I’m finding it relatively easy to remember the three qualities of appropriate negative feedback:
- Specific to a situation
- Not personal
- Offers suggestions for improvement.
What about positive feedback? Certainly I find some positive feedback more appropriate and effective than others — both as a giver and a receiver. I’d like to propose a short list that is an adaptation of the negative feedback list:
- Specific to a situation. Feedback that reads like a rubber stamp doesn’t carry much weight. It has to fit this particular situation, piece of work, action. Contrast “Great work,” to “The sharp and detailed analysis in your book report made me think about the book in a new way.”
- Not personal. This gets back to the person praise versus process praise discussion. Praise the work, not the person. Contrast “You are a great writer,” to “Your story had me on the edge of my chair.”
- Offers insight into what’s good. Approval is great, but the receiver needs to know how the approval was earned so he or she can do it again. Contrast “You’ve been working very hard,” to “Your effort really shows through in the way the pieces fit together perfectly. You were absolutely meticulous with detail.”
It’s not easy to give good positive feedback — particularly when you are responding to a lot of people the way many teachers do regularly. I remember a history professor who kept the phrase, “sensitive to the nuances of history,” for the letters of recommendation of his top students. I always wondered if the readers of the letters knew what it meant.
But when I get really topnotch positive feedback, I feel like I’ve really been seen. I’m not just another person in a crowd.