing this have a look at this.

But I think perhaps this more than just a set of tips though. It is a way of engaging with the world – a way of being. If you go into a community looking for crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy – you can always find it. But if you go into the same community looking for hope, dreams and ambition you find that too.

Your findings usually follow your seekings.