Positive Feedback in a Critical World

QAQnA Mug Clubber, Maria Palma had an interesting comment to one of my posts the other day. She said:

I like this piece of advice: "Give positive feedback." Too often,
managers start off with "That was great, but…." and then go onto
pointing out all the negative. Positive feedback should come first.

It triggered my thoughts about an interesting truth I’ve learned in the years I’ve been doing training.

Our group will often take actual calls we’ve heard from our clients and professionally recreate them using voice actors, changing names/dates/etc. to protect the identity of the CSR and customer from the original. We’ll play the call in training classes and as participants to discuss the positive and critical aspects of the call. Most often I’ll finish playing the call and open it up for anyone who wants to share their thoughts.

Most often, the group is quick to point out several pieces of criticism. I’m amazed at how a very good call gets ravaged by the group. Then I’ll ask for positive comments. Oh my goodness – you can usually hear a pin drop, and it’s like pulling teeth to get a few morsels of positive feedback.

I saw some research once that said when we have a positive service experience we tell 10 people, but when we have a negative one we tell 25. (I think we need a few more optimists like Maria, Ellen Weber, Liz Strauss and Starbucker)

Why do you think we’re quick to criticize and slow to compliment?

  8 comments for “Positive Feedback in a Critical World

  1. RS
    August 3, 2006 at 8:59 am

    What a great point! I think that most managers spend their time identifying and rectifying mistakes. We do this so often that it becomes natural…we absolutely need to make conscious efforts to say positive and SPECIFIC comments to our employees and to our peers and bosses. I find a lot of managers exhibiting the “yeah, buts”. You can watch the employee’s body language sink. We need to improve giving a compliment that stands alone. It improves morale like crazy! There is a parallel when training animals. I was taught to only give positive reinforcement. It works!

  2. August 3, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Thanks for the great comment, Raquel. I notice those deflating moments, as well. The interesting thing is that I also notice it when I’m asking for self-evaluation. The CSR often tears themselves to shreds and is much more critical than I would ever be. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Nevertheless, I like being the one whose in the position to be positive and build people up!

  3. August 3, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    You know, Tom, part of the problem is that it’s easy to say “no” to something as an individual. Point out something wrong, and folks never argue with you. But say something nice and you go out on a limb of sorts. You’re standing up for something as opposed to knocking something down. Standing up for something in front a group is much harder to do.
    Try a session in which they can only find the good things. Let them get used to hearing each other say good things and not taking heat for it. Cut them off at the pass if they stray to the negative in any way. Call it “Accentuate the Postive Day” or some such and see what happens.
    By the way, when folks start a criticism with positive to me, I can hear the “but” coming so I don’t hear the positive words anyway . . . or if I do I think that the person saying them doesn’t really mean them. That he or she is just following the “say positive things first” rule. I find it painful to wait for that “but” when I know it’s coming. . . .

  4. August 3, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    You make some great points, Liz. What I’m wondering, however, is how would you best receive constructive criticism. If you don’t want the positive first because you’re waiting for the “but” – would you prefer hearing constructive criticism first and then end with the positive?

  5. August 3, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    Yeah, I think I’d like to hear. Hey Liz, let’s go for a walk. I think you’ve been shooting yourself in the foot on something. Let me tell you what I see and you can tell me what’s really happening. Then together we can figure out how to fix it, because we both know you’re better than this.

  6. August 3, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Relational. Real. Encouraging.
    I like it.

  7. August 4, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I need to get to the fixing it part really quickly. I find the “but” part very scary. 🙂

  8. August 7, 2006 at 9:46 am

    You asked why many of us are quick to criticize and slow to compliment. I’ve noted that folks who come out with critical comments so quickly usually lack something in themselves so they somehow feel better by focusing on the weaknesses of others. A second possiblity is that they have been accustomed to a negative environment, perhaps not of their own choosing. I’ve experiences that in past and by focusing on possibilities I’ve changed my whole mindset. Thanks Tom, for another provocative post.

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