Three Positives for Every One Constructive Feedback
While delivering critical information is sometimes required, an ill-proportioned amount of negative feedback can be damaging to teams and individuals. The remarks intended to improve performance can end up having the opposite effect.
THE SCIENCE OF FEEDBACK
Receiving feedback is an emotional experience. We are also emotionally invested in our work. The results of our time and energy are direct reflections of our skills and knowledge. When those are negatively critiqued, our brains experience a chemical reaction and release higher levels of cortisol. This is commonly known as the flight or fight chemical, which essentially halts creativity and productivity. An opposite effect occurs as we receive praise. In these moments, our brains produce higher levels of oxytocin, a chemical that makes us feel good and secure (Sousa, 2017).
When feedback is related to performance, self-worth is either enhanced or challenged. Those who consistently receive negative feedback, with little positive recognition of talents or contributions, have more difficulty recovering from the temporary defeat than someone who is praised in a consistently higher ratio than criticized.
FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE
Research continues to suggest that it takes at least three positive interactions to outweigh one negative interaction. Some studies recommend an even greater amount of praise, reporting that five to one and seven to one ratios are necessary for achieving and maintaining a healthy and productive feedback relationship. The effects of the oxytocin boost wear off quicker than the arresting impact of cortisol, making the experience of more frequent positive interactions important for continuous motivation.
Over the last decade, teachers and schools have increasingly adopted the three to one ratio of positive to negative interactions as a standard for behavior management. In these systems, professionals reinforce expectations by taking every opportunity to recognize when the right behaviors are observed. This builds up an emotional bank account that lessens the degree to which negative or corrective feedback will deflate or demotivate. This same ratio of three positives for every one constructive feedback is just as powerful when used with adults.
ACHIEVE A 3:1 RATIO IN 3 STEPS
When you see something, say something. Why wait to highlight the positive?
Be sincere and specific. Provide detail about the employee’s contribution and how it impacted you and/or the organization.
Make it routine. Set calendar reminders to write a thank-you note or walk to an employee’s desk to provide positive feedback.
Reference: Sousa, D. (2017). How the brain learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.