Few of us like giving negative feedback. From quick tips to academic research findings, there is no shortage of advice on how to deliver it, though.

One aspect rarely discussed is how to share positive feedback, because presumably everyone is good at that. However, in my work I have found that few people are good at giving either kind of feedback. Yet, because positive feedback is so much less fraught than negative, we worry about and discuss it less.

Instead, we should focus on getting better at giving positive feedback to improve our ability to give negative feedback. After all, improving performance should not be limited to problem employees.


A critical component of effective feedback is timeliness. If we do not provide guidance in the moment, or soon thereafter, the potential impact is significantly reduced. One of the best and easiest ways to practice optimizing those learning moments is to start with the good stuff.

As leaders, we should know the strengths of our teams as well as their weaknesses. To strengthen our feedback muscles, we must make it a point to observe an employee engaging in a task in which they are good. Then, as she is doing it — or as soon as is appropriate — tell her.

Specifically, we should make clear the behavior we saw that we want repeated and why we want it repeated.

For example, perhaps a project manager provides a concise introduction, sufficient context to ensure the audience is on the same page, and clearly articulates the goal of her work within the first few minutes of her presentation. If these are behaviors we want echoed throughout the organization, the best way to start is to recognize them as they happen, at the meeting.

The franchise model

Whether we like Starbucks or not, the beauty of the brand is that regardless of our location, our drink will taste as we expect it to taste. This consistency is key with feedback as well. While we provide specific feedback via tools like performance improvement plans for our challenged employees, our good employees need clear expectations as well.

As leaders, we must constantly communicate the behaviors we want repeated to all employees. And again, a great way to practice is by seeking out positive behaviors and recognizing them with consistency. Employees get used to hearing feedback, we strengthen our feedback muscles, and everyone starts expecting and embracing timely and consistent feedback.

From PIP to road map

By giving everyone feedback regularly, it becomes a lot easier to give and receive. Instead of performance improvement plans being a tool to help struggling employees, performance road maps can become a tool to help all employees understand where they are, where they are headed and how we expect them to get there. By focusing on the positive behaviors we want repeated, we can grow a culture that expects feedback.

The bottom line is, we have to start somewhere when learning how to constructively criticize our teams. Why not start with the positive and get good at providing it in a timely, consistent fashion? Doing so will make giving less-than-positive feedback that much easier.