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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


The angry supervisor scowled in the weekly staff meeting and vehemently vented his long held frustrations at his team. “You guys are doing a terrible job! We deserved to lose the ABC account because of our awful performance! Nobody is even trying to do a good job! What is wrong with this team”!

What is wrong indeed? Let’s examine the leadership skills of the supervisor, especially his feedback skills. He’s giving generalized negative and critical feedback to the entire team which is tantamount to character assassination. He might as well say, “You guys are stupid and lazy! Please tell me why you are stupid and lazy, and then go and do a better job”! (Of course I’m assuming that they’re not all stupid and lazy, because then we’d have a whole different kettle of fish).

Perhaps our friend the supervisor would entertain the notion that there is a more effective way to deliver feedback and to encourage others to do their best work. Let’s begin with positive feedback.

POSITIVE FEEDBACK: Use it early and often. Work overtime at catching people doing things “right.” Doing so can create a positive, proactive, and optimistic team environment. “Susan, great job on handling those snafu’s on the XYZ account! I really appreciate your extra effort to keep them happy!”

Positive feedback is a great motivator. Who doesn’t like to hear good things about themselves? We’re social animals, and we all like to be stroked by other fellow humans (especially those in a position to advance our careers). Positive feedback builds confidence and encourages people to take on more responsibility to achieve even more success. Besides, it is the best bargain you will ever get in terms of employee benefits. The cost is a steal, and it is one of the “soft side” factors you hear so much about that aid in the attraction and retention of good employees.

NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: A good way to raise the BAR in employee performance. Avoid negative generalities about character or about conditions over which the person has no control. Our friend the petulant supervisor has given us some excellent examples of this approach.

Instead: 1) describe the specific Behavior that you are not pleased with. For example, “When you say derogatory things about my mother….” 2) tell how the behavior Affects you negatively. For example, “When you say derogatory things about my mother, I get very angry.” 3) Request a new behavior with which you would be more pleased. For example, “When you say derogatory things about my mother, I get very angry. Will you please stop doing that?”

This approach gives people an opportunity and the control to change their specific behavior if they are willing to do so. Besides, when someone calls someone else something like “lazy,” it usually only means that the second someone does not have the same priorities as the first someone. That’s hardly a character flaw.


Technique #1: Use positive feedback early and often; it’s the best return on investment you’ll ever get.

Technique #2: Avoid negative and critical generalizations that assail someone’s character or are directed at situations that he/she can’t control anyhow.

Technique #3: Raise the BAR in the relationship when you give negative feedback; it gives you the best chance of getting what you want.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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