Recently, after facilitating a leadership workshop, I received this question on an evaluation: “Recognition and thank you’s can come across as insincere. How do we overcome that?”
It’s a great question. Giving positive feedback in the workplace is important, especially when you’re the leader. Recognition, appreciation and gratitude for good work has motivational power. It also enhances employee engagement.
Ashley Whillans at Harvard Business School found in her research on motivation in the workplace this correlation: “Among the happiest employees, 95 percent say that their managers are good at providing positive feedback.”
Still, as my anonymous evaluator pointed out, positive feedback needs to be sincere. Otherwise, it loses its effect.
4 Ways to Make Positive Feedback More Meaningful
Here are four ways to raise the sincerity level of your praise and appreciation.
1. Check your sincerity
As humans, we can often sense when someone isn’t being truthful. So, if you deliver positive feedback as if it’s an exercise or “must do,” it’ll probably miss its mark. It might even hurt your relationships because people won’t know if they can trust you to be genuine and honest.
Before dolling out praise or thanks, consider whether you really mean it. If you do, put energy behind it and transmit that energy through your body language. Look them in the eye, smile, shake hands – signal your sincerity with your behavior.
Then, signal sincerity through what you say.
2. Share specific positive behaviors
It’s one thing to say: “Thank you for your participation in today’s meeting.” Sure. No problem.
It’s another thing to say: “Thank you for your participation in today’s meeting. I liked the way you asked questions to help the group explore the issue.”
Ah, now we’re onto something! Adding specifics, especially specific behaviors (like asking questions), shows you were paying attention. Plus, it tells the other person exactly what they did that was helpful – so they can repeat it next time.
3. State the positive impact of behavior
You appreciate certain behaviors in others (like asking questions in meetings) because you value the positive impact those behaviors create. So, make the impact clear and explicit:
“I liked the way you asked questions to help the group explore the issue. I think it helped us keep from getting off track like we sometimes do.”
When you state positive impact, it gives the person you’re praising a greater sense of his or her contribution to the team or organization. It helps people see that what they do matters – that their behaviors add value in ways that are greater than themselves.
4. Build the habit of giving positive feedback
Most people aren’t used to receiving much positive feedback in the workplace – especially from their bosses. When you start giving positive feedback (especially if you haven’t done it much in the past), expect that people might get a little suspicious. They might wonder if you mean it.
The answer? Practice!
Make it a habit to praise and acknowledge good work. Share specific behaviors and state the positive impact when you praise. Make praise informative and meaningful.
Over time, your team will come to realize your sincerity.
And if decades’ worth of research into the “power of positive feedback” is any indication: You’ll find your team will become more engaged, satisfied and productive in their work.