How to Embrace Delivering Positive Feedback

by | Jul 13, 2023

We reviewed the feedback 101 section of the workshop. I covered the 9 positive/affirmative to 1 corrective feedback ratio as part of the 101. I asked if there were any thoughts and noticed a look of concern and mild confusion on a participant’s face. 

“I think that 9 to 1 thing is going to be pretty hard. I’m going to have to find 9 things about the person that are positive? I guess I can tell them I like their hair, their shirt, their pants, their shoes….”

As she went on I prepared my response to redirect her to more behavioral topics to focus on rather than clothing items when I realized that she had interpreted the 9 to 1 ratio as having to happen in the same conversation! She confirmed that was her take and I reassured her that no, it was a general flow of nine positive comments to one, not all in one sitting. I pointed out she would have run out of clothing items to be positive about when talking to people in Florida (or apparently anywhere) this summer. 

After we cleared that up, there was a sense of initial relief of not having to find that many positive things about someone at once…and then I sensed the blanket resistance to the ratio sink in. 

I’d experienced this resistance before.

It was when I’d been traveling to different branches of an organization doing leadership and communication training. It was always around this time when the talk of the positive to corrective ratio came up, the body language would shift. 

Arms would cross. Feet would shuffle. Eyes would roll. Sighs would exhale. An interesting series of events brought on by the word “positive.” 

As I took this in, I would ask for ideas about how they might share positive feedback. 

“I’m not telling my people ‘good job!’ for being here on time or anything like that. They are supposed to be here on time. That’s expected. I’m not celebrating that.”

“I had this manager once and he would come through the offices every day at the same time with this artificial, fake tone stopping by all of our spaces and telling us what a ‘great job we were doing!’ It was so obvious he didn’t mean it, he had gotten some memo. (Glares shot my way like I was the memo-giver.) Then he would shoot off obnoxious emails telling us everything we were doing incorrectly. It was so fake. It was so insincere. That guy sucked.”

“People shouldn’t get a parade for doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

At this point, instead of pointing out I had made no mention of parades or confetti or parties but rather was asking for general ideas on how to give positive feedback and the responses were basically WE WILL NOT DO IT I shifted gears. 

“When was the last time your manager gave you positive feedback?”


And there we have it. It’s hard to give what you don’t get. These managers weren’t getting it from their leadership. Why should they give it?

Perhaps to loosen up some of the tension and resentment they felt about their bosses? Following this line of thinking, perhaps their teams were feeling tension and resentment for them and that’s why they were all struggling to get things done and to meet their deadlines. 

Instead of seeing it like hey, I can tell my people what they’re going well, I’m going to double down on pointing out the bad and correcting and staying quiet. I’ll make them as miserable and checked out as my manager is making me! Fun! 

It was time to shift that thinking. 

We focused on what they could say and how they could say it. A few ideas for you to run with:

  • People don’t need gold stars for “doing what they are supposed to do.” However, if you are working on improving attendance, (or any other initiative) pointing out what’s working is reinforcing the behavior you expect and appreciate. “Hey Jim, I noticed the past 2 weeks you’ve been signed in five minutes early to your shift–nice work!” 
  • The tone, the timing, and the vibe must be genuine. People catch on if they hear the reminder tone ding on your phone and you pop your head into their cubicle and say, “Hey Susan–it just came to mind how much I appreciate your work on that project!” Oh really…just came to mind? 
  • Great job! Nice work! You rock! You’re a rockstar! What do these phrases have in common? They are stickers that your 1st-grade teacher put on your times tables. Since we are now grown-ups, make sure you’re feedback is objective and specific. “Your energy was fire during the presentation! Your tone of voice was confident, you brought in humor just at the right moments, and your body language was open and expressive. Excellent work!” (Note: I am aware the “fire” comment is subjective. However, when followed up with specifics, a little human-touch and human speak are allowed.) 

Those are the tip of the iceberg. To get you embracing the 9 to 1 ratio, ask yourself:

  • What’s your objective assessment of your feedback ratio?
  • When you think about the positive part, do you sense resistance coming up? If so, why?
  • If you’re not getting feedback from your leader, how can you proactively ask for it?
  • What are three positive or affirmative feedback comments you could make to each member of your team? Set your daily timer and go tell them. 😜

If you’ve got questions about what and how to deliver positive feedback, hit reply and let me know. This is a strangely touchy subject for lots of people. Curious what comes up for you and I’m here to help you address it. 

Until next week, increase that ratio. When you do, go ahead and give yourself a sticker. 


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