I read recently that negative reviews online carry so much weight it takes eight positive reviews on Yelp to counteract a single bad review. While this is bad news for your local diner, why is it relevant to those who lead remote teams? The reason is that people take negative feedback much more seriously than positive feedback.
The problem with long-distance reviews
Our people need feedback from us, and negative feedback carries more weight than positive. In leadership development circles it has widely been considered that people need at least three instances of positive feedback to every instance of negative to feel that their boss is being fair. The problem is that when we aren’t in the same location, the balance of positive to negative gets skewed.
In the office you can flash a quick thumbs up, or see someone out of the corner of your eye and remember you should tell them what a good job they did yesterday. When we work apart from each other, people are often out of sight and thus out of mind until something comes up and you have to send that Slack message or pick up the phone. Overwhelmingly, the things that prompt us to action are negative, or at least serious. There’s far less informal, chatty, and yes, positive conversation.
Here are some tips for offering positive feedback to your remote and hybrid team members:
Positive feedback needs to drive as much action as negative.
If you have something positive to say to someone, take action on it. You can mention it in an email, or bring it up on a team call. Better yet, keep a running list of positive feedback for each team member and put it in your notes for your next one-on-one conversation. I’m pretty sure if it was bad news you’d make a point of having the conversation, do the same when it’s positive.
Positive feedback is not fluffy.
Sometimes it feels like when we give praise, it’s often for things that aren’t consequential. We look for anything positive to say so that we’re keeping the ratio of positive/negative high. A crucial part of coaching is not only pointing out what needs improvement, but to reinforce what people do well. You can ensure positive feedback is meaningful by being as specific as you are when things go poorly. “I really like the way you made your case in that meeting today,” is specific and much more valuable than “Good job today.”
Too many sandwiches aren’t good for you.
Many of us have been taught to keep the positive to negative ratio in our reviews high by intentionally saying something good, then giving the negative feedback, then ending on a high note. This is often referred to as a “feedback sandwich.” It has often been called something much nastier, because everyone knows what you’re doing. People have been conditioned to ignore the positive because they’re waiting for the bad news. Not everyone needs bad news softened, any more than you would position good news inside bad.Sometimes you just have to say what needs saying.
There is often good feedback to be included in negative reviews.
One simple way to keep the positive feedback in the conversation is to be clear about what works and what doesn’t when coaching people. Very few people do everything wrong. By letting them know specifically what they are doing well at the same time as what needs to be improved the feedback appears more balanced.
Deliver good news and bad news richly.
When all the good feedback comes in an email but more difficult conversations are handled by webcam, you’ve conditioned your team that if you want to speak to them in person, they should expect bad news. Let them see and hear the smile in your voice when it’s positive feedback as well.
Learning how to deliver more effective feedback at a distance is a major component of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Get your copy today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.