Praise or Criticise?

‘My team know that if anything is wrong, they’ll hear from me.
Meanwhile I stay out of their way and let them get on with it.’

That is  definitely not the way to lead to get good results. Writing on the HBR Blog Network, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote about the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio, summarising research conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada. They measured the financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings and 360-degree feedback ratings of team members in 60 teams at a large information-processing company.

The factor that made the biggest difference between the least and most successful teams was was the ratio of positive comments (‘I agree with that’, ‘That’s a terrific idea’) to negative comments (‘I don’t agree with that’, ‘No, that won’t work’), sarcastic comments and disparaging remarks team members made to one another. High-performing teams made 5.6 positive comments for every negative comment (or nearly 6 positive comments for every negative one); mediocre teams averaged 1.9 positive comments to every negative comment; and poorly performing teams averaged 0.36 positive comments to every negative comment (or nearly three negative comments for every positive comment).

If you’ve read Section 3 of Chapter 15, you know that criticism, or ‘constructive information’ which I prefer to call it, is important. People need to know when things are going off the rails and what they need to do to get back on track. Zenger and Folkman point out that constructive information also guards against complacency and groupthink and is useful to grab someone’s attention.

When you want to motivate people to continue what they’re doing well, give them plenty of positive feedback. It works just as well at home, too.

Discussion questions

Listen to your team members chatting among themselves; what is their ratio of positive to negative comments? Listen to yourself, too: what is the ratio of your positive to negative comments to team members? To your peers? To your manager? What are some steps you can take to increase the ratio of positive to negative comments in your team?