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The Power of Positive Feedback

September 27, 2022

A few weeks ago, I shared with you how healthy things grow, and how things that grow change.

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about that post, and I also got a question I thought was fascinating:

“Kevin, what’s the best way to create change, not just organizationally but for individuals?”

Here’s my short answer:

One of the simplest ways to create change is by positively affirming the things that are going well.

And I’m not the only one to think so.

My claim is confirmed by some research done by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, president and CEO of Zenger/Folkman—a leadership consultancy.  They researched the impact of positive feedback versus the impact of negative feedback on the performance of individuals in the workplace. Their results were interesting. Negative feedback matters, especially if an individual needs to immediately change direction to avoid failure, but over the long haul, positive feedback matters more. 

The individuals who received more positive encouragement than negative feedback improved faster and were more effective in their work than those who received more negative feedback than positive. They explain, “Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity.” Encouraging our team members’ good work actually produces more positive results than constantly calling for improvement.

Practically, this means that when you can find what people are doing well, you can double down to work on behavioral change. Encouraging and motivating your team members to do good work might be less complicated than you think.

Find the team member who served the customer well and praise them publicly.

When someone in your organization goes the extra mile to support a colleague, make sure that doesn’t go unnoticed. 

When your young child shares with her baby sibling freely and without being asked, make a big deal out of it! Tell her how proud you are of her selflessness and generosity.

Publicly encourage the little league player who played his heart out until the final buzzer even though your team lost the game.

Let the student know that you saw them help another classmate when they dropped their papers all over the hallway in between classes.

Reinforce the positive through encouragement. You’ll find the results are widespread and lasting, and you’ll help those you’re leading feel appreciated and valued. 


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