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Even if your field of work puts a competitive edge on your relationship with them, having a good rapport with people in the office can have a major impact on the work environment and, ultimately, your productivity.
Recognizing your colleagues’ achievements with positive feedback can be a great way to promote a harmonious atmosphere in the workplace. If given correctly, it can help you encourage positive behavior, show appreciation and develop better relations with co-workers and managers. You may already be giving common words of encouragement to colleagues like “good work” and “great team player”, but are unsure how to formulate these into actionable pieces of information. This guide will teach you how to give positive feedback that’s honest and helpful.
You may not be giving very much positive feedback to your colleagues because you assume the responsibility rests primarily with your manager. While this may be true, your co-workers have a much stronger impact on the quality of your work environment than you may realize. According to a series of studies on the impact of employee relationships in the workplace by Cornerstone OnDemand with Northwestern University, employees are 54% more likely to quit if they have a “toxic” employee on their team. Alternatively, people who have friends in the workplace (three or more) were more likely to stay at their current job longer. Interestingly, another study by Sociometric Solutions found that people who had lunchtime interactions with more colleagues were 36% more productive during the week and exhibited 30% lower stress levels.
When you think about it the results of these studies may not be that surprising. Your co-workers are the people you let off steam with during breaks, they know more details about what you do on a daily basis than your family or friends and your professional success is often tied to how well you collaborate with them. When you’re not getting along with a teammate your stress levels go up and it becomes much more difficult to get work done. Taking some time to create a positive relationship with your colleagues goes a long way.
A 2014 report by TINYpulse revealed that the top reason for employees to go the extra mile is peer motivation and camaraderie (money and benefits only reaching seventh place). Giving positive feedback is a simple way to show appreciation to your co-workers and foster positive relations. Recognizing each other’s achievements can create a strong feeling of acceptance and solidarity. Furthermore, when you need to give colleagues constructive feedback they’ll be more receptive to it if they see you also notice their achievements, promoting open honest communication.
Giving positive feedback can help encourage others to share their ideas. Everyone in the workplace will have a different personality. Two common personality types are introverts and extroverts. When extroverts have an idea they’re happy to share it with everyone in the room. Alternatively, introverts may be more hesitant to share their thoughts, fearing the spotlight. Generally being good listeners, it just may be that they’ve formulated a winning strategy for how your team can overcome an obstacle, but are reluctant to speak up. This makes it particularly important to provide encouragement when introverts accomplish an achievement. Receiving confirmation about their abilities can make them more apt to participate in meetings, allowing your team to benefit from a wider pool of ideas. Read more about personality and how you can break down barriers to giving feedback.
Similarly, new employees may need support when starting a new career. One of the best ways to get it is by asking more established employees for advice. If your first response when approached by a junior colleague in need of feedback is to stick to lines like “good job”, take a step back and reconsider. What will they get out of your feedback? Does it tell them what they did right? Think back to the kind of advice you were given or would like to have been given when you first started. While it doesn’t give them anything to work with, using common phrases may also sound like you didn’t put any real thought into their performance. In that way, giving generic praise can be almost as bad as not giving any at all.
Keep in mind that the ability to give positive feedback is a useful skill for your own professional growth. Have you ever thought about applying for a management role in the future? Giving positive feedback is an important part of being a leader. Starting now can help you become more comfortable delivering it in a timely and effective manner.
As with your co-workers, positive feedback is a good way to encourage actions you’d like to see your manager take more often. Many employees worry that giving their manager positive feedback may simply come across as an attempt to get ahead in their career. However, if given properly you’ll be able to candidly share your opinions about their management style and how it impacts the workplace.
For example, it can be used as a way to indicate what you like about the work your boss has given you. Instead of saying “I really enjoy working for you” tell them, “I really enjoy working with people and I was happy that you put me in charge of the customer relations side of our last project.” This comment lets them know both that you would like to continue the same kinds of assignments, and that they’re good at taking their employee’s interests into consideration.
It can also be used as encouragement when they’ve improved a behavior you had previously given them constructive feedback on. For example, in the last guide a scenario was given of a boss who doesn’t take other people’s opinions into consideration. If after having spoken with them you see they are actively trying to encourage people to share their thoughts in meetings, you should highlight the impact of their actions. Let them know it’s working by explaining how people feel more comfortable contributing in meetings now.
Knowing when to give positive feedback is half the battle. Common instances which warrant recognition are when you’ve noticed your colleague demonstrate exceptional skills, when they’ve achieved a personal goal or when they’re in need of encouragement. Keep in mind that reasons for giving feedback should be measured based on the individual, not on the size of the achievement.
For example, if you’ve been coaching a junior colleague on their public speaking skills, it’s important to recognize the positive points of their performance after their first presentation. Even if they still need to work on some aspects, positive feedback can give them the encouragement they need to keep practicing.
When formulating your feedback, it’s best to use examples and describe exactly what you found to be positive about their performance. For example, instead of simply telling them they’re good at resolving conflicts, explain how impressed you were with the way they mediated a conflict between two colleagues. The more descriptive the easier it'll be for them to pick out best practices. Also recognize behavior over traits. You shouldn’t attribute your colleague’s success with customers to their natural people skills, but to the fact that they put time into listening and responding to each individual complaint until the customer is satisfied. Highlighting behaviors signals the need to continue working at these skills rather than taking them for granted.
When your message is constructive it’s always better to give it in private. Alternatively, giving positive feedback to your colleagues in public can be an even better way to show your appreciation, or boost the receiver’s confidence. However, be sure to keep in mind the personality of the recipient. If your colleague is more of an introvert they may prefer receiving acknowledgment in private to being put in the spotlight. On the other hand, giving positive feedback to your manager is usually best in private. Giving them honest positive feedback in a private one-on-one or performance review will minimize your hesitancy at seeming too eager to please the boss.
Feedback should be given as soon as possible after an achievement, making it easier for you and the recipient to recall details so changes can be made. If the moment is left too long, the effectiveness of your feedback can reduce significantly. Start by supporting your team to provide more feedback to each other over time, or perhaps consider a platform to support this – as it can often lead to higher adoption across teams and even your organization.
If it was a senior employee whose coding skills are very impressive, why not ask for some tips? If it’s a junior colleague who’s done well on an assignment, why not suggest they take the lead on the next one?
Your co-workers and manager have a major impact on the quality of your work environment. Having a positive relationship with them increases overall productivity and job satisfaction. Giving more encouragement and positive feedback will help you show appreciation, develop leadership skills and build a sense of community within the workplace.
If you want to keep the momentum and continue improving your feedback skills, then you need to download our Manager's Guide to Using Feedback to Motivate, Engage and Develop Your Team.
Learn how to get your team ready for feedback to support autonomy, growth, purpose and recognition.