“The average American spends fifteen hours a month criticizing or complaining about their boss.” – DDI (Data Documentation Initiative)
Ouch! Biologically, we’re wired to tune into the negative. This dates back to the caveman days when it was pretty important to react if a saber toothed tiger was coming at you. Though we’ve evolved, as have the dangers we face, we continue to react stronger and quicker to the negative. And what once kept us alive can now kill a work environment.
Luckily, though, just as science tells us that we’re tuned into the negative, so, too, does it tell us how to counteract it. It’s all about ratios. Scientists who study human relationships have come up with a solid formula on how to battle the negative bias. Independent studies that focused on everything from marriage to work have come up with similar results. To maintain a healthy relationship, the ratio between positive and negative is, according to science, 3-6:1. And this all goes back to something we’ve discussed in depth: communication – meaningful contact with our employees.
But positive communication isn’t as easy as, “Great work.” The employee’s need to feel her work has purpose, that she has autonomy, responsibilities, and is getting the feedback she needs to reach the goals and objectives of the company, means that a more significant dialogue needs to take place between management and employees.
Towers Watson published that “Forty-three percent of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement.” And the Harvard Business Review goes in depth about giving feedback to high achievers. So what does that feedback sound like?
Here are some employee engagement strategies when giving feedback, both positive and negative, to strengthen communication and respect.
Using these strategies to open meaningful dialogue and offer valuable feedback can only work to strengthen employee engagement. The more we engage with our employees in a meaningful way, the more we will connect, leaving less (albeit, it’s never going to be wiped out completely) to whine about at the water cooler.
- Give feedback to the person it applies to. Directly. Not her manager or peers. Not your kids or the company softball team. The person who most needs to hear about her performance is the one who either did a great job or made the mistake.
- Express gratitude for current performance. Don’t take it for granted that your top performers know they’re the top performers. Also, don’t kill their motivation by putting a glass ceiling, unrealistically boosting them to the “ideal employee” position. There’s always room for growth and high achiever thrive on that.
- Focus on the performance of the employee. Gather data and details to support the feedback. Describe the performance and how it positively, or negatively, impacts the company.
- Be specific. Both with positive feedback and critical feedback, being specific goes a long way. EG: “Last week’s report used outdated information. Let’s re-run the numbers and meet up tomorrow at two o’clock.” Here, you’ve discussed the problem, how to resolve it, and a specific time to meet up to look at the new report. You’ve offered feedback, a solution, and a timeframe. And what could’ve been negative, “These numbers are wrong!” is now a positive feedback cycle.
- Take out the however and but… “You presented a great argument, but …” “I liked your chart; however,” … Everything prior to a however and/or but is complete fluff. Be direct.
- What’s next? Identify development possibilities. Provide feedback in the context of future goals. Let past blunders go and open the window of what you and the organization are expecting of your employee in the future. This is key to keep an employee motivated and know there is a tomorrow.