As a manager or leader, you already know how important feedback is for achieving top results from your team or organization, and that it's a crucial part of your job description. But when (in an admittedly informal survey) I searched for "feedback" in several business publications, about 9 out of 10 results dealt with negative (or euphemistically "constructive") feedback. This despite the fact that positive feedback and appreciation are a powerful motivator for people to do their best, and even cause neurochemical changes that strongly correlate with increased engagement and productivity in the workplace.
I want to even the odds a bit, and offer my appreciation for appreciation.
I discovered some of the power of appreciation through an exercise I created when I first began giving interactive keynote presentations a decade ago. I needed a way to demonstrate to the audience one of the fundamental principles of my work with businesspeople -- that they were capable of fluidly shifting their "performance" in the same way that actors do onstage.
So I directed them to perform a set of different responses to my presentation. I asked them to pretend they were bored; or to act as if they were outraged at something I've said; or to respond like this was the single most brilliant presentation they ever heard (complete with thunderous applause and a standing ovation).
The first time I led this exercise I was shocked -- not by the audience's performance, but by the impact the audience had on me. I knew they were pretending -- I had just told them to -- but when I faced their boredom or outrage, I started second-guessing myself, wondering if they had just been waiting for an excuse to let their true feelings show. It felt awful.
But when they jumped to their feet to deliver their standing ovation it felt absolutely fantastic. My fears from the moment before dissipated and I felt emboldened and confident. And in the hundreds of times I've led this exercise since then, this effect has never gone away.
The important thing about this discovery is that even though I know the audience is performing, my feelings are actually affected when they applaud for me and perform appreciation. We've added the performance of applause to our training programs --directing participants to literally "give it up" and "show some love" to their colleagues who are trying out something new or challenging -- and over and over again the recipients of these ovations report similar feelings to mine.
The author and management expert Ken Blanchard famously called appreciation "catching people in the act of doing something well." I like that framing because it challenges the idea that you should be on the lookout for people doing something wrong, and replaces it with an imperative to find and recognize people for doing something right.
When you look through the lens of performance, in life and in work, somebody is always the audience. Whether you're literally in the audience while your boss delivers the quarterly report, or quietly observing as a co-worker skillfully responds to a tough question on a conference call, you're sitting in an audience seat more than you realize throughout the work day.
By embracing your "audience-ness" in everyday situations and creating opportunities to applaud, you'll be increasing the likelihood of applause-worthy performances.
How can you improve your audience performance at work?
1. Look for ways to appreciate your colleagues.
It may seem almost absurdly simple, but it's a mindset shift that makes a difference. And when you notice someone did a nice job, don't just think it -- say it.
2. Keep track of negative feedback.
Make sure you offer just as many compliments (and then, after a few weeks, try doubling the number of compliments).
3. Find the moments where you and your team can applaud each other.
At my company, we start every weekly staff meeting with a round of "shout-outs." The 20 minutes it takes have proven to be well worth it, since many of the shout-outs are for things that would otherwise just have been taken for granted.
Will all this applause feel strange at first? Probably. But like anything, with practice, you'll get used to it -- and more important, you and your team will experience the joy, and benefits, of applause and appreciation.