Trenton Moss

By Trenton Moss

The feedback ratio in a healthy relationship is 5:1. This means that there should be five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

For every time you dish out criticism (constructive or otherwise), people should also receive five pieces of positive feedback.

Positive interactions come in many ways, for example:

  • Recognising effort and achievement
  • Showing an interest in someone’s work or emotions
  • Listening and showing empathy
  • Expressing affection
  • Demonstrating that someone matters

If you work with people that you believe are low performers, try to find positives no matter how small. Highlighting what they’re doing well can help with managing problem employees.

Now ask yourself this: When was the last time you praised someone you work with?

Recognise the inputs, not just the outputs

It’s more rewarding to be praised for the effort you put in and the hurdles you jumped over, rather than just for the end result.

The best praise recognises the effort that’s been made – the inputs.

When you praise outputs, you’re praising achievement. There’s nothing specific about how you got there and nothing new learnt – just the dopamine kick of receiving praise. This type of praise doesn’t usually help a person to grow.

Constantly praising outputs (i.e. what people have achieved) can promote a fixed mindset. Praising the efforts to achieve growth helps to develop a growth mindset (according to renowned psychologist, Carol Dweck)

The best praise recognises the effort that’s been made - the inputs.

Be specific in your praise

If you’re giving praise then be very specific about why you’re doing so. If someone has overcome a particular challenge, managed tight deadlines or dealt with something outside their comfort zone, then clearly acknowledge this.

For example:

“I was really impressed by how you managed that difficult stakeholder, that must have been really challenging for you.”

is far more rewarding than a simple:

“Well done.”

Providing feedback in this way shows great empathy. You’re demonstrating that you’ve taken the time to understand what’s happened, who they are and what they’ve done to go above and beyond.

Being specific in your praise helps others understand what they’ve done well, making it easy for them to identify which behaviours are important.

Remote working reduces interaction

Positive interactions don’t have to come from managers. Receiving recognition, having fun and being able to talk openly with your colleagues also provide positive experiences for people.

With the rise of remote working, many of these interactions have been removed. This makes it more challenging to achieve the 5:1 ratio and might lead to team members feeling disengaged.

There are a few ways to address this:

  1. Review your working patterns and consider how to introduce greater interaction between colleagues. For example, do you need to combine remote work with on-site team days? If you’re fully remote, what can you do to increase your team’s contact with each other in a meaningful way?
  2. Promote a culture of feedback that recognises the efforts of others. You should have a culture of learning that: (a) encourages everyone to ask for feedback; and (b) encourages people to provide positive praise and suggestions for improvement. “What did I do well?” and “What could I do better?” are two great questions to ask.
  3. Lavish positive feedback on your team (remember to focus on the inputs and be very specific). It’s always good to have some in the bank for when you need to drop that negative feedback!
Positive interactions don’t have to come from managers.

But what about the 1?

A ratio of 5:1 means you shouldn’t be lavishing praise on your team 100% of the time. You should also provide constructive feedback so team members can improve and develop.

Positive feedback can become meaningless when not balanced with areas for improvement. If you don’t provide feedback that allows people to grow and improve, they might:

  • Become suspicious about what’s NOT being said as everything is always positive
  • Start to disbelieve the praise and suspect it’s not genuine
  • Believe they’re no longer being challenged in their role and move on

You might not have reflected on how much positive feedback you give your team. Seeing a ratio of 5:1 might come as a surprise. But it’s entirely achievable.

Make sure you’re taking the time to recognise and express other people’s efforts. You’ll see team morale soar.

Photo by Afif Kusuma and The Connected Narrative on Unsplash

Positive feedback can become meaningless when not balanced with areas for improvement.

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