Why Do Managers Find It So Hard To Give Positive Feedback?

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Recently I was in discussion with a group of managers about giving feedback to team members. Nothing new you might say as this subject is always somewhere in the background and zooms into prominence for managers when it comes time for performance appraisal or there is some performance issue. A recent Harvard article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman[1] quantified just how much of a challenge this is for managers.

They found that almost half of the people they surveyed believed that giving negative feedback was stressful or difficult. In another survey they conducted, a little over one in 5 people admitted they actually avoided giving negative feedback. Perhaps for most this is not surprising.

What was surprising for me is that more than one person in three of the sample indicated they don’t give positive feedback. I found myself questioning why?

There is a myriad of data that suggests there is genuine benefit for managers in giving positive feedback to team members:

  • It builds trust and strengthens relationships between you and your people
  • It’s a morale booster and has a positive flow-on effect to culture and engagement
  • People take more pride in the quality of their work
  • People are more willing to take accountability for their work
  • Team members will give more discretionary effort

This is a very compelling list of reasons why managers should give positive feedback, so the question still remains, why don’t they?

It would be very easy to trot the same old familiar “chestnuts” of not enough time, don’t want to come across as ‘soft’, people will take advantage of me, feels fake, and there are probably many more that make sense to the manager at the time.

My hypothesis is, while some of these factors may have an element of truth, the key reason why many managers are dismissive of what their people achieve and fail to give positive feedback is based on a belief “why should I give them positive feedback or praise, that’s their job, that’s what we are paying them to do.”   So what earns praise is only the exceptional, the superhuman effort which many team members find demotivating because it seems good work is never worthy of recognition.

Managers, please stop and think about this attitude. What if a team member:

  • Without being asked stays, back to assist a colleague complete a client project so that a deadline is not missed – discretionary effort
  • Identifies a challenge facing the team and on their own time develops a solution which is easily implemented and will result in a significant cost saving – innovation
  • Develops and makes a client presentation completely on their own without any input from their manager and it results in increased revenue from that client – personal best

These are not superhuman efforts. These are people doing the best they can to make a difference and isn’t that worthy of positive feedback? Giving positive feedback is a clear demonstration to your people that you are paying attention to what they are achieving which must surely have a positive effect on their self-confidence and attitude.

So what are you afraid of?

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.




[1] https://hbr.org/2017/05/why-do-so-many-managers-avoid-giving-praise