Giving Appropriate Praise and Feedback

William Anderson

VP, Software Engineering at Forbes



Each morning I have a meeting with my team where we chat about what's going on and collaborate on technical and process solutions. Mundane updates are recorded in an ongoing written log, but these meetings are for really moving things forward. It's quite common for me or other team members to give feedback and offer alternative points of view, but one time it was different. The day before, there had been several meetings justifying some work streams. In reality what was being built out was totally necessary (some fixes for a rather critical bug), but it had trickled up the chain of command in a rather vague manner and found itself with a lot of eyes on it. After talking about the issue I turned to the person in charge of that particular work and noted that if they saw something like this unfolding to let me know in the future, ASAP. It wasn't taken well.

Actions taken

Giving Feedback Feedback is sensitive. Critical feedback is more-so. As a manager it is your job to give it, no matter how difficult the conversation. When giving critical or constructive criticism there are only two places to deliver it, but many ways in which it can be delivered. It can be when others are around or in a one-on-one setting, but it can also be delivered on a sliding scale from blameless to personal. Usually those comfortable receiving feedback in public, also welcome feedback in private. The opposite is not true. Similarly, the more open someone is to direct personal critique, they will likely also be comfortable with blameless dissections of incidents. Those at the extremes, however, may desire pointed critique for improvement, and if the delivery is too blameless it can just lead to frustration or a feeling that they are not getting the feedback they need to grow. Giving Praise Praise works somewhat similar to critical feedback, especially in regards to specificity. Here though, instead of "blameless" vs "personal" it comes in the form of "team" vs "individual." It's still on a sliding scale as some people will be more flexible with how they are recognized and others more specific. This measure is also massive in terms of determining if someone is a good culture fit for you company. If you value team effort over individual heroics you will want those who are true team players and love succeeding and being rewarded as a team, and if you want heroics and competition make sure anyone you hire gets individual credit when it's due and is the type to constantly seek it out. The biggest difference with praise is a third class of receptiveness. This is individuals whom don't like or are embarrassed by praise in one-on-one settings but are fine receiving it in public and as a team. Frequency Even those who constantly strive for change and welcome critical feedback in all forms and forums will wear down if consistently criticized in public. Just as those who receive constant praise in private may develop an unrealistically positive view of their own performance. While balancing the where and how for your team members is critical towards their morale, comfort, motivation, and ability to thrive, knowing when is too much or too little is the key towards long term growth and success.

Lessons learned

  • People respond to positive and negative feedback in radically different ways, both privately and publicly. Their sensitivity to context and to the level of comments is just as varied. In the case above, in a room of their respected peers, my comment was read in quite an expected way: As being called out for having mishandled something.
  • Providing timely and honest feedback is critical to everyone's' growth, and there are many strategies for delivering it. From Radical Candor through the classic S****** Sandwich. Where you deliver it also matters.
  • The only way to truly understand the best ways of delivering this to any person is to ask them. And when you ask them, ask in private. But it's not just a dichotomy of "public" vs "private". Source: https://medium.com/@TheWAAnderson/the-awkwardness-of-public-praise-and-feedback-4d73ab4ca48c

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William Anderson

VP, Software Engineering at Forbes

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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