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The Power of Positive Feedback

A two minute way to improve workplace wellbeing and productivity in 2020

A managing director of a large media company (let’s call her Joanna) admitted that she never told people when they had done something well. Her reason? “That is what they’re paid for,” she explained.

If they were doing a satisfactory job, Joanna’s argument suggested, it seemed unnecessary to praise them. The view from the people who worked for her was likely to be quite different. They don’t know when they’ve done a good job because no one tells them. In search of approval, they keep trying new approaches, often ignoring successful ideas for others that have less chance of working.

So, what’s the best way to offer feedback? There are times when a quick “nicely done” is sufficient. However, if you want the impact of praise to last and you want a good chance at changing how a person does things in the future, then you would do well to follow the steps of the five-star praise model.

5 Star Praise Model

Follow the five steps in just two minutes
Step   Example
1. Provide Context   If the praise isn’t given immediately, then it will help the person if you describe a bit of context. For example, “The board meeting that you had prepared the report for took place yesterday afternoon.”  
2. Be Specific   The more specific the praise, the more effective it is. By just saying “Thanks for the report; it was great,” you are not giving the person anything they can use and apply in the future. Was the report great because it was long, had pictures, started with a succinct summary, included questions for the reader to answer, or what? The best praise focuses on specifics. Again, find a balance. Simply telling the staff member (in the previous example) “Great report” might not be enough. But telling her “I particularly liked the way you listed out the contents alongside the diagrams in order” is possibly over the top.   “The report was just the right balance of data and analysis for the managers to digest in the board meeting.”
3. Describe the Impact   This is the part that motivates. When people understand the positive consequences of their behaviour, it’s a big incentive for them to repeat the good things they did. Again, a balance needs to be struck. Overstating the impact (e.g., “You saved my life by preparing such a great report”) will sound fake, and your praise will have significantly less impact–if any–because it almost sounds like you’re mocking the situation.   “After reviewing the report, it was easy for the managers to pick up on the key areas to focus on, you saved them hours of work which is not usually the case”
4. Reinforce their identity   This makes the person feel really good about themselves and/or their actions. You might say, “I have to compliment you. Not only was dinner delicious but to get that many interesting people together and make sure they were all served at the same time, as well as engage in conversation as the host, is simply impressive. That’s organisation and attention to detail at its finest.”   I have to say I am impressed how you thought outside the box and redesigned the format for the team.”
5. Congratulate   This is usually the beginning, middle, and end of praising. It has a role but if it’s all you do, you get only one star. When your praise earns five stars, you know you’ve done it right. It takes practice. But it’s not like we all don’t have a bunch of people in our lives who deserve some praise right now.   “So thanks again and keep up the great ideas and hard work.”

Think of a couple of situations in which you might praise someone and think about how to give them the full five-star praise effect.

Jot down the suggestions and confirm: Does the praise seem real? If it feels fake, think about another way of making your points.

If you can’t find anything to praise, then of course it’s possible that there isn’t anything the other person is doing well. However, it’s far more likely that you simply aren’t looking hard enough.

Praise if someone delivers something when they said they would, or even, possibly, when they are less late than usual. And don’t forget to mention the beneficial impact this punctuality has.

Positive feedback or 5 star praise can be used at with friends and family too. Give it go and see the results.

I’d love to hear the positive impacts for the workplace, parenting and relationships.

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