Feedback would happen all the time if… we gave praise well

The great British reserve of politeness and not talking honestly with others is a true mystery. Keeping the stiff upper lip about your emotions, what you’re thinking and in not offending others. It’s an explicit and deeply cultural phenomena. I also wonder of the impact of our culture on how we are able to be better emotionally intelligent?

Day by day we’re becoming more and more comfortable with the lexicon that sits with being emotional intelligence. The concept itself challenges the way we seek to understand ourselves and others so that we can have better relationships.

And I also see that feedback is regularly such a thing where people find it difficult at work to talk with each other in a way which invites inquiry, promotes development and is supportive of the individual.

It’d be easy to blame not giving feedback well on culture. And the truth is that all cultures have rules which get in the way of giving feedback well. I also wonder if there is an overlooked piece on how we appreciate others?

In the workplace, it’s not unusual that people don’t praise one another. It’s often seen as a motivational tool which I find rather disturbing and completely misses the point.

We know, both because of psychological and neuroscience processes that receiving good and positive feedback is healthy for people. When people at work experience more positive comments to negative by a ratio of 3:1, they feel like they can thrive at work.

Yet, most managers shy away from doing this. The reasons tend to be:
– but I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable about doing a good job
– if I say something good I have to give them something developmental to work on too
– who am I to say they’re doing a good job?
– they’re not comfortable with receiving compliments so I don’t
– I have such a lack of belief in the benefit of doing this that I don’t want to, don’t know how to nor even how to articulate it without it seeming disingenuous and forced

So, we L&Ders, we go away and develop tools to help people do this. We develop frameworks and we develop learning interventions to support people in doing this well.

Giving feedback is a challenging skill. Giving critical or developmental feedback is hard. Giving praise, I would argue, is just as hard. There’s just as much discomfort we experience in praising well as we do in criticising.

Recently, Sarah Lewis gave me this set of positive organisational development cards on how to appreciate others using positive language. I’ve used them in team development events and found them really useful in giving people a way to talk with one another about their strengths and what they do well. Please do check them out as a way of helping focus on what’s going well.

I am a fan of finding ways for people to talk well at work. We allow too many things to get in the way, and can often feel the need to qualify or quantify feedback with too many variables. It’s worse when it’s about appreciating someone as suddenly we stutter things like “but don’t go getting a big head about it”, or “I’m not great at saying when things go well but…”, or following up with a criticism of the person.

I wonder how bad it would be to praise something someone has done, praise it well, and say nothing more?


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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