How To Give Positive Feedback At Work (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer
Feb. 9, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

We live in a world where it’s so easy to give feedback. In fact, we’re giving it several times a day and probably not even realizing that’s what we’re doing. A simple like on your favorite social media platform is online feedback.

But what is feedback, both positive and negative feedback, when it relates to the business world? Most importantly, we’ll cover how you can use this biological concept to help you succeed at your job.

Positive and Negative Feedback Definitions

You probably already have an idea of what positive feedback is; it’s saying or doing something that is good or that you like. And negative feedback is when you don’t like something, and you let people know. That’s kind of it, but not entirely.

There’s actually a feedback loop, and it can be either positive or negative. In the positive feedback loop scenario, the end result causes more of the initial result to occur.

In the negative feedback loop, something occurs that causes less of the initial action, or it could halt it completely.

This is a biological concept where living organisms are striving to achieve and maintain homeostasis. That’s an environment that’s relatively stable, and it’s basically perfect for survival. But that’s how feedback loops work in biology. How does that apply to your job?

Constructive Feedback Definition

Sometimes people get positive-feedback and negative-feedback approaches confused with constructive feedback. Constructive feedback uses a piece of information to affect a better outcome or improve a process or behavior.

Constructive criticism can come through praise or criticism. If it comes in the form of praise, it can be a positive experience. When it comes in the form of criticism, it tends to feel negative to the employee.

The interesting thing is that constructive criticism can work to change the loop, whether it’s positive or negative. But your employee engagement could suffer if they find that they’re constantly in a negative loop.

Feedback Loops at Work

Let’s go with an obvious example of feedback loops in a work situation.

Stephen is a waiter, and he’s having a fantastic day. He’s super-efficient and friendly, and his customers are enjoying his energy. As a result, they’re kind to him, which is a form of positive feedback. They also give him big tips, another form of positive feedback.

As Stephen counts up his tips for the day, he realizes he’s made more money than before. He now thinks that bringing that attitude to work can really help him succeed.

Now, let’s look at another day where Stephen isn’t doing so well. He’s rude, forgetful, and just an awful waiter. In response, his guests are not very nice to him. They also leave lousy tips. Stephen counts up his tips that day and realizes that something has got to change or he’s not going to be able to pay his bills.

That’s a pretty obvious example of positive and negative feedback. But it’s a good one because it’s something we can all relate to because we’ve been there.

You’ve had great service and tipped well, and you’ve had some bad servers in your life that you probably didn’t even want to tip. You may even have worked on the other side and been a server in that situation.

Tips for Using Positive Feedback at Work

Now, we can take that positive reinforcement a step further. What about Stephen’s manager, Walter? He knows that happy diners are more likely to return.

How does he turn that good day into a regular day for Stephen and maybe even all of the other servers?

  • Be specific. Saying “good job” is really not going to do much for Stephen. In fact, that phrase gets thrown around so much it’s basically meaningless. But If Walter said, “Hey, Stephen, your attitude today is fantastic. I love how happy you’re making our guests.”

    Well, now that holds some meaning. Not only does Stephen know what he did right (his attitude), but he also knows why his manager liked it, that the result was happy guests.

  • Add detail. You can make that positive feedback even more specific by adding more detail. Walter gave some detail when he said the guests were happy.

    What if he went on to explain how one couple said they enjoyed Stephen so much that they are going to plan a birthday party at the restaurant and want Stephen to be their server?

  • Be timely. Let’s say it’s a really busy night at the restaurant, and Walter doesn’t take the time to tell Stephen anything until a week later. So much has happened in that week, Stephen doesn’t even remember what he did well. And he thinks the compliment is a little disingenuous at this point.

    It’s important to take the time to give someone positive feedback as close to the event as possible.

  • Be open about positive feedback. It’s a great idea to share positive feedback for a couple of reasons. Let’s say Walter has an employee of the week bulletin board at the restaurant. Stephen will take the honors that week for his superb customer service.

