Feedback is information, not evaluation

I define feedback as information – not evaluation. Managers do need to assess results; but providing information about results (or behavior) is more effective than making a statement that evaluates the person.

That means no blaming statements like, “You’re lazy” or “We’d be on schedule if you did your job!”

While blaming/labeling may provide short term satisfaction to the blamer, blame and labels don’t help people know what to do differently to be more successful. More often, blame provokes defense.

It also means no praise. That’s right, no praise.

When I say this, I get funny looks.

We’re conditioned from an early age to seek praise from our parents and teachers. Early writers on interpersonal skills in business advised people to be “lavish with praise.”

Praise may make the praiser feel good. Praise may make the person receiving praise feel good, in the short-term. In the long term, praise (and other rewards) erode intrinsic motivation, decrease engagement in the work, and focus people on pleasing the boss rather than understanding how their work contributes to the success of the organization.

Praise and blame are two sides of the same coin: both are evaluations of another person.

Here’s what Marshall Rosenberg has to say about praise in an interview from 2005:

“…we consider praise and compliments a violent form of communication. Because they are part of the language of domination, it is one passing judgment on another. What makes it more complex is that people are trained to use praise as reward, as a manipulation to get people to do what they want.”

Praise is a form of manipulation—and most of the time people can tell. If you want to appreciate someone, do it genuinely and directly, not in the form of praise.

Later in the interview he tells a story about a woman who approached him after a talk to tell him he was brilliant. Part of his response to her effusive praise:

“…I could never recall learning anything of value from someone telling me what I am. I don’t think anybody does…”

Praise doesn’t help; it doesn’t give people useful information. Further, Alfie Kohn’s research shows that it actually hurts.

The point of feedback is to improve working relationships and work results. So provide information that will help a person make choices. No praise, no blame,