Hello, my friends.
In this article, I want to talk to you about feedback. You’ve heard the phrase, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I am a big fan of clichés and old sayings because, although people might roll their eyes and groan at them, there are elements of truth about human nature contained in them. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is not about auto maintenance or truck maintenance. It is a powerful lesson in human nature.
When people don’t get much feedback, they will do just about anything in order to get it, even if it means getting negative feedback. This is often reflected as negative reinforcement for negative behaviors. It is illogical, but in the moment, people are not thinking logically, they are just yearning for attention.
In my research, I read a very compelling article that talks about a magic ratio of three to one positive feedback to negative feedback. This means that if you want to influence someone’s performance or behavior most effectively, you give them far more positive feedback for the good behavior than negative feedback for bad behavior. This is the so-called carrot, the incentive to do the right things, and not just incentives before the fact, but feedback, praise, acknowledgment, and validation after the fact.
This positive reinforcement also applies at home. Years ago, when we got our dog and took her to obedience training, we learned the very same thing. Positive reinforcement is much more effective. And, in fact, negative reinforcement is just about useless.
I believe this is also true of children. When you are raising children, praise them when you catch them being good.
It is absolutely true at the office. As an influential leader, whether you have direct supervisory responsibilities or not, there are people who do things for you. Are you giving them acknowledgement? Are you giving them praise? Are you giving them positive feedback for the work they have done? It is easy to do, but most of us don’t do it. We just don’t think about it on a regular basis.
I saw survey results of a client not too long ago that were really revealing. These were open-ended questions, such as, “Tell us about the last time you received positive feedback from your boss.”
There were two types of responses.
The first type of response was incredibly detailed about when it happened, why it happened, and the impact it had on the employee. Especially interesting to me was the fact that, in some of cases, this positive feedback was from two or four years ago. But when they recall it, it still brings a positive feeling, excitement, and enthusiasm. The feeling of being loved, respected, and cared about lingered for a very extended period. Employees literally thrive on positive feedback.
The second most common answers were ones like, “I don’t remember,” or “I’ve never received positive feedback, only criticism.”
Think about this as it pertains to your career and to the people who look to you for feedback. What is your ratio? If it’s three to one, negative statements to positive statements, it may be time to flip that ratio. You must tip the balance towards positive feedback. Think about the people who look to you for feedback – your employees, peers, people on your project teams, vendors – how is your ratio?
If you are an employee, respectfully share these thoughts with your boss, not in an argumentative way, but in a constructive way. You may say something like, “I just want to let you know I’ve been tracking the last month or so, and you’ve given me seventeen pieces of negative feedback and two pieces of positive feedback.”
Consider also your children and loved ones who look to you for care and support. Catch them being good. Make giving positive feedback a daily habit. Don’t end your day without sending a thoughtful note or text, stopping over, or giving someone a call.
When you make someone’s day, they will remember it for a long time. And when you make it a habit, you bring out the best possible version of them…and the best possible version of yourself as well.