The power of positive feedback

I’d like to start with a quote from Paulo Coelho’s book, Brida: “Nothing in the world is ever completely wrong, my dear," said her father looking at the clock. "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” That’s an interesting quote, but what does it have to do with feedback? Well, think how many times you gave someone feedback, starting with the assumption that they are not up to your standards and expectations, to say the least. And if you have never done this yourself, think how many times you have been the victim!

Feedback – and I mean constructive feedback, even when it is negative – is a key skill that every manager and leader needs to employ on a daily basis. Positive psychology has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that constructive feedback that builds on people’s strengths boosts productivity to skyrocket heights. So, how can we explain the fact that managers are parsimonious when it comes to praising people and recognizing their strengths? I think the answer is rather obvious: We just don’t have it in our cultures to focus on what our people do right – we have been raised to believe that we should tell people how wrong they are!

Can this change? Well, of course! Think of Paulo Coelho. Even though you may think one of your people is hopeless, give them a chance! There are many cases in business history where a talent emerged out of nowhere, when someone was given positive feedback and shown to be worthy of praise!

So, now you may think, “OK, but nobody is perfect. There are times that people at work don’t live up to the standards.” That’s true, but how do we make sure people understand they have done something wrong? The answer to this question is simple, although often neglected: Focus on facts, and leave emotional filters out! Remember that if you give positive feedback to your people 80% of the time, they will accept the 20% negative feedback because they understand your purpose is to help them!

Some managers say that positive feedback is a sign of weakness from the manager’s point of view. They say you have to be strict with people, because only this will focus them on what they have to do better. But, think about the following situation: If a child gets slapped by their parents every time they fall off their bike, will they ever learn to ride it? Obviously not! The same thing applies to people at work. Praise them, catch them doing things right and when they derail, stick to the facts, leave emotions aside and explain to them the consequences of repeating unwanted behaviors! You will soon discover that they will appreciate your leadership style and they will find more compelling reasons to follow you as their leader. After all, the secret of leadership is in sharing power and not keeping it all for yourself; trying to show to others how wrong they are! And if you are still not convinced, here’s another story for you:

“A water bearer in China had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master's house. The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" "I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said. The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, "As we return to the mistress's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path." Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?“ “That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them.“ “For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my mistress's table. Without you being just the way you are, she would not have this beauty to grace her house."

Moral: Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. We've just got to take each person for what they are, and look for the good in them. There's a lot of good out there! Make the best out of it!

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