At HighCallingBlogs.com today, Bradley J. Moore of Shrinking the Camel explores the question, “When is Negative Feedback Too Negative?” He spotlighted my post “Reward the Good and Ignore the Bad: Does it Work?”He asks:
We know that unhealthy criticism for no good reason can demoralize. But how do you point out negative behaviors if you want to develop people, to help them reach their full potential?
I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit, and his post generated some additional thoughts that I tapped out as a comment and offer here as food for thought:
On the receiving end of critique:
Many years ago, I attended a small group training session. The leader said that one of the critical steps in gaining valuable input from people in the group was to take them out one-on-one and ask each person, “How can I improve as a leader?” Then he said it’s critical to listen without saying one defensive or explanatory word. Just listen and take notes. The person may say something small at first, to test how you’ll respond. Write down the answer, thank them, and ask, “What else?” Little by little you can get great input for how to improve and build trust with the person in your group, demonstrating that you really care about his or her opinion.
I’ve done this with my kids as well as teams I’ve led (usually volunteers in a church setting). When the person offering input sees that you aren’t going to get angry or fall apart, he can feel free to offer invaluable (if painful) information. And because I invited it, it’s easier for me to take to heart. But it’s hard to hear what I’m doing poorly, as a parent or team leader. And it’s really, really hard not to explain or defend myself; but when I refrain from that and just listen, I can consider the critique and figure out if/how to change. My kids have been grateful to have me ask and know that I’m really listening when they offer some of their concerns.
When giving input/critique:
My eldest daughter has her driver’s permit, and I’ve been thinking about and practicing the positive feedback approach with her. Sometimes, however, for safety reasons I simply have to correct and stop a dangerous move; sometimes I simply cannot “ignore the bad.” But I am making a point to identify things she’s doing well, “rewarding the good” by pointing it out with a compliment.
- Check Tone & Motive: When I have to give some negative input–not just when out driving with my daughter, but with anyone–I’m trying to check my tone and my motive, too. I also try to add some explanation as to why the change would be beneficial. And I try to follow up when I see the person change and affirm them.
- In the Context of Trust, Respect & Love: The clicker training mentioned in my original post could be very superficial and only focus on behavior–it may work well for step-by-step training but not for subtle analysis. (Leslie Leyland Fields expresses her concern with actual programs that promote a clicker-training approach to parenting in her post “Training is Not Enough!!“) With my family and friends, I want to be building relationships and reaching their hearts. I want any input to be in the context of trust, respect and love.
- Praise Sandwich/One-Minute Praise: Erin of Together for Good added this:
I think positive reinforcement is extremely important, but I don’t think we should ignore the importance of negative feedback as well. Sometimes the bad stuff needs to be rooted out; you’ll never see enough positive change until you can get rid of the negative. I look at Scripture and see God never failing to point out our weaknesses– and then point us to HIS strength. It’s so crucial for us to understand that the best of us is Him. Otherwise we fall into pride.I suppose it’s different in a workplace where not everyone is a Christian. I take what you say and think about it in light of my family. And you bring up the very good point that sometimes we are too negative. At work (I work in childcare), we are told to use “praise sandwiches” whenever we have something negative to say about a child to his or her parent. Something good, the negative item, and then another something good. Such a valuable tool in so many areas of life.
Not only am I grateful for Erin’s reminder that God roots out the bad–the sin–and that the good in us is a result of His Spirit’s work and strength, but I also really like her idea of “praise sandwiches.” Kenneth Blanchard’s One-Minute Manager advocates “one-minute praise” as immediate and specific as possible. I should note that he also does advocate immediate and specific “one-minute reprimands” followed with a reassuring handshake that affirms the person is valuable to the organization. Blanchard’s three-step “One-Minute Praise” and four-step “One-Minute Reprimand” processes are summarized HERE.
Any human, young or old, can better hear what needs improvement when it’s sandwiched between or at least followed up with what he or she is doing right.
An Atmosphere of Affirmation
I grew up with a lot of negativity, where nothing I did, not even sweeping grass off the porch, could be done to the satisfaction of one of my parents. I longed to hear something good reinforced, but most of the input I received was criticism. As a result, I developed a skewed image of myself. Developing my identity in that atmosphere of negativity, I couldn’t come close to reaching my full potential; I was plagued with self-doubt and insecurity.
Now, as a mom, I think I’m extra tuned-in to this topic because I really want to figure out what works and how I can offer input that is both loving and beneficial. I want my children to flourish in an environment that is predominately positive. And when I must correct, I want them to hear the truth spoken … in love.
I agree with Erin that none of us is innately “good,” that we are lost without our Savior, and that we must watch out for pride. But I also know firsthand the crippling effects of criticism and negativity.
When I do point out a fault in my kids or offer some criticism or correction, I want to follow up with a hug—the family version of Blanchard’s handshake—so that each child knows he or she is loved no matter what. And as I mentioned above, I want to be open to their own critique of me. If I model gentle, loving correction, perhaps they’ll go easy on me when I ask how they feel I could improve as a parent!
If I’m going to err in a direction, I want it to be in the direction of affirmation and praise.