How to Balance Praise and Criticism when Dealing with Your Employees

21 Feb

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Praise and criticism are two powerful tools managers and leaders can use to motivate their employees and enhance their performance. But how much criticism is too much? And when does praise start to become more suspect than inspiring? What is the ideal ratio?

The truth is that there is no universal standard for the appropriate amounts of praise and criticism to offer your employees; you should be wary of any experts who make this claim. Employees don’t operate in such a way that one-size-fits-all approaches will meet all their needs. So what you need to do is formulate an individualized Praise-to-Criticism Ratio for each employee. To accomplish this, think of a specific employee for whom you want to develop his/her Praise-to-Criticism Ratio. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and consider the following:

  • Recall the interactions you have had with that employee over the past 30 days.
  • As you think about the various tasks assigned and the subsequent interactions that took place, recall whether the employee received any praise or criticism after turning in each assigned task.

If, after completing these mental exercises from the employee’s perspective, you conclude that you have provided no feedback after assigning tasks, then you’ve gained a terrific insight. Employees need to know whether the work they did has contributed to or detracted from the success of a project or task. So it’s important that you provide feedback moving forward. Likewise, if you found that you are relentlessly heaping praise on your employee, then your credibility with this employee is at risk. After all, the employee’s work can always be improved and your taking an interest in how they can do things better is meaningful to many employees. Finally, if you find you are always criticizing, don’t be surprised if the employee reacts to your excessive criticisms by increasingly tuning you out, or even cowering when being approached.

Ultimately, you will have to use your best judgment to decide the exact amounts of praise and criticism that are appropriate for each employee. After all, what we are talking about is an art form, not a science. As a thought, because you work closely with your employees why not ask them periodically about the quality and quantity of your feedback! After all, your employees are your best source of information! Doing this periodically will not only result in creating the proper feedback ratio of praise to criticism as performance levels soar, but will also make employees feel valued at the same time.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books), and was rated as one of the Top 10 Business Books of 2016 by getAbstract.

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