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How often do you give positive praise or other feedback to your team? Probably every day, even if you don’t realize it.
In this article, I’m looking at 4 different styles for giving feedback to a colleague as a manager.
My style for giving feedback is one of positive praise. I say things like, “Great walking!” and “Thanks for carrying your spoon to the table!” dozens of times each day. Positive praise is where you tell children exactly what they’ve done that you are pleased with instead of simply saying, “Well done!”
An old boss of mine used to say, “Thanks for your efforts today,” to people as they were leaving and you knew that he really meant it.
I’m not as good at applying the positive praise approach at work — it feels odd to say, “I really valued how quickly you turned around that status report, thanks!” Somehow it feels insincere, but I’m quick to praise in writing and I will say thank you and mean it on the phone.
Put it down to being British — being overly demonstrative or success-celebrating at work isn’t our thing, although I do think that is changing.
How to give feedback to team members
Anna Carroll would say that at work I fall into the Motivator category. She is the author of The Feedback Imperative: How to Give Everyday Feedback to Speed Up Your Team’s Success, a book that covers every possible aspect of giving and receiving feedback at work including 4 feedback-giving styles.
How you give feedback isn’t fixed in stone. It’s an approach, rather than a behavioral trait, and you’re perfectly capable of switching between all the different styles when you have to.
In the book, Carroll says that people have a preference — a style they are most comfortable operating in. Let’s look at them now.
Style 1: The Motivator
Motivators tend to be inspiring managers who are happy to give consistent, timely, positive feedback to the team as a whole and to the individuals within the team.
While you show a lot of support for your team members, you may be less patient in providing corrective feedback to help employees increase their impact. You are spontaneous and creative, but may lack consistency when it comes to addressing each employee’s feedback needs on a regular basis.
Yes, that’s me. Very happy to say when things are going well, even copying in their boss to emails so the higher ups know that they’ve done a great job. Less comfortable taking people aside and telling them to pull their socks up.
What it means for project managers: Motivating teams is part of a project manager’s job, as is keeping team morale high and making sure people have what they need to get the job done (including the right attitude).
In a matrix structure you can draw on the line manager of your resources if you need support giving corrective feedback.
Style 2: The Charger
People with a Charger preference give feedback straight away, focusing on what is needed for improvement. They do this more easily than someone who has any of the other preferred approaches for giving feedback.
They can do it because they have a clear view of business goals, they know what success looks like for the team and they are confident expressing that.
However, they can come across as critical and unaware of the needs of individuals — sometimes we like positive strokes as well. They also might act at a time that doesn’t feel appropriate, for example on a video conference, when the feedback might be better received if you find time to give it in person.
Managing virtual teams is a skill in itself, so if you fall into that category of leader, think about how you come across to your colleagues and how best you can give feedback when you can’t grab a coffee or hold a performance review meeting in person.
What it means for project managers: Focusing on the end date and deliverables can push the feelings of the team to one side. Take time to thank them for a job well done and celebrate team and individual successes, however small, along the way.
Style 3: The Empathizer
Empathizers understand the needs of individuals — they are in tune with feelings as well as career aspirations, so they use feedback to support those and build connections with individuals.
Carroll describes it like this:
You have unique gifts for sitting down with employees and understanding their individual concerns and challenges. Employees trust you as a supportive and caring boss.
If you fall into this preference zone you’ll probably acknowledge that while giving positive feedback comes naturally, giving corrective feedback is more of a challenge. You can be so concerned about managing the feelings of an employee that you don’t give the feedback needed to help them raise their game.
What it means for project managers: You need your team to perform, so don’t shy away from corrective feedback and don’t wait until formal employee reviews to give it. Talk to the individual’s line manager if you have concerns about how they’ll react.
Use positive language even when you are providing feedback to help them improve their performance. “I loved what you did with the presentation. Next time, do you think it would be more effective if you also included the data about widgets?”
Style 4: The Analyzer
Analyzers are those who are able to provide clear examples of the behavior in question. If you work for an Analyzer you’ll have noticed that they have a stack of data about what went well and what you could have done differently. This is really helpful to a team member looking to improve.
People who have this data-driven preference struggle to give spontaneous feedback because it doesn’t fit with being able to spend time drawing logical conclusions from the work and behavior. They also — although it would be wrong to pigeon-hole them all here — find it uncomfortable to give corrective feedback in case it generates some kind of emotional response.
Of course, I don’t mean to stereotype or pigeon-hole anyone. As we saw earlier, giving feedback to peers and team members is something we all do, and you can approach it in a number of ways depending on the situation.
What it means for project managers: Projects generate a lot of data, and it would be easy to suffer from analysis paralysis when it’s time to give feedback. Stick to the most important facts to keep things moving and remember that feedback is most helpful when it is timely.
How to give better feedback
The first step in giving better feedback is understanding your personal preference for doing so. Then you can make a decision about whether that is the best approach for giving feedback this exact time.
If it is, great, off you go.
If it isn’t, perhaps you and your colleague on the receiving end would appreciate it more if you spent a little time thinking through what you are trying to say and how you are going to get that message across.
Think about the location of the feedback, how it is going to be received, what you want them to do differently and how you can make your point to address the performance, not someone’s character or personality.
Giving feedback is a leadership skill, and you can practice your leadership skills!
Keep going, and soon you’ll find that giving feedback is easier for you, and more beneficial for your team.
I am now 58 and retired. I wish someone had given me a book like yours about 25 years ago. I have learnt all the lessons in it the hard way. Most people starting out on a new career would benefit from reading it, both female and male.