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Why You Should Offer Positive Feedback

Positive Psychology
Common knowledge would have you think that offering negative feedback to peers and employees encourages improved performance. The understanding is that when exposed to a shortcoming one works to fix the deficit – something, if we don’t think of others, we at least want to believe about ourselves. Further, we often utilize 360 feedback to provide it. As common knowledge often is, this established belief is mostly wrong – offering us an explanation for why the accompanying practices are ineffective.

Why you should ditch ‘constructive’ criticism

Recent research by Paul Isaac Green, a DBA candidate at Harvard University, shows that the best feedback is positive and affirmational. This is because the recipients of negative feedback are more likely to seek out a network of people who affirm their self-identity, rather than address shortcomings. The person will seek out those who don’t disconfirm what they believe about who they are.

As Green explains, this is a problem because when employees switch networks they don’t switch jobs. This puts the employee at a disadvantage, because they often cease to engage with those who are involved in tasks relevant to theirs. The research instead suggests that it would be best if positive feedback was offered from the beginning – from job relevant team members. Employee’s engaging more with their team ultimately strengthens the whole team.

Beyond these findings, about the social habits of negative feedback recipients, are some other interesting discoveries. Green’s research has shown that not only does negative feedback demotivate employees, but can even cause a decline in performance. This was found in everyone including top performers – so not even the best are immune to the effects of negative feedback.

Despite these findings about the counterproductivity of negative feedback, it is widely offered in performance reviews. Clearly, managers should seek new methods for offering feedback to their teams.

Why you should ditch 360 feedback while you’re at it

Perhaps the best example of 360 feedback being used to promote a toxic culture is at Amazon. Employees there frequently use anonymous feedback to undercut their fellow employees and to advance their own position – all to claw their way to the next promotion, or even just to keep their job.

This isn’t limited to Amazon, the toxicity of 360 reviews are rampant. 360 review initiatives are most often begun with the best of intentions: to provide employees with the feedback they need to improve. But, as this New York Times article points out, the comments can be cruel rather than constructive. Such comments, more often than not, demotivate employees and create a feeling of perpetual unease as employees neither know who made the comment or the whole context in which the comment was made.

360 reviews are ubiquitous – everyone seems to use them. So what should leaders seek to implement instead that will provide better, more encouraging, feedback?

This is where ProHabits comes in

ProHabits facilitates the digital best self project and reflected best self workshops for teams to become experts in inspiring feedback.

The research is well aligned with our understanding at ProHabits – that focusing on strengths leads to more engaged and inspired employees. This is why we’ve created the digital best self project and encourage reflected best self workshops for team members to provide mutual affirmation by pointing out each other’s strengths.

For the digital best self project an email is sent to the whole team containing links to surveys for the respective team members to fill out about their teammates. The surveys ask for strength based responses for their team members. The results are then compiled to create a best self portrait for each team member. The reflected image that the team member then receives is positive and affirmational- encouraging continued growth and development.

During the reflected best self workshop sessions, the participants receive three cards – each baring a positive character trait. Then, everyone gives their trait cards to the team member they believe possesses the trait. This continues until everyone has 3 cards again. The final process is then everyone receiving team feedback about a time they exhibited the trait on the card they now hold. This final step usually involves a story about a success the team member had, ultimately leaving everyone feeling affirmed and inspired to continue being their best self.

Our experience with this activity has mirrored what the research suggests – that providing affirmational strengths based feedback engages and inspires employees.


360 Reviews Often Lead to Cruel, Not Constructive, Criticism

Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement

Shopping for Confirmation: How Disconfirming Feedback Shapes Social Networks