Many individuals, as I have detailed previously, do not accept feedback well. In particular, critical feedback. Which is why suggestions such as sandwiching feedback (two bits of positive with one negative or more critical feedback) are put forth. These days, employees are oftentimes skeptical of critical feedback even calling it at times “petty.” Mind you, some individuals approach feedback in the workplace as if they were providing feedback to students. Now, that sounds well and good but many individuals in the workplace will tell you they are “done with school”. They are burnt out on the learning process and educational system. Thus, if you treat feedback in the workplace as if they are students they are not any more likely to be accepting of said feedback. Assuming people are on a continuous mode of learning can be a mistake. Honestly, some people don’t want to learn in the workplace. Some people are just there to do a job and don’t need the learning hassle and don’t need the critical feedback hassle. Now, this is all territory I have covered before.
What about praise? How do people handle praise in the workplace? Do people just eat it up? Are individuals skeptical of it? Well, I am here to warn you to be skeptical of it. When our forefathers fought for worker’s rights, we rightly wanted to be treated as human beings. But dont be lulled into complacency by praise that has been turned into a “management” tool.
A work colleague of mine forwarded this modern-day “fable” called the non-conformist bird which has been posted on numerous other blogs.
There once was a nonconformist bird that decided not to fly south for the winter. He said “I’ve had enough of this flying south every winter, I’ll just stay right here on this farm, what’s the big deal, anyway?” So he stayed. Winter came and was very cold, the nonconformist bird had never felt such cold weather and was afraid that he might freeze to death. Realizing he had made a big mistake by staying, he headed to a nearby barn for shelter. On his way to the barn it began to snow. The poor bird was cold, tired and hungry. “Why did I stay?” he asked himself as he collapsed on the ground. As he lay there covered by the snow, a cow happened by. The cow, feeling the need to relieve himself, crapped right on the bird. At first being angry the bird said, “Who did this horrible thing to me, how dare someone crap on me, I’ll get him for this!” The crap was too heavy for him to free himself. But, after a while the crap began to warm him and he forgot all about his anger. In fact he was so warm that he began to sing. A buzzard passing overheard the singing and went down to investigate. As he cleared away the crap to his delight he found the bird. The bird was so happy to be free from the crap that he thanked the buzzard, who then decided to eat the little bird.
Now, the widely circulated moral of this story is that Just because someone craps on you, it does not make them your enemy, and just because someone gets you out of the crap, it does not make them your friend.
I would like to apply this non-conformist bird story to the cycle of feedback in the workplace. Many feel that critical feedback is the equivalent on crapping on someone and many just can’t “take the crap” and thus oftentimes, the boss or the one providing the feedback becomes the enemy. The critical feedback provider becomes the one that many avoid or whisper about or don’t invite to lunch meetings. Of course, no one ever wants to invite the boss to an outing birthday party or otherwise and bosses have to learn to not take that personally –that is just the way of the universe. And most bosses don’t want to hang with their staff outside of work since there is a chance you actually don’t like them. Imagine if they are that needy and whiny in the workplace how are they in their social circles? But I digress.
So, there are those staff that love hanging with the “praiser”. The one that rarely gives critical feedback but always praises the heck out of a situation or just provides platitudes and empty words all around. It may seem that the Praiser may get you out of crap but in reality they are going to eat you alive at some point but you won’t see it coming and you won’t even realize it’s happening to you until you realize you are really in the dumps. Positive feedback is news or input to an employee about an effort well done. Praise goes a long way toward encouraging employees to do the things we know are good for the company or program. However, there is a time that it becomes empty. My question is how many times can people accept empty praise?
I have heard at times that person X was great supervisor because they were so honest and genuine –but what they really meant to say person x was a great supervisor because that person provided non-stop empty praise. By provided non-stop empty praise you allow employees to develop bad habits, which at the end of the day leads to bad program implementation and eventual hard feelings. In the non-profit world where the personal is political and the work is personal, praise holds a very special place in the organizational culture and psyche. Certain fields (i.e. caring professions) experience higher levels of burnout that are exemplified by feelings of depersonalization. Thusly, praise (regardless of whether it is empty) can go a long way to ameliorate burnout. But one shouldn’t view the effects of praise to be linear, but perhaps consider it to be a curve. There is a point at which it will plateau and actually be more detrimental. Empty praise can deter skills growth, decrease motivation and eventually even lead to the very feelings of depersonalization one may be trying to avoid.
So, moving ahead don’t be an empty praiser and don’t fall for the buzzard’s supposed charm.