Are You Striking the Right Balance with Your Feedback?

Leadership is all about communication, and communication is often all about finding the right balance: For leaders, this means knowing when to speak and when to listen, when to ask questions and when to give advice, when to convey a message directly and when to disseminate it through different channels.

Perhaps most important for leaders is the balance they must try to strike between praise and criticism when offering feedback.

If you are a leader, your organization depends on you to provide feedback in a balanced fashion so employees can remain engaged, inspired and productive. Constant praise might feel good to give, but it becomes meaningless – and even harmful – after a while. On the flip side, constant criticism might make you feel like you are offering ways for your people to improve. But, it may only alienates employees and cause them to resent you.

How do you approach balancing your feedback? Do you find that you struggle to provide criticism? Or do you find it difficult to come up with ways to praise your people? Have you noticed that some people respond more favorably to your feedback, while others just never seem to get it?

Here’s the truth: There is no magic formula for feedback. Every organization is different, with different objectives, different values and different cultures. What works within the walls of Organization A might fail miserably if it’s attempted at Organization B. Furthermore, every individual employee is different. One individual on your team may thrive when given constructive criticism, but their counterpart might shrink from it because they are motivated more by praise.

Striking the proper balance with your feedback is not something you can activate by flipping a switch or learning certain combinations of words and phrases. Rather, it is like remaining balanced on a bicycle. It requires you to be mindful, fully present and constantly aware of the circumstances in each moment. Sometimes it’s easy, and it feels like you can coast. But other times, it is much more difficult, like when pushing uphill with the wind in your face. It requires an ongoing, continuous effort.

Although finding the proper feedback balance may feel challenging, it can become much easier and more natural if you approach it the right way.

If You’re Not Providing Feedback, You’re Not Leading

I have some advice on how you can find and maintain the right balance with your feedback, but first, I think it’s important to reiterate just how important feedback is for leaders. It is an absolute must in your day-to-day role. So if you ever feel like throwing in the towel because it’s simply too difficult or time consuming, consider these numbers from a recent feedback survey:

  • Companies that implement regular employee feedback experience turnover rates 14.9% lower than other organizations.
  • When employees are ignored by their managers, they are twice as likely to become actively disengaged.
  • Highly engaged employees are much more likely to have received feedback at least once per week from their managers. Employees who are not as engaged tend to be those who have received little to no feedback.
  • Two-thirds of employees surveyed said they would like to receive more feedback.
  • Leaders are starting to recognize that they aren’t giving feedback enough: Only 58% of them reported that they think they provide a sufficient amount of feedback.
  • Nearly four out of five employees said that being recognized motivates them in their jobs.

The more you look at the numbers around feedback, the more it becomes obvious that feedback is essential.

Even if you struggle with providing feedback, or don’t feel like you’re doing a good job with it, your efforts are providing benefits to your employees and the organization at large. As with many things in life, simply showing up and putting forth an effort will carry you a long way. However, you probably want to do more than just the bare minimum; you want to be the best you can be when it comes to feedback.

Here are some nuggets of advice to help you get there…

How to Find Better Balance with Feedback

Over the years I have learned some valuable techniques to help leaders like you become more comfortable with feedback. Mostly, it’s all a matter of perspective and approach. These techniques are more about mindset than about specific actions, but they really work if you implement them with patience and a willingness to learn as you go.

Development or Motivation?

One way to get better at striking the right balance with feedback is to stop thinking about in terms of positive vs. negative. So instead of characterizing your feedback as either praise or criticism, think of it as providing either development or motivation.

Here’s how this works: Let’s say you have a team member who has trouble picking up concepts or who has made some notable mistakes. Instead of approaching them with criticism in mind, I suggest framing it as development. This frees you and your employee from negative connotations, allowing you to give the individual what they need to develop their skills and rise to a new level of performance. Yes, it’s a subtle shift, but it’s one that can make a huge difference.

Now let’s say you have a team member who excels in their role. You can keep heaping praise upon them, but what if you framed your feedback as motivation instead? When you offer praise, it stops the conversation. But when you provide motivation, the praise is wrapped in a message that challenges your employee to keep up their streak of excellence. Again, it’s a subtle difference, but it’s one that will make it easier for you to give feedback. It’s a lot more effective, too!

Know Your People (and Know Them Well)

One of the best ways to become a master of feedback is to learn how to tailor it to each individual employee. But first, you must know your people. It’s not about their titles, expertise or how long they have been with the organization. Rather, it is important to know your people as human beings with lives that don’t revolve around work.

If you make a genuine effort to get to know your people at the personal level, you will become much more adept at communicating with them effectively. You will also develop a keen sense of what motivates (or doesn’t motivate) each individual. Additionally, you will gain an understanding about the factors that may create the highs and lows in a person’s performance. You’ll build empathy and compassion, which will allow you to connect on a deeper level.

All this makes giving feedback a more intuitive process. There is no more guesswork regarding what an employee needs to hear. Instead, you know exactly what to say, when to say it and how to say it. I don’t believe this is possible unless you develop real, human relationships with your people.

Track Your Progress

What do you hope to achieve by improving your ability to give feedback? If you want to make a real difference, I suggest spending some time determining what success looks like. Then, you can track your progress.

Are you surveying your employees with regard to their engagement levels? Are you looking at specific KPIs? Are you attempting to boost overall morale within your organization?

Becoming better and more confident at offering feedback may take some time, and you may experience some setbacks and lessons along the way. If you don’t have a way to measure your progress and see results, it can become daunting to the point where you fall back into old, familiar patterns.

How Are You Balancing Feedback?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post on feedback. This is a topic that people ask me about regularly, and I’m glad to share what I’ve learned throughout my experiences.

Of course, I am always learning, so I’m curious to know what you’ve done to improve the way you offer feedback as a leader. Have you tried the approaches that I outlined above? How did they work for you? Have other techniques and approaches proven successful to you? I would love to hear about them!

Drop me a line at 1.855.871.3374 or email me at and let’s keep this conversation going!

Ready to partner with LeadersEdge to drive organizational performance?

connect with us