Positive vs. Negative Feedback

Feedback isn’t necessarily evil. I’ve always thought there isn’t enough positive feedback going around. We don’t have to wait until there’s something to shout about. We need to make more positive comments, and about the little things as well as the big.

Many managers are too willing to criticize, yet stingy with praise. A partnership’s or team’s emotional health depends on how well individuals can air their grievances. People are more receptive to negative feedback when they’re used to receiving plenty of positive comments.

Therapist John Gottman’s extensive research on successful marriages reveals there should be at least a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative comments. Similarly, organizational psychologists Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson found that business teams function best with a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.

Across industries, most employees believe they don’t receive enough positive feedback. Problems are compounded when negative feedback is delayed — often because a manager is queasy about delivering it. Most problems start out small. When they’re allowed to fester, they escalate. By the time many managers decide to give feedback, there’s a backlog of frustration and anger that makes any conversation more difficult.

Early criticism allows people to correct problems, and it prevents a bad situation from boiling over. Managers should avoid giving feedback when they’re angry or inclined to be sarcastic, as the recipient will become defensive and resist change.

How to Receive Feedback

As a member of any group, team or partnership, you must learn to accept responsibility for your actions and accept that there’s always room for improvement. View constructive criticism as valuable information that helps you perform your job better — not as a personal attack. Feedback is beneficial because it facilitates teamwork.

Avoid the impulse toward defensiveness, which each of us innately has. Being defensive closes the door to receiving important information that can improve your work relationships and make your tasks easier. If you become upset, take a break; resume your meeting later.

Remember: Criticism is an opportunity to resolve a problem. It’s not meant to create an adversarial relationship.

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