Emily Byford's lessons from leadership blog series: Giving positive and negative feedback

Giving positive and negative feedback: Lessons from Leaders II

This is the second post in my Lessons from Leaders series. These posts are all reflections on important lessons I’ve learned in people – leaders – across the different companies and industries I’ve worked in so far, from publishing to events. These experiences and lessons have all combined to shape how I work, communicate, and offer support and guidance to the people I work alongside. 

Lesson Two: Praise in public, address problems in private

In my last post I talked about the publishing house I joined straight out of university. It taught me a lot about the importance of a good working environment (more on that here).

It also taught me a lot about giving and receiving feedback.

I lost count of the times I’d be working away at my desk, and the managing director would walk up to someone at the next desk and start berating them for some perceived fault, mistake, or missing piece of information.

Not really a great experience, for anyone involved.

That was the worst example, but as I moved on to other companies, I started to see a pattern in how people would give praise or criticism. If you did a great job, they’d tell you: ‘thanks for all your help on this, that’s great.’ If not, they’d go to your manager: ‘so-and-so was meant to do X, but instead they did Y and that’s not what I needed.’

Again, not a great experience, getting that feedback second-hand.

That made me think: you don’t have to give people feedback that way. I knew what bad feedback looks like, and recognised there was a better way to do it.

Today, I’m much more intentional about giving people feedback. If I’m giving someone praise on a piece of work, I try and do so three times: once to the person who’s done a great job, once to their manager in recognition of their good work (because it’s easy for busy managers to miss things day-to-day), and once publicly – for example in a whole-company Slack channel, to ensure their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

For example, if I hear a sales rep on a series of cold calls one afternoon and their messaging was really strong, I’d tell them – and I’d also message their manager to say ‘so-and-so was sounding really good on the phone earlier, they did a great job clearly explaining X about the product and handling objections and questions around Y.’

“If I’m giving someone praise, I try and do so three times: once to the person who’s done a great job, once to their manager, and once publicly to the wider team or company.”

And if I’m giving less positive feedback or flagging a mistake they’ve made, I’ll always try and provide that 1-on-1 – most often in a direct Slack message or, if it’s something more serious or complex, in a 1-on-1 conversation.

My guiding principle for providing feedback: Praise in public. Address problems in private.