My son is five years old so he’s learning something new every day. Watching him learn often makes me reflect on things we do – or should do – for our adult learners. I was struck recently by how often I was giving him feedback, both positive and negative. There has been tons of positive feedback – for reading new words, for building something cool with his Legos, even for saying “please”. And of course he gets his share of corrective feedback too – stop before crossing the street, clean up your toys, and don’t ever stick that nail in a light socket!
Contrast that to corporate America… I’ve been in several employment settings that were nearly devoid of positive feedback. We don’t give positive feedback if someone is “just doing their job.” Even sadder, I’ve seen lots of cases where people didn’t give praise to someone if they had the skills to do the task themselves. It’s as if telling someone they did a good job is somehow equated with saying I couldn’t have done the task too. In the case of my son, telling him how impressed I am that he can read a new word or that he built a fancy Lego tower doesn’t imply I can’t do those things too – it means I recognized that was new, and maybe even hard, for him and I’m impressed by his skill development. It says nothing about my own skills.
We should remember this at work too. The next time you see someone doing their job well, tell them. To not do so leaves a vacuum whereby we expect people to self-assess – and often we assess ourselves much more harshly than anyone else would assess us. To get both positive and constructive feedback is critical to a person’s ability to continue to meet and exceed the expectations of the people around them.
And more importantly, if you give a lot of genuine positive feedback, it’s also easier to give corrective feedback. You have built enough trust with the other person that they know you have their best interests at heart, and they don’t stew over that negative feedback because they know you already respect them for all the good work they have been doing.
It’s one of the things I love about having returned to a role in a consulting firm. It’s such a feedback-rich environment. Clients are always telling you what they like and don’t like – they know that if they don’t, they won’t get the outcomes they want. And as a result, co-workers tend to give lots of feedback too; they know they are helping you before you’re in front of the client. We should take a lesson from this in all work environments – if we don’t continually give those around us both positive and constructive feedback on a regular basis, we won’t get the outcomes we want either.