    Emily sees this and thinks, “Hey, I can do that, too.” She’s motivated to try harder and wants the same accolades. In addition, Stephen is pretty proud of this, and he shares it on social media. He’s further reinforced that positive feeling and now owns it.

    Not only that, there can be a snowball effect where his friends see it and congratulate him, and they might even decide to stop by the restaurant.

  • Be fair with praise. There’s a problem with positive feedback if it’s only being given to a few people. The lack of positive feedback can actually be a form of negative feedback. If Mary sees Stephen and Emily getting all the praise, but she never gets any, she becomes an even worse employee.

    It’s key that Walter finds something that Mary is good at and let her know it. Maybe she’s the best at memorizing the specials of the day or in her prep work. Those things are part of the job, too.

Ways You Can Motivate Workers With Positive Feedback

If you’re a manager or have some employees working for you, you can use positive feedback in the following ways to motivate your team:

  • Thank-you note. Yes, a good, old-fashioned thank-you note for a job well done can mean a lot to people who work for you, from your right-hand assistant to someone who mows your lawn.

  • A raise or bonus. More money is always a good way to show your employees that you think they’re doing a fantastic job. For some, this is the one thing that matters most.

  • A motivational process. A lot of employers like to encourage positive feedback by having a system of nominating people for a job well done. Then a drawing happens, and the chosen person in that time period gets some perks. An employee of the month program works in a similar way.

  • Tell them. Don’t underestimate the power of praise. Simply telling someone that they’re doing a great job can mean a lot to them. Make sure you use the tips above to make it as meaningful as possible.

  • Performance review. A performance review can be used to reflect the good points in your employees’ efforts. It can also be a great way to boost morale and performance by using some constructive feedback.

Ways You Can Use Positive Feedback as an Employee (or Potential Employee)

So, you’re not a manager. You’re just an employee, and you’re looking to advance your career. Or you’re applying for a job, and you really want to stand out from other applicants. You can do both of these things with positive feedback. The following are some instances where you can put the power of positivity behind you.

  • Follow-up email after an interview. Suppose you’re being considered for a job and just had an interview. How do you make sure they remember you when so many people are up for the job? You follow up your interview with an email.

    This is a great opportunity to thank them for the interview and tell them the things you like about their company and how you think you’d be a great fit for them. It reinforces all of the good things you discussed in your interview and leaves them feeling positive.

  • Dress to impress. Here’s an interesting way to show your boss that you care about your job. Always dress like you’re trying to impress someone.

    If you show up every day looking your best, you’re letting people know you care about your job and your performance.

  • Be pleasant and professional. Who do you think puts out more of a positive vibe, the person who is willing to do a task they’re assigned with a smile or the person who grumbles and frowns when asked to do something?

  • Say thank you. If you’re looking to get a promotion or to move up the ladder, letting your boss know that’s what you want is important. But probably even just as important, letting them know you appreciate the job you have.

    Make sure to thank them for the experience you’ve gained so far. This lets them know you like the work you do, and it makes you more appealing for a new job with more responsibility.

Creating a Positive Feedback Loop

You could walk around constantly telling people they’re doing a great job and letting them know you appreciate it. The problem is if you don’t already do that, it’s going to come off really weird the first time you do.

You also need to be a little judicial in what you praise someone about. Telling them they’re doing everything really well will take away the value of your positive statements.

The best way to start creating this loop is to look for opportunities to point out good things, whether you’re doing this as the boss or as an employee.

Something like, “Hey, I really enjoyed the team you assigned me to for that last task.” That can set you up to do more work you enjoy with a group you worked well with.

Or “Nice PowerPoint presentation at the meeting.” This tells an employee they presented well, and they’re more likely to put effort into doing that again.

Final Thoughts

Start slow, build-up, and eventually, you’ll unwittingly be looking for things that are good for your employees and your job. The best part is that focusing on the good things can turn your entire day around.

Suddenly, you will become happier and more fulfilled at work. It’s certainly better than always looking for negative things.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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