Organizational Consultation XXIV: Feedback (Part One)
Even positive feedback can be ineffective if it is indiscriminate and not appreciative in nature. Positive feedback and praise often feel just as controlling and judgmental as negative feedback, if it is devoid of understanding and care.[i] Rosabeth Moss Kanter has noted that employees can become addicted to praise. They soon begin to set aside their own sense of personal accomplishment, looking instead for continual positive feedback from their superiors.[ii] This praise addiction destroys people’s feelings of autonomy. Furthermore, the praise addict, like other addicts, needs increasingly larger doses of praise to feel fulfilled or adequate. “Good” performance reviews are no longer acceptable. The addicted employee feels cheated and dishonored if the reviewer’s judgment is anything less than “outstanding.”
What then is appreciative feedback, and how does it differ from positive and negative feedback? Appreciative feedback differs from both positive and negative feedback in that it preserves an employee’s sense of autonomy and self-worth. Specifically, feedback is appreciative if it provides information to members of an organization that enable them to freely choose actions that can be of benefit to both themselves and their organization. Feedback is also appreciative if it strengthens the bond between those giving the feedback and those received the feedback. Feedback given in an appreciative manner will increase rather than decrease the recipient’s interest in continuing her relationship with the feedback giver.
Appreciative feedback produces collaboration rather than either withdrawal or dependency. The person giving the feedback is likely to be more influential in the future, not less, as a result of the thoughtful, appreciative information they have provided to another person or group. This is the primary distinction to be drawn between appreciative and either positive or negative feedback. Appreciative feedback conveys respect for the person receiving the feedback, while also providing evidence of the feedback giver’s sincere intentions to be of help to its recipient. These conditions inevitably increase mutual trust and encourage more frequent interactions and reciprocal feedback. The information provided through appreciative feedback is generally richer and more useful than that provided through either positive or negative feedback.