Performance feedback is a subject that generates a great deal of debate, angst, and even anger. Those receiving feedback quite often feel it is inadequate, vague, overly critical, or overly solicitous. Those giving feedback often feel they don’t have time for meaningful discussion, they did not deliver the message they had hoped to, or the reaction they received was not what they expected.

No matter what you think about formal performance management systems, the need for regular feedback as part of an employee’s development is indisputable. No one can truly grow and be most productive if they do not understand what they are doing well and what they need to improve. I emphasize what they need to improve AND what they are doing well. The best regular feedback includes both.

I was lucky enough to have a few great bosses who provided fair and balanced feedback to me during my career. I knew what they saw as my strengths and I knew what they expected of me to be even more successful and productive. I also encountered two other kinds of managers in my career – the Perpetual Happy-Face who only gave positive feedback and the Permanent Frown-Face who only gave negative feedback. Both were hard to work for.

The Perpetual Happy-Face gave lots of praise but avoided openly sharing feedback about what was not going well. I thought he was a very nice person but I was left wondering how I could improve and what I needed to do to get ahead. My questions to solicit more meaningful feedback were always met with, “You are doing a fantastic job” or “No complaints here!” It seemed insincere and not very useful. When he did offer a tidbit of constructive feedback it was sandwiched between lots of positive comments and brushed over quickly.

The Permanent Frown-Face on the other hand was never satisfied. She was quick to point out the one misstep or weakness in an otherwise very successful achievement. Her negative feedback was constant and biting. I questioned my every action and decision, wondering what she would find fault with this time. Eventually I and the other team members became so frustrated and demoralized by her negativity that we went to her boss and asked him to intervene, which he did.

A recent blog post at – Do you see beauty or blemishes? – offers a great perspective on Permanent Frown-Faces or, as he calls them, “Negative Motivators.” He points out how their own beliefs about motivating others are getting in their way. The post includes five tips for providing more balanced feedback.

How balanced is the feedback you are giving and/or receiving? If you tend to be a Perpetual Happy-Face or a Permanent Frown-Face when it comes to giving feedback, then look for ways to identify, acknowledge and offer guidance on the full array of behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses you observe in your employees. If you are frustrated by a manager who delivers only one flavor of feedback, then begin to ask for the specific feedback you need.

To solicit more positive feedback ask:

  • What strengths have you seen me exhibit?
  • What’s working well on my assignments?
  • Would you please share your perspectives on what I am contributing to your team?

To solicit more constructive (or developmental) feedback ask:

  • In what areas can I improve?
  • What recommendations do you have for my growth and development?
  • What skills do I need in order to contribute even more to the team?

By taking steps to get and give more effective and balanced feedback, everyone benefits.

Please leave a comment about balancing feedback.

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