The second level of Dr. Gottman’s Sound Relationship House is Share Fondness and Admiration. As it applies to The Sound Relationship Workplace, I have renamed it “Provide Positive Feedback.”

Research supports how important it is for managers to give positive feedback to their employees. It leads to better morale, enhanced motivation, and improved productivity. With that said, I have worked with many managers over the years that rarely give it. Their excuse is usually, “It’s not my personality” or, “They should know when they have done a good job” or simply, “I’m too busy!”

The absence of positive feedback is highly demoralizing for people. In my work with various organizations, I’ve seen the immediate impact that incorporating positive feedback can have. Jane, as I will call her, was a highly successful executive who was respected by her team, but not well liked as a person. Her team labeled her “cold” and “distant.” A 360-degree review brought her into my office. Her colleagues and subordinates claimed that she did her job well, but that she did not seem to care for them at all. Jane was baffled by this feedback since she felt that she did care for her colleagues and never treated them with disrespect.

As we talked, it became clear that Jane was highly introverted and that her management style was “no news is good news.” That is, she would let her employees know when there was an issue with their performance, but she would not encourage them when they performed well. As an individual, she was highly intrinsically motivated – her drive came from within and she felt quite uncomfortable when complimented by anybody, including her own managers. She believed that “actions speak louder than words” and that she was fulfilling her role as a manager if she rewarded high performing employees with financial incentives and promotions.

This assumption was incorrect, as it instead was fostering a company culture that was leading to greater attrition. Jane had an “ah ha” moment in my office when recalling her childhood. Her parents were both working class individuals that didn’t go to college. They did not value education as much as she came to, and so she never received recognition for her academic achievements.  As an exceptionally bright child, her parents took a step back from supporting her in an outwardly positive way. They did not blatantly undermine her, but they did nothing to support her academic career.

Jane successfully went on to receive two PhDs in related fields. Her management style, in essence, was due to the way her parents had raised her. In couple relationships, Dr. Gottman encourages people to scan their environment to catch their partner doing something right and compliment them, instead of scanning their environment for their partner’s mistakes and then correcting them. This builds a culture of appreciation and respect. After working with me, Jane started to incorporate this habit of mind of providing positive feedback to her employees on a regular basis. After a couple of months of this practice, she noticed a huge change in how her employees related to her.

Even if you are not a manager, it is still good practice to give genuine compliments to your colleagues. When you catch someone doing something well or something that you admire, let him or her know!

Indeed, our culture does not necessarily support this way of interacting. The “intelligent” person is supposed to be discerning and critical – we even call this “critical thinking” in our schools. The assumption is that you’ve got to be critical to be smart and observant. However, this idea of suspending criticism and actively appreciating what you see, as well as being respectful, is what the Masters of relationships do.

Positive feedback needs to be specific to be most effective. Rather than saying, “You did a great job,” you might state, “Your presentation this morning was really informative. It was clear, concise, and your examples explained things in detail for me.” Positive feedback can also serve as a buffer to feedback that is less than favorable. Remember that Dr. Gottman encourages at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in relationships.

Suggestions for times to give positive feedback include when an employee or colleague:

  • Has met a goal
  • Has delivered a presentation
  • Helps you or someone else that you know
  • Produces more work than before
  • Reaches a new level of professional competence
  • Influences someone to do something worthwhile
  • Represents the organization in a favorable manner

The positive feedback that I am suggesting is focused on a colleague’s work as it pertains to their job, but it can also focus on their behavior in promoting a positive work environment. To catch a colleague doing something effective and then recognizing them for it is a wonderful way to build trust and camaraderie with that individual. As human beings, we tend to like people who help us feel good about ourselves. The art of recognizing others at work is key to building a Sound Relationship Workplace.

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Provide Positive Feedback
Karen Bridbord

Karen Bridbord, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and consultant in New York and New Jersey. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist who specializes in working with couples and organizations.