How can overly positive feedback have a negative impact in EOS?
I had the privilege of traveling to Spain last month for a client’s all-company meeting. Kyero, a rapidly growing online curator of properties available for sale or rent in Spain and Portugal, assembled its team from all over Europe for two days of team building and fellowship, which, to my great fortune, included a boat cruise on the Mediterranean Sea and several delicious Spanish meals. On top of being ideal clients, the owners of Kyero are wonderfully welcoming and generous to everyone in their company.
Kyero is a 100% remote company, so they invited a guest speaker from Buffer, a remote-only social content development company, to share some lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Buffer has an enviable company culture dedicated to transparency and honest feedback. But it wasn’t always that way. They used to have a problem with too much positive feedback. Yes, you read that right. They were too encouraging. In fact, as a company, they had a culture of only giving positive feedback. While that sounds like a great problem to have, the following exercise illustrated pretty clearly why it’s not.
Danny from Buffer asked three volunteers to leave the room. He then placed a note under one of the chairs in the room. When each person returned, we were instructed to give feedback in three different ways.
The first person received only positive feedback from the rest of us in the room. Despite a chorus of “great job!” and “way to go!” she could not find the note.
We completely ignored the second person. We offered neither positive nor negative feedback. Not surprisingly, she didn’t find the note either. In fact, she never even got close.
When the third person returned to the room, we gave her clear, concise feedback as she searched for the note. We answered her questions and offered feedback like “you’re getting warmer” and “just a little more to the left.” She found the note in remarkably little time.
Danny shared with us that learning how to give effective, meaningful feedback was a major turning point for Buffer. Previously, giving only positive feedback caused individual and business performance to suffer because people weren’t getting feedback that allowed them to honestly and meaningfully measure progress toward their goals.
Being told “great job” all the time might sound ideal. But how can you work toward growth and development when feedback is ambiguous and one-sided? “Great job” is not the full picture—none of us are getting it right 100% of the time. And if you are, you’re in the wrong job because you’re not being properly challenged.
It’s our nature to want to do meaningful work that makes a difference and results in successful outcomes. Telling the first person who came back into the room what a great job she was doing finding the note didn’t help her find the note. It might have made her feel good, but she remained unsuccessful. When you only give positive feedback and withhold the more meaningful and actionable feedback, you’re robbing someone of an opportunity to achieve success.