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Life Health > Running Your Business > Marketing and Lead Generation

How to give positive feedback that means something

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A recent critique of the current season of “American Idol” proposes that either America has suddenly become more talented or the new judges just like everything they have seen. “When human ‘Like’ buttons Steven, Jennifer and Randy give out too many gold stars, the value of gold drops,” according to Time magazine writer James Poniewozik in his article,”Six Thumbs Up!”

Managers at Loeb Group often say they withhold positive feedback until a team member does something truly extraordinary rather than praise everything and render their feedback meaningless. This concern is expressed most often by members of the baby boomer generation, who worry that Generation X and the Millenials have grown up receiving trophies for coming in first, second, third AND last place. If you get a prize for just showing up, does the prize mean anything?

The reality, however, is that most managers rarely over-praise their team members. A more common mistake managers make is giving feedback that is so generic (“Good job,” “Well done”) that it doesn’t let a team member know exactly what they are being praised for and what they should repeat in the future.

  • Smaller things also merit positive feedback. Sometimes when people leave a conference room, they leave behind their empty coffee cups and papers. It’s clear that they think someone else will come in after them to clean up. But have you noticed that one team member (and not the most junior person on the team) always stays behind to get the room ready for the next meeting? Acknowledge this person’s thoughtfulness, awareness of his or her surroundings and attention to detail. Every effort to help people work together is important.
  • Bigger effort pays off. Have you noticed that you are making fewer changes when you edit something written by a team member? While you might be thinking “It’s about time that this guy finally wrote something good,” try saying, “Thank you for the hard work you’ve been doing on your writing. The last three documents you asked me to approve were well organized with a great opening paragraph and strong close, written with our audience in mind, and proofread so that there were no typos.”
  • Exceptional accomplishments. Perhaps one team member in particular has demonstrated exceptional initiative, commitment and perseverance over the past few weeks of annual program planning for an important client. While other team members seemed exhausted by the added pressure, this team member remained upbeat and demonstrated a “can do” spirit whenever he or she was asked to do more. Make sure you let that person know you noticed the effort.

Specific and timely feedback is not mindless and not the equivalent of the “Like” button on Facebook. Recognition of the big and little things will be appreciated and will result in the excellence that you want to encourage.

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Beryl Loeb is founder of the Loeb Group, which works with business executives, professional service firms, PR, advertising and digital web marketing agencies looking to accelerate their growth and transform their business through targeted skill-building. For more information, go to


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