Everyone has heard the saying "No news is good news" right? That statement could not be further from the truth.
Human beings are wired to respond favorably to positive feedback. It's as basic as feeling good when you have your favourite desert, or smiling back when someone smiles at you; you just can't help it, and that's great! In fact you'll end up going out of your way to do more of the same if that means you get to relive those positive feelings.
However, say you go the extra mile on completing a deliverable for a project, and you get no feedback. Or even worse, the only feedback you get on your deliverable is negative. It's highly possible that the feedback was meant to be constructive, but the opportunity to praise you for doing good work was lost, and your engagement could suffer, and you will most likely think twice before you try as hard again.
It is interesting to note that in low performing environments there is an almost 3–1 ratio between negative comments and positive comments. Also, there are 29 times more self-referencing comments than comments referencing others.
In contrast, there is an almost 6-1 ratio between positive comments and negative comments in a high-performing environment. Also, those environments are inquiring, and there is an equal distribution of self-referencing comments as comments referencing others.
So it's easy then. All we have to do is walk around the office patting each other on the back and telling everyone "good job", right? In a way, yes.
What we need to do is provide positive feedback that is timely, genuine, specific, and unique to how the individual would like to receive the praise.
Uniqueness is an important ingredient. No matter how timely, genuine, or specific the positive feedback might be it could all be lost on how it was delivered. Some people prefer to be told in confidence, while some people also respond well to public praise. We are all different, and you should check with whom you want to give praise to find out how they would like to receive it.
Being specific is also important. This is especially true if delivered after the fact or in public. Without the proper context for the recognition or praise, other people might feel neglected for not also receiving praise and that could cause descent in the organization. Also, without context, the individual might not understand what they are being praised for and thus disregard it as unjustified or not genuine.
Being genuine goes without saying; for the most part, people know when you aren't being genuine and they will lose their trust in you if they think you are deceiving them.
Finally, providing timely positive feedback will reinforce individuals' feeling of accomplishment and motivate them to continue to do more of the same, thus multiplying the benefit of giving the praise in the first place.
The hard part to all of this is that although human beings are wired to respond favourably to positive feedback, they are also wired to only identify problems or threats.
Our challenge then is to acknowledge this and make a conscious decision each day to work at identifying other peoples' accomplishments and recognizing them appropriately. The benefit to you and to your organization will be significant.