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Making Feedback Better with One Teeny Tiny Word Change

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This weekly twork* is part of our series to make work better together - get it direct to your inbox.

The Power of "And": How to Give Effective Feedback Without Damaging Confidence

I think you’re great BUT…. Eurgh anything with a ‘but’ feels a bit like a punch in the guts 😵. And yet we (me too) use it way too much.

We’ve all been there too. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we received feedback and just felt totally deflated afterwards.

We feel like we have done a good job, maybe it was an event we ran (sure there are things that could have gone better, but overall the day went really smoothly). Maybe it was a presentation we did or a meeting we ran with a client. We meet our manager or our co-workers the following day and BAM, the but word comes up. The “that went well but….”

Suddenly we feel deflated, disappointed and may even begin criticising ourselves for our performance. Not a great way to start our day or feel motivated to strive towards a goal.

The problem

Gallup tells us “only 14.5% of managers agree strongly that they are good at giving feedback”. What’s interesting is that Gallup also notes that 90% of employees are actively disengaged after receiving negative feedback.

While sometimes feedback can be tough to hear, particularly if it's constructive feedback, if after the session an employee feels demotivated, disappointed or criticised then the feedback loop has failed.

We know that having a disengaged workforce isn’t good for anyone, not the company, not the employee, not the managers. The list goes on.

There is a powerful connection between positive reaffirming feedback and performance. It’s not that you can never be critical BUT (I did it again🤭) the ratio is key.

According to research by Losada & Heaphy in 2004, the top-performing teams give each other more than 5 positive comments for every criticism. This means that positivity has a motivating influence on team members and leads to higher-performing teams than negatively focused ones.

Graph: Losada & Heaphy in 2004, The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams, 2004

When you give positive input or feedback and then say “but”, it counteracts the positive things. As employees, we know there is a negative coming. When we know something negative is on the way, be it feedback or otherwise our defences go up our learning slows down and disregard the positives. So, how can we make feedback work better?

This week's twork for better work

Words matter. Practice replacing "but" with "and."

See some potential examples of how you could implement this week’s twork:

Presentation feedback:

Instead of saying: "Your presentation was well-prepared, but you missed a key point."

Try: "Your presentation was well-prepared, and by including that key point, it could become even stronger."

Team Performance:

Instead of: "The team hit the sales target, but some customers mentioned slow response times." Try: "The team hit the sales target, and addressing response times could elevate the customer experience."

Employee Development:

Instead of: "You're doing great in meetings, but your written reports need improvement."

Try: "You're doing great in meetings, and refining your written reports can make your contributions even more impactful."

Innovation Efforts:

Instead of: "Your idea is interesting, but it might be too expensive to implement."

Try: "Your idea is interesting, and if we explore ways to manage costs, it could be a game-changer."

Project Collaboration:

Instead of: "You contributed effectively to the project, but there were communication gaps."

Try: "You contributed effectively to the project, and improving communication can lead to seamless collaboration."

In each of these examples, the use of "and" instead of "but" transforms the feedback into a constructive conversation. It acknowledges the positive aspects while gently introducing areas for improvement. This approach encourages employees to stay engaged and motivated

See the difference? It changes how the conversation feels. When you use "and" instead of "but," feedback becomes more helpful, less like a punch.

Now it's time to try it out. Don't forget to let us know how it goes!

*twork = tweak for better work

Let’s make work better together.

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work


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