Meetings are an opportunity to discuss projects, provide updates, share ideas and make tough decisions. In amongst all this, it is important to remember that they can also be used by managers to give team members the positive feedback they need to feel valued and fulfilled in their role.
The challenge, then, is to work out the best way to actually give this feedback, especially now that more meetings are taking place virtually rather than face-to-face.
With that in mind, here are just a few ways you can be proactively positive towards your workers while meetings are underway, without this derailing proceedings and while ensuring that meetings have value.
Work out what you want to say ahead of time.
This is perhaps not that obvious, but even if you want your positive feedback to feel like it has come about spontaneously, it still makes sense to prepare in advance so you know who you are going to heap praise on and what exactly you are going to highlight.
Picking the achievement to single out with positive feedback comments is theoretically straightforward, although in practice it is trickier because of how many potential aspects of their performance you may want to highlight. This is why it pays to home in on something ahead of time, rather than improvising in the moment.
Whether you are compelled to comment on a target they have hit, a skill they have learned or a crisis they have overcome, settle on something that will have the most meaning at that time, and if necessary write notes to guide your feedback, as opposed to just riffing it off the top of your head. This will help to keep it short and sweet, so that the employee in question will feel the benefits of your praise, without other participants feeling like the meeting is being diverted from its ideal course for too long or giving them feedback fatigue.
Give details to reinforce your point.
Providing positive feedback to employees in a meeting should be handled concisely, but that does not mean you should also be entirely vague or overly broad in your praise.
For example, rather than simply saying “You did an excellent job with that sales pitch, well done!” and then moving on, take the time to indicate exactly what it was about their handling of a given task that caught your attention. A more impactful statement might look like this: “You nailed that sales pitch. You hooked the clients with the data, and managed to win them over by showcasing our product’s features effectively”.
By identifying some specific target for your praise, you will not only be showing all participants that you care about what they do, but also demonstrating exactly what qualities you think most contributed to the success on this occasion.
This also works in the reverse situation, when you need to pull up an employee on a problem. Although of course this is not something you should do in a public forum; save positive feedback for meetings and provide constructive criticism in private wherever possible.
Speaking of constructive criticism, it is worth noting that it can have value in its own right, and should be used in combination with positivity to deliver the best results. It is all about finding a way to use both as part of your process, building meetings around the initially awkward yet ultimately beneficial provision of positive feedback, then using constructive conflict sparingly in cases that merit it, such as if an employee is making the same errors repeatedly and is not learning from these on their own initiative.
Act quickly and encourage others to participate.
While the aforementioned need for pre-meeting positive feedback prep is important, you must also remember that the quicker you make mention of an employee’s achievements, the more impactful and engaging your words will seem.
Conversely as more time passes between the instance of their success and your praise, the less it will feel like you are actually engaged with what your team is up to. To avoid it feeling like an afterthought, give positive feedback as soon as possible.
So why give positive feedback in the first place? Well, as research from Harvard Business School found, when a person receives praise from colleagues, they perform better. This applies in a lot of different contexts, from the boardroom to the basketball court and beyond. There are mental and physical benefits alike, with more praise leading to lower levels of stress, improved problem-solving potential and even increased disease resistance.
Also remember that if you are managing a team, your behaviour will influence the broader culture, so aim to lead by example. The study shows that the advantages of praise are achievable regardless of the source of the positive feedback, so it need not only go in the direction of manager to employee, but is just as potent when passing between teammates. The best way to encourage this is to act as you would hope the rest of the staff would act, and demonstrate the perks of praise by doling it out as well as fostering this behaviour in others.
Add feedback into the standard meeting structure.
If you want to make your feedback feel like it is not coming out of the blue, and also avoid a situation in which team members feel left out because their colleagues are getting praised more frequently, then creating a spot on the agenda for positive comments in weekly or monthly meetings could be a good strategy.
The timing of this segment within the meeting itself is relevant, and while you might be tempted to put it at the bottom of the running order so that other matters can be dealt with first, it is usually worth placing it higher up the agenda. This will allow you to begin meetings on a positive note, and also set a consistent cycle of positivity that will encompass every member of the team over time, rather than only singling out top performing individuals.
Obviously there is a risk that such structured praise-giving will come across as forced or disingenuous. One way to avoid is this by couching the praise in a story, so rather than saying “Sarah did well when presenting the latest figures to the board this week”, start with the context and place the positive feedback within it; “This week we presented the board with the latest figures, and Sarah communicated our achievements effectively. I could tell from their faces that they were impressed with our performance this quarter, and that they understood what progress we’ve made”.
Here, rather than the praise-giving being the obvious motive, it seems like a more natural detail to include in a meeting that nevertheless gets the job done.
The final point to consider is that not all positive feedback will improve morale in meetings; specifically if the achievement you choose to highlight is not sufficiently praiseworthy, it could come across as condescending, even if you mean well.
For example, thanking team members for carrying out some very basic or menial task is worse than not providing any praise at all, and will feel forced and convoluted.
Ultimately you need to gradually find your feet with providing positive feedback in meetings, rather than jumping straight in at the deep end. With experience, this process will become second nature, but it does make sense to formalize your approach to it at first so that you do not stumble over common hurdles.