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Differentiating Constructive Feedback from Positive Feedback as a Tool for Employee Motivation

In regular office workspaces, employers and managers use a combination of constructive and positive feedback as a tool for enhancing employee motivation – because this is the combination that works best. However, a regular use of such combinations also dulls perceptions as to the difference between constructive and positive feedback, and which has priority in a given situation.

Differentiating Constructive Feedback from Positive Feedback as a Tool for Employee Motivation

Why does one need to understand the difference between constructive and positive feedback?

Naturally, those managers who fail to clearly differentiate between constructive and positive feedback, fail to understand their separate roles, and in consequence fail to innovate and come up with the best combinations in given circumstances. Rather, they follow set patterns blindly with the hope that they click - it's like language editors changing things on "feeling" rather than on knowledge and logic - sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. However, it's no way to deal with something as important as employee motivation in businesses. Since business productivity, as well as turnover and predictability depend to a large extent on employee motivation - guesswork should be reduced as much as possible.

Common combinations of positive and constructive feedback

Usually, sandwiching techniques are used for hiding a layer of constructive feedback between two layers of positive feedback in employee sessions.

Positive feedbacks are fun and get the attention of employees while bolstering their motivation and enthusiasm. They also serve to anchor and hold the interest of employees to what the management tries to convey. However, constructive feedback contains the actual meat of employee sessions, because while positive feedback reinforces a certain kind of behavior, constructive feedback seeks to redirect employee behavior to more effective patterns.

Even the tried and tested sandwich technique may not work if the manager cannot clearly define the part that is constructive feedback and cannot successfully combine it with positive feedback.

A tested pattern of constructive feedback

A reliable pattern of providing constructive feedback includes: description, impact, inquiry, and expectation.

In the first step, alike providing positive feedback, the manager describes the observable behavior of the employee clearly and without making judgments. It is critical in this step to describe the behavior - like coming late to office, and not associating it with the person.

Indicating association of the behavior with the person comes only in the next step, when the manager describes the impact of the behavior - like certain processes missing schedule - and also explains why the matter is being brought to the attention of the employee.

During this process be very careful to clarify that the session is not about character assassination, but about character assessment.

In the third step, during inquiry, check the employee understands your feedback and ask for input from the employee. This is one of the special points where constructive feedback is different from positive feedback.

In the fourth step, suggest and describe the desired behavior - setting it up as employer's expectation.

The importance of constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is extremely important because just as employees need to be assured of what they are doing right, they also need observations from the employer or the management to understand what they are doing which isn't quite right.

A lack of constructive feedback can make an employee feel disoriented and reduce motivation. However, there are many managers who again confuse constructive feedback with criticism of an employee or with reprimands, and fail in the job.

There is no need or reason to reprimand and employee unless there is a clearly defined illegal or immoral act committed by the employee - and by that time, it usually moves into other channels, rather disciplinary in nature, and they are rarely subjects of employee motivation sessions.

Constructive feedback concerns itself with clarifying expectations, providing information, and tries to redirect employee behavior without negative impacts. Constructive feedback moves to the level of constructive criticism when it is used to discourage undesirable, unproductive, or inappropriate patterns of behavior.