Hello. Welcome to Feedback – and welcome to your job.
If you manage people, giving feedback is almost certainly part of your job. Feedback can be positive – let’s use plain language and call it praise. And yes, some feedback can be negative, about behaviour that needs to be improved. I like to call this ‘corrective feedback’ because the aim is to help someone correct course rather than ruin their day with a blast of negativity.
But back to your question; you don’t want to come off as the company creep. Quite right too. Sure signs of creepy praise are:
- Random high-fiving colleagues several times a week (or even day)
- Saying ‘Awesome!’ every time someone does something that’s part of their job
- Bestowing a rare smile with an even rarer muttered ‘well done’
Why won’t these examples work? Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.
Even if you buy into a work culture that’s constantly high-fiving (my British skin is crawling at the very idea – much of this is cultural), it’s just not enough. Overused, people will find it insincere. Random high-fiving commits the basic sin of failing to help people see what they’ve done right – and would do well to continue more often.
‘Awesome’ falls into the same trap; the recipient knows that master/mistress is in some way pleased, but remains in the dark about what they did to inspire the pleasure. Again, overused it just becomes meaningless and insincere. It may even infantilise a capable adult. What will the recipient expect next? A gold star for showing up?
The third creepy example is that of the hard task-master/mistress, from whom any kind of praise is so rare it can be frightening. Or seem patronising.
So should you just give up on trying to praise people?
Absolutely not. Indeed, it’s my recommendation that praise should outweigh corrective feedback to create an environment that’s positive, trusting and motivating.
The best way to give praise without being a creep is to identify the precise behaviour that merits your praise. What has the person done that’s good? No need to dress it up, wrap it in waffle and tie a bow round it. Simply identify the behaviour.
You’ll need to get your grammar right: verbs not adjectives. So if you’re about to tell someone they were ‘confident’, pause for thought. What did they do that gave you this impression? Did they speak clearly? Did they ask questions? Or did they challenge? Did they stand tall and make eye contact? (verbs italicised for the grammatically-challenged).
Getting the behaviour element of feedback right is so important I suggest readers of The Feedback Book prepare what they’re going to say, or quickly note it down, then run ‘the impartial observer test’. Is the feedback so crystal clear that an impartial observer would be able to support it? This isn’t true for adjectives, as they are the speaker’s subjective opinion, which may differ dramatically from one person to another.
Try these examples for size:
‘You used gestures to emphasise key points in your presentation’
‘I noticed you made eye contact with the audience in that presentation’
‘When someone asked you a question, you took time to clarify it before answering’
Creepy? Hardly. Useful? Very.
Once you’ve nailed the behaviour you can go on to describe its impact – but don’t hog the mic. Good feedback is a conversation.
You can find out more about praising without being a complete creep in The Feedback Book.