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Marketing / Communication skills

Giving feedback: Being specific with praise

I’m at a time of life where I’m reading a lot about ensuring you have a healthy relationship with your kids. And guess what? I’ve found a useful lesson for business when giving feedback.

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When your child behaves well, it makes sense to be really specific with your praise. Instead of saying “Aren’t you being good?” you need to say “Aren’t you playing nicely with your little sister. It’s very kind of you to share your toys.”

That way the child is able to learn which specific elements of their behaviour attracts the positive feedback.

I wouldn’t mind betting this would work well when giving feedback to adults, too. Think about it, which bit of feedback would you rather hear from a client:

“You’re really good at your job.” Or “The way you interpreted the brief was sensational.” “You’ve got a nice website.” Or “Your site is easy to use, and I like the look and feel, too.”

And indeed: “I had a bad experience with your business.” Or “That you didn’t return my calls was very frustrating.”

So how do you go about getting this kind of useful, meaningful feedback? My observation is it’s not freely offered, so you’re going to have to ask for it.

"I’ve been trying hard to avoid generic statements and saying precisely what I mean and have noticed people of all ages responding well to it."

Most people think they’re good communicators, but many are inclined towards generic statements when giving feedback rather than the focused, exacting feedback you need to understand what’s working and what’s not.

Want more articles like this? Check out the  communication skills section.

So when you’re seeking testimonials, for example, ensure your questions really get to the bottom of what it’s like to work with you.

Would you work with us again? Why?
Was the outcome as you expected? If not, why?

I’d strongly recommend sending requests for testimonials from a neutral email address like [email protected] as this may encourage your client to be more honest.

I’ve been trying hard to avoid generic statements and saying precisely what I mean and have noticed people of all ages responding well to it.

“Love your work” is lovely to hear. “Your articles are the perfect length.” is even better.

Do you agree that generic statements are overused and not very useful? Are you good at giving/getting specific feedback?

Tell us exactly what you think about giving feedback.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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