Feedback - Learning To Remember Praise

Feedback – Learning To Remember Praise!

Written By: Kevin Watson

21st October 2014

Can you remember what was written on your school report?

Whenever I’ve asked this question to people, most will give a little shudder as it summons up negative memories for them. Hardly anyone remembers being praised or told they were doing really well.

What most people seem to recall first are comments such as “Anne is a quiet child” and almost everyone remembers “could do better“!

Now, answer this one…

What was the nicest thing anyone has said to you recently?

Need a little more time?

It is fascinating to observe people when asked this question, as they scratch their head, squirm a bit and generally fail to come up with anything positive that someone else has said about them. 

Is this because no one has said anything nice? I find it hard to believe that to be true! So, are people simply trying to avoid coming up with anything through some misguided sense of modesty?

It could be true that some people hide away their talents, in case others view them as big-headed. This is a learned behaviour, as I’m certain you had no trouble declaring your talents as a four-year-old. If you don’t believe me, just listen in on any bunch of four-year-olds as they play together!

Notice how this plays out in your team as you offer people praise for a job well done. I have no doubt that you will hear people say “it’s just my job” or “everyone does it that well“.

When this happens, do them a favour and make sure the praise really lands. Repeat the feedback, and ask them to say nothing, except ‘thank you’.

What else could be stopping people remembering the things that went well?

Think about those school reports for a moment. Maybe we don’t easily recall when we’ve done something well, or when someone has given us praise because we simply haven’t been taught that way!

Take a look at these four, simple sums:

3 x 3 = 9

4 x 4 = 16

5 x 5 = 25

6 x 6 = 38

What do you notice about them?< Yes, that's right, The last one is wrong. It should be '36'. But why is it that you noticed that? After all, three of the others are correct, so I got far more right than wrong. Yet, most of us head straight to the one that's wrong, rather than acknowledge the other three are right.

When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.Judith Martin

As we move through school and into work, this focus on ‘what’s wrong’ is strengthened further as we are constantly directed to notice what’s not working. It’s no surprise that we have difficulty remembering the times when someone pointed out what we did well.

Start to notice what has been done well. This doesn’t mean avoiding what has gone wrong, just bring them both back into perspective.

We are all aware of the meaning and impact of feedback, yet often underestimate the need for balance. How we give and how we receive feedback on a job well done and a job that could be done better are both equally important in determining what we perceive as helpful or unhelpful.

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