Developing Your Talent

Reset the Ratio of Positive to Negative Feedback

By Kristen Leverone on June 8, 2012

While the power of positive reinforcement has been the foundation of effective teaching for decades, too often the practice doesn’t make into the workplace.

In his Management blog, “Six Suggestions Guaranteed to Improve Performance in Almost any Workplace,” Lawrence M. Miller discusses research his team conducted on the balance of positive to negative comments in the classroom. Miller’s team dubbed the ideal ratio for learning “Four-to-One” meaning for every four positive comments, the teachers offered one negative comment.

Unfortunately, when the team asked industrial plant managers to record the comments they made to employees, the ratio was one to four. If you are a manager, what would your ratio be?  Try it and see. 

Record positive and negative comments for a week or two to gain awareness regarding your own behavior.  Reset the ratio if the negative feedback outweighs the positive. 

What we know is that regularly recognizing employees’ successes and accomplishments will play a key role in maintaining engagement and commitment, contributing to higher levels of productivity, lower levels of turnover and improved performance.  Reinforce successful behaviors with positive feedback.  It can be as simple as a “thank you”, or recognizing an employee’s extra effort, or sending an email to the senior leadership team acknowledging an employee’s exceptional contribution.   And when offering criticism, make it constructive.  Offer guidance on how to improve and keep it about the behavior, not the person. This helps to ensure that feedback is viewed as an opportunity to grow, not run for cover.

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